As I try to find new locations to add to my photography collection on Pacific Crest Stock, I’ve begun to realize that careful preparation and a good working knowledge of cameras and compositions can only help a nature photographer so much. Really great landscape photography seems to rely just as heavily on steadfast persistence (i.e., going back to the same location over and over again until the conditions are perfect) and/or a whole lot of luck (i.e., having great conditions on the first trip to a new location). On one recent trip to Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport Oregon, I got very lucky.
While driving over to the Oregon Coast, I mentioned to Julie (my loving wife) that I had been hoping to get some photographs of Yaquina Head Lighthouse for the last year or so, but that my timing had not worked out yet. I told her that the images I was hoping to capture would have a warmly lit lighthouse with big fields of flowers in the foreground and interesting cloud formations in the sky. I knew that capturing these images would require me to be there in early summer (when the flowers are peaking) at either sunrise or sunset (to have the proper lighting) on a day with no wind (so the flowers aren’t blowing around during long exposures) and great clouds (to fill up what would otherwise be dead space in the sky). I could easily prepare for the first two components, but the rest of it was really up to luck. Because Julie and I live in Bend, Oregon (a high elevation mountain town more than 3 hours away), there was really no way for me to know if the flowers along the coast were even blooming yet (much less, peaking), and there was absolutely no way that I could control other key factors, such as the wind and clouds. All I could really do was hope for the best and try to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.
On our first day at the beach house, I woke up early and stepped outside to check sunrise conditions. There were great cloud formations all around and no winds blowing. These were seemingly perfect conditions, except for the fact that I was standing outside our place in Pacific City and the lighthouse is located in Newport, which is about 45 minutes away. Although I really had no way of predicting what the conditions were going to be like that far way, I was fairly excited at the possibility of getting the lighthouse pictures that I had wanted and I quickly started weighing my options. As I contemplated whether or not to make the trip, I remembered that our kids had been very excited the night before and that they had stayed up much later than normal. I also saw that Julie was still sleeping on the couch with our 18-month-old daughter, and that neither of them moved a muscle as I clumsily banged around in the kitchen trying to fill up as many coffee cups as I could carry. All signs pointed to a late and lazy morning for the McMullin family, which was great for me because it meant that I should be able to get down to the lighthouse and back to the beach house before anyone even noticed that I was gone. I packed up my coffee and camera gear and started my sunrise drive down the Pacific Coast Highway.
As I left Pacific City, I noticed that the streams and fields were incredibly still (which confirmed there was no wind blowing), but that the cloud formations I had seen earlier were already beginning to change. By the time I drove through Lincoln City (about 20 minutes later), the skies had lost most of their big fluffy clouds, and I started to wonder whether it was going to be worth it to keep driving. Then, I figured I was already hopped up on coffee and that the worst thing that could happen to me was that I would end up taking a peaceful, quiet drive down the coast to a beautiful cliff-side lighthouse where the sun would end up rising in a cloudless sky. With that in mind, it seemed sort of ridiculous for me to turn around at this point, so I continued driving up and over the cliffs surrounding Devil’s Punchbowl toward Newport, Oregon.
As the highway dropped back down to sea level, I could see Yaquina Head Lighthouse off in the distance. The lighthouse appeared to be shrouded in fog and there were no signs of the cumulus clouds that I had seen earlier in the morning. That sight was a bit disappointing, but I’ve been around long enough to know that you just can’t predict what the weather is going to be like on the Oregon Coast, so I kept driving with the hopes of at least scouting out the flower scenes around the lighthouse. In my mind, I was thinking that if the flowers were in good shape, then I would see if Julie and the kids wanted to come back to the lighthouse around sunset so I could try again (NOTE: This is the persistence part of the equation that I was talking about earlier).
I arrived at the lighthouse shortly after sunrise and found exactly what I was hoping for . . . huge stands of wildflowers all around, great clouds overhead, and no wind. Pulsing with excitement (and perhaps a little too much coffee), I jumped out of the Jeep and started running around in circles trying to find as many interesting compositions as I could before the sun warmed the skies and the clouds faded away.
I had never been to Yaquina Head Lighthouse before, so I wasn’t exactly sure where to go first. I shot the images above within a few minutes of arriving, and then I backtracked and started scouting for more distant shots of the lighthouse.
Because Yaquina Head Lighthouse is a very special and popular place, there are only certain areas around the lighthouse where visitors are allowed to go. Most of the really great photographs would require one to climb over a fence and ignore numerous signs pleading with people to stay on the designated paths and cleverly pointing out things like “Our wildflowers grow by the inch, but they are killed by the foot.” As badly as I wanted to scout around on the other side of the fences for a unique composition, I knew that I couldn’t do it with a clear conscious and that I didn’t want to damage any of the wildflowers that were blooming so happily along the cliff tops.
