Sea stacks, Marin Headlands

Saturday, November 6th, I decided to spend a few hours with my son at the Headlands. We left the car at the Battery Alexander parking lot and walked down to the Rodeo Beach and up again all the way to Tenessee point, from where we started heading back.  Although the vistas on this stretch of the coast are well known to me, and despite the fact that I had photographed there many times before, the conditions this time were prime for wide-angle landscape, something I seldom do. If you have been following me for a while, you may have noticed that I tend to close in the landscape and concentrate on details. Not this time.

I took the leading photograph not far from the parking lot. I am often fascinated by sea stacks and those three ones at the Marin Headlands are especially intriguing to me.

Hypothetically, sea stacks are the result of the wind patterns of the North Pacific Ocean, which generate violent waves that erode the coastal cliffs, creating pockets in the rocks. These pockets become caves, and the caves become tunnels. When the arching roof of a tunnel collapses, it leaves behind the sea stacks.

There are about 20,000 sea stacks and small islands off the coast of Northern California. Together, they compose the California Coastal National Monument – a 12-mile long coastal, nautical strip that has been protected since year  2000 by a presidential decree.

I have been to the Marin Headlands a number of times. A few of my previous posts show ocean photos from that location and more examples are also available in my Ocean portfolio. I like to go there for a few reasons: it is relatively close to my house (60 miles), it is safe (unlike the neighboring city of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge), it offers beautiful vistas that are constantly changing due to the marine layer and passing clouds, and finally, the place has a few strategically placed sea stacks that are intriguing and very useful for composition.

Location: Coastal trail at the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, California, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8,  Lee Filters (Polarizer, 6 stops); tripod;

Settings: 24 mm f/22, 13”, ISO 50;

Tips: Get there early. The Marin Headlands is a very popular place, and it gets really full of people. Take different grades of neutral density filters to the photoshoot: the light in this location changes fast, from overcast and dark to bright and sunny. When doing long exposure of the ocean, don’t be scanty, take many pictures with the same settings and vary the camera’s settings also. It is better to sort things out at home than to miss that especial moment when the waves do just the right thing.

19 thoughts on “Sea stacks, Marin Headlands

  1. Steve Gingold says:

    This is very nice and evocative, Alessandra. The sky really does a nice job of keeping us looking at the stacks and ocean’s motion which still has a lot of definition despite the long exposure. I am sure the immediate temptation is to focus solely on the three stacks but where you placed them in the composition makes the whole image work as a whole.


  2. shoreacres says:

    This is a beautiful image of one of my favorite places. Rocks can be remarkably similar, of course, but these rocks looked so familiar I dug out an old photo of me walking a strip of beach there. The photo was taken from some height, and there was no one else on the beach, so it’s really quite memorable, if not as photographically pleasing as yours. When I took a good look at my photo, I had to laugh; the jacket I was wearing then is hanging on a hook in my entryway now. Twenty years for a jacket is a good, long life.


  3. Earl says:

    The clouds, the ocean and your long exposure, made such a stunning, dramatic and dreamy photo. The smooth softness draws me in, but I also see the rough strength beneath. Wonderful! I’ve been there, and I like this photo very much. 🙂


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