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Winter Treat at Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 11 January 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


Spring Big Sur Photo Workshop - March 29 - April 1, 2010 (Sold Out - Waiting List Only)
Northern Arizona: Grand Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona Photo Workshop - May 3-7, 2010 (Sold Out - Waiting List Only)
Redwoods and Mendocino Coast Photo Workshop - June 15-18, 2010 (space available)
Kauai, Hawaii Photo Workshop - July 12-16, 2010 (space available)
Big Sur Photo Workshop Summer August, 2010 (Exciting details TBA soon)!
Arches/Canyonlands Photo Workshop November 2010 (Details to be released soon)
New Article on my Website: Night Photography

Books Available for Purchase on my Website:
The Photographer's Guide to the Big Sur Coast (e-book version - 102 pages)
On the Edge (printed version - softcover and hardcover - 120 pages)

This image should really be titled: How to Hide 15 People in a Single Frame. At least that was the problem I faced when attempting an overview image from a nearby hill at Big Sur's Pfeiffer Beach. The simple answer: take a low perspective and eliminate the foreground beach (where by the way, everyone was standing).

But simply changing perspective was just step one in creating this image. Dealing with a backlit scene (and revealing some detail in the arch) was the real challenge. If you have followed my blog with any amount of regularity, you have undoubtedly heard me discuss a technique I use that involves bracketing exposures, then combining the images in Photoshop utilizing layers and masks.

This was really the only way to pull this shot off. This is one of those scenes that to our eye (thanks to our incredible visionary system) one could see detail in all elements in the frame; yet the camera's inability to see this extended dynamic range, would have rendered elements such as the foreground foliage and the arch as underexposed blobs. This image is a combination of 5 individual frames bracketed in one-stop increments with my shutter. I paid special attention to the foreground to make sure it was sharply focused. I placed my focus on the little rust-colored stems in the center of the frame, then bracketed the focus on either side to make sure everything was sharp. If the foreground was soft, it would have been a distraction.

I did try combining the images in Photomatix, but was left with a nasty red outline around the top of the arch caused by the programs inability to deal with the vibrant post-sunset sky. The water also appeared unnatural because it was moving from frame to frame and creating different breaks with the incoming waves.

The process of combining the images in Photoshop is slow at best, but renders the most natural look in my opinion. This image took about an hour from start to finish and was sped along (mercifully) by Nik's Viveza 2 software (a lifesaver for tough masking jobs)!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/8 second F/16.0 ISO 200 17 mm

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