Photographing California’s Hidden Coast

Soft waves, cool breezes, fishermen, surfers and friendly healthy people. These are all impressions I got from my first extended stay at Jalama Beach. A beautiful off the beaten path beach campground in Northern Santa Barbara County, CA, just north of Point Conception, a fabulous place to start photographing California’s hidden coast.

Taken from the Window of the Amtrak Coast Starlight on Our Way to San Francisco.

Shhhh, This place is rustic, remote and just perfect.

It seems to be a secret place only open to 20 year old surfers and 50 year old RV loungers come to eat Jalama burgers, sit on the beach and surf. What a beautiful secret it is.

What’s the best part about Jalama Beach?
I loved the fact that there was spotty internet service there. Yay!

As far as the natural part of the beach, there were incredible dramatic tide changes. Along with the movement of the beach tides, there were waves of surfers moving up and down the beach as the size of the waves changed.

This is California. I’m no talking about Los Angeles or Hollywood, or traffic or freeways. This is the real California, why we’re here and why we love it.

What else would bring you to enjoy a few days photographing Jalama Beach? Try shooting the fog sitting off the coast every morning and afternoon touched by the orange hues of the sun low in the sky. Shoot the reflections, the patterns in the sand, and the surfers enjoying the beach.

What else there to do? Drop your fishing line and come up with maybe a Corbena or a Sand Shark. There are some surprising sea creatures who hang out just off shore.

And don’t forget the wine and Orangeboom beer. Wine is California right? (But maybe not the Dutch beer. We threw that in ourself!) But that was part of our experience camping there.

What is the best part of photographing this beach? We spent 4 days there and the tides were so dramatically different, every day the beach took on a new look and new opportunities to shoot. And don’t forget the dramatic sunsets. Here are just a few of the shots I got on different days.

Jalama Beach Photography


I loved watching the children take over a large tide pool one day. Brightly colored, decked out in their best hats, such a colorful and whimsical scene.
Jalama Beach Photography

And don’t forget to look down. This beach has such a surprising collection of colorful and weathered stones, interesting patterns and reflections. I kept picking up the stones hoping to find a creative project when I got home.
Jalama Beach Photography

Jalama Beach Photography

What Emotion Do You Feel Looking at This picture?

When you are trying to capture the essence of a place in photographs, think about what kind of emotion you are trying to capture.

Set out with a plan before you shoot.  What are you trying to capture? Is it solitude? Is it community? Is the landscape alone, or do you need people in the picture to complete the scene?

We are planning to go back to Jalama in a couple of weeks in November and are looking forward to the “November Skies” full of dramatic clouds and awesome opportunities to shoot. Those are those most dramatic sunsets we get all year. We’ll keep you updated!

How about experiencing a beautiful location like this with a personal photographic coach? You will be guaranteed to go home with a collection of images you will be proud to add to your collection and maybe even show in the next competition. Check out our variety of private and group tours on our photo expeditions website.

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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Co-Owner and Workshop Leader at Jansen Photo Expeditions
I am a passionate photographer and workshop leader, and I have been exploring my fascination with light since I was a young child. As a co-owner and guide for, I love taking our small groups of clients to beautiful places to help them explore their photographic creativity. Join us on one of our photographic workshops in the American West, Iceland and Central America: or take one of our online photography classes.  Live life creatively!  Reach me by email at:
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  • Beautiful photos of Jalama Beach. I like the tip about thinking about what emotion you’re trying to capture in a photo. Thanks.

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      Thanks Donna for the comment. I always encourage people to have an intention before they take a picture. It will help with your overall results.

  • I love taking pictures of shorelines, but don’t make it to the ocean very often, but did on a more regular basis when I lived in North Carolina. I love the Outer Banks. My photography skills are still under development, but I do know I tend to have a good eye.

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      I love the Outer Banks. You have lots of opportunity there. The more you shoot, the better you get. Good luck!

  • Hello

    Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Lovely photos of Jalama Beach. I really seems a dramatic beach with so many colors and opportunities for photographers. Your work with light and camera is fantastic. I love the picture when someone is looking at tides , while holding surfing board.
    You Idea of capturing the emotions on both ends , shooting emotion with emotions, I would say is simple … WOW!
    Seem you have enjoyed 4days to it’s peak.
    I hope to see you on my post as well.


  • Yes it is a little hard to believe that is California. Lovely pictures. I especially liked the wave you caught for the featured photo on top and the picture of the tidal pool.

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      Thanks Ken!

  • Catarina Alexon

    Great photos of the beauty of California. So different from urban LA.

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      Thanks Catarina. Yes, it is a different world only about 2 hours north of LA.

  • Beth –

    I lived in Santa Barbara for 34 years. My son the surfer (high school and college days) visited Jalama often. I spent a few times there and loved the ever changing scene. Great photos.

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      Thanks Beth. I bet you loved living in Santa Barbara. Such a beautiful place.

  • Jacqueline Gum

    These are so incredible Holly. It really is the REAL California, isn’t it? People like me forget that because all we see are more populated beaches and LaLa Land…which is what I call LA. 🙂 The tidal pool is my favorite….

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      Thanks Jacqueline. People laugh at me because I live an hour north of LA and very seldom drive south. My car just doesn’t go in that direction! Much more beauty to see on the Central Coast.

  • Tim

    Holly this is my second comment so you can delete this one if the other one comes in. I am now looking up Jalama Beach on the map as you are right; this is what we love about California. Got a laugh out of the one “Look Down” photo with footprints of birds heading out to swim.

    • Holly Higbee-Jansen

      Thanks Tim. Take a ride some day and check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

  • Angela Brower-Hobbs

    Wow! Thank you for the virtual vicarious vacation. Those are some gorgeous images. I love the contrast between the ocean and the mountains. I’ll have to remember your tip to capturing the essence of emotion in my photography. Gorgeous images.