When my children were young, they liked going the Dungeness Spit, though my son liked to call it the “Dungeon of Spit.” Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the world. It juts out into the Straits of Juan de Fuca from the Olympic Peninsula near the town of Sequim, Washington. This location, in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, makes it one of the sunniest places in western Washington (Sequim averages only 16 inches of rain per year while the town of Elwha, about 30 miles to the west, averages 56 inches). The spit is home to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Washington State north of the Columbia River.
A week ago, I lead a group of four Tacoma Mountaineer photographers on a photo hike of the Dungeness Spit. Though I have been there many times, I’ve never made it all the way out to the lighthouse (an 11-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot). So that was the goal of this trip. This is the rare hike in Washington where you can see your destination almost the entire length of the hike. The first half mile is through forest. But from there on, the hike is on the beach and the lighthouse if visible – though seemingly so very far away. But keep walking on the beach, and eventually you will get there.
The lighthouse is open to the public; volunteer lighthouse keepers lead tours up the tower and gladly answer questions about the lighthouse operation and history. The volunteers each spend a week at the lighthouse, living in the historic lightkeeper’s house and taking care of the place. Our guide lives in Los Angeles but has come up to Washington for the past six years just to spend a week at the lighthouse.
My friend, Greg Vaughn, who wrote the book on Washington, mentions Dungeness Spit in his book, but says it doesn’t offer much for nature photographers. I usually agree with Greg, but here I beg to differ (at least if you like lighthouses and mountains). On a sunny day, with the Olympics and Mount Baker out, the spit offers great views. Though it does help to have a fairly long lens to help pull in Mount Baker (and the lighthouse if you are not close). On this trip, mainly used my 28 – 300mm zoom.
Dungeness Spit is part of the Dungenss National Wildlife Refuge. There is a $3 entrance fee payable at the trailhead. The trailhead is accessed through the Dungeness Recreation Area, a park run by Clallam County. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to half an hour before sunset (though we didn’t make it back until a little after sunset and no one bothered us about it). Half the spit – the half facing Dungeness Bay – is closed to public access to allow the birds a safe haven. So all the hike is on the Strait of Juan de Fuca side, which has bigger waves and less drift wood. The final half mile of the spit, past the lighthouse, is also closed. For much of its length, the spit is only 100 to 200 feet wide (less at high tide, more at low tide). After the walk through the forest, the hike is all on the beach, which is mostly sandy at low tide. At high tide, much of hike is on cobbles and large gravel instead of sand. The spit is a popular hike, and it can be difficult to not get other hikers in your photographs when looking up or down the beach. However, by getting up off the beach into the drift wood, the drift wood can be used to hide people walking on the beach.
To prominently show the lighthouse in your images, you will have to walk at least several miles. However, my favorite view of the lighthouse is actually from a small viewing platform just above the beach where the trail exits the forest. Here the lighthouse is placed directly in front of Mount Baker, and with a long lens, you can get a good shot of it looking small and isolated, alone and practically in the sea in front of the mountain (see featured photo above).
Besides the views of the mountains and lighthouse, Dungeness Spit offers photographers abstract shots of driftwood, shells, rocks, waves, etc. Being a wildlife refuge, there is also lots of birds. Bald eagles are very common, as are many waterfowl (just remember to stay on your side of the beach). One hiker we met said they had seen coyotes on the spit, and I’ve often seen sea lions and seals just off shore.
On Christmas Day, Tanya received a phone call from a friend of ours. The friend and partner had been in a car accident on the Oregon coast and were in the hospital in Tillamook, though luckily the injuries appeared to be minor. Their car, on the other hand, was totaled. Was it possible for us to drive down and pick them up? Both Tanya and I love the Oregon coast, so it wasn’t too hard for us to agree to drive down.
We drove to Tillamook the day after Christmas. I hoped to get some sunset shots on the coast that day, but by the time we checked the friends out of the hospital, it was getting dark. Besides, it was raining. Maybe at sunrise the next morning? The friends wanted to sleep in, so perhaps I’d have time in the morning to run to the beach.
Tillamook itself is inland off the coast, but it is close to three capes and many beaches. The Three Capes Scenic Route leaves Tillamook and is extremely scenic. I’ve driven it several times, and I highly recommend it. However, last week I only had a limited amount of time, so I picked Cape Kiwanda, the southernmost of the three capes, to go to. Cape Kiwanda is quite unusual for the Oregon coast. It is formed by an yellow to orange sandstone, unlike the black volcanic capes common elsewhere on the coast. Plus it is more accessible and not totally tree covered like the other capes. I have been there once or twice before, but never had time to explore it beyond the adjoining beach. I also picked it because of an added bonus of high tide occurring in the morning – perfect for capturing images of waves crashing on the rocks.
