Loki Rains Down Blows Upon Stupid Photographers

Arriving in Portland after an early morning flight from Orlando for a photography trip at the Columbia River Gorge with Bill, Ryan, Don, and Jeff, we decided it would be a good idea to drive out to the Pacific Coast to shoot Thor’s Well. We had some intel on the location that suggested it was a great shot at high tide–but not at the peak of high tide, as waves make it dangerous and fully engulf the well–which is exactly when we’d be arriving for sunset. I think there’s something in the DNA of some landscape photographers that makes any scene more appealing when associated with the word “dangerous.”

After some detours, we arrived at Thor’s Well just before sunset. We all arranged our gear, put on wadders and rain gear, and went out to the rocks in front of the well where 3 other photographers were set up, awaiting the sunset. They had been there a decent amount of time and hadn’t witnessed anything resembling “danger.”

It all started so innocuously. Light waves crashed at our feet, but otherwise, it was a picturesque scene. Then, within a matter of only a few minutes, and still well before sunset, a giant swell crashed into the rocks on which we were standing. If I recall correctly, there were no ‘casualties’ at this point, although the water did come above my wadders and inside my rain gear that I had haphazardly put on, as, at the time, it didn’t seem the water posed any real threat of coming above my ankles. Fortunately, I brought a change of clothes, so I wouldn’t be making the 3-hour drive back to Portland wet. No harm, no foul. As stupid photographers are wont to do, we all kept shooting, unfazed.

Angered that his warnings had gone ignored, I think it was at this point that Loki descended from his perch in Asgard and channeled his powers to hit us with something harder. The waves became more furious, and it’s at this point that photographer after photographer went down. Don fell off the rock, submerging he and his Nikon D810. Jeff got hit hard, with his Sony A7 taking a dive. Others got knocked back, damaging their gear and pride.

I was one of the first hit by a large wave, and was hit while changing lenses. I don’t know what I was thinking changing lenses on the rock (hint: I wasn’t), but I managed to quickly turn my back to protect the gear, but water still managed to get inside my open Nikon D750 and in my camera bag that was hanging from my waist.

I instantly realized this was a bad thing, and ran from the rock to try to figure out a solution. Fortunately, the inside of my bag wasn’t too wet, but I took all of the lenses out of my bag and set them on the ground while I dealt with the camera. At first blush, it appeared that only a few stray water drops got inside the camera, all of which seemed to hit the mirror. Unfortunately, I had no dry lens wipes or cloths.

The smart move at this point would have been to go back to the car to get wipes and also take precautionary measures to ensure the safety of the gear for the rest of the trip. Instead, I stayed at the shore and used the top of my underwear (the only partially dry fabric I possessed down by the beach) to dry off the mirror (pro tip: don’t try this at home). I likewise used my underwear to dry off the other gear. I can only imagine how comically awkward this would have looked to a random passer-by.

The smart move at this point would have been to stay on the shore and watch the beautiful sunset while allowing my gear the chance to “rest” in case any water I couldn’t see remained inside. Using anything at this point could have potentially fried it. Instead, I went back to the rocks, where the waves were now pounding up higher and more relentlessly. It was an awful idea, to be sure, but those seem to be my specialty.

With no dry fabric (I couldn’t access my underwear without removing the wadders), I basically had one chance at a sunset photo–as soon as some waves hit and got water droplets on my lens, it would be game over. This time, I was more attentive to the waves, and raised my tripod high above my head every time one hit. I got knocked back a few times, but managed to fire off plenty of frames before water got on my lens and I had to call it a night at Thor’s Well. Below is actually the exact moment when my shooting there ended…

D75_0726 as Smart Object-1 copy

I was incredibly fortunate to come away with only wet clothes and some residual salt on all parts of the camera, and no issues for the rest of the trip. I managed to get a few usable shots of Thor’s Well, albeit not the photo I envisioned going into the scene. The shot above doesn’t do justice to the beauty of Thor’s Well as I think it makes it look like a little puddle in the Pacific, but I wanted to go with this shot first because of the context it gives and because, dammit, after all that effort I’m determined to use as many shots as possible from that evening.

