Stock landscape and outdoor adventure photos from Oregon, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest

Stock Photos from Oregon’s Yaquina Head Lighthouse: Lucky, Lucky, Lucky.

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.

Stock photo of Oregon's Yaquina Head Lighthouse surrounded by cumulus clouds.  Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

Stock photo of Oregon's Yaquina Head Lighthouse surrounded by cumulus clouds. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

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.

Stock photo of Oregon's Yaquina Head Lighthouse surrounded by cumulus clouds.  Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

Stock photo of Oregon's Yaquina Head Lighthouse surrounded by cumulus clouds. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

 

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.

Wildflowers along the cliffs at Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon.  Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

Wildflowers along the cliffs at Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

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.

Wildflowers blooming along the cliffs near the Pacific Ocean.

Wildflowers blooming along the cliffs near the Pacific Ocean.

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.

Stock photo of the beach and cliffs below Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon.  Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

Stock photo of the beach and cliffs below Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock.

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

8 Responses Subscribe to comments


  1. admin

    Troy,
    These may be the best lighthouse photos I’ve ever seen. Great Work. Sometimes it’s really nice to get lucky!
    Mike

    Jul 02, 2009 @ 7:23 am


  2. Michael Croxford

    WOW!! Love it.

    Jul 02, 2009 @ 10:46 am


  3. Joel

    Thanks for sharing your story along with the amazing photos. I think a lot of us photogs can share similar stories of getting up early and chasing the light, hoping for the perfect melding of all the elements.
    I found your web site searching out photo locations along the Oregon coast. I grew up on the West Coast, but currently live in Houston, and it’s pretty rough as far as landscape photography goes. I’m praying for beautiful sunrises and sunsets while I’m out there next week.
    Joel

    Jul 10, 2009 @ 6:54 pm


  4. Michael Hatten

    Hello Troy,

    Excellent images, and as always an excellent story. I know what you mean about a supportive family. My Girlfriend of 8 years has put up with, and has encouraged my photography pursuits. My quick run after work to Central Oregon for some sunsets. To what she calls “The butt crack of dawn craziness” when I leave from Salem at 2am just to get to some mountain lake for a sunrise shot. She does not always go with me into these places and there are times when I am experiencing somthing very special and I wish she were there with me to share it. But I am ever so appreciative to her willingness to just let me go when I need to go. In the end she loves the images I bring back.

    Michael..

    Jul 11, 2009 @ 9:35 pm


  5. Troy McMullin

    Joel, I wish you the best of luck on your Oregon trip. I hope you’re able to make it to Yaquina Head lighthouse and Cape Kiwanda. They’re both full of photographic opportunities. If you have time, it is defintely worth the trip to also head south to Haceta Head Lighthouse and the Bandon beaches. Really, the whole coast is so beautiful that it’s hard to go wrong anywhere along it. Have a great trip.

    Jul 13, 2009 @ 5:56 am


  6. Troy McMullin

    Michael, thanks again for the kind words. I’m glad to hear that you’re still out there working hard, and that you have found someone who understands the committment that it takes to capture such beautiful images. Family support sure makes it a lot easier.

    Mike Putnam and I (and 2 other friends) are leaving tomorrow for a week-long trip to the Sawtooth Mountains and the Wallowas. Should be lots of fun, and hopefully, we’ll get some worthwhile images while we’re at it.

    I hope you have a great summer.

    Troy

    Jul 13, 2009 @ 6:01 am


  7. Greg

    Stunning!!

    Jul 15, 2009 @ 7:09 am


  8. Tim

    Wow! these photos are beautiful! Good job mate.
    I play around with graphics a bit and have recently been asked by a friend to make a music album cover for her, with her only request being it’s lighthouse themed. I’ve looked around for some photos but haven’t found too many, but these ones have really caught my eye!! Would it be ok with you if I got some copies of them and used them in my work? I would make sure you were given full credit for them. It’s up to you, I don’t mind if you say no but it would just make my job HEAPS easier lol Let me know what you think :)

    Thanks and congrats on the great pics again!

    Tim

    Jul 22, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

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