I stayed on my side of the fences and shot a few more pictures of the lighthouse before venturing down to the rocky beach below. I quickly scouted a few hundred yards up the beach, but unfortunately, the clouds had already started migrating out to sea by the time that I found a scene interesting enough to photograph. Oh well, I have never been one to complain, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it on a day in which I had already been blessed with tremendous luck. The following picture doesn’t benefit from the great cloud formations that the others have, but I’m still drawn to it because I think it does a nice job of capturing the enormity of the scene and I like the way the ocean waves, cliffs, and lighthouse provide a nicely balanced composition.
Satisfied that I had successfully captured Yaquina Head Lighthouse in all of its glory, I hiked back up the cliffs and started my return trip. I glanced at my watch as I was climbing in the Jeep and noticed that I was running quite a bit later than expected. That’s also when it occurred to me that I had left in such a hurry that morning that I forgot to leave Julie a note letting her know where I was going or when I would be back. Julie and I have been married long enough that I figured she could easily guess that I was out somewhere on a photography mission, but I didn’t want her to be worried (or mad), so I figured that I better check in with her to see how things were going with the kids and to let her know that I would be home as soon as possible. When I called her, she wasn’t the least bit upset. In fact, Julie was genuinely excited for me. She told me that she couldn’t wait to see my pictures, but that everything was running smoothly at the beach house, and for me not to feel like I needed to hurry home.
I hung up the phone thinking “How did I get this lucky?” Although it’s always nice to have fortuitous photography conditions, my phone conversation with Julie reminded me once again that none of it would be possible without the unwavering and loving support of family. Nature photographers spend a tremendous amount of time out in the field, and our families are often either left behind or reluctant participants in all sorts of crazy adventures. We couldn’t possibly thank them enough for their contributions or tell them frequently enough that they are truly one of the best kept secrets of our success. Like I said earlier, luck is one of the key ingredients to good landscape photography, and perhaps “lucky in love” is one of the best types of luck that any photographer can hope for. In this regard, I’m a lucky, lucky, lucky man.
Posted by Troy McMullin
It’s amazing how much difference a few thousand feet of elevation can make. Right now, we have warm weather and dry hiking trails in Bend (3,600 feet), while the mountains (10,000 feet) a few miles away are still covered with more than 10 feet of snow. We can downhill or Nordic ski in the mornings and mountain bike or kayak in the afternoons.
Driving from Bend to the coast right now provides even more seasonal diversity. After cresting the snow-covered Santiam Pass (4,800 feet), the highway quickly starts losing elevation as it drops down to Detroit Lake (1,400 feet) and then eventually makes its way to sea level. While the higher elevation eastern side of the pass is still stuck somewhere in the late winter doldrums, the western side is in full-blown Spring and Summer. The trees along the Santiam River and all of the way to the coast are currently budding in all sorts of beautiful colors. In a way, traveling from the Cascade Mountains to the coast right now is sort of like time traveling several months ahead because these areas are in two completely different seasons.
My family and I recently had the chance to do a little time traveling during a weekend excursion to the Central Oregon Coast. Julie (my wife) had just finished working another long tax season and we all felt like we needed a little escape, so we took the kids over to the coast for a mini-vacation. It was an amazing drive, and hard to believe just how far ahead the seasons had progressed in the lower elevation towns compared to Bend. Everything looked completely different in the future (Spring/Summer).
We arrived at Pacific City about an hour before sunset, and while the kids tried roller skating on the beach (which I knew wouldn’t work, but sometimes you just got to let them try anyway), I strapped on my camera pack and climbed up onto the cliffs above Cape Kiwanda. I could tell the sunset wasn’t going to be overly dramatic, but I found a nice spot overlooking the big headwall, snapped a few photos, and then headed back toward my family to help clean sand from the kids’ roller skates.
The next day was an absolutely wonderful day. It was warm and sunny, and there was no wind blowing on the beach. In other words, it was basically like a mid-summer day by coastal standards. The kids played in the ocean for a while, and then we took a day trip down to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Rogue Brewery, both of which are located in Newport, Oregon. After leaving Newport, we went a few miles farther south to Seal Rock State Park. I’ve seen several great photos from Seal Rock, and since I knew that low tide was occurring around sunset, I figured that we might as well go explore around on the beach for awhile. We stopped and picked up some firewood and marshmallows and then set out for the beach to do a little photo scouting.
Unfortunately, the low tide wasn’t really all that low on this particular day (about 4 feet above sea level), and therefore, some of the beach’s most interesting rock formations and tide pools didn’t get exposed. I set up my camera and tripod several different times hoping for something magical, but after looking at the scenes again in my viewfinder, I just wasn’t all that moved by them so I packed up my gear and never even clicked the shutter. All-in-all, it looked like Julie and the kids were having much more fun than me, so I decided to put away the camera and go play with them until the sun got a little lower on the horizon.
