Photographer’s Guide to Point Reyes


I like coming out to the lighthouse, even though I don’t find the photo opportunities as compelling as elsewhere in the park. I’m not alone in enjoying the lighthouse either: parking is crowded on the weekends. Expect to walk about a quarter mile. The wind is always a little crazy here (you can hear it whistling through the powerlines), so bring a windbreaker, even on warm days. Check the hours before you make the drive out, because the stairs down to the lighthouse aren’t always open. During whale watching season, you aren’t allowed to drive out to the lighthouse (there wouldn’t be enough parking for the crowds) so you have two options: pay to ride a shuttle bus from Drake’s beach, or ride a bike. If you ride, pay attention to the wind. There can be a brutal headwind on your return trip that makes progress miserably slow.

As you walk from the parking lot, you will pass some employee apartments (with a great view!) and then come to a small visitor’s center. The lighthouse itself is partway down some steep cliffs. There’s a narrow set of stairs (with sturdy handrails) leading down to the lighthouse, and an overlook at the top of the stairs. The stairs are closed if it is too windy.

The lighthouse makes a beautiful photo subject, of course, with the ocean behind. However, if you don’t want tourists in your shot, you’ll have to come on a weekday or be really, really patient. The lighthouse still has its original lens; a beautiful glass fresnel lens that weighs 6000 pounds. From the lighthouse you can see San Francisco to your left. If it is a clear day, you can also glimpse the Farallon islands out to sea.

On the road between the parking lot and the lighthouse, you can get a good view of Point Reyes beach to the North. In late afternoon light, there can be a wonderful contrast between the cold blue of the ocean and the warm earth tones of the land.

The Lighthouse

Photo of lighthouse

This was taken late in the afternoon in November, so the sun was fairly low in the sky. I positioned myself so the lighthouse would block the sun (avoiding lens glare that would have been a problem if I wasn’t standing in the shadow). I had to wait a few minutes for people to pass so they wouldn’t be in the way.

I would like to try catching a breaking storm from this vantage point, but there is a problem: the stairs down to the lighthouse are closed during high winds. Because of its location out on a point, there are very often high winds.

Looking Down on Point Reyes Beach

Photo of beach

This was taken on the road between the lighthouse parking and the lighthouse, right before you get to the employees’ residence. It is looking north along Point Reyes beach. Every time I’ve been here this scene had almost a painted look to it. I think it must be from the mist, making the whole scene slightly blurry, and from the somewhat abstract texture of the water and land.

These trees grow beside the road, and the constant wind has left them bent over and gnarled. This photo was taken in the late afternoon, when the trees were in the shade and provided a good outline to frame the shot.