“Why are you taking a picture of that trashy old stump?” My wife wondered why I was so intent on getting a picture of a bit of flotsam that had washed up on the beach.
On the face of it, it’s a reasonable question; there was nothing remarkable about it as we walked up, it was just a big chunk of debris. But one woman’s trash is another man’s treasure, and as soon as I saw it, 100 yards away, I was already thinking silhouette and/or black and white photo. The gnarled shape of the old tree root, straining at the sky, reaching for that plant deity – the sun, in its last gasp finally escaping the earth. The darkened shapes highlighted against the white and spume of the surf suggested some ancient alien being trying to return to the ocean.
Fortunately over the years my wife has grown accustomed to my little photography quirks, and if she rolled her eyes a bit while she patiently waited for me to get my shots, I didn’t notice.
This beach background was at Cape Lookout, the second stop on an excursion brought on by a rare warm dry day in February. Our excursion included three capes on the Oregon coast: Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. I showed off Cape Meares and introduced Cape Lookout in part one.
Black and white photography is a new kick for me, or maybe a really old one, like that ancient root, trying to see the light of day once again. I cut my photographic teeth on black and white film back in the early 70’s, and wasted no time before I got into the darkroom. There was something magical about dropping a sheet of photo paper with a latent exposure into a developer solution and watching the image swim into existence. But that’s old school, now it’s all digital. This new age isn’t as magical, but it gives you a lot more control over the exposure and effects.
It does pose a quandary though. Since you have so many options, how do you pick the one you like the best? Here are two shots from one of the trails at Cape Lookout: one in color and one in black and white. Which is better?
Geologically, it’s an oddity for the Oregon coast headlands in that it’s made of sandstone rather than basalt. This contributes to a different look and feel: the headland shows a range of browns, yellows, and reds, and the current lighting can make it anything from somber to striking. It is also is more subject to erosion, and surprise, from sandstone you get a lot of sand.
The initial beach access is long, flat, and shallow, which makes for an unusual local fishing fleet. The fisherman use small, flat bottomed dorys, and when they want to come in from a trip, rather than bothering with docks, they make a high speed run straight at the beach and go aground. Launching through the surf can be equally adventurous, and the surf itself is popular with surfers.
While the exposed cliffs of the headland are sandstone, the top is more evocative of a scene from the Sahara; it looks and climbs like a massive dune.
Although you can do a leisurely, flat stroll along the beach, climbing the dune is more interesting, and provides more views of the power of erosion and of the colors that can be found.
The Emerald Sea…
Once atop the headland you can follow the clifftop along the edge, keeping a safe distance. A misstep, a collapsing section of a sand cornice, a slip, and we would not be talking a happy ending. Bounce a couple times, and land on rocks or cold heaving surge. But as long as you’re careful the views are worth the risk.
Heading back you can take the high road and go down a section of dune with a steep slope; guaranteed to fill your shoes with sand on the descent, or maybe your pants too should you do a bit of sliding on the way to the beach. Or, you can take a more civilized return, similar to the way up.
Once again I ask, which is better – color or black and white?
In part one I mentioned that my DSLR battery was kaput and I was obliged to see how I could do with a low end smartphone camera and an assist from my wife’s point and shoot. Overall they did pretty well. The phone camera did have a tendency to blow out highlights and sometimes the color balance was a bit off, but I could tweak some of that.
We finished our time at Cape Kiwanda by hitting Pelican Pub and Brewery for a beer, burger and chowder. Pelican is a local microbrew pub right on the beach, and I’m partial to their Scottish Ale. It also spaced out the timing nicely; if we’d have started the two hour drive back to Portland directly we’d have hit the height of rush hour.
And so ended the crusade. A mission to take advantage of a warm day in winter was complete, thanks to wearing three capes.