Oregon Odyssey

An adventure photographer’s epic journey through four Oregon photo hotspots
Oregon photo hotspots

If there was one stand out highlight of my trip to the beautiful state of Oregon, it would have to be this one. Shore Acre State Park can show some serious power in the surf department. With a vision in my mind for more than two years now, I planned this trip around the first predicted massive winter northwest swell. As a surfer for many years, I have heard these rumors of great winter swells pounding this shore and cliff side of the park exploding more than 20 feet in the air. I sought to find photos of these cliffs and imagined myself on this very one, placing myself in the heart of the impact to show the true scale. It was one of the scariest but most fulfilling moments of my life. Standing there, holding tight for dear life, hearing and feeling the power as 20-foot swells slammed full force into the cliff side was an experience I will never forget. Timing, trusting my heart and intuition was everything on this trip. This is what being an outdoor photographer is all about, in my opinion.”

Just weeks after a powerful storm hit the Oregon coast, causing toppled trees, downed powerlines and two tornadoes, Southern California’s Stan Moniz learned that a big northwest swell was soon expected to blast the coastline. Hoping to capture some unique shots of the action from the cliffs, he contacted friends Dudley Yerby, Ryan Rosas and Brian Bloss to plan a trip to the Beaver State for the following week.

Moniz and his team flew into Portland, rented a vehicle that would double as their shelter at night, and began a nearly 800-mile, six-day photography adventure. The road trip would take them through four of Oregon’s most popular scenic destinations, where some extreme weather would hopefully provide dramatic skies and epic waves.

Chasing waves isn’t anything new for Moniz. Raised in Waialua, Hawaii, he was a professional body boarder at age 18 and is still an avid surfer. In 2014, when Moniz began focusing on adventure photography and astrophotography, Outdoor Photographer caught up with him to talk about his process of photographing waves in an article, “Shooting The Curl.” The Oregon road trip coincided with Moniz leaving his 9 to 5 job to focus on photography full time, and getting drenched still comes with the territory, especially in the fall in the Pacific Northwest.

First Stop: Mount Hood Reflection At Trillium Lake

“Trillium Lake has always been a place I’ve wanted to capture,” Moniz says. “A lot of people have told me it’s so hard to get an image with the reflection of Mount Hood in the water because the weather in Oregon is pretty tough sometimes.”

Oregon photo hotspots

This is Trillium Lake at last light, my first stop along the Oregon odyssey, a lake I’ve seen in magazines, online and heard through story. Once I got off the plane, we headed straight to this location with no stops in between. We got there with maybe 30 minutes before sun down. I couldn’t believe my eyes! With not a wisp of wind, the lake was perfectly still. The clouds started turning from yellow to orange, then to this purple hue. It was like a scene out of a science fiction movie. Myself and the rest of the crew were just in utter shock as Mount Hood’s reflection became stronger and more apparent as the colors shifted between these beautiful hues of purple and pink.

They arrived an hour before sunset, but after pulling into the first parking lot, Moniz realized they were in the wrong spot because it didn’t offer the composition he was after. “We then went around to a different parking lot, and I could see it instantly,” he recalls.

Despite recent storms, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the water at Trillium Lake was perfectly still. “I walked out until I could position the reflection of Mount Hood between two rocks, and I set up right there. I was testing the new Tokina FiRIN 20mm F2 FE MF, which I used on a Sony a6300. For my landscapes, I like to shoot really drawn-out long exposures, so my ISO was as low as you can go, 100 on the a6300, which gave me about an eight- to 10-second exposure—that way you get that real milky look in the clouds. I was also shooting a time-lapse of the same sequence, plus we got it on video and by drone. We got a crazy amount of footage of this one scene.”

Next Stop: Wizard Island At Crater Lake

Moniz and his team planned to arrive at Crater Lake in time to catch the sunrise, but due to an unexpected road closure, a long detour brought them there after sunset, just in time for some night photography. “I shoot all of my astrophotography on the Sony a7S II,” Moniz explains. “There’s just something that’s so magical about that camera. It produces such a clean file all the way up to 12,800 ISO.”

Oregon photo hotspots

Crater Lake National Park is a location I’ve been wanting to photograph, especially at night, for quite some time now. I absolutely love shooting the stars and the Milky Way but made my first visit to the park just a little too late in the season. Nevertheless, I did capture a bit of the Milky Way as it set below the horizon, and to be here in the park finally, I was in awe. This park is jaw-dropping beautiful. Throughout the night I was walking around in below-freezing temperatures with my trusty Black Diamond head lamp trying to find a location to set up for sunrise. The moon was out, which helped me a ton as it was my first time to the park. I finally found this location right under a tree, at a seriously sketchy downward slope. It felt at times very nerve racking to set up here, but I knew this was the location to be. It felt right, so I set up my gear and planned a panoramic image to be taken at sunrise capturing some of the lake, and Wizard Island as the clouds started to turn at first light. I proceeded to take six vertical images, from left to right, as a test for the morning sunrise. I then took them back to the car, where I stitched the images together in Lightroom. I was excited to see that it turned out great and exactly how I planned. I set my clock to wake up during blue hour and walked back to the same location to do it all again at sunrise.

To create a panorama of the Milky Way rising above Crater Lake, Moniz shot four vertical images, which he then stitched together in Lightroom.

Unable to shoot Wizard Island at sunrise from the angle he wanted due to the road closure, Moniz had to find a different vantage point. “We found this spot, and I walked out onto the ledge; it was a perfect ‘V’ [in the foreground]. It was a 70-degree drop down in front of me, and right behind me was a big tree. I knew this was where I was going to shoot. The other road was closed, and this was the only angle I could get of the lake with the island in there. I got up at 6 a.m., it was probably like 25 degrees. I got back to the tree and I was hugging it because if I had stepped 2 to 3 feet in front of me, I would have slid straight down that hill. So that’s where I made a six-shot vertical panorama of Wizard Island.”