Oh, and for anyone who might stumble upon this post while looking for images of Thor’s Well to use for commercial purposes, don’t even bother contacting me if you want to use this photo (for free) in exchange for “exposure.” Let this photo and story serve as a prime example of why photographers deserve to be paid for their work. If you think otherwise, the money and time spent getting there, the difficulty of getting the shot, and the some $10,000 worth of equipment damaged that evening among our group beg to differ. 🙂

For this photo, I used my a Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 Fisheye, plus my MeFoto travel tripod.

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Your Thoughts…

Have you been to Thor’s Well? Do you get excited about the challenge (and foolishness?) of photographing an intense scene? Any other comments about our misadventure? Share your thoughts on this or anything else, or questions you have in the comments!



14 replies
  1. Marlinda Newmyer
    Marlinda Newmyer says:

    I Love that you hit up Thor’s Well for a photo . I have had Loki prank me there as well. “Pun intended “

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Hoping the water doesn’t hit it too hard! 😉

      Really, though, aside from having a stable tripod, luck is really all there is. We had our tripods on rocks, though, not in the water. Rocks are the better bet.

  2. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Very timely post. I’ll be in Oregon next month and Thor’s Well is HIGH on my list of must-see places to photograph but now I’m worried. Between your post and other posts I’ve read, this seems really dangerous, and well, I don’t want to die! Is this really that scary? High tide on the day that we’ll be there is 3pm (not ideal conditions but oh well) — I’m actually re-thinking my plans to visit this (as it is out of the way). Is there any “safe” area to get a decent/okay pic at high tide, or do you really need to risk your life? Argh!! I don’t know what to do…

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      It’s not dangerous at all so long as you are paying attention and don’t go out if the tide is too high. The biggest issue we encountered is that the high tide came on FAST and without warning. Had it been more gradual (as is normally the case), we could have slowly retreated.

      Unfortunately, the view is not nearly as spectacular from anywhere but the rocks near Thor’s Well. I’d skip it if you’re not planning to go to those rocks.

  3. Michael Greening
    Michael Greening says:

    On the bright side, no one was hurt. On the even brighter side, none of the spouses were there to see it, laugh at you and say “I told you so” every 30 minutes for the rest of your trip.

  4. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Ouch. Well, you can tell Don that his photo is great. (I don’t know if it’s losing-a-$3000-camera great, though!)

    I have to admit I’m curious where this ranks when you told the story to your wife on a continuum of “loving smile at your antics” to “seriously angry because you could have died”.

    Interesting comment about people asking to use your work for free. A friend of my wife’s is a musician and will sometimes get the same request from restaurants, asking that he perform there for free to get exposure. I think he usually tells them he’s having a party at his house with a large number of people and asks them to bring free food so they get exposure.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I think the reaction was more along the lines of, “seriously angry because I could have damaged thousands of dollars of camera gear.”

      People ask to use photos all the time in exchange for exposure. When I respond with my rates, 75% of the time they don’t respond and 20% of the time they respond with “we don’t have the budget.” Usually it’s a writer or editor sending the request, in which case I respond, “are they paying you or is this a volunteer gig?” I’ve never received a response to that question.

      It should be noted that this line of snark only follows requests from reputable, commercial publications. If it’s charitable or personal use (or even a fledgling blogger), I always allow free use of the photos. I’m not a total grinch.

  5. Laura B.
    Laura B. says:

    I never imagined I would read a blog post discussing why you couldn’t access your underwear, and yet, here we are…

    If this is how your trip started, should I be concerned for the remainder of the trip???
    Sorry for all the damage y’all incurred, but the results I’ve seen so far are gorgeous!!

  6. Len
    Len says:

    Wow Tom..props to you and your fellow photographers! I’m always leery of taking my gear to the beaches here in Hawaii because of my paranoia of the salty air. But hey, cameras are meant to shoot so I need to get over it. Hope your D750 ended up working fine once it dried out!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      The D750 has started to register “f/0” as the aperture when I mount certain lenses, so I think the contacts on the camera might be damaged or need a cleaning. Otherwise, all is fine. I take my cameras out to the shores of Laguna Beach all the time. No point living in paradise if you’re afraid of using your camera to photograph it! 🙂

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