McWay Falls – Big Sur Coastal Drive (California)

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McWay Creek is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and it is one of those places you MUST visit while driving along California State Route 1. The creek is famous for its 80-foot waterfall and beautiful sandy beach, which makes it an ideal place for travel photography.

An interesting fact: the beach itself is only a few decades old. Before, it was a rocky shore, but after a massive landslide in 1985 that rendered State Route 1 unusable for a year the sand beach was born.

What I did not know on my first visit to McWay Creek is that beach itself is not accessible to the public. The only ways to photograph it are from a trail to the McWay Waterfall House, a half-mile from the parking area, and an observation area. What made it really challenging is that we arrived there in the early afternoon and the sun was already over the ocean. I had no choice but to photograph the beach facing the sun.

California. Big Sur. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Loc: 36.15775, -121.67209

This is when HDR photography is the only solution. I took 7 bracketed shots and later processed them (used only 5 out of 7) as HDR in Photomatix.

Deconstructing Featured Photo

Post Processing: HDR Processed inPhotomatix
  • Camera: Canon 60D
  • Lens: Sigma 10-20mm
  • Focal Length: 10mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Aperture: F14
  • Shutter Speed: 1/200s
  • Bracketing: 5 shots (-3, -2, -1, 0, +1)
  • Tripod: FEISOL Tournament CT-3442  – Check my FEISOL Tournament CT-3442 Review.
  • Ballhead: FEISOL CB-40D

Processing: HDR Processed in Photoshop HDR Pro

Lightroom: import, tagging, export to Photomatix
5 exposures (-3, -2, -1, 0, +1) were used to tone map image, 16-bit tiff image was exported to Lightroom (Tutorial: Complete HDR Workflow).
color correction, export as PSD image
cleaning, removing lense flare effect (artifacts), straightening using Warp tool, cropping.
Photoshop Plugins:
– Topaz DeNoise helped to eliminate noise (sky, sun rays ).
– Topaz Detail was used to enhance details in following elements: tree, cliffs.