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Sunstar and Portal, Pfeiffer Beach Arch, Big Sur

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 19 December 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


Winter Big Sur Photo Workshop - Magic Light and The Pfeiffer Beach Arch - January 11-14, 2011 (Workshop Sold Out)
Northern Arizona Photo Workshop - Grand Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Sedona - March 16-20, 2011
(Workshop Sold Out)
Spring Big Sur Workshop - 4th Annual Wildflowers and Color - April 17-20, 2011 (space available)
Springtime in Lake Tahoe and the Mokelumne Wilderness Photo Workshop - May 14-17, 2011 (space available)
Northern California - 3rd Annual Redwoods and Mendocino Photo Workshop - May 23-26, 2011 (space available)
Second Annual Garden Isle and Tropical Paradise - Kauai Photo Workshop - July 8-12, 2011 (only 5 spots remaining)
Summer Big Sur - 3rd Annual Mystical Fog and Colorful Headlands Photo Workshop - August 23-26, 2011 (space available)
Full Moon Over Red Rock, Arches, and Canyons - 3rd Annual Arches/Canyonlands Photo Workshop - October 9-13, 2011 (only 4 spots remaining).
New Articles on my Website: Combining Beauty With Beauty - Photographing An Athlete In Big Sur With The Help Of Smart Flashes And Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 Remotes and Behind the Scenes at NHL and NBA Media Days

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Over the years, Big Sur's iconic Pfeiffer Beach Arch has been a pilgrimage for landscape photographers from around the world. Thanks to constant exposure via the internet, the number of photographers in quest of photographing the magic light through the arch's portal has grown. In fact, I have reinstated my Winter Big Sur Workshop this January to take advantage of this phenomenon before the sun moves too far north and the magic light disappears for the year. The Workshop sold out rather quickly this year!

On a recent visit to Pfeiffer, I challenged myself to find something a bit different than what I had done on my past visits over the years (not an easy feat). One of the interesting elements, at least to me, is how the small kelp, which is attached to the rocks in front of the arch, tends to glow from backlighting as the sun lowers towards the opening of the portal.

I decided to take a low perspective with my 16-35 mmL lens and feature this rim light and glow. I tried to not let any of the tips of the rocks merge with the base of the sandstone. This allowed for the creation of depth. One rock on the far right did but it crossed over to base of the sandstone enough to not give the appearance of merging.

Luckily my position allowed for the sun to catch to top right edge of the portal and at f/16, I was able to capture a sun star - an extra bonus! There was absolutely no way to hold detail through the portal as the contrast range was close to 13 stops of light. Even using an HDR program would have made the blend look unnatural, so I let wash out.

Recently I was sent an image where the photographer captured the entire range of light but tried to pass it off as a single frame (with reflected light illuminating the sandstone). Problem was, the sun was setting so I questioned what light was reflecting? It was a fantastic processing job and a cool image nonetheless.

For this image, I did process the RAW file twice to allow a bit more exposure on the foreground rocks. Upon reflection, I'm not sure if I made enough of a different image from what I have done before but then again, no two images are ever the same.

I'll return to Pfeiffer next month with my workshop students. It will be fun helping them find their own unique perspective of this amazing scene!

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