Harbor Seals At Pescadero State Beach

A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.

I always enjoy photo locations that offer more than one possibility for a successful photo. Such was the case on a recent morning I spent at Pescadero State Beach for a sunrise landscape shoot. Being along the coast, I knew that chances for wildlife were high, and so I lugged my wildlife/bird lens along with me, even though I was hoping for a magical coastal sunrise shot.

Arriving about 45 minutes before dawn, I hiked up to a vantage point overlooking sea stacks just offshore. By shooting due south, I was hoping to get some wave action around the stacks, with a colorful backdrop of winter sunrise colors. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not with me, and I got a dull glow to the east and suddenly it was daytime. No sunrise colors, no landscape keepers, nothing.

Harbor seals compete for lounging space on an offshore rock, Pescadero State Beach, California.
Harbor seals compete for lounging space on an offshore rock, Pescadero State Beach, California.

As it got lighter, I scanned the offshore rocks and saw several groups of harbor seals clustered away from the roaring ocean. Getting these guys on camera was only a quick walk back to the car to retrieve my wildlife gear. Once re-set up, I waited for another 15 minutes until it got light enough to really start in earnest.

A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.
A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.

Fifteen minutes later I was done and moved on to look for interesting coastal birds. As it was a quiet morning, I soon moved on to more important activities, namely breakfast!

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Sunrise at Pescadero State Beach

A couple of weeks ago I headed out to Pescadero State Beach for sunrise. I picked a weekday to make sure I had the place to myself. I arived about a half hour before sunrise to catch some of the early light peaking over the eastern horizon, and get some long exposures of the surf before the sun actually hit them.

Pescadero has three separate parking areas off of Highway 1. For photography, my favorite is the middle one because of the interesting rock formations just off the coast. For wide sandy beaches, either the northern or southern lots would be the best bet.

The following two images were taken of the surf swirling around some off-shore rock formations. Because of the very low ambient light, a long exposure was needed, which gives the water that misty smoke look.

Ambient light casts the scene in shades of blue, Pescadero State Beach, California
The movement of the tidal flow is captured by a long exposure in pre-dawn light along the California coast

At this time of the morning, the sun hadn’t yet risen above the horizon, but the eastern sky was reflecting some vibrant oranges and yellows. The image below was taken facing east, in the opposite direction of the previous two photos.

Morning light crests the horizon and is reflected in a shallow tidal estuary, Pescadero State Beach, California

Once the sun had peaked the horizon, the western sky finally was lit up in the reds and oranges of sunrise. The following image was taken just after sunrise, looking west. The light was dim enough to still require a long exposure (though not as long as the first two images), but now the sky and water were a completely different color.

A high tide moves in over off shore rocks at dawn, Pescadero State Beach, California

And looking south, the morning light was even more spectacular.

Pastel oranges and aquas emerge at sunrise, Pescadero State Beach, California

About 20 minutes after sunrise, the entire landscape was well lit. The truly special light of “magic hour” had gone, but with the sun still so low on the horizon, everything was bathed in soft warm light, with no harsh shadows. The following images was one of the last I took before I packed up my gear and headed home.

Morning light touches the orange sandstone cliffs at Pescadero State Beach, California