After running around on the beach for a while longer, Julie and I built a campfire and sat back sipping on a couple of “Mommy and Daddy drinks” while the kids roasted marshmallows. As usual, Jacob was drawn to the campfire. I kept waiting for him to pull his shirt over his head and start screaming “Fire! Fire!” like some old Beavis and Butthead episode. The next two pictures illustrate the dramatic difference in marshmallow roasting techniques that are used by my two older kids. Notice how Ella (6 years old) stays so far back from the fire that her marshmallows stay about the same temperature that they were in the grocery store, while Jacob (4 years old) is not bashful at all about sticking his deep into the fire and watching them burn to a crisp. Julie and I eventually had to draw a circle in the sand several feet away from the fire just to keep Jacob from pulling a truly Beavis-like move.
The later it got, the less and less likely it seemed that the sunset was going to turn toward the dramatic side, so I walked down to the water’s edge and snapped the following photo, and then we headed back up the Pacific Coast Highway to Pacific City.
The next day was an equally beautiful day on the coast. We spent most of the morning sitting out on the deck, eating ice cream and enjoying the summer temperatures and then we headed back home . . . and back in time . . . to the winterscape of the Cascade Mountain Range.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: To see more of our coastal images, please click the following link: Pacific Coast Images
Without a doubt, Pacific City is one of my favorite spots on the Oregon coast. Not only is it home to the Pelican Pub’s perfectly hoppy, awarding-winning India Pelican Ale (IPA), but it also has one of the most diverse and scenic landscapes in the state. A strenuous climb up and around Cape Kiwanda can reveal many gems that are otherwise hidden from those who are more “reclined” than “inclined.”
If you have only one day to explore this area, I would recommend getting up early, grabbing a hot cup of Joe from one of the beachfront coffee shops and taking a sunrise stroll down to the tide pools near the big sand dune at the north end of the beach. As the sun climbs up and over the hills surrounding the Nestucca River Valley, the light will often produce beautiful colors as it reflects off of the seaward clouds.
After you’ve explored around the tide pools for awhile (and hopefully after the coffee kicks in), point your toes up the steep sandy hill and start climbing over the left-hand shoulder of the dune. You will find a protective fence at the top of the shoulder; however, many people consider this barrier to be more of a suggestion than an actual obstruction, so if you’re in an exploring mood—and you’re not hiking with small children—you might want to take a gamble and head out to the far end of the Cape. Just don’t get too close to the edge of the cliff because the sandstone can break away without warning, and falling a few hundred feet down onto a rocky shore probably won’t be much fun. It’s also important to stay on the main trails leading to the overlooks so that you don’t add any further damage to the eroding trails leading down to the water.
If you prefer to stay on the safer side of the fence, I would recommend continuing the hike by climbing up the western face of the dune where you can get a nice gull’s eye view of the waves crashing into the Cape and Haystack Rock.
Continuing up and over the steep sand dune will provide even more breath-taking views (literally), and a peek into the canyon on the other side. Here, the rocky cliffs jet straight skyward from the tide line. A keen eye will also spot a natural tunnel that has been carved through the sandstone bluffs.
Now that your heart is pumping at the summit of the dune, skirt around the eastern slope and drop down to the beach on the other side (the “Secret Beach” as my kids call it). This beach tends to be much more secluded than the one on the main side of the dune, and it has another nice collection of tide pools and a big natural sandstone bridge that you can walk under during low tide. I’ve also seen bald eagles and sea lions fishing over on this side of the Cape, which is always a fascinating experience.
If it happens to be low tide, you can easily spend an hour or so at the Secret Beach looking at all of the starfish, hermit crabs, and anemones that are hiding in the various tide pools.
After an invigorating morning of exploring around Cape Kiwanda, you can sit out on the Pelican Pub’s oceanfront patio and replenish yourself with a couple of pints or a wide variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches while you watch surfers riding the waves coming in from Haystack Rock. If time allows, you might also choose to take a short drive north along the Three Capes Scenic Loop to Cape Lookout and Cape Meares or south to the charming little beach towns of Neskowin or Newport (home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon State Marine Center, Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and Rogue–another wonderful Oregon brewery). Just don’t stay away too long, because Pacific City also has amazing sunsets.
