6 OREGON LIGHTHOUSES TO PHOTOGRAPH

What would a photography trip to the Oregon Coast be without photographing it’s amazing lighthouses?  In fact, photographing Oregon lighthouses was my main reason for visiting the coast. My first visit to the coast was in the summer of 2004 and memories of lighthouses perched on rocky coasts surrounded by wildflowers never left my thoughts. Therefore, I knew I had to go back during summer so that I could capture wildflowers and lighthouses together. In hindsight, those beautiful memories left me unprepared for the struggles of photographing the coast during a very foggy summer. 

Upon arriving in Florence, Oregon in June, I was greeted with all day fog and 25-35 mph winds. Oops, what had I done.  With the exception of a few days, these conditions persisted until I left the coast in early September. So instead of visiting a lighthouse one time and photographing it, I had to make as many as 6 trips to some of the lighthouses to encounter acceptable weather.

Oh, be sure to click each image for better viewing as the blog post thumbnails just never appear sharp.

Yaquina Head Light

I have already written a blog post on the Yaquina Head Lighthouse: Photographing Yaquina Head Light.   So in this post, I will simply compare this lighthouse to the other five lighthouses. 

Yaquina Head Light is my favorite Oregon lighthouse. Not only is it a beautiful lighthouse but it’s setting and surrounding grounds offer an incredible range of photographic opportunities. Plan on spending at least one day here. Whales linger just off the shore, sea lions, seals and colonies of birds perch on nearby rocks, and the grounds are covered with beautiful wildflowers in summer. The following picture depicts the drive down to the lighthouse parking lot and even on a grey cloudy day, the beauty of the hillsides is evident.  The color of the flowers really were that vibrant and almost surreal.

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And look at the location!

Despite the beauty of the other lighthouses, from a photographer’s perspective, Yaquina Head Light is hard to beat.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse, located 13 miles north of Florence, is Oregon’s most photographed lighthouse.  I have no idea how anyone really knows this but that is what the literature states. Also, it is the last lighthouse to be built on the Oregon Coast and is equipped with an operating lens which weighs 2 tons with 640 hand ground prisms. 

Parking to reach the lighthouse is in Devils Cove and reached by hiking an easy half mile trail through a beautiful forest.  The trail leads past an innkeepers house which also functions as an overnight B&B. Be aware that lighthouse tours are only available on limited hours. I did not know this and the lighthouse was closed when I was there.  

I would be remiss if I fail to mention that the parking lot for Heceta Lighthouse, Devils Cove, is a photography destination itself and makes a great sunset location when the fog is not present. Plan on spending at least half a day in the area and photograph the tidal pools and beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean.  

Photographing Heceta

The front of the lighthouse faces west and is best photographed in the late afternoon light. However, the area in front of the lighthouse is a bit small and gets very crowded from mid morning on till closing. Eventually, I settled for an early morning side view of the lighthouse to eliminate the crowd from the scene.

There is a short but steep trail behind the lighthouse with great photo opportunities of the lighthouse. However due to the trail’s steep incline and my knee injury, I was not able to make the climb. For those who can, I highly encourage photographing from the top of the trail behind the lighthouse.  

Although you can walk directly to the lighthouse, many people choose to photograph the lighthouse from a large pull off on Highway 101 where the views of the lighthouse include the spectacular coastline.  

Wide Angle View from Overlook

Photo from Highway 101 with 100-400 lens. 

From the pull off, it is easy to photograph the lighthouse with a variety of lens ranging from 17mm to 400mm lens.

Best Time: I was there in summer and found that mid morning to noon produced the best light for the above images. In the afternoons, the northern sun produced too many dark shadows on the rocks. However, I believe this would be a great afternoon and sunset location when the sun in further south in the sky.  Also, the summer mornings and evenings were just too foggy to ever capture a sunset. 

Umpqua Lighthouse

The present Umpqua Lighthouse is actually the second location of this lighthouse.  The lighthouse was originally built in 1857 much closer to the shore and came crashing down due to flooding waters.  In 1888 funds were appropriated to rebuild the lighthouse further inland where it stands today. 

This lighthouse is not the tallest lighthouse nor it is located in a scenic location. But what it lacks in location, it makes up for with it’s fresnel lens. The lens is a first order fresnel lens from the Barbeire Company in France, the largest of the fresnel lens. In fact, it is one of the only operational first order fresnel lens in this country and beyond spectacular to view in person. It is only about 50 stairs to the top and worth it to view this lens as pictures can’t do it justice. Interestingly the lens arrived in red although it was not ordered in red making it quite unique.  Photographing the lens requires a wide angle lens in the range of l17mm and handholding the camera from steps as you lead backwards on a ladder. It is a bit of a challenge but very doable.

