Photographing the Oregon Coast

The Oregon coast is one of the most beautiful places on earth with isolated beaches, forests reaching right to the shoreline, and rugged rocky outcroppings. It is the perfect place to photograph amazing ocean scenery.

sunset over ocean beach in oregon

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock are the icons of the Oregon Coast. The town of Cannon Beach is a quiet coastal town with things to do, places to stay, and great places to eat. My favorite place to eat in town is the Pelican Brewing Company. We were out late photographing and realized it was after 9:00 p.m. and we had not had dinner. We stopped by the Pelican Brewing Company and found they were open until 10:00 p.m. We had one of the best dinners of our whole trip with huge servings and great drinks! The crowning jewel of Cannon Beach is of course the beach! With four miles of glistening sand to walk, explore, and enjoy. The beach is perfect to visit anytime of year. Haystack Rock towers 235 feet over the beach and is prime habitat for nesting seabirds such as puffins, cormorants, and gulls. Photographing Haystack Rock can be challenging because the coast is often shrouded in fog and clouds. When I took the below photograph this particular July evening, it was sunny and warm without a cloud in the sky. I knew the setting sun would turn the horizon nice orange hues as it sank into the water. As the tide came in, I setup in a spot where the sun would go down right next to Haystack Rock.

sunset over Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach Oregon

Needles 'N Haystack

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Ecola State Park

Between Cannon Beach and the town of Seaside lies the amazing Ecola State Park. If you are looking for scenic hiking trails, remote beaches, and coastal vistas, this park has it! The beauty of the Oregon coast has been featured in many well-known movies, and some were shot within Ecola State Park. Everybody loves the movie Goonies! Scenes for this movie were filmed in Ecola State Park as wells as on Cannon Beach. In the movie the family gang's hideout, the Lighthouse Lounge, was at Ecola Point picnic area. The set was specially built just for the movie, and removed after filming was finished. Another movie filmed in this spot was Kindergarten Cop where the school carnival scene took place. Ecola Point picnic area has beautiful vistas of Crescent Beach and you can even see Haystack Rock from the viewing area. We spent our first evening at Ecola Point photographing the moon rising over Crescent Beach.

moonrise over crescent beach, Ecola State Park, Oregon

Crescent Moonshine

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Ecola State Park also has beautiful forest hiking trails. If you have ever wanted to wander through moss covered forests while birds sing overhead this place is where you want to go. My favorite trail is the Lighthouse Trail, which follows along the cliff edge offering staggering views of the coast. You can also take the Loop Trail, which stays more to the interior of the peninsula and then has an offshoot that takes you to Lighthouse Overlook. I love hiking in coastal forests because you never know what you will see. Both days in the park we saw bald eagles flying overhead and even found where they were nesting! Coastal forests are magical places where carpets of ferns cover the forest floor, moss hangs from the trees, and woodland fairies dwell.

forest path with rising sun through the trees

Fern Gully

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The highlight of Ecola State Park is Indian Beach. This secluded beach is bordered on the north by the cliffs of Indian Point and on the south by the cliffs of Bald Point. There is a rather small parking lot so get there early to find parking to spend the day just enjoying this amazing area. Surfing is one of the biggest draws to Indian Beach and we had so much fun watching the surfers catching waves.

surfer carving wave


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I set up at the viewing area on the Lighthouse Trail that overlooks Indian Beach and watched the surfers and the waves. I found this vantage point perfect for interesting detail shots of surfers carrying their boards in and out of the water.

surfer carrying surfboard across beach

Orange Tide

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Our true purpose for sitting at this location until sunset was a photograph I envisioned of the whole beach bathed in warm evening light. I had a composition in my mind's eye and waited for the perfect conditions. As the light was getting great, clouds moved in filling the sky and I was able to capture a classic image of this beach, surfers and all.

sunset over Indian Beach, Ecola State Park, Oregon

Surf's Up

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When you are visiting the Oregon coast near Cannon Beach you really should visit the town of Seaside. We stayed three nights in Seaside and found this town a perfect staging area for our visits to Cannon Beach and Astoria. Seaside is a great town with many things for families to do. There are fun shops with treats and toys, a carousel for kids young and old, bike rentals, hiking trails, and boat rentals. Our favorite place to eat in Seaside was Mo's Seafood and Chowder, which had amazing clam chowder!

Necanicum Nights

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The Necanicum River runs through the city and empties into the ocean on the beach. Right behind the Holiday Inn Express is a great boat rental place with fun swan peddle boats to ride the river! It is a short walk from most hotels to the beach, which I found to be one of the most quintessential beaches of the Pacific Northwest. Seaside Beach is a long sloping beach with a low shallow surf for playing. This beach is vast with lots of room for people to spread out, relax, and even build fires to enjoy the summer nights.

abstract photograph of sunset on ocean beach

Shades of Sunset

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We spent one evening just walking Seaside Beach to enjoy the sunset. Of course I had to carry my camera but I decided to go light with only one lens and no tripod. I chose to shoot most of my photographs this night using an abstract technique known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). The above photograph is one of my favorites from this night. I loved the children playing on the swing set with the soft sunset glow over the beach. I wanted a ghostly image so I moved the camera from right to left as I took the photograph. This motion caused everything to have a slight blur and the people to look like spirits from a different dimension. This image is best viewed enlarged.

Ebb 'N Flow

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Sunsets on the Oregon coast are some of the best I have ever seen. The long sloping beach of Seaside is perfect for the tides washing up and down the sand. The light reflecting in the shallow water perfectly captures abstract photographs.


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Prints Available

Remember, the best time to take great photographs is always the hour before and after sunrise or sunset. Spend your days scouting areas for compositions and then set up in a location early to make sure you are there to catch the light. Great photography is about composition, exposure, light, and a little luck. You will find your luck increases when you are on location in plenty of time to be ready to capture the shot.

When you get a chance to visit the coast of Oregon do not pass it up as there is so much to see, do and photograph! My favorite areas are from Astoria down to Hug Point, especially Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park. We had so much fun visiting the Seaside and Cannon Beach areas for those three days, we are very excited to return!

Here is the full video of our adventure photographing on the Oregon Coast.