Motukiekie Galaxies

Starfish and seastacks at sunrise, Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 23rd, 2012

With its shrub-capped seastacks, endless tidal pools, and unusual animals, Motukiekie Beach in New Zealand is an otherworldly landscape. In April 2012 I visited the beach at sunrise to find hundreds of 12-legged seastars clustered together in “starfish galaxies.” I used a minute-long exposure to transform the incoming waves into mist to underscore the surreal and alien feel of the place.

 

Morning Star

Starfish at sunrise, Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 23rd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool critters such as this 12-legged seastar. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

Wild West Coast

Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 22nd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool critters such as this 12-legged seastar. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

Seastar Sunset

Starfish and seastacks at sunset, Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 22nd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool critters such as this 12-legged seastar. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

 

Times and Tides

Motukiekie Beach sunset, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 22nd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool tidal critters. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

Wharariki Lightstorm

Wharariki Beach sunset, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Wharariki Beach, South Island, New Zealand on April 20th, 2012

At Wharariki Beach there exist two of the most beautiful offshore islands I’ve ever seen. Their proper name is the Archway Islands, a moniker that couldn’t be better chosen. Three hundred foot towers of sandstone shot through with massive arches. Although you can drive most of the way to Wharariki Beach, the final approach is a 20-minute trek through farm paddocks and coastal forest, an effort that seems fitting to reach a place of such extraordinary beauty.

 

A Burst of Inspiration

A Burst of Inspiration

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Wharariki Beach, South Island, New Zealand on April 20th, 2012

Wharariki Beach is surely one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. One of the challenges in photography is capturing such a spectacular place with spectacular light, a feat which is easier said than done when your photography trip has a time limit. I was prepared to wait up to 5 days at Wharariki for the right light. So when an amazing sunset exploded on my second night there my serotonin levels skyrocketed and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing like a maniac. This was a highlight among highlights of my New Zealand photography adventure.

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Barking Mad

Seascape at Arnott Point, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Arnott Point on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 15th, 2012

The seals and I, we have an uneasy truce. As long as I don’t go in the water, they won’t bite me. Seems like an easy arrangement to uphold, but just to reinforce it they bark at me and mock charge from time to time. But I bark right back and the peace is upheld. All the same, my adrenaline is pumping and I’m almost happy when the sunset fades and I can skedaddle from their turf.

We’ve caught the seals totally by surprise. Humans, here? On OUR beach? This is not a place that sees many bipedal visitors, unless you count the Fiordland crested penguins which roost here from July to December. Access is via a billy goat track which is so steep in places there are ropes rigged to help you get down. Plus you have to find the track in the first place, which we did thanks to a friendly local named Barry.

And if you manage to find the track and negotiate your way down the cliffs, once you get the beach you still have to contend with roaring surf, high tides, and a little scrambling. It’s no wonder the seals were surprised.

 

Tempest

Hole in the Wall Beach sunset, Santa Cruz, California

Taken at Hole in the Wall Beach near Santa Cruz, California on March 17th, 2012

It was a battle. Me versus the wind. For every blow I would land in the form of a good shot, the wind would land a punch of its own by covering me with salt spray, tipping my tripod up on two legs, or tumbling my backpack into a tidepool. We went back and forth all night until I snagged this image. Thinking I was the victor, I stuffed my filters in my pocket and tromped off to find another composition. Which is when the wind had its last laugh: plucking the filters from my pocket and depositing them somewhere in a thousand square feet of tide pool. I looked and looked, to no avail. With the rising tide, the relentless wind, and the near-invisibility of the filters I knew it was a hopeless task. But my disappointment was tempered by the fact that I had a memory card full of shots like this.

 

Surf’s Up

Wilder Ranch State Park beach sunset, Santa Cruz, California

Taken in Wilder Ranch State Park on March 11th, 2012

On March 11th the front of a major storm system hit Santa Cruz and brought a wonderfully-textured pink and purple sunset with it. I hit the beach looking for waves but never imagined I would find one carved naturally in the sand. When I shoot seascapes I’m always trying capture the waves and their motion in the most interesting way possible. Rarely do I get a chance to express that goal with such a great visual metaphor. When I saw this sand wave on the beach I laughed out loud. After all, could there be a more absurdly perfect subject for a seascaper?

Keyhole

Sunlight shines through the arch at Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur, California

Taken at Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur, California on December 9th, 2011.

In the winter there is a very interesting photographic phenomenon that occurs in California. At Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur, the setting sun shines at just the right angle to shine through the keyhole of a mighty arch to illuminate the sea spray and crashing waves on the other side.