Photographing McWay Falls in Big Sur, CA

McWay Falls sunset
McWay Falls sunset

McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that flows year-round. This waterfall is one of only two in the region that are close enough to the ocean to be referred to as “tidefalls”.  The source of the waterfall is McWay Creek and is one of the few waterfalls anywhere that empties directly into an ocean.  It is a beautiful spot that is easy to photograph.  Here is how:

The parking lot for McWay Falls is near Mile Marker 36.  You can enter the park and pay a fee and park in the parking lot, but most people park along the narrow CA Highway 1.  Be careful driving and walking in this area as there are a lot of pedestrians and a lot of cars stopping with little notice.

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Make sure to use portrait and landscape orientations

There is an easy flat trail to a look out point where you can see the falls and the coastline looking North.  During wildflower season you might be able to get some flowers for a foreground, but most of the times, it is just the falls and the cove.  This is a late afternoon and sunset location as the falls face directly southwest.

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Mary and I like both color and black and white here.  We use our Canon 70-200 mm short telephoto lenses.  Try to time the waves so that you get some whitewash as it makes the photo more interesting.  Also, if you have a multiple-stop filter like the Singh Ray 9 stop or 5 stop neutral density filter, you can use it to create a more dreamy look with the water.  It gets dark enough in the afternoon that without a filter, I was getting about a 1 second shutter speed.

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This is my favorite spot

Be prepared for crowds, noise and commotion.  This is not a peaceful experience.  It is a beautiful spot that is easily accessible and is therefore, crowded.

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