Oregon photo hotspots

This is another image taken at Crater Lake National Park. Once I made that final turn coming ever closer to the top, I saw the setting moon and Milky Way to the west of me. I slammed on the brakes, pulled over and literally lost it—in a good way, as any excited photographer should. The mixture of the moon and Milky Way setting together, without a soul in sight, was just something out of a dream. This image is a combination of four vertical images stitched together in Lightroom to give it more of a panoramic point of view that you would see with your own eyes.

Moniz may not have been able to shoot from the location he had envisioned, but hopefully he’ll soon have another chance to capture his dream shot from the other side of Crater Lake when he returns in August to photograph the solar eclipse.

Up Next: Shore Acres State Park

From Crater Lake, it was a three-hour drive to the cliffside beauty known as Shore Acres State Park, but a passing storm brought enough rain to keep them confined to their car for the day. Moniz didn’t mind, though, because he knew he’d soon have some incredible waves to photograph, although he didn’t realize at the time just how incredible they’d be.

As it began to get dark, and still unsure exactly where Shore Acres State Park was, they pulled off to find a place to camp, which turned out to be a little spot called Sunset Bay. The skies cleared, allowing them to get in some astrophotography before calling it a night. “The next morning, I woke up at 6 a.m. not knowing what to expect,” recalls Moniz. “I began to set for a shot of the sunrise over the bay. When the sun started to rise, I was like, oh my goodness—it was magic. It was really low tide, and you could walk almost half a mile out.”

It was time to pack up and make their way to Shore Acres State Park when they discovered that they had stumbled right into it the previous night. They found the narrow road that led down to the cliffs where they would prepare for the shot that had brought them to Oregon in the first place. The waves crashing against the cliffs were more intense than they had imagined. “I’m from Hawaii originally, and I’ve never seen waves this big ever since I moved to California in 2001,” says Moniz. “The waves that were coming through that coastline as we were driving were jaw-dropping. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew the shot I wanted to get, and I was already getting scared.”

Oregon photo hotspots

This is Sunset Bay. Driving for hours on end the day before, we decided to stop here for the night and get some rest before locating the close-by Shore Acre State Park in the morning. As I woke up before dawn, my mind, body and soul could not have been happier. The view of the bay at low tide as the sun started to rise in the east literally took my breath away. I rushed back to the car, got my gear and ran out as far as I could before I hit the water’s edge. I envisioned a longer exposure to capture the already dream-like feel that this bay was giving me. I broke out my 10-stop filter, set my camera to aperture priority mode at ƒ/11, and cranked the ISO down to 100. I was looking for the longest exposure I could get. It turned out to be about 8 seconds, which was just enough to give the water and clouds above that expression and mood that I was feeling at the time

Moniz studied the waves for a while and noted that only one out of every 20 or so would hit the cliff he intended to stand on for the image. The others were exploding about 15 feet to the right of the vantage point. “There was one wave that would come straight in every once in a while, and when it did, I would run up that cliff like you’ve never seen anyone run before.”

Moniz set up the composition and used manual focus to make sure the exact spot where he would be standing would be 100 percent sharp, marking the spot with painter’s tape. He handed his friends a walkie-talkie, told them not to move his camera and said he was going to walk out onto the cliff into the frame to add scale to the image. “We cannot leave without this shot, I told them. This is the shot. And I told Ryan, when I tell you to press that button, you press that button.”

Moniz made the quarter-mile trek out to the cliff. When a big wave came in, he gave the command over the walkie-talkie for Ryan to fire the camera. About 10 seconds later, his walkie-talkie roared to life. The screams of joy from his friends told him that they had nailed the shot. Another huge swell was coming in, so Moniz told them to press the button again. He then ran back to view the photos, and it was the second set of wave shots that had the power he was looking for. “I looked at the viewfinder, and I started crying,” he says of the once-in-lifetime moment. “I’m such a sappy dude. I’ve wanted this shot for two years now, and it’s so hard to predict a big swell with good weather. I could have turned around and gone home after that shot.”

But he didn’t. There were still a couple must-see locations on his list.

Cannon Beach And Ecola State Park

Next, Moniz and his team made the five-hour drive up the coast to Cannon Beach to see the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, the famous backdrop in the opening sequence of the classic ‘80s buddy-adventure film The Goonies. “It’s so magical and mystical up there,” Moniz says. “We saw eagles flying overhead and moose grazing on the cliffside.”

Oregon photo hotspots

This is Ecola State Park during the rise of the morning sun. With this magical tree in the foreground overlooking Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock, it was a sight for sore eyes. Oregon undeniably holds one of the most beautiful stretches of coastlines that I have ever seen.

Here, he took a long exposure of the sea stacks, using a four-stop ND filter to get a slow enough shutter speed to capture some movement in the water.

As any true Goonies-at-heart would, the team then swung by the small seaside town of Astoria for more Goonies nostalgia, then up to Washington’s Cape Disappointment State Park before returning to Portland to catch a flight home.

Despite the rain, cold and unexpected road closures, the trip was a grand success and an adventure they won’t soon forget. While a lot of planning went into the trip to maximize time, it was the unexpected moments that made the trip special. And Moniz isn’t one to shy away from taking it to the extreme: “The timing of this trip was impeccable because the weather was kind of chasing us the whole time.”

See more of Stan Moniz’s photography at stanmoniz.com.