Thursday, January 18, 2018

Photographing Bandon Beach

Pink skies after sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, USA.
Sea stacks at Bandon Beach at sunset.
A few weeks ago I got to spend some extended time photographing one of my favorite beaches along the Oregon coast - Bandon Beach.  Bandon Beach is the sea stack capital of Oregon, in my opinion.  It offers multiple easy access points, easy beach strolling on hard-packed sand, caves and tunnels to explore at low tide, and fantastic photo opportunities in all seasons.  While there are sea stacks to be found up and down the coast, I find these ones to be the most spectacular and most enjoyable to photograph!

These sea stacks offer dramatic seascapes from Colquille Point to just south of Face Rock State Scenic Wayside - a pretty long stretch of beach to explore.  This stretch of beach attracts all walks of people throughout the day, including beachcombers, walkers, runners, hikers, horseback riders and more.

Morning light on sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon Coast, Oregon, USA.
Morning light on sea stacks at Bandon Beach
Sea stacks are the work of erosion.  They are craggy, isolated rock outcrops that used to be part of rocky headlands before the ocean waves, and to a less extent winds, carved them into the pointed and jagged spires they are today.  They can be spectacular at sunrise or sunset with colorful skies behind them, or dramatic with darkening storm clouds building up behind them.

Much imagination and native lore has gone into the names of the sea stacks.  As legend would have it,Face Rock is the face of Native American Princess Ewauna, daughter of Chief Siskiyou, who was lured into the sea and drowned by the evil ocean spirit Seatka.  Accompanying this rock are Cat and Kittens Rocks, Witches Hat, Garden of the Gods, Elephant Rock, Table Rock, and many more.  Are are very photogenic!

Where To Visit:

There are four main public access points to this section of beach (more if you drive further south):
  • South Jetty Beach
  • Strawberry Point & Table Rock
  • Colquille Point
  • Face Rock State Scenic Wayside
Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
Sea stacks at sunset along Bandon Beach
Most photographers spend their time between Colquille Point and just south of Face Rock State Scenic Wayside.  Where to start?  It depends on you and the season you are visiting!  The sun sets much further south in the winter than in the summer, offering a wide variety of different light angles between all four seasons.  My recommendation is to spend the day exploring from one end to the other - go for a walk or a run!  Keep an eye out for interesting compositions while keeping in mind where the most dramatic light will be when you are shooting.  The most obvious light source will be where the sun sets, of course.  But keep an eye on compositions using the southern sky for morning photography too!

Where To Stay:

Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
Sunset behind Witches Hat at Bandon Beach.
Previously, all my visits to this area involved staying at Bullard Beach State Park.  This is a fantastic park that is only a 10-15 minute drive to the above-mentioned viewpoints, making it very convenient.  It's also very close to the Colquille River Lighthouse, which offers tours in the summer months.

For this winter visit, I enjoyed the comfort of the Sunset Motel with my family where we could enjoy the incredible ocean views from the cozy confines of our living room or upstairs bedroom.  We also had easy private beach access just across the street, north of Face Rock.  It was a real treat!  There are many other nearby lodging options to choose from as well.

When To Go:

What season is best?  That depends.  Most beach photographers I know tend to avoid the summer months, though I have found success this time of year.  Spring and fall are more attractive than summer to many photographers, simply to avoid the summer crowds.  Another drawback to summer is the heavy fog bank that can often roll in and envelope localized areas.  This is mostly a non-issue in the spring and fall.  Of course, for tidepooling, summer offers some of the lowest tides of the year, making it a great time to visit!

Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
Bandon Beach at sunset.
But wait, I've left out a very important season - winter!  Over the years winter has become one of my favorite times to visit the coast.  Admittedly, it can be a roll of the dice.  But I have been rewarded with some of my most dramatic images this time of year.  And if you are into whale watching, visit Colquille Point the week between Christmas and New Year for the peak gray whale winter migration.  The local tip is that the whales like to congregate at the mouth of the Colquille River for its ample food supply before continuing their southward journey, making it one of the premium whale viewing areas in the area!

How To Dress:

As most beach photographers know, photographing along the beach usually involves getting wet - whether it is that unplanned water crossing or those pesky sneaker waves striking while your back is turned or you're not paying attention!  In the summertime I have found shorts, t-shirt and sandals adequate attire for most occasions, along with a light windbreaker jacket (the breeze always seems to pick up in the evening).

Morning waters at Bandon Beach at sunrise.
For winter visits, I highly recommend dressing warmer, preferably layers - including waterproof pants, rain jacket, warm beanie, and donning a nice pair of rubber waders.  The waders will allow you to focus on your work and not having to worry about the incoming surf.  They also clean up easily.

Photography Gear To Bring:

So much of this is dependent on how you process your images.  But regardless of your workflow, a nice tripod is still a mandatory tool of the trade.  I think all lenses can be utilized here - from wide angle to zoom and everything in between.  If you're into star photography, don't forget your ultra-wide angle as Bandon Beach offers excellent opportunities!  If you use filters - and I do, consider complimenting your standard GND filters with a 2 and 3-stop Reverse GND for sunset.  Unlike a standard GND, a reverse GND is darkest at the horizon and lightens higher in the sky, and is one of my favorite and most used coastal filters.  I also find neutral density filters very nice to smooth
the water in low light situations (to  slower shutter speed), creating a rather mystical look.

Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
The sun dips behind Witches Hat at Bandon Beach.
On the maintenance side of things, make sure to have a couple of lens cloths to wipe any water drips or moisture build-up off you lens, and be sure to check your lenses often.  There is nothing more frustrating than coming home all excited about that fantastic sunset you shot, only to learn you had water drops and streaks on your lens!

I hope this sparks your interest to visit this spectacular place and helps you with your planning and preparation.  Feel free to contact me with any further questions you might have - I'm always happy to help out!

You may view more of my images from Bandon and the rest of the Oregon coast by visiting my Oregon Coast Gallery.  You may also visit the rest the galleries at my website at  As always, thanks for looking!