Big Sur – My Favorite Travel Photography Destination (California)

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If I had to choose only one, the most rewarding travel photography destination for me would be the drive along the Pacific coast on California State Route 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with the most interesting part of the drive being the section between Morro Bay and Monterey.

What makes this drive unique is that it does not require a lot of planning. You just drive along Route 1 and the photo opportunities present themselves every few hundred meters. All you have to do is to look around, spot these opportunities, then stop for a quick photoshoot.

California. Big Sur
Loc: 36.331944, -121.889722

A funny story: during my first California State Route 1 coastal drive I rented a smaller car (a Toyota Prius), and for the entire trip I had to unfold and fold back my tripod every time I stopped. By the end of the trip, I had sore arms and blisters on my hands. After that experience I always rent a bigger car for the drive, making sure I can keep my tripod unfolded for the duration of the day.

The featured photo illustrates one of those places you can find along Route 1, an unnamed beach where the Little Sur River flows into the Pacific Ocean.


When I stopped and looked around the scene I could see all the ingredients for HDR photography. The light was dynamic, with the very bright sky and the much darker vegetation in the foreground. The scene was full of colorful textures everywhere (flowers, grass, fence), and I knew they would look awesome when processed for HDR.

I took 5 bracketed exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2) using tripod for support.

Travel Photography Blog: 5 Bracketed Shots ( -2; -1: 0; +1; +2)

Processing Steps

Lightroom: import, tagging, export to Photomatix
Photomatix: I used 5  images to tone map image (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2), 16-bit tiff image was exported to Lightroom.
Lightroom: straightening, cropping, export as PSD image
Photoshop:  cleaning, contrast

Photoshop Plugins:

  • Topaz DeNoise was used to reduce digital noise (sky area)
  • Topaz Detail was used to enhance details in foreground elements (fence, grass, trees)

Photomatix processing settings:

Lightroom processing settings:

Photoshop layers order: