Marinas offer tons of photography opportunities from sea life to boats, to nautical items to the docks themselves.  So why did I title this post photographing marinas is hard?  Well how about crowded spaces, unappealing items such as dead fish, and constantly moving people, boats, and docks.  Need I forget to mention the struggles of composing an image from narrow docks surrounded by water.  

Oregon Marina Adventures and Struggles

My first stop was the Charleston Marina located just west of Coos Bay, Oregon. This marina is quite large with several different sections of boat docks and numerous vantage points. The marina has it all; boats, long docks, sea lions, birds, ropes, colorful boat floats, and a fish market.   

Charleston Marina

Fishermen’s Wharf 

Upon arriving in the Marina’a parking lot, I was immediately greeted with the sight of this fish market.  Being a windy day, the potential for photographing reflections of the market did not exist but I plan to come back and try again.  This area also had a seal that was popping in and out of the water in from of the fish market.  After trying for 40 minutes to photograph him, I realized I would have better luck at whack a mole!  But what a fun shot it could be with the fish market and seal as the foreground to the marina.  See why I say photographing marinas is hard?

Diagonal Lines

Next I set out to find a composition of the docks that would allow me to incorporate as many diagonal lines and patterns as possible. I walked as far to my right as I could without falling into the water.  From here I was able to create a cool triangle shape with the docks.  

So what was so hard about this shot? I had water to the right and in front of me but needed to move further right for the best composition. I needed to move to avoid including an ugly building that was at the far right of the docks. In the end I settled for a composition that violated all compositions rules and placed the boats at the very right edge of the scene.  If only the builders of marinas would think about us photographers and include more dock platforms for us.

Yellow Dinghy

After working the above location, I spotted a little yellow dingy and fell in love. He stood out from all the other boats but sadly I had very limited vantage points from which to photograph the boat. If I could have found this boat’s owner, I would have gladly paid him to take the boat out into the water! 

Colorful Boat Floats

As I was returning to the car I noticed a small packing house directly across from the water. I walked over to see what was over there and discovered this wall of colorful floats.

Marinas are full of cool subjects that provide photographic opportunities during times when light conditions may preclude photographing the larger scenic views.  So go on a treasure hunt next time you visit a marina.

I could not leave the Marina without checking out the back or western section. With a 2 minute drive, I entered an area where fishing boats were constantly launching while others returned with their daily hauls. The fishermen in the returning boats would clean their fish at a nearby cleaning station and drop the fish remains into the water.  Birds and seals would  linger in this area awaiting a free meal which provided great photographic opportunities.  And of course, I could not resist another chance to play whack a mole with the sea lions.  Score:  Maria 0  Seals  2.  So be sure to grab a camera and check out a nearby marina’s fish cleaning station to capture the wildlife.

Cape Arago Highway

An added bonus to visiting this marina is it’s location on the Cape Arago Highway.  This highway is one of the most scenic coastal drives in Oregon, complete with the Cape Arago Lighthouse.  If you have ever been to a dessert bar and not known what to eat first, well that describes photographing this area. 

North to Winchester Bay

Winchester Bay is also known as Salmon Harbor and is a great location for salmon fishing as well as crabbing. Here, there are tons of photography opportunities and I did find it a bit easier to isolate images of boats.  So let’s take a look at a few of my images. The biggest problem here was the almost day long fog.  

Morning Fog and Light by the Boat Launch

The above image was photographed in the early morning light as the fog was beginning to lift off the water. Not only did the line of boats create a good diagonal line but the scene also had a nice little curve in the bottom portion of the water.  And how about that streak of clouds above the boats?  This was geometric heaven. 

Foggy Morning

The next image was taken on a very foggy morning looking east at the first part of the Marina. It was much more challenging to compose due to many distracting elements next to these boats. In fact, I took a number of shots and ending up changing lens to a 70-200mm before I was satisfied with the composition.

Piling Reflections!

One morning I headed out to photograph boats but quickly realized that the fog was too heavy so I focused on the pilings in the water and their reflections. And yes, I got to again play around with diagonal lines.


For weeks I had been eyeing a line of colorful boats as a potential image but the subject would only work if the sun would shine on the boats and make the colors pop.  Otherwise, the image did not have enough shape to be visually interesting. Finally on week three there was one day of sunlight!

General Marina Photography Tips

  • Less is more– Isolate, isolate, and then isolate again.  Fight the urge to photograph the entire marina and instead focus on specific subjects. In fact, I found that the tighter I composed an image the happier I was with the results.  
  • Work Lines, Shapes and Patterns–  The docks and boat lines offer wonderful geometric opportunities so be sure to take time to look beyond the subject and focus on photographing the lines, shapes and patterns that abound at marinas. 
  • On windy days don’t photograph reflections–  On these days it is best to compose to eliminate reflections as they can tend to be distracting.  
  • Pay attention to complimentary colors–  Marinas are great places to work the color wheel in your compositions.  Deliberately compose to accentuate certain colors instead of focusing on subjects.
  • Move in every possible direction– Since marinas are surrounded by water, sometimes the only way to capture a subject is to either photograph high or low instead of moving left or right. Bring something to kneel on so that you can photograph low as well as a  step stool so you can photograph looking down on the boats.  I did not bring my step stool and regret it.
  • Shutter speeds– Pay close attention to shutter speeds and keep shutter speeds fast enough to account for dock and boat movements. This will improve image sharpness.
  • Foggy days help obscure bad backgrounds– Many marinas have some visually unpleasing subjects within the marina or on the outskirts that can present problems.  Foggy days are great for obscuring those unpleasing backgrounds. 
  • Know the rules of composition and break them mindfully– Many subjects at marinas are surrounded by water restricting movement which makes it difficult to follow the rules of composition. Be willing to break the rules to get the best shot.

I hope you employ some of these tips on your next visit to a marina and would love to hear how these worked.   

As always, thanks for joining me on this latest Road Trip Friday Journey to marinas and I will see you again next week at another destination.



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