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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

Along the Oregon Coastal Highway

Reaching back a bit to early 2015, I want to finish sharing what I know of the Pacific Northwest, up to this point.

Back in 2015, I traveled to the Oregon Coast to meet with the Improve Photography website group. At that time, they were doing "free," pay-your-own-way, type workshops, and I had never been to a photography workshop before but wanted to start actively growing my latent talents.

Just south of Cape Perpetua lies Thor's Well. Its a sea drain or hole in the coastline that repeatedly fills and drains with the ocean waves. Surrounded by wave smoothed rocks, visitors can get very close to the actual hole. Photography here must be timed carefully to show the well between fills.

You can just make out the rim of the well in the image above. I was only given a few minutes to capture something as the waves were high during my visit. Only moments after I turned to head towards shore, the photographer next to me who stayed, was swamped by a wave, soaking both camera and photographer with cold salty water.

(Photo, once again, by the awesome Nick Page.)

Location tip: The Pacific here is unforgiving and visiting this location must be done with careful planning. At high tide or during high waves, this location can turn deadly for both photography equipment and people.

Gear tip: Ensure you have a pair of waterproof pants and boots when working around the Oregon Coast. I found Columbia Sportswear has some great pull over shells and used Neo Overshoes for this trip. Never had an issue with wet feet or clothing. Best part is, for both these items, they slip over your regular clothing/shoes, so its super easy to change after shooting.

This area is great for intimate, long exposure water work as well. Using a circular polarizer (CPL) and a neutral density (ND) filter can really help bring out the contrast between the hard, coarse rocks and the soft, flowing water.

From Thor's Well, the small group who had meet up there, headed down to meet everyone in Gold's Beach, where the workshop was based out of for the long weekend.

Samuel H Boardman State Park would host our sunrise and sunset sessions for several days. As a long, thin state park that covers some of the best cliffs, sea stacks and ocean arches, a photographer cant ask for a better topography mix that portrays the Oregon coast all in one location.

While the awe-inspiring views were everywhere, the details around every corner were also fantastic. Everything from the way the setting sun reflected off the textures in the sand to the single starfish among mollusks at low tide.

Walking along a cliff-top trail in S.H. Boardman State Park, out onto one of the "fingers" that juts from the coastline, I came across a view that was just so peaceful to me. The muted tones in the sky as the last light touches the sea bridge island and the water glowed aqua-marine. Bundled up against the brisk winds, I captured, what, for me, is my favorite image of the trip.

Leaving Gold's Beach and driving south on 101 to S. H. Boardman State Park, there is another area that is just great for sea stacks - Pistol River State Scenic Viewpoint. I visited at dawn and was able to get some nice shots as the tide was coming in and the sun was rising behind me, casting great morning light onto the monoliths.

Location tip: Get up early to witness this if the tides are low and the forecast is calling for sunny skies. Staying here beyond sunrise on a clear day is a bit of a waste as the scene typically washes out pretty quickly, so have a plan to move elsewhere.

Photo tip: Make sure to remove your CPL or you could end up removing your reflections. Since the purpose of a CPL is to cut glare, they also remove reflections. If you need to darken the scene to smooth out the wave action, lower your ISO as low as it will go and use a ND filter.

Secret Beach was visited a few times during the workshop, too. Now, its called Secret Beach and yet, Google Maps knows about it so? Anyway, there is a bit of a steep trek down to the actual beach level, meaning its not for those with mobility issues and helps keep those less dedicated up at the parking lot lookout.

Location tip: Check your tides. This is best done at low tide so visitors can get around some of the rocky outcroppings and access more secluded coves.

Gear tip: If going any time around sundown or there is a possibility of you being stuck down there near sundown, make sure you have a flashlight! The trail back up to the car is not one you want to tackle in the dark. There are many steep drops off the cliff only a few steps off the trail in places.

Low tide at sunset was a spectacular time to visit. The sunset light reflecting off the wet sand with sea stack silhouettes was just perfect. The sky also presented us with a crescent moon on our way back towards the cars. With my very limited astro/night photography skills that I had on this trip, I still feel I did a decent job in creating this image.

One of the nights, we traveled north from Gold's Beach to Cape Blanco Lighthouse. The moon had already set by the time we arrived, so, with an easy, little hike from the parking lot, we were able set up at the base of the lighthouse. I used this session to learn a bit about shooting astrophotography and light painting.

Gear tip: Having a sturdy tripod is a must for night photography. A wide lens with a very wide aperture is also best, so look for lenses like a 24mm with a 1.4 aperture or something similar.

As the workshop wrapped up, I headed back north along the Oregon Coastal Highway. Stopping in Reedsport, there are two areas of interest. One being the Oregon Dune's Recreation Area and the other being Dean's Creek Elk Viewing Area.

I was not pleased with my images from the Dunes and hope to get back there for a re-shoot at some point. The elk viewing was great though. Up early to be there as the sun rose and the elk started moving about, I was able to get relatively close without endangering myself or changing the animals' behavior. I witnessed several mock battles while there.

Location tip: Stay outside the fields and obey all posted signs. The elk are wild and unpredictable. Arriving early beats the crowds and puts you there when the herds are waking up to feed and interact with each other.

Gear tip: A telephoto lens is strongly recommended for this location. Not only are you dealing with large wild mammals but fencing does keep photographers out of the fields and the animals can be at a distance.

About an hour north of Reedsport is Seal Cave, America's largest sea cave and home to an average population of 200 Stellar Sea Lions. A bit of a tourist trap, it was still fascinating to visit. Not only are there observation decks along the exterior cliff to view the sea lions outside the cave, along the rocky ledges and in the waters surrounding the area, but you can go down into the cave as well! Once inside the cave there are more observation platforms so visitors can see the sea lions who choose to rest inside and observe the colony behaviors there.

After seeing all I could at Seal Cave, I continued north once more, making a brief stop at the famed Cannon Beach. Arriving early afternoon, the photos were limited to a few snapshots before I pushed towards my sunset location.

The Peter Iredale shipwreck in Warrenton, Oregon, is about 100 years old. Bound for Portland, Washington, when it ran ashore, the steel vessel has slowly deteriorated in the harsh Pacific climate. At low tide, visitors can walk out to whats left of the rusting hull structure. For me, this image was worth the drive across the state. Even if I do revisit the Peter Iredale site, it wont be the same ship as it slowly disappears into the ocean piece but piece.

Overall, this trip taught me so much! Subjects like photography were a given, but I also learned much about making good, long lasting friendships in just a few days. Many of the participants I met at this workshop, I continue to connect with either online or through my travels. Its been so amazing to see their photography take off on various paths and to see how far I have progressed from this trip!

Coming up, I have some very exciting travel to two parts of the world I have yet to visit: the Middle East and Europe. I will be spending time in the United Arab Emirates before heading to Germany and France. While on the road I will be updating my Instagram feed the most, so make sure you are following me there (@abenderphoto) for all the latest on my adventures! Until next time, cheers!

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