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Magic Beach, McWay Fall, Big Sur

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 11 September 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Here's a counterpoint to my previous post, a series of instants folded into a single frame by a long exposure, creating an ethereal effect not available to the eye. Many will recognize this as Big Sur's McWay Fall, a year-round waterfall that plummets from an evergreen forest into the turquoise Pacific. (If you've been here, you know the water in this cove truly is turquoise.) This exquisite scene is worthy of the wealth of images it inspires, but because (justified) access restrictions limit visitors to a fenced walkway overlooking the beach, perspectives here are limited. That's why the world has so many beautiful but similar McWay Fall images.

Because I already captured my own "classic" McWay Fall image that I'll have a hard time topping, I'm always looking to find something new here. Not easy, but so much of the joy in photography is the challenge to find something unique in a popular location.

On my last visit (assisting Don Smith's Big Sur workshop)*, while most everyone else was shooting wide, I took out my 70-200 lens and tried some isolation compositions. In the rapidly warming light I snapped some decent frames, but still found nothing that excited me. I thought it might be fun to blur the water to gauze, so as the sun dropped to the horizon, I pulled out my 8-stop variable neutral density filter (allows me to dial-in zero to eight stops of neutral density), stopped down to f16, and dialed in 50 ISO.

The resulting 20 second exposure may not be the best McWay Fall image out there, but it at least gives me something new. And it was lots of fun to play. I only had time for two frames before the sun disappeared. The next time you're at a popular photo location, start with the "classic" compositions, then challenge yourself to find something unique. What you get may not always work, but I promise it'll be fun, and it will make you a better photographer. And you'll probably surprise yourself with what you find.

* Don Smith and I have a great thing going with our photo workshops: he assists many of mine, I assist all of his (I do a few more workshops than Don does, and he has a photography life beyond the landscape world, so there are a few of mine he has to skip).

* My Facebook page *

Upcoming workshops

Yosemite winter, spring, and fall; New Zealand; Grand Canyon; Death Valley; Eastern Sierra; Maui; Hawaii's Big Island; Columbia River Gorge

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* Website: Eloquent Images

Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

Beautiful golden sunlight on this gauzy creation of yours. It's very lovely to look at,
and I am fascinated by the fact that the water from the falls does not gush out into the sea!

11 Sep 2009 6:03am

@Dulcie: Thanks, Dulcie. I know what you mean about the water, it kind of surprised me the first time I visited. The sand is so porous that it soaks right in.

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

As you say, I believe that this photo may not be the best McWay Fall image but it is a superb image, mainly the composition and the exposure. I follow your advice of isolating some composition from some beautiful big places, making "small compositons", and I have to say that most of the times is very fun and the resullts are great.

11 Sep 2009 8:29am

@Vitor Martins: Thanks, Vitor. Sometimes a telephoto is the best antidote for a familiar scene.

Did from Ispagnac, France

good shot.
Beautiful colors.

11 Sep 2009 9:46am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Beautiful scene, great!

11 Sep 2009 11:30am

michelle from Paris, France

wow indeed its a magic beach. Looks so unreal... beautiful !

11 Sep 2009 12:52pm

Viewfinder from Bradenton, FL, United States

Having just been there in July, I can say this is a very nicely done shot. Did you crop much to get so close? B/C I shot from the usual places along the walk with a 300 mm tele and didn't get nearly as close in as you are here.

11 Sep 2009 1:45pm

@Viewfinder: Thanks. This is an uncropped 200mm shot from my full frame Canon. The only explanation I have is that you were closer to the viewing area at the end of the trail; for this shot I was on the trail, closer to the tunnel under the highway.

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

It is a "magic" beach. Exquisite light. Love the cottony water of the ocean.

11 Sep 2009 2:22pm

Cedric Sims from United States

Gary, this is a very nice capture, excellent color, lighting and I love the way you framed it.

11 Sep 2009 3:48pm

Jen from St. George, United States

What a stunning shot! I love the juxtaposition of the warm tones of the rocks and sand against the cool tones of the water. I love that you went in for a closer crop. The composition is just amazing, and is a refreshing change from the standard wide shot. The light is spectacular too! :)

11 Sep 2009 4:21pm

@Jen: Thanks, Jen. This was literally my last shot before the sun disappeared. You just can't beat the shadows on the beach as the sun kisses the horizon, can you?

Mags from Paris, France

So beautiful, well done!

11 Sep 2009 4:23pm

MARIANA from Waterloo, Canada

AMAZING !!! Light and colors are brilliant !

11 Sep 2009 4:45pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

This is wonderful, Gary! I recognized this place immediately, but this is such a unique view of it!
The next time I am there, the telephoto comes out of the bag!

12 Sep 2009 4:36am

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. I find that the more familiar I am with a scene, the more I use my telephoto to find specific aspects that draw me.

Onlymehdi from Wayne, United States

superb shot, wow, wow

12 Sep 2009 1:14pm

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

WOW!!!! This is amazing! Such a beautiful shot. The long exposure is superb! I love the light.

12 Sep 2009 9:11pm

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Yesterday was our 50th anniversary and I missed getting to see this. Glad I linked to it from your comment on Don's photo today. I love the gauzy effect of the waterfall and the water on the sand ... it's a soothing, soft image!

13 Sep 2009 11:56am

@Judy: Happy anniversary, Judy. Wow, 50 years--you are truly blessed.

k@ from Paris, France

What a high quality of lighting, it's fabulous, and your vantage point is gorgeous, and those colors - brav°°

13 Sep 2009 5:47pm

Lee from Fort Frances Ontario, Canada

The water spilling off the cragg is absolutely gorgeous. The wave splashing against the beach is superb. The lighting is phenomenal. Your composition of this scene is priceless. Well done.

14 Sep 2009 3:57am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful

15 Sep 2009 5:08am

Heather from United States

Dear Sir,
I am so excited to find myself here. I've only seen two images
and they are so far superior to the average photos of the places
I lived in or visited growing up. I'm a painter looking for great shots
but your images stand alone-that glow and feeling you impart is already
perfect and can't be improved by any other medium.

22 Nov 2013 3:56pm