As I mentioned, this lighthouse is difficult to photograph due to it’s location.  Without a doubt, a coast guard housing facility surrounded by fencing is not the most picturesque setting for a lighthouse!

From the main lighthouse viewing area, the only way to avoid showing the coast guard houses and fencing is to eliminate the very bottom section of the lighthouse.

Upon review, I was not pleased with any of my “bottomless” images and decided I had to go back and try another approach. This time I headed to the lighthouse in the late afternoon, walked around, and decided on a composition that framed the lighthouse with trees.  Finally I had an acceptable photograph of this cool little lighthouse.  If only they would move it to a better location. 

Of course I did accidentally stumble on a great location for photographing this lighthouse. 

Don’t let the initial impression of this lighthouse stop you from getting out the camera, as it can be quite photogenic with a little bit of work.

Cape Arago

The Cape Arago Lighthouse is located in Charleston, Oregon and was originally built in the mid 1800’s to provide light to the Coos Bay Harbor at a time when the harbor was one of the most important harbors in Oregon.  Today the lighthouse is  no longer operational and the land is now private and closed to the public. 

Visitors can still view the lighthouse from a few very distant vantage points along the Cape Arago Loop Road. In fact I have decided that the best way to photograph the lighthouse is to rent a kayak. Coupled with the distant vantage points, I encountered consistent fog and overcast skies with the exception of one afternoon.  The light on that day was just OK but I gladly settled for OK after 6 previous failed photo attempts. 

Here are a few different views of the lighthouse from a popular vantage point.

I loved the inclusion of the cliff and trees to the right but felt the foreground rock competed with the lighthouse.  So I decided to forego some depth of field and use my 500mm lens to get a tighter shot of the lighthouse.  I also moved a bit to my left since I no longer needed to include the cliff.

Lastly I decided to use the foreground rock as a leading diagonal line and of all three compositions, this is the one I liked the best. If there were better viewpoint without being in the water, I never found them.

Coquille River Lighthouse

The Coquille River Lighthouse is located immediately south of Bandon at the mouth of the Coquille River in Bullard Beach State Park. There is a small gift shop inside the lighthouse building but the lighthouse itself is closed to the public. Despite the lighthouse being closed, the grounds surrounding the lighthouse are quite stunning and definitely worth a visit.

Photographing the Lighthouse

The lighthouse can be photographed from a variety of locations which means almost any time of day one can find a good location to capture the lighthouse.

A  view from the front of the lighthouse.

View standing in front of the lighthouse

The Lighthouse from across the river in Bandon.

Best Time of Day.  Morning light is best when photographing the lighthouse from Bullard Beach State Park.  From Bandon, depending on the location, morning and late afternoon light both are good.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse

Cape Blanco was the southern most lighthouse I visited and even though my visits were met with heavy fog, I am so glad I made the trip. Cape Blanco is Oregon’s oldest continually operating lighthouse and also the most westerly lighthouse.  

The lighthouse became operational in 1870 and was built in a beautiful spruce forest perched on rocky cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. I could spend days just photographing the forests by this lighthouse.  Today the lighthouse is part of Cape Blanco State Park and is only open on certain days of the week and this includes the gated drive to the lighthouse. I am sure some photographers jump the gate and walk the road but you never heard that from me.

Photographing the Lighthouse

Since I encountered fog so thick you could barely see in front of you, there was very few opportunities to photograph the lighthouse. In fact I believe I had about 30 minutes when the fog lifted enough to even photograph the lighthouse.  But let me share with you a couple things I discovered in that time that may be of help to anyone photographing the lighthouse.  

  • Before you enter the gated road to the lighthouse there is a large open area for parking to the south that provides views of the lighthouse with the ocean in the foreground. I believe this spot could be a good location from which to photograph the lighthouse and surrounding shores under better conditions. (I could not see the lighthouse).    
  • Across from the road to the right of the parking lot are grassy covered hills along the shore.  This spot is definitely a spot from which to photograph the lighthouse on less foggy days.
  • Once the gate finally opened and I entered the actual lighthouse grounds, I immediately noticed a white object hanging from the lighthouse lens. Closer inspection revealed that it was a curtain.  See the picture below.

I was not happy about the white curtain so I moved to the back of the lighthouse and discovered a view of the lens without the curtain.  Also, I did not like the door being opened in the front of the lighthouse which I did not have to contend with from the back.

The fog quickly returned so I went inside. To access the lens there are only about 50-60 spiral stairs but then there is a ladder that has to be climbed straight up to the lens. I chose not to climb to steep ladder due to an injured knee and the heavy fog bank but could imagine that this lighthouse view from the top would be stunning on a pretty day.

Well that concludes my brief overview of these 6 beautiful Oregon lighthouses and I hope to see you back from another Road Trip Friday location.

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