La Jolla Cove in San Diego, CA

Harbor Seal

1/800s @ f/5.6 ISO 160 @ 340mm (EFOV 544mm)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Stephen F. Dennstedt

If you ever get a chance to visit my hometown of San Diego be sure to visit La Jolla, one of San Diego’s truly iconic locations. It’s beautiful all year round but especially now in early spring. To see the ubiquitous California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals be sure to checkout La Jolla Cove and the Children’s Pool (which has morphed into Seal Beach). Pupping season began in February so the beach is roped off to give the mothers and pups some privacy but you can still get really close without disturbing them. Here is a great link if you would like more information about seeing the critters: How to See the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions.

You can see the critters throughout the day but if you’re a photographer late afternoon/early evening is the time to go. This time of year the sun sets at about 7:30 p.m. so anytime between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. is perfect for the golden light (depending on the time of year you visit these hours will vary). You want the late afternoon/early evening light because it’s coming from the west and illuminates the shoreline beautifully. In the morning the sun is rising from the east and the shoreline cliffs throw everything into deep shadow making it very difficult to photograph the Seals and Sea Lions without a flash.

I recommended shooting the critters with longer lenses: 70-200mm or 100-400mm zoom lenses work well especially with APS-C crop-sensor cameras like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II or the Nikon D500. Don’t forget your wide-angle lenses, however, because the coastline presents some gorgeous opportunities for scenic photography (remember that your APS-C crop-sensor camera can work against you in this scenario). Warning: If you’re like me and get totally in the zone when you’re taking photos beware of the surf. I was kneeling in the sand taking the photo above when three waves came in back-to-back and soaked me to the crotch: shoes, socks, underwear and pants (no camera or lens damage).

Feel free to browse the gallery below (clicking on the images will enlarge them for better viewing). There is only one Sea Lion in this grouping (top row, third photo from the left). How do you know if you’re looking at a Seal or a Sea Lion? Sea Lions have very small external ears whereas Seals just have two holes in their head. The guy with the camera is my son Shawn with my old Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super-telephoto “Prime” lens (I’ve replaced that setup with a new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM super-telephoto zoom lens combination. Enjoy the photos and visit La Jolla in San Diego if you ever get the chance.

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