Photographing Movie Locations

July 21, 2022

It's always interesting to see places I've been in a big time movie. Often, it takes me a second to recognize it because the context is so different. Other times, I know immediately where the camera operator was standing when he was filming. Last week as I was driving back from the Cascades in Washington, I was close enough to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming that I decided to stop and see it. Devils Tower featured heavily in a movie that was a blockbuster when I was growing up, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". That got me thinking about what other movie locations I've been to and photographed. I don't believe this covers all of them, but below is a selection of several spots that I've photographed that also made it to the big screen.

Devils Tower, also known as Bear Lodge Butte, rises above the Belle Fourche River in northeast Wyoming.

Devils Tower

Devils Tower, also known as Bear Lodge Butte, rises above the Belle Fourche River in northeast Wyoming.

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

As I mentioned, Devils Tower featured prominently in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If you're unfamiliar with this particular Steven Spielberg vehicle, it stars Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, and Melinda Dillon in a film about aliens making contact with humans. Devils Tower is communicated as the landing location for the aliens on a specific date. Now, I was 5 years old when the movie came out, so the idea of aliens landing there always kind of freaked me out a bit. As a result, the place has always held a bit of mystery and intrigue for me. As I began photographing more landscapes, Devils Tower always stood out to me as a place I'd want to photograph someday.

Early morning light glows on rock formations at Norbeck Pass in Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Twilight in the Badlands

Limited Edition

Early morning light glows on rock formations at Norbeck Pass in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Limited edition of 100 prints. Includes signed certificate of authenticity.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

With a name like Badlands, you know this national park was featured in a western or two. And it did, with Oscar winner Dances With Wolves being the most well known. The Kevin Costner epic was filmed in many locations in South Dakota, mostly on private land, but there were several scenes filmed in Badlands National Park that are instantly recognizable.

View from Big Badlands Overlook in Badlands National Park.

The Badlands Wall

The rock formations that make up the Badlands wall stretch from the town of Wall in the west, to Kadoka in the east. I found the play of light and shadow across them fascinating. The layers that can be seen in the rock signify different points in time.

Badlands also featured in a well-known sci-fi blockbuster, Armageddon, starring Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis. In the case of Armageddon, Badlands played its part as the surface of the asteroid that's coming to destroy the earth. Yeah, I can see that. And in Starship Troopers, another sci-fi film, Badlands features as an alien planet. Guess I'm not the only one who thinks Badlands is otherworldly.

Sunset behind Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Day's End at Cannon Beach

The sun descends behind Haystack Rock at the end of a summer day in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Every time someone sees one of my photos of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, if they grew up in the 80's, they immediately recognize it as a location from the movie The Goonies. I'll admit I've never seen the Goonies. I think when it came out in 1985 I was just a touch older than the target demographic for it. But it remains popular with anyone who was the right age, as they recall Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, and Josh Brolin hunting for a pirate's lost treasure.

The pre-dawn light glows on the dunes at Mesquite Flats in Death Valley National Park.

Mesquite Twilight

Limited Edition

The pre-dawn light glows on the dunes at Mesquite Flats in Death Valley National Park. This Limited Edition of 100 prints includes a signed certificate of authenticity.

Death Valley National Park, California

What is it with deserts filling in for alien planets? Death Valley National Park was used in two Star Wars Movies: A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Both of these figured prominently in my youth as I played with toy X-wing fighters and tie-fighters, and watched the original trilogy endlessly on VHS tapes. Death Valley sat in for certain locations on Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine.

View of Badwater Basin from Dante's View in Death Valley National Park.

Dante's View

Dante's View, an overlook on the north side of Coffin Peak, provides a panoramic view of Death Valley. The viewpoint sits more than 5000 feet above the valley floor, which at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America. It is shown here in the late afternoon.

 red and pink just before dawn at Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine.

Sailor Take Warning

Clouds glow red and pink just before dawn at Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine.

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse is immediately recognizable to anyone who's seen Forrest Gump. The lighthouse comes into play when Tom Hanks, as Forrest, goes on his run. Forrest says "I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going." The place he turns around is Marshall Point Lighthouse. It's only in the movie for maybe 30 seconds or less, but it's an iconic scene and stands out.

Sea smoke rises from the curface of Casco Bay on a bitter cold winter morning at Portland Head Lighthouse.

Winter Morn at Portland Head Light

Sea smoke rises from the curface of Casco Bay on a bitter cold winter morning at Portland Head Lighthouse.

Portland Head Lighthouse

Portland Head Lighthouse appears in several movies and TV shows, usually briefly as an establishing shot to show location. In 1999, the lighthouse was used in the movie Snow Falling on Cedars, which takes place in the Pacific Northwest. The filmmakers needed a stormy look and they got what they wanted, as the great ice storm of 1998 hit as they were filming. It turns out, several other films were shot in the area as well.

Red barns are covered in fresh white snow under a blue sky with puffy clouds in Vermont.

Winter on the Farm

A winter morning at Jenne Farm in Reading, Vermont sees the red barns covered in fresh snow. The farm has been in the same family since 1790, and the original house still stands attached the current farmhouse, built in 1820.

Jenne Farm, Reading, Vermont

Jenne Farm has long been used in TV commercials (like this 1986 Budweiser Christmas ad). But this farm, possibly one of the most photographed in the world, has also appeared in movies such as Forrest Gump and Chevy Chase's Funny Farm. It's a bucolic, serene location. The Jenne family has for years been very welcoming of photographers and filmmakers. I'm grateful for their understanding, and try to pick up some of their fresh maple syrup whenever I'm in the area.

Huge waves crash against Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Tempest

Limited Edition

Waves caused by a nor'easter's passing pound Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park. Otter Cliff is 110 feet tall, so these waves were just incredible to see. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 prints.

Otter Cliff, Acadia National Park

While the Martin Scorcese movie Shutter Island takes place on an island near Boston, some of the exterior locations that stood in for the island were filmed at Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park. The island was supposed to have a rocky, forbidding coastline, and Acadia certainly can provide that under the right conditions!

Skyline Arch in Arches National Park.

Skyline Arch at Sunset

The setting sun shows a deep orange on the rock face of Skyline Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. The arch measures 71 feet across and 33 feet tall.

Arches National Park

Ok, so not all desert locations are used as alien planets in sci-fi movies. Arches National Park has served as a filming location for many movies, and I don't see any science fiction on the list! Some of the more famous films include Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (a favorite of mine) with Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, as well as Thelma & Louise with Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis.

The Park Avenue Trail in Arches National Park.

Morning on Park Avenue

Morning light falls on the rock formations that line the Park Avenue trail in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

There are several others, including many westerns, but another that stands out to me is City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold starring Billy Crystal.I don't recall seeing this one, but I saw the first movie and remember it being a good watch.

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.

Indian Beach, Ecola State Park, Oregon

The original Point Break, starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, is one of those movies I'm always up for watching. If I come across it while flipping channels I'll stop and pick it up at whatever point it's at. Most of the movie takes place around Los Angeles and Southern California, but the climactic battle between Bodhi (Swayze) and Special Agent Johnny Utah (Reeves) takes place on Indian Beach, standing in for Bells Beach, Australia. Parts of The aforementioned Goonies was also filmed here.

I always find it fun to photograph locations that have appeared in movies and TV shows that I come across. While this list isn't exhaustive by any stretch, these are some of the more well known movie locations I've managed to photograph. What's your favorite movie?