Big Sur: Undiscovered Land

Most folks think of Big Sur as an endless drive with one knockout view after another. True. But that’s also the road tripper’s mistake. Because the road between Cambria and Carmel is too long and too congested to work as a one-day trip — at least if you want to enjoy the experience. Push too hard on Route 1 and one pull-off blends into the next and everyone wishes the hotel was closer.

Too many folks rush through Sur in a day, which is unfortunate given the number of great photo locations. And I’ve decided that if I’m doing the Big Sur road trip, I’ll take at least 3 days — and I may just plant myself in a motel or two on the route for most of a week. That’s how you start to appreciate the quirky weather and the moods of the place.

The point is, I know I need to treat these Big Sur locations with the same same respect as the iconic National Park spots. Sur is at that same level, like a national park spread over a hundred miles of pristine coast.

The Dark Sea

Below Garrapata, Above Bixby

Composition is landscape. And the landscape of Sur is broken down into bay and ocean, core eco-system and a horizon that goes forever.

Even on a summer day, the Big Sur coast can get dark and moody when blanketed in fog. This is a rough coast, Jack London seas, dense ocean life, crashing waves. And the dank, cloudy underbelly of Sur is as much the place as the sunny coast and blue ocean are.

Bixby to above Pfeiffer State Beach

I spend some thought on how much of the coastline to pull in, while using that path down as foreground element.

In fact, the more forboding weather seems to capture the raw muscle of Big Sur more than the pretty shots.

But Big Sur does the sunny face equally well. And a summer day here displays a primal beauty that seems an impossibility in a piece of coastline between two of the most populous cities. You see these overlooks and wonder how this coast managed to escape the endless building glut and the restless minions.

Bixby to above Pfeiffer State Beach

The curve of bay, rock outcrops like repeating patterns, foreground and background, the same compositional rules apply.

This image, all the images in this post, were taken from standard pull-offs from Route 1. You see no people below. You do notice the endless crowds blowing by you in their late model car or truck. A few people may slow down to see if you’ve found a good view, but they take a few phone shots and are gone.

Most tourists don’t stop that often except at the big name stops, the state parks and beaches, the restaurant or country store or  place like Bixby Bridge. But take in the no-name location, treat this or that pull-off as a full fledged photo shoot location and you can deliver great images.



This image is brother to the first shot of the blog post (above). But the ecosystem, the waves, wind, clarity in the air change from one moment to the next. So the way I handle each moment gets adjusted in Lightroom. In this image, the light in the upper third has sky-blue overtones. The foreground bay though is an angry green. So, more dark edge to the bottom 2/3 and a bit of negative Clarity and highlight in the upper third. Those adjustments take the eye onto a more complex journey.


2 Comments on “Big Sur: Undiscovered Land

  1. Pingback: Big Sur and the Central Coast With Camera, Final Thoughts | Travel, Photograph, Experience

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