Tide pools: Photos in California

This is the second of a two-part series. For Part 1, click here. Road Journals Blog—The intense sound of pounding waves echoed off the steep rocky cliffs. Looking down from the ledge, my knees started to shake. I recalled the stories of rogue waves taking people who had ventured too close to the water. This would become a common feeling over the next couple weeks.

Only sixteen days earlier I was in Beijing when I got an e-mail from my photo editor asking if I wanted to shoot a story on tide pools for the cover of Via. That sounds great, I thought, and began to picture the most interesting way to capture a tide pool. Just above the water? Camera in the water? Would I need a polarizer to see through the water?

Shooting covers is always interesting, because you have to capture all the action while still leaving room for text and title.

First I had to learn about tides. A little research taught me that winter has the best low tides, and that they would be lowest during a full or new moon. With that in mind, I lined up a moon cycle with corresponding daylight hours to get the best light at sunset. It turned out to be a four-day window. I could only hope for good weather.

Soon enough, I found myself driving down Hwy. 1 for a test shoot in Point Arena, about three hours north of San Francisco. I still had no idea what to expect. I’d never gone to the ocean just to look at tide pools.

I quickly found that at low tide, ocean rocks can be as slippery as ice. There was also the part about rogue waves. I never knew tide pooling could present such danger.

But then I spotted the largest anemone I’d ever seen. It was amazing, bright green, just on the edge of a pool, surrounded by kelp and purple urchins. All my pre-visualization came rushing back and I captured almost exactly what I had seen in my head while mapping the project out initially.

From there I drove 150 miles south to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, where I met up with park ranger Sarah Lenz. The reserve was packed. Groups of all ages and levels of experience dotted the surf line, squatting, pointing, and meandering, their heads all pointed in the same direction: down. Numerous volunteer docents explained what was to be seen, with the enthusiasm and excitement someone seeing these critters for the first time. It was wonderful to see.

Finally, just before my tide and sunset schedule ended I drove nearly 200 miles further, to the Hearst Memorial Beach just outside San Simeon. Other than being very windy, the weather was perfect. I found some amazing sea caves with walls like reptile scales, covered in anemones.

In fact, they were too amazing and beautiful. They held my attention so thoroughly that a wave caught me unaware, and before I knew it was up to my waste in freezing, sandy surf. I searched and shot until sunset, then got a hotel for the night. Warming myself in front of a crackling fire at the San Simeon Best Western, I turned on the TV only to find an hour-long special explaining how moon cycles affect the tide.

Here are some of the shots that just missed making the cut for the magazine.

For a large selection of photos from my shoot, visit dcollierphoto.com.

This is the first of a two-part series. For Part 2, click here.

Christopher Hall's article, "Pool party," with photos by David H. Collier, appears on the cover of the March/April issue of Via.

This blog post was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.


[...] Tide pools: Photos in California | VIA Road Journals – The Stories … Jan 27, 2011 … That sounds great, I thought, and began to picture the most interesting way to capture a tide pool. … [...]

Great work David! It is so hard to edit your work, because we want to use it all!