Photographing and Mapping Piers

Kristina Jacob


Ana Ramirez is a Southern California based photographer who is working on a Master in Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University.  Ramirez, who loves photographing the oceans, has been working on a project to photograph all of the piers along California’s hundreds of miles of coast line.  She has documented her story and photography of California piers on her blog Ana Ramirez Photography.  Fellow photographer Kristina Jacob spoke to her about her love of piers and how she is using geography to help her with this project.

Are you photographing only public/ private piers or both?

All of the piers on my list are public, ocean, piers on the coast of California.

Why have you decided to photograph all of the piers along the coast of CA? When did you start this project?

A while back I was watching TV and I recognized a pier in a commercial. That’s when I realized that they are all different and recognizable. Although I had been photographing piers for a few years, the project really took shape in 2012 when I decided to document them all. That’s when I began a more methodical approach with a list of the locations and a few “standard” shots that I take of every pier.

Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach
Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach.

How many piers are there along the coast of CA total?

There are more than thirty ocean piers along the coast. I make the distinction of ocean piers because there are also many more piers in bays. I don’t know exactly how many there are because in some cases it’s difficult to tell on the map if there is still a structure there. I’ll only know when I get there. That’s part of the fun.

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How many piers have you photographed to date?

Up until now I have visited a total of 11 but there are some that I’m not done photographing yet. Some of the ones I shot in the past I’d like to re-do and for others my first visit was not as successful as I would have liked.

Hermosa Beach.
Hermosa Beach.

Do you have a favorite pier so far?

That’s a tough question because I like certain ones for different reasons. For example, I love the view from below Newport Pier and the area surrounding Manhattan Beach Pier. Oceanside Pier is one that I’m very familiar with because it’s close to me so I visit it often.

According to Ramirez, the lack of center posts underneath Newport Pier makes it a "photographer's dream."
According to Ramirez, the lack of center posts underneath Newport Pier makes it a “photographer’s dream.”

How does each pier you have visited reflect the surrounding landscape?

From a structural perspective, the piers are adapted to fit the landscape. It’s easy to tell which ones were built more recently based on the materials and design. In some ways, though, they are independent from their location because they all look out into the ocean so they have almost identical views. Some of the cities where they are located are more affluent than others but when you’re on the pier looking out into the ocean all of that is literally left behind.

What is your method of locating piers using Google Maps/Google Earth?

In the satellite view, I zoom into the coastline look for piers. Then I just scroll north to each one. It’s time-consuming, but it’s the only way I have found to locate them all. Many don’t have names and are not marked in Google maps so searching for them would not work. Once I find a pier, I put a pin in it and save the location to my California Piers map. I use green pins to mark the locations I have been to and red pins for the others.

Why did you decide to use Google Maps to help you with this project?

I couldn’t find a comprehensive list anywhere. There are lots of lists on the internet but none of them are complete. Using the satellite view on the map is like taking a virtual road trip up the coast. It gives me the information I need and it’s interesting to see how the terrain and locations change.


Do you research each location before visiting to create your images?

I do a little research on the map like looking for parking, but that’s about it. I prefer to get there and see what I see. I go out each time with no pressure on myself thinking that worst case scenario it will be a scouting trip. If I get there and it’s too crowded or the tide is high or the light is bad it doesn’t matter because I am at the beach and I got to see the pier. I can always come back. It helps that at this point I don’t have to travel far. When I start visiting the locations that are farther then I’ll plan more.

Did you realize that you were utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help you with your art?

I had no idea! I just used the resources I had to solve a problem. Now that I have discovered how I can create my own map, I will definitely use it as part of the project. I think when you can visualize the number of piers on a map it gives the project another layer of interest.

What is your next project?

There are still a lot of piers left to shoot, so I’ll be working on this project for a while. The final project is something that I hope others will find useful when visiting California. Once I get north of Malibu I’ll need to plan a longer trip to cover the more northern piers. I dream of someday doing the same on the east coast and in other places in the world.

San Clemente Pier.
San Clemente Pier.


Photo of author
About the author
Kristina Jacob
Kristina Jacob is a professional photographer and a GIS professional working in local government. Check out her photo blog at