Exploring the Oregon Coast

September 26, 2021  |  Oregon

The Oregon Coast, and the Pacific Northwest in general, have long held my interest as a place I'd like to spend more time in and photograph. I've made three trips previously, but still felt I had a lot of unexplored territory there. On this most recent trip, I explored a lot of new places and photographed things I never had before.

I first "discovered" the Oregon Coast on a landscape photography discussion forum about 15 years ago. I had been content sharing local landscapes around Long Island, but was just starting to get the itch to travel. I had been to Maine a couple of times. Someone in that forum shared images of Cannon Beach, Oregon, and I knew I had to go there myself. I had no idea, at that time, that the Oregon Coast was so stunningly beautiful from top to bottom. So earlier this year when planning our photo trips for the year, Kristen Wilkinson and I decided the Oregon Coast was on this year's itinerary. I was originally scheduled to teach a workshop there in 2020, but the pandemic quickly eliminated that possibility.

Sand dunes and Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Evening on Cannon Beach

Sea birds gather at sunset on Cannon Beach Oregon as Haystack Rock stands tall in the distance. Elevate your space with a fine art print of Evening on Cannon Beach, from Rick Berk's Coastal collection.

Our first stop was Cannon Beach, which lies on the northern coast, maybe 45 minutes from the border with Washington State. Those northern coastal towns have a lot to see and do. Seaside, Oregon, just north of Cannon Beach, is home to Fort Stevens State Park, where you can explore an old shipwreck buried in the sand. In Cannon Beach, in addition to the beach and town, Ecola State Park offers some stunning views, and the chance to explore a subtropical rainforest. It's also home to scenes from famous movies. The climactic scene from the Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze film "Point Break" was shot on Indian Beach, where I photographed the sunset below. "The Goonies", a 1980's favorite, was also filmed here as well as in Cannon Beach.

A fog filters the setting sun on Indian Beach in Ecola State Park, Oregon.

Misty Sunset on Indian Beach

A light fog glows with the sunset on Indian Beach in Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Oregon, on a late summer evening.

When we finished in Cannon Beach, we headed further south, basing ourselves in Coos Bay. We passed Heceta Head Lighthouse, near Yachats, Oregon, on our way down, but knew we wanted to head back and catch the sunrise there. So we chose the next morning to get up early so we could climb higher up the headland behind the lighthouse, allowing us to look eye to eye with the first order fresnel lens in the lighthouse. As the sun began to rise, the sky to the south began to glow warmly, lighting up the clouds. We spent an hour on the the side of that hill, watching the fog roll into the coves, watching the light change, listening to the Pacific Ocean wash over the rocks. It was an incredible morning and I felt lucky to have been one of only two people to witness it from that spot.

Heceta Head Lighthouse stands on the headlands above the Pacific Ocean on a summer morning in Oregon.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon stands tall on its perch halfway up the headlands, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the rugged Oregon coastline to the south. From this vantage point, the pre-dawn light casts a warm glow, turning the sky peach and pink. Wispy clouds fill the sky, while a light fog has settled in the coves along the coast. This historic 19th-century lighthouse with it's elegant beauty, is a picture of strength and poise against the mighty sea. From the hillside behind the lighthouse, one can look down and marvel at the power of the rolling surf crashing against the rocks below, creating a perfect contrast between the silent grandeur of the lighthouse and the wild beauty of the ocean.

On that same forum post so many years ago, someone commented that they found Bandon Beach, on the southern Oregon Coast, to be even more beautiful than Cannon Beach. When planning this trip, I decided it was time to see for myself. I'm not sure I would say "more beautiful", but it's certainly different and certainly no less beautiful than Cannon Beach. There are a lot of rock formations and sea stacks along the shoreline, ranging from fairly small to enormous. In the images below, "Bandon Afterglow" and "Bandon Fury", I had walked a long way down the beach and found this area where several stacks funneled the ocean into a small area, which created lots of dramatic wave crashes. I found this spot in the morning, and immediately decided I'd be back for sunset, to catch more color in the sky and have the waves backlit for more drama.

One of the toughest parts of photographing on Bandon was the water. The beach is not like east coast beaches, with their soft sand that your feet sink into, that also absorbs the water pretty readily. Bandon's sand is packed hard, and the water just seems to continually roll up the beach, even at low tide, and it can come fast. I ruined a pair of hiking boots because I was trying to get close to a rock formation and a wave suddenly put me in knee deep water! I ended up changing my approach a bit, and using a longer focal length to allow me to stand back a bit.

A fog moves over the rock formations on Bandon Beach just after sunset.

Bandon Afterglow

Limited Edition

A vivid sunset on an early autumn evening creates a palette of orange, pink, and purple in the sky and reflects off the wet sands of Bandon Beach, while a light fog moves between the large sea stacks dotting the shoreline. The scene is truly breathtaking with its one-of-a-kind dichotomy between the serenity of the water and the ethereal beauty of these enormous rock formations, shrouded in the mysterious mist. It's the perfect image to capture the unique magic of Bandon beach. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 prints, includes signed Certificate of Authenticity.

Waves crash against the rock formations on Bandon Beach at sunset on a summer evening in Oregon.

Bandon Fury

Limited Edition

The Pacific Ocean ferociously pounds the sea stacks at Coquille Point on Bandon Beach, Oregon at sunset on a late summer day. The setting sun has painted the sky a rich yellow-orange, while a fine mist hangs in the air over the beach, adding a peaceful contrast to this scene showcasing the raw power of Mother Nature.

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 by Rick Berk from his Coastal Collection of photographs.

While Oregon doesn't have as many lighthouses as Maine, with only 11, some of them rival even the most beautiful in Maine. I already wrote about our visit to Heceta Head Lighthouse above. As our time wound down, we decided to visit Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport for a sunset on our last evening in Oregon. The angles were a little difficult, but after trying a few different spots, I found what I wanted in the image below, just as the sun was about to sink beneath the horizon. The sky had just started to glow so the timing was perfect. Unfortunately, the park closes promptly at sunset, so I captured this image and immediately had to pack up and leave. I would have liked to stay a little longer and capture the afterglow, but it wasn't to be this time.

The sun sets on a late summer day as Yaquina Head Lighthouse stands watch over the Oregon Coast and the Pacific Ocean. Let Rick Berk's Sunset at Yaquina Head Li

Sunset at Yaquina Head Lighthouse

The sun sets on a late summer day as Yaquina Head Lighthouse stands watch over the Oregon Coast and the Pacific Ocean.

I'm excited to be going back to the northern Oregon Coast next June to teach a workshop. It should be a lot of fun and a chance to make some really great images. If you're interested, visit Blue Hour Photo Ventures for more info.