Every year I try to dedicate at least one week of vacation to photographing a destination that’s on my lifetime list of places to see- some might call it their bucket list for photography. The past few years those trips included Yosemite, Acadia, and Denali. I have wanted to photograph the Oregon coast since I first began photographing landscapes, and decided that this year was the year for that.
I had seen photographs of the beaches in Oregon and knew they were beautiful, but nothing prepared me just how beautiful they really were. And nothing prepared me for the diversity of the landscape. From wide sandy beaches, to towering sea stacks, rocky headlands, and temperate rainforest, the coast of Oregon offers a little of everything to photographers seeking dramatic landscape images. I was in heaven. For this trip, I took along the following: EOS 5D Mark III, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II, EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS macro, and EF 14mm f/2.8L II. I had my lightweight travel tripod (a Gitzo 1541T), and my set of 4×5 inch graduated ND filters and ND filters, as well as a polarizer.
I stayed in Cannon Beach, and was immediately drawn to the dominant feature of the landscape, Haystack Rock. At 235 feet tall, Haystack Rock towers above everything else in the area. Cannon Beach, like much of the coastline, features sand pounded flat by the tides, so you can see for miles down the beach. When the sand is wet, it becomes highly reflective, and since the beach is so flat, the water just keeps running over the sand. This presents fantastic opportunities for reflections. In addition, the water and wind will carve the sand, creating patterns that just beg you place it in the foreground using a wide angle lens. Finding interesting compositions of the monolithic Haystack Rock can keep any photographer going for days.
Low tide is a macro photographer’s dream. You can walk all the way out to Haystack Rock, where tide pools form around smaller rocks. These tide pools feature a plethora of marine life, including crabs, star fish, limpets, ochre sea stars, and sea anemone, among others. One can spend hours amongst the tidal pools, alternating between landscapes and macro work, and still not exhaust all of the opportunities presented.
Just north of Cannon Beach is Ecola State Park. Ecola State Park is a mix of rocky headlands, temperate rain forest, and sandy beach. I spent half a day photographing in the rain forest. Trees covered in moss, ferns and wood sorrel blanketing the forest floor, and winding trails lead to tons of photographic opportunities.
South of Canon Beach is a stretch of beaches and state parks such as Arcadia Beach, Oswald West State Park, Hug Point State Park (which features a beautiful waterfall), and more. A few hours further south is Cape Perpetua, which features some of the most dramatic coastline I’ve ever seen. Specifically, the area around Devil’s Churn, which features waves crashing on the rocks like thunder, water being forced out of blow holes, and a cauldron-like feature called “Thor’s Well”. This area is best photographed at high tide, where the waves create massive splashes, and Thor’s Well literally boils over. While I was there, the wind was blowing spray all over the camera, making it a nightmare trying to keep the camera dry.
I could not believe how many good photo ops there were waiting for me in Oregon, and I didn’t even get a chance to explore the Columbia River Gorge or the southern coast. I definitely plan to go back and explore more, so it stays on my list. And I must go back for a marionberry scone from the Lazy Susan Cafe in Cannon Beach!