Posted by: kerryl29 | June 22, 2015

Thematic Interruption: The Pacific Morning Myth and the Lasting Impact of Subtlety

When I was on the Oregon coast for a few days in 2009 I essentially subscribed to the notion that there was no point in getting out to the beaches and the overlooks at sunrise.  This was correct for the specific time that I was on the coast in July of that year because a thick marine layer fog was in place every morning, meaning there was no sunrise.  That was true of each of the four mornings I was on the coast; I actually got up early on three of those occasions, once because I hoped to shoot a sunrise–facing east, at Tillamook Bay–once because I wanted to shoot at Charleston Harbor in heavy fog and once because I had a long drive to make and I was trying to preserve time.

But at no point did I anticipate shooting coastal perspectives, from beach level or overlooks, at sunrise, marine layer or no marine layer.  It was sunset that I was looking forward to (and those were almost invariably killed by fog as well, but I digress) because, after all, this was the West Coast.  And there’s certainly no point in going to the trouble of shooting West Coast beaches or other coastal scenes at sunrise.

What utter drivel.

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

On this year’s excursion to coastal Oregon (and California), I entered with a completely different mindset and was out before sunrise every single morning.  For one thing, even if the most dramatic skies were likely to be to the east, the beautiful soft light of dawn would be present regardless of the direction I was facing.

South Beach Moonset, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach Moonset, Curry County, Oregon

Additionally, I’ve learned over the years that to ignore happenings in the sky in the direction opposed to sunrise (or sunset) is to potentially miss some beautiful nuanced scenes.

Dawn Light, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Dawn Light, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s the subtle beauty of a place that retains a lasting impact.  I’m as susceptible to the pull of going with the hope of experiencing a dramatic sunrise (or sunset) as anyone, believe me.  When they happen they can be absolutely breathtaking and it’s extremely satisfying to capture these moments photographically.  But…

Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

10-plus years ago, I frequented a landscape forum on a popular nature photography site.  Dozens of landscape images were posted on this forum every single day and there was one photographer who regularly posted some of the most dramatic images I’ve ever seen–right up to the present.  Extravagant, masterful sunsets reflected in pristine lakes fronting towering, snow-capped peaks;  once in a lifetime sunrises over seastack-filled beaches with huge crashing waves; fiery orange-red-yellow streaked skies above gorgeous, flower-choked meadows.  You get the idea.  Every shot from this guy was like that, and I was as awed by them as the next viewer.  These images were phenomenal.

Nesika Beach at Sunrise, Curry County, Oregon

Nesika Beach at Sunrise, Curry County, Oregon

What I discovered, over time, however, was that these images didn’t stay with me emotionally.  Their impact lasted about as long as my first view of them.  After being popped in the face, so to speak, they faded from significance–at least for me.  There was an awful lot of sizzle, but very little steak.

Secret Beach Morning, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Secret Beach Morning, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Upon reflection over the years, I came to the conclusion that what was going on with these photographs was that the early reaction was to the “wow” parts of the image, not really to the underlying scene itself.  What I’ve come to discover is that the images that tend to have a lasting impact on me–be they the images of others or my own–are those depicted with a subtlety that allow the essence of the scene itself to carry the day, rather than those that are masked by “trappings,” for lack of a better term.

Whaleshead Creek Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Whaleshead Creek Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

For that reason, if no other, I think many of my best coastal images from this trip came from sunrise shoots.  Don’t get me wrong, I was out at sunset at every opportunity as well, and I had some great experiences at the end of the days on the coast, but, somehow, I think I’ll end up with more lasting memories of my sunrise experiences.  Good thing I got up early each day.

Battery Point Lighthouse from Crescent City Pier, Del Norte County, California

Battery Point Lighthouse from Crescent City Pier, Del Norte County, California


  1. yes – the assumption – brilliant set glad you revisited with fresh eyes – nice one

    • Thanks very much.

