Nate Parker Photography | A week photographing in the Pacific Northwest

A week photographing in the Pacific Northwest

November 11, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Ruby Beach Sea Stacks

"Ruby Beach Sea Stacks, Washington"

Right then, so about a year ago the lady gets an invitation to attend a friends wedding whom she went to college with out in Washington state, well the wedding was Portland Oregon, the devil's in the details- anyway we made the plan to fly out there for the wedding which was last week and then take a week to travel around and she could visit some places that she remembers and I could geek out with my cam. And for the most part that's just what we did. We arrived in Portland last Friday night after a triple connection flight plan (we really got our monies worth in take-off's and landings!) picked up the rental car and went to the motel. Coincidentally last weekend ended up being daylight savings times' fall back the clock action so the normal 3 hour difference in Pacific time became a 4 hour difference: I was waking up for the first few days at 03:15 am. There's plenty of coffee out there though so waking up early wasn't too bad. Here's a little detail: they have all these little coffee and espresso shacks all over the place that pretty much look like a garden shed that you drive up to and the coffee girl hooks you up and you're off- which is cool cause they look neat and have lots of character, the shops that is. 

Ok, so, our itinerary was to attend the wedding on Saturday in Portland, (congratulations Alyssa and Matthew!) and then beginning on Sunday we would start up the Pacific Coast Highway 101 to the Olympic Peninsula. Saturday morning we woke up early (of course since we were still on east coast time) and because the wedding wasn't till 4:00 pm we decided to head due west to the ocean which was only an hour away and the first stop on the improvised photo tour was Cannon Beach Oregon, which is a fantastic location and one that I've heard about for a long time. Here's another little detail: I'd never before seen the Pacific Ocean, and since I was a kid when I used to competitively do windsurfing and used to want to be a sponsored pro and live in Hawaii etc I'd long fantasized about the place. Half a life-time later and a completely different person now my first viewing of the Pacific had me hooting "holy cow!" over and over again. As a primarily seascape shooter now all I wanted to see was those incredible sea stacks that I've seen so many images of- and they are totally incredible! At Cannon Beach (which I can't help but think of as 'Canon' beach) there is a massive stack called Haystack Rock that is according to the Wikipedia: 235 feet tall and has a cave system that you're not allowed in- and it's flanked by "the needles" two sheer spikes that poke out of the ocean to it's left. We poked around the town of Cannon Beach and got some breakfast and looked into some galleries and shops while waiting for the drizzle to abate (there were dozens of photo galleries there- absolutely odd how many there were, (there was even a photo gallery in the local gas station!), and judging by the images I saw there was pretty much one picture to be made here and it was the Haystack Rock shot, so we went out there and did that and it was nice. Here's another little detail: the beaches out there from what I could tell are different then east coast beaches in that they slope so gradually into the ocean that when a wave comes and breaks it doesn't just break and recede- it breaks then just keeps coming and coming and coming. It's a beautiful beach with no rocks and hardly any drift wood and is probably a gorgeous place to beach-out on in the summer. Here's a few seconds of viddy that I rolled after making the Haystack shots: 

Cannon Beach Oregon.

This trip for us was a great reward after a hard summers' season of work and Soph and I never really travel much but for the occasional trip to see family on either Cape Cod Massachussetts or down in the Virginia area- I love going to new places and Sophie does too but she doesn't like the flying too much (motion quesyness) personally I love the flying cause I used to want to be in the Air Force so take-off and turbulence are a gas for me! Anyways we planned the potential route we would explore in a fairly open ended way through Google image searches of the Olympic Peninsula, her own experiences in exploring the area when she was in college, and some recommendations from my internet peoples ala Gary Randall http://gary-randall.com/, Patricia Davidson http://www.patriciadavidsonphotography.com/, and this one from Ian Plant: http://www.ianplant.com/blog/2012/10/30/olympic-coast-workshop-may-1-5-2013/, among others. Theoretically I could have done a little better job in mapping out the details but I also wanted to have the feeling of finding stuff for myself. I had a short list written down in my field book that had Cannon Beach, Second Beach, Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, Third Beach, the Hoh Rainforest, Crescent Lake, and my ultimate goal was "Point of the Arches" at Shi Shi Beach. Cape Kiwanda, Kalaloch, Bandon, the Palouse and other places were on the list as well but it would take weeks to get all that in. Anyways after shooting at Cannon on Saturday and then taking a side trip downtown Portland and then to Olympia on Sunday I wanted to get something "in the can" as it were and here my planning failed me because all of a sudden I confused the "Three Arches" in Oregon for my ultimate destination which was "Point of the Arches" in Washington- oops, so we lost a bit of time Sunday afternoon and ended up staying in Oceanside Oregon for the night which was nice though at a beach hotel with a balcony and a fireplace and sweet off season rates- and I was loving the idea of waking up and walking a few hundred feet to the Pacific to make some photos at dawn, but then Soph got sick. She caught a wicked bad cold, a cold to end all colds, terrible suffering and sneezing and coughing etc ensued, and worse timing there could not have been because this was like day 2 of our 7 day trip! and there was lots to do!- so that sucked. Cough syrup, benadryl, Advil, etc, suffering and more suffering, but I still wanted for us to push on a much as we could so Monday we drove from Oceanside Oregon to Forks Washington through the hometown of Kurt Cobain in Aberdeen and along the beautifully scenic, curvy, and endlessly interesting highway 101. The drive was about 6 hours including some stops- one of which was the absolute worst restaurant experience ever that had me nearly frightened and we should have just run, but we got to Forks around 4:00 pm and got a pretty nice room in a motel in a little town that some movie "Twilight" has now made famous. Soph went right to bed and I asked the motel clerk how far Shi Shi was and she said and hour and a half and with only an hour of light left I was bummed that I wouldn't make it up there that day- and here's where my inept planning failed me again because only later did I realize that Rialto Beach, which was on my list, was only a 30 minute drive down the road! Arg! And there was a nice sunset that day- Double Arg. So I took the night off and had some PBR's and ended up chatting with the guys in the next room who were Salmon fishing, and one of the guys was a Seattle portrait, concert and commercial shooter named Christopher Nelson http://www.christophernelsonphotography.com/ so that was cool- I wasn't going to say anything about being a photographer myself (security concerns) until he said that he has an 85 1.2 therefore I knew he was ok :-)

