A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge flows in a rolling way through a mossy forest.
I don’t usually go for the theme post, at least those invented by other bloggers. I figure it’s sorta cheating, letting other people decide what you will blog about because you don’t have any ideas of your own. Or something like that.
Since I want to avoid being dogmatic about it, occasionally I’ll go along with the crowd, join the party, however you want to phrase it. But only when the theme intrigues me. This time it is the concept of flow, Ailsa’s idea on her great blog Where’s My Backpack. I love flowing water of course, but that’s an easy approach. Hmm…
If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them. You will be taken to the high-res. version where you can view price options by clicking “Purchase Options”. The images are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry. Please contact me if you have any questions. Thanks for looking!
Spring melting at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah brings a heavy sediment-laden slurry flowing down through the snow from the red rocks above.
The East Fork Hood River in Oregon tumbles down through its canyon near Mount Hood Oregon as a spring flows out of its banks to feed it.
Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, California forms textured shadows as the wind blows hard and the sand flows over the surface.
This flowing rock in southern Utah’s Coyote Buttes area was originally formed into enormous dunes, now solidified into rock.
A close-up view of sandstone strata in southern Utah, very near the location called “the wave”. The sandstone appears to flow on different scales, though it is solid rock. Originally of course, it was formed by flowing currents.
A small stream deep in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge flows through a green-lined channel.
One of the easiest ways to get into a “flow”, that feeling of timeless, effortless doing, is cross-country skiing.
The clouds rapidly flow out of the basin containing Mowich Lake as night comes on and temperatures drop, revealing Mount Rainier standing above.
The Sandy River in NW Oregon flows and eddies, throwing golden reflections from the setting sun back up at Steelhead fishermen.
The upper Columbia River in Washington flows smoothly but powerfully during spring’s high flows. On the opposite bank lie giant current ripples, formed during an ice age flood bigger than any we know about in earth history.
Standing atop the columns of a basalt flow, cooled and hardened millions of years ago, in Washington’s Channeled Scablands.
Golden light from a setting sun is reflected from the churning, flowing surf at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.
This Sunday I’ll give a nod to my city, which is a nice one. Most pictures of Portland that you see will have been taken from the east bank of the Willamette River. This is a more unusual take, from the north on the upper deck of the Fremont Bridge. I stopped very briefly on the left shoulder. Luckily the light was beautiful and the traffic was light (it was late afternoon on Sunday). The green field you see in the foreground was recently created from ugly industrial land. I could have brightened the shadows a bit; the contrast is pretty high in this scene. But I think I like it with the shadows and contrast, to further separate the buildings, which look fairly crowded from this perspective.
This view of the north side of Portland’s skyline is not one you see often.
Hope your weekend is going well. If you happen to have an interest in this image (which is copyrighted and not available for download without my permission), just click on it. Then click “Purchase Options” to go to pricing options on the high-res. version. It won’t be added to your cart until you choose one of the options. If you want it framed, or have any other special request, please contact me. Thanks for looking.
This shot of the Columbia River in Washington under morning light was made with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105 f/4L IS lens.
I normally try to stay away from talk of gear. This is the only day of the week in which I ever blog strictly about photography matters, but even here I stay away from gear reviews and the like. Last Friday I looked at how water and your camera get along (or not!). I suppose I dipped my toe into the gear waters when I did that. So today I’m going to go in a little deeper. But don’t worry, I’m not about to sell out. I’ll keep it gear-neutral, and you won’t see any cheerleading.
I’ve been a Canon user since I switched to digital. Nothing against Nikon, Sony, etc. of course. I simply looked at the lens lineup, cost of a good camera to begin with, and went for it. It happened that Canon’s 5D Mark II was the best value at the time I was purchasing, and Canon’s lens choice seemed a tad better than Nikon’s. I shot Nikon film cameras, and could easily switch if a compelling reason came up.
Phantom Ship is a rock island sticking up in one corner of Oregon’s Crater Lake.
After I purchased the 5D Mark II I did not want to spend a lot more right away. So I bought a Sigma lens with it, then a couple cheaper Canon lenses. I wasn’t happy with the quality, in general. So it wasn’t long before I took the plunge and bought a few Canon L lenses. I also bought a Canon 50D as a backup, then a zoom lens that is specific to that camera type (crop-frame).
