Posts Tagged ‘Wave Photography’

In mid-September an early autumn storm loaded with copious moisture from a Pacific typhoon roared over the Oregon Coast. Rain was heavy, five to ten inches, with 70 mph winds on the capes, dangerous seas worthy of Winslow Homer, and 23′ breakers.

Often the most impressive displays of oceanic fury follow shortly after Pacific storms move eastward. As the cold front passed, we headed for Shore Acres State Park, near Coos Bay. Shore Acres is the place for storm watchers on the south and central Oregon Coast, and that is our destination, our pilgrimage to see the salty essence of oceanic power.

At the park, a trail leads through sitka spruce towards the grassy cliff and to numerous viewing angles. We first hear the bombardment, water thundering shoreward before reaching the cliff. A few steps further, and we see a great plume of water climbing 50′ vertically, rising almost to the cliff top in a powerful crescendo, until gravity brings down a  frothy white plume that splashes the roiling surf below and coats my camera lens with salt spray.

The surf  for a few moments is quiet. A momentary lull. But a new wave of big breakers then rolls in from the deep ocean, breaking near shore or against the cliffs, one after another, five or ten in a row, roaring like a cannonade, reverberating across the headlands, only finally muffled by the silence of the deep forest.

My photographs taken that day give only a few dimensions of the reality. The camera clicked and clicked, slowing as the computer tried to process so much intense light. Many wave pictures are now taken with a slow shutter, thus blurring and smoothing what is really wild and chaotic action. The fast shutter of these pictures emphasizes that wildness and chaos. But it’s the viewer who must anticipate the almost terrifying audible dimension of crashing water, the taste of salt spray, the smell of brine and damp forest, in fact all the senses and emotions when confronting such spellbinding nature as a Pacific storm. A photograph can only suggest.  SRE



all images © SR Euston

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It’s about a four hour drive from our place on the southern Oregon coast to Eureka, California, where our daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren (Boys 14, 11 and 8) live with a dog, a cat, five chickens and a duck, all on a kind of urban farm. We are spending Thanksgiving in Eureka this year, a “To Grandmother’s house we go” in reverse. As we leave on Wednesday, the weather in Oregon has just opened up after a storm. By the time we reach our daughter’s place in Eureka the skies have cleared. This holiday weekend has materialized the kind of weather residents of the wet and green northwest coast  take solace in.  Afternoons in the 60s, the evenings a bit chilly but the air full of remembrances of harbor and sea and winds and douglas fir and redwood forest. This wonderful weather imparts a holidayish patina, a warm autumnal mood  as we sit down to fresh turkey, fresh cranberries from our own Curry County,  and about ninety accoutrements of a good Thanksgiving feast.


This slide show is a sort of travel log of this Thanksgiving weekend,  beginning with shots of the rugged Curry County coast, then down Highway 101, the Redwood Highway, to Eureka. It includes a few family pictures, but features lots of photos of a picture packed place called the “North Jetty”.


The Humboldt South and North jetties, massive linear rock filled projections into the ocean,  protect vessels entering Humboldt Bay from notoriously dangerous Pacific storms. But more to the point for our son-in-law Tim, the North Jetty is a favorite surfing destination, and rolling long period waves are out the afternoon of our visit, as were wet-suited surfers out for a sporting chance at some pretty decent waves, peaking at 15′ or more. Tim has brought us here to find what we will.


The North Jetty is an a photographic puzzle.  Several other photographers were out, kneeling, craning necks, searching for a certain angle. But many who were carrying cameras seemed uninspired. For me, it  was my first real opportunity to shoot large waves from a side angle, as opposed from straight on from shore, opening up possibilities especially for B/W, emphasizing  the sinuous, emergent power of the long period swells. But equally interesting is the jetty itself. To exploit this subject, one must like geometry.

Contrasted with the oceanic rolls and swells and wave crashes, the jetty is one solid piece of Corps of Engineers construction, including seemingly randomly placed hulking concrete structures looking a bit like giant jacks—like the kind kids once and maybe still do play with. The camera sees shapes and forms and lines and mass in all this. And that is just the beginning, because all this solidity frames a churning kinetic sea.

On our return trip, we stopped in Arcata, and while Ann and Dawn shopped, I came across a couple of urban shots that ratcheted down the drama of waves into in a quiet mood of a dwindling late November day.   SR Euston  All Photos Copyrighted

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Spray and mist. Not exactly promising subjects for a picture. Photography books advise you to take early morning or late afternoon shots. Strong shadows and light; definite, sharp outlines; bold perspective; strong composition with curves, verticals, diagonals and horizontals.

And yet for a contrarian with a camera, these are exactly the “rules” that are fun to break. In Yellowstone last year I had my chance to imbibe the sulfur air of the geyser basins, and to stand, camera in hand, hot mists breathing down my neck—literally—trying to capture, as much as is possible in a photograph, the encompassing miasma of the geyser fountains and mists.

There is something Dante-like going on as the steam swirls about and around, a kind of romance with sulfured earth and water. I try with the camera to get a bead on this phantasmagoric scene, but finally, sun blazing into a million droplets of mineralized water, I just point the lens and press the shutter, a lot of times, as the camera’s computer tries as hard as it can to process the intense light, creating those pixels of hot air.

Then, for a bracing change, there are the cold ocean mists and sprays of the Oregon coast in winter, when gigantic storms batter the outer Pacific waters into great circular rolling waves that crash on coastal rocks with frightening bursts of energy. At least frightening if you are on slippery rocks, camera in hand, trying to protect the lens from salt spray, and at the last minute before you guess a big one is breaking, you bring out the camera, shoot, and hope for the best. I shoot these pictures with a relatively short focal length lens, getting close to the action.

But watch out for what in Oregon they call sneaker waves. One winter afternoon after photographing storm waves at spectacularly beautiful Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel, we heard that a boy was washed off of a rocky promontory by just such an unpredictable fearsome wave.

It is wisdom to see the sea—nature—as still in charge.   SRE

Heat and Mist ©S.R. Euston

Twilight and Steam ©SR Euston

Fountain Geyser © SR Euston

Hot Spring Pool © SR Euston

Salt Spray: Sisters Rocks, OR © SR Euston

Morning Mists from Cape Sebastian OR © SR Euston

Dangerous Breakers © SR Euston

Storm Waves, Cape Arago, OR © SR Euston

Dark Sandstone Against White Surf, Pt. Lobos © SR Euston

Dark Rocks Against White Surf, Pt. Lobos © SR Euston

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