These are just some of the reasons that I enjoy vacationing in Pacific City. If you go for a visit, I would highly recommend staying in one of the Cape Cod-style cottages at Shorepine Village. These fully-furnished vacation homes offer a much more relaxing way to enjoy the coast than a standard hotel room, and if you’re traveling with small children, they can set you up in one of their kid-friendly units which are stocked full of toys for your little ones to enjoy. Shorepine Village is an idyllic little beach community complete with a few families of wondering bunnies, and some nice flat bike paths that meander around the grounds and through two old-timey covered bridges. Between the ales at the pub and the scenes along Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City is a truly unbeatable beach get away.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures from Pacific City, you can browse the Pacific Coast Gallery on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Pacific City.”
The Oregon coast is an absolutely extraordinary place, especially if you happen to enjoy taking pictures. With a tide table and a little bit of luck, a photographer can find endless opportunities to capture that perfect shot. I recently had one such opportunity while visiting the quaint little town of Oceanside, Oregon.
Oceanside, which is located along the Three Capes Scenic Loop just west of Tillamook, has one of the most unique beaches on the coast. While it may seem relatively ordinary from the main parking area, a short walk reveals a rock tunnel that cuts through the huge headwall at the northern end of the beach. On the other side of the tunnel, photographers are greeted with gorgeous views of the Three Arches Rocks and another big collection of sea stacks that are part of the Oregon Islands. If the tide is low enough, you can also climb around the northern-most part of the Islands to another hidden beach that is normally blocked by the tide line.
I’ve been to Oceanside many times in the past, and although I’ve made it to the hidden beach a few times before, I’ve never had the timing that I needed to really get the photo that I was wanting—until recently. On my last trip to the coast, I checked the tide tables and noticed that there was going to be a negative tide (-2 feet) occurring in Oceanside around the time that the sun would be setting. If everything worked out well, I knew that I should be able to get around to the hidden beach and shoot the sea stacks as they were silhouetted against the setting sun.
My mother happened to be out visiting from St Louis, Missouri and since she had never been to Oceanside before, I thought it would be a nice place to take her. She and I packed up my two older kids and we made the short trek from our beach house in Pacific City up to Oceanside. As we arrived, I noticed that the clouds had started to form out at sea and I became very optimistic that I was finally going to get the photo that I had wanted since the first time that I set foot on this beach a few years earlier.
There was about an hour remaining before sunset, so I spent a little bit of time playing with the kids and taking pictures of them as they splashed around the tide pools . . .
. . . and then I put on my “serious photographer” hat and went to work. I grabbed the tripod, and in a very organized fashion, I began methodically moving my way up the beach looking for interesting ways to frame the ocean and the various rock formations.
As the sun got lower and lower, I got farther and farther up the beach until I had finally reached a spot where all of the sea stacks lined up in a way that gave me a nice balanced composition. I positioned my tripod in the sinking sand and tried to steady it as best as I could for what I knew was going to be a very long exposure. I clicked the shutter button and waited patiently until the image was finally revealed on my camera’s LCD panel. I looked at the image and then let out a big smile and a sigh of relief, satisfied that I had finally captured my long-awaited image.
Not long after looking at the image above, a wave came up and tickled my toes. It kind of caught me by surprise and when I looked back along the shoreline, I noticed that the tide had started coming back in. My previously wide open beach was getting progressively narrower and narrower and I realized that if I didn’t start making my way back toward the tunnel, I was going to get trapped on this side of the rocks. But as I hustled back down the beach, the sunset was getting more and more dramatic, and I just couldn’t resist the temptation to take a few more photographs. At one point, I climbed up on a rock with the intent of using it as foreground material when a sneaker wave rushed in and completely surrounded me with water. I was now standing on a rock, thirty feet out into the ocean, with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and a rising tide. Slightly panicked, I stood my ground and watched as several more waves rushed in and swirled around my little island of a rock. The waves would come in, crash up against the shoreline, and then just as one wave was about to subside, another would come in to take its place. I was trapped.
Eventually, I began to recognize the timing of the wave pattern. I waited for the right moment, and with a big breath, I leaped out into the receding water and then high-stepped it back to dry land while holding my camera and tripod over my head. That little episode was enough of a wake-up call for me, and without any further ado, I packed up my camera and jogged around the rock wall and back through the pitch-black tunnel.
The sun was completely under water by the time that I made it back to the parking area, and as I approached the Jeep, I could see my mother waiting there and two tiny shadows racing toward me on the beach yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” My children have started doing this every time that they see me returning from a photo expedition, and it always brings a huge smile to my face and reminds me of just how lucky I am. As happy as I was to have gotten some beautiful photos on that night–and to have escaped the rock incident without soaking any of my camera gear–neither of those compared to the joy that I felt when I saw my children running up with excitement as I returned. Without a doubt, that was the most rewarding part of the entire experience, and the one that I will remember long after the photo files have faded.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures from Oceanside, you can browse our Pacific Coast gallery on the Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Oceanside.”