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…
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. 🙂
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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!