A Bandon-ment

“I consider the sound of the sea to be part of my body.”
    Derek Walcott

In April (2019) we returned to the Oregon coast, having made trips there in April of 2018 and February of 2017. As I wrote after the 2018 trip, the geology is amazing, pretty much up and down the entire coast. While Cannon Beach to the north is perhaps the most photographed area, with the iconic Haystack Rock being, uh, iconic, I much preferred Bandon, in the southern part of the state. Also as I wrote in the above-mentioned article, and also my article about the Cannon Beach trip, the weather could have been better (in Bandon, LOTS better), no doubt resulting in photo opportunities lost to dark and gloomy conditions.

Hope springs eternal. At least, I hope it does. The flip-side of that, “we're too stupid to stay out of the rain,” is less fun to consider. Either way, we decided to try again with another spring trip to Bandon. We'd go two weeks later, hoping to get a few days without rain, wind, and dark clouds. Two out of three ain't bad; we had mostly sunny days with no rain or gloomy skies, but the wind often made standing upright difficult, and blew sand everywhere, just what one needs when dealing with cameras and lenses. But generally, the trip repeated 2018's itinerary almost exactly, except with better weather.

Castle Rock

Sunrise lights Castle Rock

Sunrise lights Castle Rock. A wider view is at the top of the page.

We flew to Eugene, OR, and then drove west to Florence where we spent the night, and the next morning got up early for the drive north to see Castle Rock. In 2018 we arrived there in darkness and driving rain, found a turn-out overlooking what might have been Castle Rock, looked for five minutes through sweeping windshield wipers at nothing much more than darkness and rain, and then returned to Florence for breakfast. In 2019 we made the same 40-mile (64 km) drive, but under a clear, starry sky. We stopped in the same turn-out, and in the pre-dawn light we could see that while it may have looked like a stormy alien planet on that morning a year ago, we had indeed been in the right spot. And a great spot it proved to be. A short walk from the car took me to a few log stairs, which led to a steep path down to the beach. Once there I walked back in the direction I'd come, and could see our car some 50 - 60 feet (15 - 18 m) above. With the sun still below the horizon behind me, I waited for better light. Neither the sky nor the incoming tide were ideal, but one makes do. I spent about an hour, completely alone on the beach, photographing the off-shore rocks, their tops lined with birds. The light improved, the sky gained a little color, and once the sun had climbed above the cliff behind me I had some soft, lovely light on the rocks. I'm calling it a successful shoot. I don't know if I'll ever return, so it may be as good as I'm going to get.

By the time I'd finished and climbed back up to the car, Pat and I were both very hungry; we drove the 40 miles back to Florence for breakfast, and then continued south to Bandon. All just as we had a year ago, but this time without the pouring rain.

Bandon 2.0

Face Rock and Cat & Kittens, Bandon, Oregon, U.S.

Face Rock and Cat & Kittens at sunset.

We arrived in Bandon too early to check in to our motel room, so with time to kill we stopped at an overlook for a view down to Face Rock and The Cat and Kittens, off-shore formations for which Bandon is well-known. I thought I'd take the zillion wooden stairs down to the beach for a quick walk. The wind, however, had other ideas. It blew so hard I couldn't get the car door open. It would be completely idiotic to try standing or walking around in the gale, even if one could get out of the car, so naturally when a lull allowed opening the door, that's just what I did. I followed the path out and around the overlook, hanging on to the fence the entire way. Sure enough, the beach and rocks were still there, just as we'd left them in 2018. Out of breath, I returned to the car, and because the wind direction had shifted (without a noticeable decrease in velocity), it nearly ripped off the door when I opened it. The next few days might be interesting.

That evening I returned to the same area, very glad the wind speed had dropped to subsonic levels. I set up in places I'd scouted earlier, and began shooting about 8:00. A thin layer of clouds picked up a little definition and color just before sunset, although the sky seemed a bit murky. I'd learn why a couple of days later. The good light and color disappeared quite suddenly about 8:30, ending my day. Having driven a lot of miles and been battered by wind most of the day, early to bed seemed like a good idea.

The next morning found me back on the beach, about 6:30, before the sun had risen enough to light the rocks. Clear sky greeted me, but the haze seen the previous evening remained (or had returned), and thicker than before. My first photos of the day looked as if they'd been made with a very dirty lens. This got worse during the next hour, but then the sun cleared the horizon behind me and lit the rocks much more clearly. Using a variable neutral density filter I did some work with shutter speeds in the four-to-ten second range, getting a nice effect as the water moved up the sand (in) or down (out). Fun stuff to play with; I used that filter a lot on this trip. The clear sky didn't add interest to the photos, so I concentrated on compositions that minimized the sky while including reflections of the rocks on the wet sand. Some of this stuff is OK, but remains my least favorite work of the trip. You can't please outdoor photographers; we want interesting skies but not too cloudy to block the good light, and not too clear (or, worse, the dreaded white sky). Picky, picky.

Sunset and rocks at low tide, Bandon, OR, U.S.

My favorite photo from the trip, sunset at low tide on Bandon Beach.

During the afternoon we wandered in old-town Bandon, visiting the tourist-crap shops and several galleries exhibiting some nice, if ridiculously priced work in every imaginable medium. In one of those galleries I looked at a large number of Bandon area photos. Many were very nice compositions, competently made, but suffered from devastating accidents with the editing software's saturation slider. A friend calls this the melted crayons look. I call it tragic. Beautiful scenes, nice compositions, technically very good, destroyed by Peter Max colors so strong and loud your eyes will bleed. I'm tempted to say, “I don't get it,” but I think I do; that stuff sells, apparently to people who think the natural world actually looks like that, or don't care that it doesn't.

Still, the composition of one of those pieces really impressed me, so I determined to find that scene and then photograph it in my own way. Pat and I wandered the beach for several hours without success. After taking Pat back to the room to rest a while, I returned to the beach to continue the search, and finally found the scene I wanted. Then I spent the better part of an hour moving around, getting higher and lower, changing angles, and settling on the composition I wanted. I came back before sunset and worked the area from about 7:00 until too dark to continue, around 8:30. This left me very excited, and I decided to come back to the same spot in the morning.

I did, but found the light quite flat and uninspiring. Mine wasn't the only tripod on the beach, of course. Waiting for something interesting to happen, I sat on a rock perhaps 30 feet (10 m) from my tripod. A man walked by carrying his, and I noticed his sweatshirt printed with “Whitefish, Montana.” That's a town about 80 miles (148 km) from my home in northwest Montana, so I had to stop him and ask. He explained that his wife is from Anaconda, a town we pass through when we drive from home east to Yellowstone National Park. They lived in Whitefish for a while before moving to Portland, OR. Small world. He explained the haze: it seems the marine layer had arrived earlier than usual this year, by three weeks or so. This brings fog over the water, which can be light (as the haze we saw) or quite heavy, and it can also move inland. Where I live we often experience “inversional fog,” or valley inversions, mostly in winter. That weather phenomenon is very similar to the marine layer. So, now I know.

That morning ended our time at the ocean, as we had an afternoon flight back home to Montana. The sound of the sea rang in my ears all the way home; I felt I'd left something behind, something I'd want to go back for. I'd like to return to Bandon in the fall, when sunlight comes from the south and would light the rocks in a favorable way. There's much more I'd like to explore in Oregon; returning the the south coast isn't impossible, but is improbable, at least for a while. But now I've been there in good weather, and learned it doesn't rain all the time.

May, 2019

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