Scripps Pier – La Jolla California at dusk with an overcast sky

This past Sunday I wanted to head back to La Jolla to capture more sunset and seascape photos. Unfortunately, looking west I could see nothing but overcast skies. Then I remembered a shot of Scripps Pier that I have been wanting to take which would benefit from a dull sky. After seeing spectacular shots by various photographers of the famous Scripps Pier with dramatic clouds at sunrise and sunset, I wanted to take a different approach and make a photo which distilled the elements of line, shape and color.  I was influenced by the renowned German photographer Andreas Gursky’s photo Rhein II which recently became the most expensive photo ever sold at auction fetching $4.3 million.

A dull sky would help me focus the viewer’s attention to the basic components of line, shape and color, so given the overcast conditions, this was the perfect day to try and achieve my goal. In the first shot, I used the strong lines and shapes of the pier and framed the image to achieve symmetry in the photo. The green in the sea complements the colors of the pier as well as the muted sky. Fortunately, another element presented itself to me that day in the form of a storm drain pipe. This pipe exits directly behind the pier, and on that day there was plenty of water flowing from it and onto the beach and into the ocean. This created a nice foreground interest on the sand leading into the ocean. The dark sediment mixed in with the tan sand create a unique texture and the flow path resulted in a graphic element that leads the eye into the frame. I used a long exposure to smooth out the sky and the ocean so it would not compete with the texture on the pier and the sand. Finally, a circular polarizer was used to eliminate reflection from the foreground sand so the texture could be revealed.
Scripps Pier La Jolla California San Diego Sunset Beach Ocean

Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 27mm, f/16 for 25s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

In the below second image, I wanted to get a different perspective, so I decided to include a rock formation as the foreground object and used the pier as a supporting background interest item. I was drawn to the texture and shape of the rock as well as the bright green algae that grew from it. This image was shot approximately 20 minutes before sunset and during that time the clouds thinned just enough so that a small bit of light filtered through them creating some texture and color in the sky. The light was very fleeting and in about 1 minute the sky returned to its dull and featureless gray color. For the shot I used f/22 to maximize depth of field and used a 2-stop graduated ND filter to even the exposure in the foreground and the sky. If you look beyond the pier to the land mass with buildings on it, behind that is where I made my photo last week of the La Jolla Sunset.


Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 22mm, f/22 for 2.5s at ISO 100, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter

Another photo that was made during this day is one by my wife who wanted to capture me “in action”. The photo can be found on my about me page. She used a Canon Rebel t1i and 24-105mm f/4L IS USM together with a 600EX-RT flash. The flash had a full cut of CTO which gives the background its blue color.


24 thoughts on “Scripps Pier – La Jolla California at dusk with an overcast sky

  1. Great composition on both shots and a good descriptive post. It isn’t all sunshine in California then? ;) I admire your ambition, not intimidated by great photography of the past you are instead inspired to create you own work in a similar style. I’m no expert, but I am interested in your down to earth, yet technical and thoughtful approach to your work.

      • Just like almost anything, you get what you play for, so a good circular polarizer is not cheap. I wound caution against cheaping out on the filter, because your lens is only as good as its weakest link, and you don’t want that being the screw-on filter. I recommend the Hoya HD series. They are supposed to transmit more light (~1.5-stop loss) compared to other polarizers (2-2.5-stop loss). They run about $100 for a 77mm size. B+W also make quality filters and are around the same price.

  2. Photo number two is absolutely beautiful. I love the subdued colors mixed with the splash of green and the shape of the rock formation is awesome. Great stuff!

  3. Beautiful photos!!! I especially love the first image and I’ve always wanted to try that type of shot but last time I was at Scripps pier (which was almost 4 yeas ago….hahahaha :D) it was too cold so I bailed out and haven’t gone back since. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Simply stunning shots. The first photo is instantly mesmerizing…the angles and how the eyes are automatically drawn into the image, texture of the sand and run-off, and the second photo also is captivating because it contrasts the first image so well.

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