I got up early and convinced Tanya to come with me. We drove down to Cape Kiwanda, about 25 miles south of Tillamook. We got there about 7:45 a.m., a little before sunrise. It was raining, but at least it wasn’t completely overcast like the previous evening. There were even a few patches of blue sky and pastel-colored clouds to the northwest. I bundled up against the wind and rain, walked down the beach to the cape.
Cape Kiwanda is formed by sandstone cliffs jutting out into the water and a large, tree-topped sand dune plastered against the mainland. It is not large as far as Oregon capes go, it only sticks out into the the ocean from the beach perhaps a 2,000 feet. Nor is it tall, with the sand dune rising to a bit over 100 feet in elevation and the sandstone cliffs being half that. It is quite easy to walk out onto the cape by traversing the side of the sand dune from the beach up to the top of the sandstone.
The first thing one notices when climbing up onto the cape is a fence with warning signs attempting to keep the public from getting near the cliff edges. The fence is very easy to cross (in some places, sand has piled up against it so you can easily step over without any effort). But don’t be mistaken, Cape Kiwanda is a dangerous place. IT is perhaps the deadliest place on the Oregon coast; six people have died deaths there in the past two years. The pounding waves of the Pacific easily erode the sandstone cliffs, which helps create their natural beauty, but also makes them unpredictable. The edges of the cliffs can collapse at any time. As a geologist, I agree getting near the edge of such cliffs, particular when waves are hitting them is foolish. Additionally, it contains an area known as the Punchbowl – an inviting rocky cove with a sea cave that becomes a cauldron of white water at high tide.
The waves aren’t the only factor in eroding the cape. It’s famous hoodoo, known as the Pedestal or Duckbill Rock, was destroyed by vandals in 2016. What a waste. (This is another example of photograph it while you can because you will never know if you will have another opportunity.) Prudence is definitely called for if you venture beyond the fence. However, I freely admit I did to get the shots shown here, though I was careful to stay away from the edge.
By the time I hiked up onto the cape, the rain had stopped, though the wind was still blowing hard. I set up my tripod and shot the Punchbowl from a couple different angles, trying to capture the fury of the waves. Though I shot a few images with slow shutter speeds to create water blurs, I was worried about the wind causing camera shake, even with the tripod, so I increased my shutter speed and ISO setting (with the sun covered by clouds, it was a bit dark). I moved around a bit and found a nice view of a sea arch being pummeled by crashing waves. Unfortunately, the rain returned with a vengeance, and I packed up the camera for awhile. But just as quickly as it came, the rain let up, and I continued shooting. The sun even came out for about five minutes, lighting up the tops of the cliffs.
I was running short on time (we needed to get back to Tillamook to pick up our friends), so I huffed up to the top of the sand dune for a quick overview and then headed back to the car. I easily could have spent several more hours there. Tanya and I headed back to town, picked up our friends, made a visit to the cheese factory (a seemingly mandatory stop in Tillamook), and drove back to Tacoma. It was a quick trip, the result of an unfortunate accident that, based on the shots I later pulled up on my computer, had real Kiwanda benefits.
I’ve previously posted about the waterfalls along the Lewis River in the South Cascades of Washington. There are literally several hundred waterfalls in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which covers most of the South Cascades. If you enjoy shooting waterfalls, you could easily spend days in the area. However, if you have limited time, beside visiting the Lewis River falls, you might consider the two I feature here, which are easily accessed by very short hikes from paved, forest service roads.
The waterfall featured above is Iron Creek Falls. It is located along Forest Road 25 east of Mount Saint Helens. The trail to the falls is several hundred feet long and drops right down to the creek bed, though you might have to scramble over a few downed trees to get to a good view. This time of year, when the creek flow is relatively low, you can get right out in the creek bed and shoot from directly in front of the falls. Though not particularly high (with a listed drop of 38 feet), I think this small waterfall is quite pretty with its colorful plunge pool.
Langfield Falls (below) is on Big Mosquito Creek northwest of the town of Trout Lake on Forest Road 88 just east of the Big Tire Junction. The trail to the falls is about 500 feet long, dropping to a viewpoint a short distance above the falls. As you can see from the photo below, at this time of year, when the creek flow is low, the waterfall is limited to one side of the cliff. When the creek flow is higher, the falls spread wide over the rock face, totally changing the character of these falls.
I hope you are having a great summer (or winter for my friends down south). I’m not sure where the time has gone this summer. It seems like I’ve been busy, but have little to show for it. I know my time has not been taken up by photography. I sort my image in my Lightroom catalog by date, and the catalog for July only has two dates in it. Same with August – and those two were from consecutive days of a non-photography trip where the camera barely left the bag. The purpose of the trip earlier this month was a family reunion. Us Beckers gather every year the first weekend in August.
