Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire

One of the coolest shots along the CA coast-line occurs during December/January every year: the sun just happens to set at just the right spot that a light-beam peeks through Pfeiffer Arch at Pfeiffer State Beach in Big Sur, CA. If the light beam happens to hit a splash of water it can also light up the spray. Willie, Celina, and I arrived about 2.5 hours prior to sunset to get the prime location. We heard a rumor that a workshop would be there and we wanted to beat them to the good spots. We were the firsts to arrive, picked the best composition that we could find and waited.

About 45 minutes before sunset the light beam started to show up. At first it was just a faint beam but about 20 minutes before sunset it really started to glow orange and red. We waited for a large wave to come through the arch and create a lot of mist and spray which would catch in the light and make the beam visible. Luckily for us there was a strong surf and about 15 minutes before sunset the light beam just lit up like crazy. I snapped away as fast as I could to make sure I captured it. About 15 seconds later this large beam was gone. There continued to be beams all the way until about sunset but they were never as big as this one.

Despite the fact that the D700 is supposed to have slightly better dynamic range than the Canon 5D Mark II, Willie kept getting great exposures all in 1 shot while I couldnt seem to avoid clipping if I exposed the rocks properly. In order to get this shot I had to expose one photo for the light beam and then a much darker exposure to capture the suns reflection off the splashes. I also blended a 3rd image in to keep the foreground rocks a bit sharper than the f/9 original exposure produced.

My apologies to the people behind us who were hoping to get a shot of the entire Pfeiffer Arch (wide angle). We setup early so we could get our shot and we knew that the light would only get better and didnt want to lose our spot by moving. I guess it worked out because a bunch of other photographers ended up moving close to us and at that point there was no way the guy who wanted to shoot wide was going to get his shot :( Sorry again

Nikon D700 w/Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S:
62mm, f/9, 1/10 sec, ISO 160, Tripod
No filters, NOT an HDR

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Aaron M Written by:

Aaron Meyers is a landscape and wedding photographer living in Silicon Valley, CA. His love of the outdoors makes for frequent forays into the Californian wilds, where he delights in the stunning vistas of Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, and the Pacific Coast.