How to photograph Huntington Beach Pier

Sunset at Huntington Pier

Sunset at Huntington Pier

As the official title “Surf City USA” states, Huntington Beach is the self-proclaimed surfing capital of the United States. The most photogenic landmark in Huntington Beach is, without a doubt, the Huntington Beach Pier. Stretching out into the vast Pacific Ocean from the intersection of Main St. and Pacific Coast Highway, the pier is the hub of beach life in Huntington Beach. And, as most people who have visited the long stretches of beaches in Southern California know, the addition of a pier actually adds some photographic interest to your pictures rather than just the long and endless drab blue green ocean stretching off for parts unknown.

Whether your interest is dramatic landscapes and sunsets, street photography, or action sports, you can usually find something of photographic interest at the Huntington Beach Pier.

How to get there

The pier is located on Pacific Coast Highway, directly opposite Main Street in Huntington Beach. From locations south of Huntington Beach, take Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) heading north. From locations north of Huntington Beach, you can travel south on Highway 1 or take Interstate 405 to the Goldenwest Street exit , travel about 5 miles and make a left onto Highway 1.

Parking is available throughout the area. Free street parking can still be found in the neighborhoods near the pier, but for the most part expect to use the parking meters along Highway 1 or pay $10 for the lots near the pier. During big events, you may have to use the parking structure off Main Street or park a mile or so away from the pier and walk.

GPS position

How to photograph Huntington Beach Pier

Photographing the pier really depends on the time of day, season, and weather. On most days, even cold and rainy days, you should be able to find something interesting to photograph. Here is a breakdown of a few of my favorite subjects.

Huntington Beach Pier: Dramatic Sunset

Huntington Beach Pier: Dramatic Sunset

The Dramatic Landscape

The coastline runs from the Southeast to the Northwest, with the pier jutting directly southwest into the water, which means that dramatic sunset shots are not always possible from the pier area during the summer months. In the summer, the sun sets far to the north, making it challenging to capture the setting sun and pier in the same frame and most of the area north of the pier is long stretches of beach. The closer it is to the Winter Solstice, the closer the sunsets near the pier. On clear days, usually during the Santa Ana Winds or after a rainstorm, clear views of Catalina are also visible in combination with the pier. I usually position myself on the south side of the pier at various distances, depending on the sky and size of the surf. My experience has shown that getting closer to the waterline gives you more options than standing back at the parking lot.

My favorite strategies for the dramatic landscape include:

Low tide receding storm

Low tide receding storm

Photographing at sunset when the tide is low at the tail end of a storm. This usually brings high surf and dramatic clouds (and if I am lucky, a view of Catalina). The low tide helps create a reflective surface in the sand creating additional foreground interest. I usually prefer to wait until the sun has set, but have also created some interesting silhouette shots of the pier while the sun is still in the sky.

Fog at the Pier

Fog at the Pier

Photographing on foggy days. Fog often results in a mysterious view of the pier and is great for black and white work. Utilizing long exposures (a neutral gradient comes in very handy) allows you to create a silky blurred effect, which softens the foreground.

Underneath Huntington Beach Pier

Underneath Huntington Beach Pier

For those who like to create patterns or use strong compositional lines, photographing from underneath the pier can give you a few hours of enjoyment. During the late afternoon, sunlight shoots through the pylons and creates interesting patterns. If you position yourself correctly, you can also use the pylons stretching off into the distance as an example of a vanishing point. This is a fantastic place to experiment with long exposures.

Surfing action

Surfing action

Action Photography

Huntington Beach is famous for surfing and action sport related competitions held at the pier throughout the year. On most days, the surf at the pier is nothing out of the ordinary, especially if you are not interested in being part of the dawn patrol (early morning). However, on those occasions when a storm rolls in (or a swell rolls in from points far out in the Pacific), large waves can be seen crashing in to the pier and that is when things get interesting. I have seen amazing photographs of huge waves breaking near the top of the pier, but for me the best subject to catch are the hordes of surfers lining up on both sides of the pier. Using a telephone lens (the longer the better), you can capture great shots of some of the best surfers Southern California has to offer. Because of the location of the pier, you may have to watch your exposures carefully to ensure the subject of your photo is not underexposed or covered in shadows. Sunrise provides the best light for the action on the water and therefore is probably the best time to catch surfers in action.

Skateboarding

Skateboarding

As the hub of beach life in Huntington Beach (and really all of Orange County), you can usually find other activities around the pier, including beach volleyball and weekend festivals/competitions. Nets are located on both sides of the pier, but most of the action takes place on the south side. At certain times of the year, you can also catch skateboarding and biking competitions.

Street Photography

Like most piers in Southern California, Huntington Beach Pier attracts an interesting and varied crowd. Walking along the pier offers plenty of opportunities to capture some local color, including street entertainers, homeless people, couples, and families fishing at the end of the pier. Photographing late in the day, towards the end of the pier, can offer some interesting possibilities to silhouette fishermen casting their lines.

In addition, as with most beach locales in Southern California, when the weather turns warm, you can see plenty of “beautiful people” walking around the pier area.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Late afternoon to early evening during the winter months is usually the best time for pier photography. Regardless of when you visit, however, you should be able to find some interesting compositions.

Time required

Usually 2-3 hours are sufficient, but it all depends on the weather and what you are interested in photographing. During the summer months, you can probably make a day of photographing the pier. Spend early morning photographing surfers, mid morning capturing some pickup beach volleyball matches, the afternoon roaming the pier area for interesting candid/street shots and end the day trying to catch some dramatic sunset landscape shots if the weather and sky permits.

Crepuscular rays

Crepuscular rays

Equipment

  • Wide-angle lens
  • Telephoto lens
  • Tripod
  • Neutral density filters

Fees

There are no fees to access the beach. However, you may have to pay for parking.

Close Locations

Credit

Useful Resources


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7 Comments

  1. Posted 2010/03/16 at 02:41 | Permalink

    Thank you very much for the expert advise on the pier. Your pictures are really breathtaking, confirming your expertise on this location.
    I find the large range of facets you captured at this location stunning. How often did you have to go there to come up with these pictures?

    • Posted 2010/03/16 at 04:00 | Permalink

      Thanks Andre

      The photos included in this article are from 4 or 5 separate visits to the pier (out of probably 10+ visits…I used to live a few miles from the pier!). As I mentioned in the article, like all landscape environments, the weather and conditions really play a big role in what type of photographic opportunities are available. When it’s forecasted a big storm is rolling in (or about to leave), we always try to head down to a various coastal area.

  2. Posted 2010/03/23 at 00:50 | Permalink

    Stunning work Andre! I love the shot underneath the pier; just marvelous! Hope you are well my friend.

  3. Posted 2010/03/25 at 05:17 | Permalink

    Interesting feature of one of your fellow photographers, also awesome.

  4. Posted 2010/03/31 at 09:50 | Permalink

    Beautiful sunset with a reflection to die for and captured superbly. What a trifecta!

    • Posted 2010/03/31 at 09:53 | Permalink

      P.S. The whole series of images is so cool that I just added Huntington Beach to our list of must stops when we do the drive down Highway 1 hopefully next year.

  5. Posted 2010/06/20 at 03:04 | Permalink

    These pictures are awesome. I especially love the “The low tide receding storm”. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing.


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