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Low Tide Along The Oregon Coast

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

With my most recent trip to Oregon complete and my next trip to Oregon coming up soon I figured I had better get going on these blog posts. I'm already behind in the editing of my images. Do we ever really get caught up? I don't think so.

Sea Tunnel only accessible during the lowest tides of the year.

This trip to Oregon was for 3 reasons, lowest tides of the year, my Dad's birthday & my class reunion. While I had previous commitments back home on my Dad's birthday we celebrated a little early. You can visit the Oregon coast and have a great time any time of the year. Being born and raised on the coast I've come to know a few things about the tides, where you can and can't go and the best times to get there. I specifically went and stayed for the lowest tides of the year. The Oregon Coast is rocky with lots of caves and alcoves that are only accessible a few days out of the year. Getting to see all the sea stars (starfish), mussels, octopus and other marine life is always a good time.

Octopus laying in a shallow tide pool - iPhone 14 pro max

Seeing an octopus is what I would call a rare event. I can only remember seeing a few in my lifetime that were this size. This one is laying flat and the head was about the size of a basketball. It wasn't too far from the water and I suspect it was probably only out of the water a few hours. You can see here it was laying in a pool of water and every few min it would raise it's head and blow water out. It was nice to see everyone around it be respectful and not bother/touch it.

Sea Pup - Sony A7r4 & Sigma 100-400mm

My time in Oregon was split between spending time with my dad and helping him out around his place and fitting in a few hours a day for photography. Family and photography can be a hard scale to balance sometimes. I always try to be mindful of my parents schedule as it's much different than mine. I did take 3 days for myself and spent them in Yachats, Oregon where I hold one of my fall workshops -

While I was exploring around the area I saw this seal pup on the rocks. I am guessing the mom was around somewhere but I never saw her. The face on this little pup was so cute I had to take a picture. I used a 400mm lens with a 1.5x crop factor to get close in shot from quite a distance.

Shoreline Stacks in the Fog - Sony A7r4 w/ 24-105 @ 71mm

Depending on the weather, I'd either go to coffee with my dad or go shoot sunrise. We had a couple days of total grey mornings with mist but most of the trip was really good. I love the morning light along the Oregon Coast because the sun comes up behind you and depending your position, it will light things up differently and at different times. Here you can see the rock further out is being lit first while the color of the clouds reflects in the wet sand. The thick fog along the coast can sometimes fool you into thinking the sunrise will be a bust. Other times, if you wait patiently, the fog will break up just as the sun is coming up to reward you with scenes like this.

Sea Star Arch - Sony A7r4 w/ Sigma 14-24mm Art at 14mm

Understanding and knowing the tides can be life or death...and while maybe not death, you can get stuck somewhere for several hours before the tide is low enough to get back, provided the tide gets low enough to get back. The image you see above shows an arch in the rock. That arch is how you get to and from safety. Climbing on the rocks through the arch is your best bet. Even though at times you may not see water up against the rocks, a wave can come at anytime and slam you into the rocks. The barnacles on the rocks are very sharp and will cut you up fast. With any risk comes reward. My reward being that i'm able to capture unique scenes like this.

Starfish Sunrise - Sony A7r4 w/ Sigma 14-24mm at 22mm

In my life, I've had 2 near death experiences along the coast. I learned at a very young age to always respect the ocean. The ocean doesn't care who you are, it will mess you up if you're not careful.

Not all places along the Oregon Coast are the same when it comes to low tides. Depending on the beach you may or may not find various marine life. If your on a flat sandy beach like in Seaside then you may just see some sand dollars, busted crabs and maybe a star fish or 2 laying on the beach. Other, more rocky beaches tend to offer better opportunities for photography. Knowing what beaches have rocks that are mostly under water will give you the best chances for good images. Sea life on rocks or tide pools are usually there all year long, it's when the water goes out that the magic happens and you can see them in their natural places.

Mussel Memories - Sony A7r4 w/ Sigma 105mm Art macro

One of my favorite scenes to shoot are these smaller mussels that cling to the rocks in tight groups. This may look like a simple photograph but it's not. To get a shot like this takes some work. To get everything in focus and all the details is not only time consuming in the field but also back home on the computer. This is roughly 40 images focus stacked for edge to edge sharpness front to back. Why is this a hard shot? Because your tripod is in the sand and any movement will mess up your shot. Imagine being 25 images into the shooting only to have a small wave come in and surround your tripod legs and your tripod sinks an inch or so. Now you have to start all over. If you can find these on the rocks that are close or on the beach at the lowest tides then you don't have to worry about this. You can make sure your tripod is stable and shoot your sequence quickly before any water comes in. The incredible detail in these images is well worth the effort in my opinion.

Sundown Splash - Sony A7r4 w/Sigma 14-24mm at 22mm

Anyone who has spent time with me at the beach knows that my favorite thing to do is climb out on the rocks to get a shot. Sure you can stand on the beach and get some great images but if you want chaos in the water, unique views and the opportunity to get something different than others, you need to go where others don't or wont. The low tides provide the best opportunity for this. You can get close to the action and still feel safe. As the water moves in and around the rocks, it creates unique lines and patterns. The image above was taken at a very popular place but everyone else was standing back on the beach. I understand and respect their wishes. Just like in my workshops, I never force people to shoot from a spot they don't feel comfortable. I spent a good amount of time watching the water and how it was moving in and around these rocks. I was able to find a composition that allowed me to have some nice lines in the foreground when the water was coming in. The splash in the back was just pure luck. That's not something you can plan on.

These 2 images were shot the same morning about a 1/4 mile from each other. The image on the right shows where the beach is in relation to where I am. It may look like I'm far out in the ocean but in reality, the rocks on my left allowed me to get access to this spot pretty easy. Looking down the coast also let me use the water to create leading lines to help draw the viewer into the scene.

Sea Star Cascade - Sony A7r4 w/ Sigma 100-400 at 400mm

Getting out far enough so that you're near the crashing waves even at the lowest tides of the year is something that can help you create fun and unique images. Here I was able to capture a single starfish clinging to the mussels as the water crashed over this rock. The green water below is water that was high enough to go around the rock through the channel. I loved the 2 different colored waters in the same scene. The splash of orange from the starfish added just the right touch to finish the scene.

The Lost Ones - Sony A7r4 w/24-105mm at 34mm

If you've enjoyed these images, please follow my social channels for more. I've got a lot more to share.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and listen to my thoughts on photography.

Any of these images can be purchased directly through me in various sizes and mediums.

Please remember to contact me directly for the best prices or use discount code CPJASS at checkout for up to $50 off your purchase of any image.

Thank you to Sigma Lenses , Moab Papers, Robus Supports & Overleaf Lodge and Spa for their continued support of my work and workshops.

Also a shoutout to Englewood Camera who does my sensor cleaning several times a year. I appreciate the work they do.

Thanks again and please let me know if you have any questions at all!

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