Right then- so, the next morning we went over to Rialto for dawn and that was a gorgeous beach with huge waves and some absolutely massive driftwood logs lining it. The important thing out there to consider, besides the usual safety first bit, is that those beaches are enormous! They go for miles. And features that I had seen by doing Google image searches I couldn't hope to find unless there were hours to explore it- and there wasn't because the good lady was totally dying with that wicked bad cold. She toughed it out for me while I shot on the beach for an hour and a half or so with some pretty nice skies and cool pebbly beach textures and some sea stacks and crazy massive driftwoods and such then we drove back to town so we could get her some fruits and tissues et al and whatever, saw some elk, got back into "Twilight" land and promptly got pulled over by the police in our rental car for "speeding" on the main street! :-) I was going 33 in a 20 zone :-) whatever. The guy was nice, he realized I was from Maine and had that understanding that us East Coasters move around a little quicker, and let us go with a "slow down Mr. Parker" bit. Dropped Soph at the motel for a day of resting and cable tv and I was off to go shoot Shi Shi! 

Rialto Beach Washington.

I was so attracted to the amazing sea stack images that I was seeing from searches for Shi Shi Beach and the "Point of the Arches", just out of this world another planet-like looking environment. The best time to shoot that feature I learned would be at low tide to catch the texture in the rocks in the foreground and late in the day for sky contrast. But I ended up driving there through downpours of rain on a fairly flat and gray day along a super twisty coastal road (rte. 112) through the little town of Neah Bay where you purchase a park pass for 10 bucks that comes with a map and a parking pass and Shi Shi is about 15 minutes further on. That whole area could provide enough photography for weeks of discovery just in itself. Arrived at the parking lot at the trailhead @11:00, put my Muckboots on and hit it. Here's another little detail: my tripod for this trip was the unfortunately massive and heavy aluminum Manfrotto 3036 which is a studio tripod. My regular tripod, a standard Manfrotto from the 70's needs the leg locks replaced and where I intended to get that done before the trip, I didn't, so I was stuck with the 25 pound 3036. Which is fine and excellently dependable and ok to carry for a little while- but this Shi Shi excursion was going to prove to be epically difficult to negotiate with a backpack full of gear and that big lunker over my shoulder. Here's the deal: the trail starts out nice and easy enough on a beautiful red cedar boardwalk that cuts through old growth rainforest. After 3/4's of a mile or so the trail deteriorates into a muddy old logging road that you often have to slog through 10 inches of standing water and mud muck for the next 2 miles, which would be fine to just hike along, but carrying that freeking tripod the whole way by the end of the day started to feel like carrying a telephone pole! Yeah, so after realizing how long it would take and how much effort it would be just to reach the beach, I pretty much wrote off getting to "Point of the Arches" which on the map was way at the far end of Shi Shi which, it was becoming obvious, a huge beach. See the thing is, is that I didn't have all day- I had the rental car of course and Soph was stuck back at the hotel room trying to get over that cold- so I should get back in time to get more nose tissues for her or stuff and things like that and go get supper etc, that and the hike out to the beach was turning out to be more like an hour in itself. Therefore when I finally got in sight of the ocean I was becoming really anxious to get down to it and wanted to get shooting right off, so when I saw the rope- impatience won out over wisdom. 

this was the view half-way down the cliff.

