Photographing the best California Piers
As a Los Angeles based photographer, I know that nothing sells like a great pier.
My print buying customers love images of them and clients love to pose in and around them.
Why not? They’re the symbol of beach life, even more so than a lifeguard tower or a surfer entering the water.
We have many piers in California, mostly in the south, but which ones are best for photography?
Thanks for asking, because I’d like to run them down for you.
Let’s focus here on the 7 main beaches of Los Angeles County, from Redondo to Malibu.
Nice pier, but this is more of a commercial visit with restaurants and fishing than a photo spot. For photography, it’s a challenge, since for most of the year, the sun sets behind the mountains, so you won’t get your quintessential sun setting over the Pier shot. But if you can wait for the post sunset colors and step back far enough to include the entire pier, you can get a nice shot.
The busiest of all the SoCal piers, with a roller coaster, ferris wheel, tons of restaurants, thousands of people at any given time strolling and a marker sign that tells you that you’ve come to the end of Route 66. Yes, that Route 66, which extends from the Pier to Chicago, even though the interstate has made it less relevant than it was in the 1950s. The Pier itself is so packed most days you won’t be standing on it to get a shot, unless you want to look out the side towards Pacific Palisades and Malibu.
If your interest is street photography, this is the pier for you, since it gets the crowds and characters.
But the money shot is on the left side of the Pier, at sunset or better yet, just after sunset, to get a wide shot of the pier with the ferris wheel all lit up.
Alert: sunset season in SoCal is November through January, when the best colors come out and put out the best free light show in the world. If you’re planning to visit, now’s the time, but try mid-week to get fewer people visible in your shot.
There’s lots of action on the Venice Beach “boardwalk,” about 0.6 miles away, with street performers, vendors and its another visual street photography paradise. But the Venice pier pales in comparison to the action up the way. It’s rather bland, with so many pilings underneath it’s hard to get a clear under the pier shot. Above ground, the pier itself is covered with distracting fencing.
The jewel of SoCal Piers, 101 years old in 2021, this Pier has kept its classic nostalgic look, with a long, clean walk out onto the water, highlighted at the end by the Roundhouse, a small, circular building that anchors the Pier with the only working aquarium pier we know of. This pier has been welcomed into modern times with lamps that change colors for the holidays, which you’ll either find cute or offensive. The best sunset spot for the Manhattan Beach Pier is on the south side, to get the sun setting over the Pier. The other side blocks the sun. The Manhattan Beach Pier is unique among most of the piers by having a big wide open space underneath, which makes it the most popular pier around for people portraits.
Too many pilings underneath here make it a challenge for under the Pier portraits, but Hermosa, which attracts many fishing enthusiasts, does make for a nice sunset shot, and photographs well with a drone wide shot. The pier was featured in the film “La La Land,” when star Ryan Gosling danced and sang “City of Stars.”
A big commercial pier with tons of restaurants and gift shops, this pier isn’t the place to bring a couple for engagement shots, unless you didn’t mind having other people in your frame. Like Santa Monica, this pier attracts a big crowd. Redondo is best for sunsets, from the right side.
No pier is a bad experience to visit, because let’s face it, how often do you get to walk over water without falling in? But for photographers, Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica are more worth your while. Especially since sunset season is almost here.