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.”
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."
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.