If you're in the San Diego or Southern California area, chances are you've heard about the return of the bioluminesence on May 7th, 2018. The last occurrence in the area was way back in 2013 and 2011 before that, so it's not something you want to miss! Having photographed it twice before and now twice these last two nights, (with last nights being shared by the BBC (IG & Web)  I wanted to share some tips for people heading out to see it for the first time!

How to Find Bioluminesence

You need to be able to find it to see it, right? Unfortunately, they aren't able to predict or forecast much in regards to bioluminescence. That means there's no telling exactly where it will be or how long it will last. So, when you hear about it, you need to be ready to jump at the opportunity.

When it comes to location, it can change or disappear without much notice. Initial reports may give an area or specific beaches that it was spotted at, but that isn't a guarantee on future nights. Over the past few days, it seems to have been showing up between La Jolla up to Encinitas. At first it was a bit more intense near Encinitas, but it may be shifting a little bit South. 

Before you head out here are a few tips for finding where the bioluminesence is visible:

Instagram Hashtags: Do a quick search for "bioluminesence" and look for the latest photos posted both in feeds and in stories. Very often people will post right away and mark the location they're in. This is way easier than driving around,  parking, making your way to the beach, and letting your eyes adjust just to find out it's not there.

Reddit: When the red tide is occurring, there's quite often a discussion about it happening on a local subreddit (r/sandiego for example). Sort the comments by new to see what the latest reports are

Ask a Photographer: Sometimes it's that easy. Did you see someone that caught a cool photo? Shoot them a friendly message and ask for some help!

Flickr Keywords: Visit flickr.com, a social based photosharing site, and use the same search methods as on Instagram. This won't be as real-time, but you can often find where it has previously occurred.

If you find multiple reports, use the next set of tips to pick out the best spot to go to.

What Type of Location Works Best?

Here are a few things that make for an ideal setting  to see the bioluminesence, also referred to as the red tide.

Away from light pollution:  Bright lights can wash out the blue glow pretty easily. You may not be able to always escape it completely, but going somewhere dark will increase your chances. 

High Vantage Point: If you can start off overlooking the ocean, you can spend a few minutes surveying the shore and seeing which area it seems to be most active in. It doesn't always occur during each wave, so be patient and keep your eyes pealed! 

Before Moonrise - A bright Moon may wash out your chances of seeing the blue glow. You can search "Moonrise Time" followed by your location to see when the Moon will be visible.

How to See Bioluminesence

Okay, so this is an important one. There are a few key factors here that will come in to play. Let's assume you've followed all the steps above. You're at the right location and now you need to know what to look for.

What does Bioluminesence look like? Even though you've seen photos, it can still be very easy to miss. When you first arrive, your eyes won't be adjusted to the dark yet. At this point, it may look like a soft white glow as the waves crash. It might look like there's a light hitting the wave, but since you're in a dark location, there shouldn't be any lights. If a wave looks brighter than normal. That might be it! So, how do you see the blue?

San Diego Bioluminesence

To The Right: I edited the above photo to try and illustrate how the bioluminesence might look as your eyes are adjusting to the dark. On the right side, there's a definite blue definition to the waves crashing, but it's not as intense as the long exposure on the left side.

The long exposure on the left side is 10 seconds worth of the camera gathering light. So, during that time the color that we are barely able to see with our eyes intensifies a bit as the camera picks up more detail. This is quite similar to what happens when you're comparing a picture of the Milky Way to what we're able to see with our naked eye. 

Keep in mind, the "naked eye" side shows as your eyes are adjusting to the dark. Also, if you're in an area free of light pollution, it might appear even brighter and as a more intense blue. 

Untitled photo

Let Your Eyes Adjust to the Dark: Once you're at your location, turn off all your flashlights and keep your phone away. If you absolutely can't wait or need to check something on your phone, make sure you turn your screen brightness all the way down. Remember how you came to a dark location? Staring at a bright light will make finding that perfection location go to waste. 

After about 20 minutes or so, your eyes will start adjusting to being in the dark. This means you'll be able to see better and pick up more detail/color in the waves. Those light white waves will start to glow a bit more blue as your eyes adjust and you stay away from external lights. Be careful as looking at a bright screen may require your eyes to start adjusting all over again.

Also, try your best to be considerate to those around you. If you need to use a flashlight to safely find your way around, try to keep it pointed straight down or partially covered so it's not too bright. You can also try using a redlight. This will help you see without being as harmful to your night vision.If other people are trying to let their eyes adjust or are out taking photos, a stray light can ruin that for them. This is an exciting and sometimes once in a lifetime experience that should be shared with smiles and excited high fives. Not curse worse under your breath because someone just hit your face with a bright light. 

Well, that's about it! All you need now is a bit of luck and some coffee to keep you awake!  If you're out searching, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram. If I'm out and I know where it is, I'll gladly send you in the right direction!


Here's a quick 10 second sequence that shows 10 minutes worth of people heading down to the beach last night, all hoping to see the waves turn blue!

San Diego Bioluminesence

San Diego Bioluminesence

Bioluminescence lights up the waters blue in San Diego near Blacks Beach. Taken on 5/9/2018

Get Out There! - TL:OnlyLookedAtPhotos

Okay, I know that was a lot and not everyone really wants to read everything. So here's the recap:

1. How Long Will It Last? - There's no accurate forecast for bioluminesence. If it's happening, head out the first night you can!

2. Where do I go to see it?  Search hashtags to find all the locations it's currently visible and then pick out the location you think is the darkest.

3. How do I see it? Let your eyes adjust to the dark. It will look like a white glow at first, but eventually you should be able a blue glow in the waves.

That's really it! Hope everyone gets a chance to see it before it disappears and share the fun with some friends!

Gear used:
Sony A7RII - Sigma 24-70 f2.8 ART | Sigma 14-24 f2.8 ART | Sigma 50mm 1.4 ART
All Photos Edited on: Dell XPS 15

  • Tracy Nolazco

    on May 11, 2018

    First of all, thanks for taking the time to share all of this info! It is awesome. If I get out there tonight, and I don't find anything... I still appreciate the valuable information and will use it at some point! Haha.

    Where is the video from? is that torrey pines?

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