Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide

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Big Sur/Central Coast - Private Photo Tour & immersion workshop

Rugged cliffs of the Big Sur Coast
Rugged Big Sur Coast

California's epic signature coastline; Big Sur, winds beautifully as Hwy One, high above the Pacific Ocean. Here you will find the most magnificent portion of California's Pacific Coast Highway which stretches 147 miles along the California coast from Carmel to Morro Bay. It is not a wonder that Ansel Adam's final twenty years was spent in his home overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the north end of Big Sur. Here he found a spectacular embarrassment of riches of photo fodder, he so expertly captured for posterity. Ansel was introduced to the area while visiting photographer Edward Weston who moved to Carmel 1929 and shot the first of many photographs of rocks and trees at Point Lobos, California.

The name Big Sur was historically derived from the unexplored and unmapped wilderness area along the coast south of Monterey: El Sur Grande. Sur means south in Spanish, grande means big.  Grand has other inferences as well including magnificent, imposing, impressive, awe-inspiring, splendid, resplendent, majestic, monumental.  Big Sur is grand, no doubt about it.

I grew up twelve miles from the southern terminus of what can be construed as the Big Sur Coast.  Some of my earliest memories were of my puke bag as we wound our way around the cliffs a thousand feet above the threatening pounding surf far below. As a child it was the most terrifying thing in the world, I like the drive much better now!

The drive is a stunning panorama of dark cliffs, deep canyons, rolling hills, and ocean vistas that comprise miles of the California coastline. Famous for its twisted cypress trees, you will also find redwood groves, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows, plus open meadows along the way. Big Sur is one of the recovery zones for the nearly extinct California Condor, and a lucky few get to see one.  During the whale migration in winter, whales can be spotted from the high cliffs, but are too far away to photograph. The whales may be to far away to photograph; however, the elephant seals aren’t.  Although the epitome of ugly, they do have a mysterious photogenic charm. The most famous landmark in the area is the Lone Cypress just outside Carmel, but it isn't necessarily the best. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, a special favorite, as well as innumerable vistas, trails and side roads along the way.

Photographers shooting surfer at Lime Kiln Creek on the Big Sur coast

Caves lit up by the evinging sun

Designated an All-American Road—among the nation's most scenic—the drive encompasses both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway. Extinct volcanoes, a castle, light houses, pastures, always punctuated with the rocky shores and precipitous cliffs, tortuous curves which, although breathtakingly beautiful, can be very trying to drive, I won't even attempt it during summer. Winter is the time to see Big Sur, the hills are turning green, the whales are migrating and sometimes before a storm giant waves attract big wave surfers which are always fun to photograph.

Big Sur is unique in that for its entire length you are presented with amazing views and photography opportunities every other mile or more, and if you keep stopping at every vista point and every state park you will need a week to complete the trip.  Although not a bad Idea, this overload of opportunity makes it easy to miss the special places on more abbreviated time constraints.

This is without question one of the most breathtaking scenic drives on the planet; hence, an awe inspiring photo destination. You should be prepared for it with lots of room on your camera's digital memory card and a spare supply of gasps and ooohs and ahs. You don't drive this stretch of scenic highway just to get from one place to another; this highway is the destination!

If you would like a private immersion photography workshop or tour I can't wait for the opportunity to return.


Big Sur - Images by Daryl Hunter