  2. Really good photos 🙂 Beautiful and nice colors.

  3. All the shots are lovely and soothing. Nice to see you got some clouds at secret beach. The lighting at the pier in Crescent City particularly caught my eye. I suspect you’re right about the subtle beauty being far more lasting. Having that sizzle on a wall would tend to get old pretty quick. Not much to explore past the smacked in your face wow factor.

    • Thanks, Gunta.

      The image from the pier is the only one in this sequence that was made with the sun’s rays falling on the scene–you can see the result of that on the structure of the pier itself, as well as the lighthouse in the background. This was just minutes after sunrise; the lights on the pier were still on, but turned off automatically very shortly after I tripped the shutter.

      And, agreed re the subtle factor as it pertains to “wall hangers.”

  4. I grew up on the Oregon coast. You represent it so well in your photos. Nicely done!

    • Thanks very much!

  5. Subtle light is indeed beautiful. Such a relief from those “pumped up” over-saturated images.I swear i saw a dinasaur at first glance on the left in the first photo, though.Very interesting rock formations in all of them. Well done!

    • Thanks, Jane.

      BTW, that dinosaur you saw in the first image–that’s known as Kissing Rock.

  6. I think I understand what you are saying about “sizzle but no steak.” The images that seem to resonate with me are the ones that make me want to be there, not just for the moment captured in the image, but for the experience…my feet on the path or my face being blown by the wind or my hand feeling the texture of the rocks. Your photos always have that power.

    • Thanks very much, Ellen. Very, very interesting point about an image’s impact being tied up with a kind of timeless essence of the place being depicted, as opposed to a single moment.

  7. If your excellent photos don’t convince people to try sunrise photography, then nothing will!

    I’ve always preferred sunrise, fewer people, it’s generally cooler with less wind, and no haze or heat waves coming up from the ground to ruin an otherwise good photo.

    • Thanks, Jerry!

      You’re right, all things being equal, the conditions are usually technically better for photography at sunrise than sunset, for all the reasons you cite.

  8. You discovered and captured very fine images of our oregonian landscape/seascapes. Lovely work, thank you for your talent.

    • Thanks very much!

  9. Some serious jaw-dropping beauties here, Kerry. 🙂

    • Thanks, Frank. BTW, you’ve posted some really nice material on your blog recently.

  10. Hi Kerry,

    I’ve been enjoying this series since I too will be spending time photographing on the Oregon coast later in the summer. I’m especially keen to see the Oregon Sand Dunes.

    I know what you mean about psychedelic sunrises and sunsets losing their appeal. I was all about them when I first started out, but over time the pursuit of colorful skies as my sole focus began to feel empty and unrewarding. I’m glad I figured this out relatively early in my photography. Like you, I won’t pass up a good, colorful sky opportunity when it presents itself, but I’m a lot more interested now in how light interacts with the physical elements of a composition. I prefer the warm light of late afternoon myself, but that’s because I’m unfortunately a lazy, “sleep in” type. I also like how the light continues to warm up as dusk approaches, whereas the light in the morning gets harsher as the day breaks. I keep hoping that as I get older I won’t need as much sleep, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working. 🙂

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to leave a comment, and for commiserating on the sunrise/sunset motif. FWIW, I’m not ordinarily a particularly early riser myself, but when it comes to photographic excursions I invariably burn the candle, hard, at both ends. I then spend several days upon returning home recovering. 🙂

      Have a good time when you hit the Oregon coast; I do recall passing the Oregon Sand Dunes National Recreation Area, a bit south of Florence, on my prior visit to the coast back in 2009. Since you mentioned that you’ll be there at some point during the summer, I’m sure you’ll be prepared for the omnipresence of the marine layer.

  11. nice view it wonderful picture

  12. […] I mentioned in a thematic piece posted a few weeks ago–and as I (hopefully) demonstrated in a post or two since–the […]

  13. […] would be setting away from the view over the water, I determined, during my time on the West Coast, not to ignore sunrise/sunset even if “the action” was taking place in the opposite direction.  That turned out to […]

  14. […] I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past, one of the great oversights that can be made when photographing on the Pacific Coast is falling […]

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