This year, the get-together was at my sister’s house in Lyle, Washington. For those of you that don’t know where Lyle is, it is a small town in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side of the river, ten miles or so east of Hood River, Oregon. My sister actually lives north of town another 10 miles or so in a house with a fantastic view of Mount Adams. However, I didn’t take any shots of Mount Adams when I was there, the air was quite hazy.
Tanya and I stayed right in the town of Lyle in an Airbnb house with a view of the Columbia River. The only photograph I planned to take that weekend was the image above. I knew by checking the Photographer Ephemeris that the crescent moon would be setting directly down the gorge from Lyle. In fact, I didn’t have to travel far to get the shot. The image above was taken from the deck of our rental.
So why is this post called “Rookie Mistakes?” Because I made a mess of my photo shoot. For those of you that have been to the Columbia River Gorge, you probably know the wind blows there a lot, and the night I shot this image was no exception. So, one would think that I, being somewhat of a professional photographer, would take precautions against camera shake. Well, I thought I did. I used my sturdiest tripod, I bumped up the ISO to 800 and used wide apertures to make for shorter shutter speeds. I shot some 30 images. All of them had camera shake to a certain extent. The one above, the last image I shot that night, was the best of the lot. I used Photoshop’s shake reduction filter, and that helped, but I could have done more. I should have used a weight on the tripod. I should have left the stabilizer on my lens, which I normally turn off when shooting from a tripod, turned on. Bad mistakes. I’m lucky I had even one halfway decent shot.
Mistake number two – the moon (and the planet above it in this image, Jupiter, I think) moves fast. My shutter speeds were between 2.5 and 30 seconds. When shooting stars at night, a 30-second exposure is typically not long enough to have star trails show when using a very wide-angle lens. However, I was not using a very wide-angle lens; I was using a telephoto lens. In everything I shot with a shutter speed over 2.5 seconds, the moon was horribly blurred due to the earth’s rotation. The image above is actually a composite, the moon and Jupiter are a 2.5 second exposure, the rest is a 10 second exposure.
All I can say is that when I downloaded these images to my computer, I was very disappointed. I let the excitement of the photo shoot overwhelm good technique. That’s why it is important to get out and practice your craft as much as possible. Keep working on your technique until it becomes second nature. I guess I’m not there yet. Here I encountered two different, unrelated phenomenon that, had I been thinking properly, should have made me use a fast shutter speed. Neither did. I failed and am lucky to have anything to show. But, I learned a lesson and, hopefully, will not make these mistakes again.
Most of us have been there, that wonderful travel destination and the light is bad. All those pre-visulations of wonderful photos you planned to capture go right out the door. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago on a day trip to Olympic National Park. Tanya, Nahla and I headed out to Kalaloch for a day on the beach. (Aside for dog owners: Kalaloch is a great place to take your dog. Most national parks, and Olympic National Park is no exception, do not allow dogs outside of campgrounds or parking lots, let alone on trails. We got scolded by a ranger once for having our dog on a snowbank at the edge of a parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park. But, Ruby Beach and the other beaches at Kalaloch are a different story. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches. It is great!)
If the weather is nice, the beaches at Kalaloch are a great place for a bit of photography. But the weather on the coast can be unpredictable, so I had a backup plan. If it was overcast on the coast, we’d go to the Hoh rainforest (Nahla would have to stay in the car, but such is the sacrifice of a photographer’s dog). Because of the huge contrast in the rainforest on sunny days, photography there is best on overcast days (and even better with a little rain making everything wet).
As it turned out, it was overcast on the beach. We took a nice walk, and Nahla took a dip in the waves, but the camera stayed in the bag. So we headed over to the Hoh, about a 45-minute drive from Kalaloch. Unfortunately for my photography, once we got away from the coast, the weather turned mostly sunny. And indeed, the contrast in the rainforest was extreme (5 stops or more). My visions of wonderful shots of green moss-draped trees was not to be fulfilled.
Instead, I worked mostly on detail shots, taking what the conditions allowed. Looking for small scenes that were mostly in shadow, or mostly in sunshine, so that contrast was less of an issue. Or I looked for backlit scenes, where the sunlight provided unique views for the rainforest. I can’t say I came away with any prize winners, but I was happy with a few of the results posted below.
I still had hope for a great shot. I figured the clouds would break along the coast, and a good sunset was possible. We drove back to Kalaloch and ate dinner (during which was probably the best light of the day) and afterward drove to Ruby Beach for sunset. As it turned out, the sunset was mostly a dud, and though I took a lot of frames, I’m not that pleased with them.
So once again, I took what was offered. In this case, shooting after sunset in the blue hour. The featured photo above was shot perhaps half an hour after sunset and is my favorite of the day.
The adventure of travel photography is that you never know exactly what you will get. When conditions are not right, you need to be able to see beyond the obvious shots and look with images that the conditions allow. With luck, even with bad light, you will get a few keepers.