La Jolla at Sunset

La Jolla near San Diego Seascape of rock formations at sunsetCanon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 37mm, f/11 for 0.5s at ISO 100


My wife and I had dinner in La Jolla and I had planned a shoot at sunset afterwards, but as we were finishing dinner I could tell that the marine layer was coming in and there was no chance that I was going to get a dramatic sunset shot. In fact, chances were that I would not get anything too interesting at all. However, the chance of getting a shot goes to zero if you don’t even make the attempt to go out.

How to get this type of shot

I have photographed La Jolla on several occasions, but never explored the coast south of the Cove (where I typically shoot). For the first shot I tried to achieve three things. 1) Get the tide as it recessed back into the ocean as it moved passed the foreground rock 2) Make sure I captured a cresting wave in the ocean and 3) In order to make the foreground rock stand out, get a photo where there was the white of a crashing wave behind it. To get all three elements in a single photo, I had to time my shots, and make multiple attempts at getting the exposure. My aperture was set to f/11 since the foreground rock was a good 5 feet away. I tried to get closer, but the tide was making its way in causing the tripod I was using to sink into the sand and cause vibrations. IMO no shot is worth risking your gear over, so I stepped back and recomposed. The aperture of f/11, gave a shutter speed of 0.5s, which was perfect for me to be able to capture the motion in the recessing tide, but still fast enough to not blur the cresting wave into mush.

La Jolla near San Diego Seascape of rock formations at sunsetCanon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 26mm, f/16 for 120s at ISO 100

The second shot was made with a rock formation in the foreground and I chose to add the homes in the background. This shot was taken at f/16 to maximize depth of field and to get a long shutter speed. I find that you need a shutter speed over 30 seconds to really smooth out the choppy water in the ocean. Any shorter and it just does not look right. Shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds are recommended with every second added to the exposure giving an even smoother ocean. For this image, I used a 120s exposure which resulted in a nice smoothing out the water in the ocean and also added some interest in the sky from the movement in the clouds.


La Jolla Rock Formations (Coordinates: 32.834556,-117.281654)


11 thoughts on “La Jolla at Sunset

    • Thanks. Yes, as with almost all my landscape shots, I used a Hitech 2-stop soft neutral density graduated filter. I am soon going to get a 3-stop neutral density, as I feel the 2-stop often does not give me enough darkening and sometimes have to add a grad nd in LR.

  1. A very nice pair of seascape photos – the first with lots of movement going on, beautifully frozen, the second very calm and still, the choppy water turned into something close to a calm lake. Both have interesting qualities and I have not seen an explanation before of how to create that calm sea look. Very informative.

    You may be interested to know I have launched my own photo blog. The first few posts are all of cherry blossom in the UK. I mentioned a few weeks ago I would try to take some once it appeared – it is several weeks later than normal this year. I only have a compact camera at present, but it has good manual options and is fairly versatile.

    • You can definitely stack filters if you have a holder that can accommodate it or you can always just hand hold them. One thing though, you should have high quality filters to do this or else you will get a color cast. I would recommend a 0.9 or 3-stop soft graduated filter to start off. With this filter you can deal with about 80% of situations you are likely to encounter. If you then add a 0.6 or 2-stop you will effectively have 5-stops and that should cover 99% of situations. I would recommend only sticking with quality brands such as Singh-Ray (high quality but very expensive), Lee (very high quality, not as expensive, but may be hard to find due to high demand) and Hitech (high quality and cheaper alternative to the first two). For an even cheaper alternative try Cokin, although you will not get the same quality as the first three I mentioned.

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