I'm not proud of what I did, and I certainly don't intend to be bragging- and really it was pretty foolish to follow a thin nylon braided rope hardly thicker than parachute chord down a sheer, muddy, 75 degrees steep 150 foot tall embankment that I couldn't see to the bottom of, carrying a 60 pound tripod (that's right, now it weighs 60 pounds) and 25 pounds of camera gear- but look at that view! And see those rocks in the water to the lower left- that's where I set up to shoot. Obviously I made it. It's all part of the adventure, and it wasn't that rash of a decision- I did think about it for at least a minute. 

This is me amassing one high score for stupidity at Shi Shi beach Wa.

Well it was completely worth it. The sea stack structures there have such a wild character where they curve like they were peeled out of the crust of the Earth and huge waves crash over them. There was what I thought was a seal napping on his back in the cove but later Soph said it was probably a sea otter, there were caves along the base of the cliff and tide pools with urchins- the place was totally amazing. 

Shi Shi giant sea tubers

Shi Shi Beach Washington.

Ok- there's one more part of this story that makes it even more ridiculous. After photographing there at Shi Shi for just about 2 hours I figured I oughta get on back to poor Soph at the hotel and made to look for the exit and then I saw the only other person out there that day walking towards an opening in the tree line along the beach up aways so I went in that direction- there the path led up through some dense trees and I saw the persons pack and walking sticks leaning against the cliff and in front of me there was a steep fern covered hillside with a thin trail leading up it that looked more like a wash than a trail so I went to go meet the person and ask where the way out actually was- as I came around a corner, about 40 feet away was the lady hiker just getting up from an improvised toilet that was set off the path and I got all embarrassed and turned back and made some noise and looked the other way and figured she didn't see me and I walked up to her anew and said hello and asked if that steep path that I was looking at was the trail out (-I didn't bother to offer to shake her hand), we talked for a bit and she said yeah that's it "it's easy"... I hung my head and she was like "oh yeah, this is the Pacific Northwest-" whatever, I said good bye that I should be moving on, and set about clamoring up that bank. Pretty much as steep as the one I came down, but without a rope this time just using ferns as handholds occassionally I scaled this one which was 150 feet tall if the other one was. About a third of the way up I had to start resting and half-way up I was cursing myself for coming here. At the top I was thanking god for saving me for another day and breathlessly trembling after another most ridiculous test and making Iphone pictures of how steep this was when the lady who I was talking to only a few minutes earlier came walking up the trail that the fern cliff washout that I had just scrambled up connected to and said "you'll have to come back someday!", and I was like (in my head) Whot the HEdoublehockeysticks! So I went to look and only a hundred feet or so up the way was the main path and an easy switch back trail down to the beach- so I don't know what that was all about: if she was mad at me for ruining her bathroom moment or she just wanted to plain kill me out of malevolence or if it was just some kind of miscommunication but that was really an "icing on the cake" moment. O my word! 

I wish this could give you a better idea of how ridiculous this was-

Long story short- it was an unbelievably inspiring landscape to put my camera in front of out there. The Pacific Northwest in a lot of ways feels just like Maine, except maybe more like how Maine was when dinosaurs walked the earth. All summer long I've been wanting to get off the island and make some pictures of a new area and this trip certainly was what the doctor ordered in that department. The problem is is that instead of perfectly sating me with the experience- now I want to keep going! Iceland is next! Hopefully! 

Sophie's getting better now, but now I've got the cold, and it's nice to be home. Oh and one more thing- the last morning we were out there, in Seatac next to the airport, the hotel caught on fire! The hotel actually caught on fire- the alarms were going off and I heard it from across the street where I was filling up the rental cars tank to return it- so I rushed back and ran up the steps that all the sleepy people were coming down in their pj's and on the first floor landing thick smoke that smelled like burning plastic was pouring into the stairwell so then I actually got legitimately worried and ran up to the third floor where we were staying and found Soph who had my camera bag with her coming out into the hallway and we quickly gathered up the rest of our junk and "checked out" a little earlier then we were expecting: a complaint call to them will follow concurrent with publishing this- so that was a mighty crazy way to end the week heh!? The hotel caught on fire! 

Here's a couple more images from what I've been working on- Haystack Rock Cannon Beach Oregon

"Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach Oregon"

Shi Shi Beach Sea Stacks

"Shi Shi Beach Sea Stacks"

Ruby Beach Sea Stack

"Ruby Beach Sea Stack" --Just Realized I Over Dodged This- I'll fix it later-

Rialto Beach "Rialto Beach"

and here's something completely different but I really like this one- Oceanside Oregon Beach Swing in the Fog

"Fog Swing" Oceanside, Oregon.

It's said that traveling is better photographic value than buying new gear, and now I would definitely agree because my batteries are freshly charged with amazement at the world, I've still got to get an 70-200 f/2.8 but that aside I'm looking forward to going somewhere new and amazing again soon! Right then, have a good one and thanks for stopping by -Nate.


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