Keyhole Arch, Big Sur

Keyhole arch is located at Pfeiffer beach in Big Sur, California. Sea arches are great photographic subject and fun to watch as waves swash through opening and drift to shore and recede. Every action in nature has purpose. Eloquent in action and relentless in pursuit. Nature is like a craftsman with great appetite to create masterpiece after masterpiece. Sea arches are formed as result of continuous wave refraction that erode weaker section of headland from both sides and ultimately carve a hole through it.

Keyhole arch is special. Every year between mid December through mid January, sun position aligns close to the keyhole of the arch during sunset. A magical light shoots through the hole creating light shaft that extend to the beach. Its a spectacle. I was in Big Sur last week of last December (2015), but I did not know then that it only happens few weeks in year. A missed opportunity fulfilled this weekend (without that magical light shaft though)




First picture is few hours before sunset. Shooting against sun is a challenge. Controlling exposure is tough task. But same time it provides ample opportunities as well. Like incorporating sun-star in the composition and backlighting.

Here are technical details on how to shoot sun-stars.

  •  Block the sun with other objects in the frame. Trees are common landscape object that you will find to block sun more often  (Example from previous trip to Yosemite)
  • Reduce aperture as small as lens allows.  When intense bright light passes through small hole, light waves diffract and  create star effect. What a coincidence that I had to mention refraction and diffraction in same article.
  • Use lens hood to avoid as much  lens flare as possible or cover top of the camera with piece of cardboard or filter cover such that no stray light  falls on lens.
  • If available, switch to digital view finder to block light entering from mirror viewfinder ( I “always” forget this)
  • Open the shutter to capture wonderful sun-star.
  • Number of points in the star depends on lens. If you have lens with odd number of diaphragm blades, number of rays will be double that number. If you have lens with even number of blades, it creates same number of rays. Keyhole arch was taken with 11-24mm lens that has 9 blades. Had I took proper precaution in blocking the sun properly, I would have gotten full sun star with 18 points. I used 17-40mm lens to take tree image from Yosemite trip. That lens has 7 diaphragm blades, so you can see 14 pointed star.
  • Exercise some caution as you see  directly (even through viewfinder) into the sun.

Enjoy the images and let me know if you want to know more about the place or technique.

As a side note (for audience from west coast of US), Death valley is gearing up for phenomenal wildflower bloom (nick named super bloom) this year . This is kind of once in a decade opportunity. Last time it happened was 2005.  Don’t miss this opportunity . I don’t want to hijack this article into DV. Shoot me a message if you need more information.

Happy Clicking

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