Through all this, I learned one important lesson: Next to the photographer and subject/light, the lens (not the camera) makes the most difference to the quality of image you get. The camera does matter, don’t get me wrong. I used a super-zoom point and shoot camera for some years when I was not seriously into photography. Although the colors were okay, the images tended to be plagued by digital noise. Noise tends to reduce clarity and make colors look unnatural. Essentially, noise can ruin an image. In general, the more expensive the camera, and the larger its sensor, the better it handles noise.
A viewing platform hanging over the lip of Multnomah Falls in Oregon is not for those afraid of heights.
There are plenty of other reasons to get a nicer camera. Ergonomics is important. The way the camera feels in your hands and how easy it is to reach and naturally operate the controls is a factor, but depending on how outside the norm the size of your hands are, it’s my experience that you get used to whatever you use. More important for me is a viewfinder that you can put your eye up to. I have a point and shoot and use it when I’m in situations where the only camera I want to have needs to fit into my pocket. This little camera (a Canon S95) handles noise amazingly well for its small sensor size, but I will never like using a screen to take a picture. I just can’t compose as well.
A great pyrenees (Pyrenean mountain dog) appears to be having trouble staying awake.
One reason I don’t think is a good one to consider when shopping for a camera is the brand’s “cachet” or name recognition. Nobody wants to admit they pay attention to this kind of stuff, but deep down we all know we do. When I’m around other photographers, I’ve noticed other Canon shooters are more likely to strike up a conversation with me than are folks with other brands. Silly huh? I know one thing for sure. If I had the money to go out and buy a Canon 1Dx, or a Nikon D4 (the two full-pro models), I might feel pretty cool around most other photographers. But there will come that moment when somebody with a Hasselblad H5D (40K) or a similarly priced Leica S with fancy lens will show up. Then what do you do? It’s keeping up with the Joneses, a game you can’t win.
A red-winged blackbird sings in an eastern Oregon marsh.
So back to the question: does the camera matter? The short answer is yes but not as much as most think. Glass (lenses) is always more important to the quality of your images, as is your overall skill and comfort with the camera. The best camera is the one you have with you when you are presented with perfect light and subject. This is an old truism that will always hold.
All of that said, today I have on the way a brand new Canon 5D Mark III. I pulled the trigger yesterday and took advantage of a free one-day shipping offer. It will replace my beloved 5D Mark II, which took a bad fall and bath last week. That camera is at Canon’s repair, and will be fixed, but not cheaply! Now I have 3 DSLRs and need to sell one. My previous backup, the 50D, might be the one to go. But that camera has given me nothing but sterling service for 3 years and is still going strong. I might instead sell the 5D Mark II. I’m not really sure.
Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge appears to glow in sunlight diffused by the deep forest. This was captured with my Canon 5D Mark II and Tokina 16-28 mm. f/2.8 wide-angle zoom.
The Mark II is a full-frame camera with video while the 50D is a crop-frame without video. The Mark II is a 21 MP camera while the 50D is a 15 MP camera. But you have more reach with a crop-frame (it basically gives you extra zoom capability), nice to have when your main camera (in my case a 5D Mark III) is a full-frame. I think most people would sell the crop-frame and keep the Mark II as a backup. But for me it isn’t so simple and I haven’t made up my mind yet. So feel free to give me your opinion if you have one. Let me know if you are in the market and are interested in either camera. Maybe you can help me make up my mind.
Have fun shooting! I’ll post pictures from my new camera soon.
This image of a fisherman beneath Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge was captured with my Canon 50D + Canon EF-S 17-55 mm. f/2.8 IS lens. Not bad for a backup!
The moon sets behind the Tetons as the Milky Way soars over Jackson Lake, Wyoming.
I have neglected this series for far too long, I’m sorry to say. Check out the previous posts for some background and for some of my best starscape images. Part I discusses how science has tackled the biggest questions we ask about the Universe and how life fits into the picture. Part II continues by touching on the idea of the universe having a consciousness, or even some sort of creator; it also discusses how quantum theory fits into things. Part III goes into what we know thus far about life’s origins. And Part IV highlights the incredible progress we’ve made in the exploration of our solar system, with the not always explicit goal of finding life on other planets.
The progress of this series has been generally outward, from our beloved Earth (which remains the only place we know that hosts life) and out to the solar system. My goal (at least metaphorically) is to go out to the stars, our galaxy, then finally the larger Universe. Then I’d like to come back to the original two-part question discussed in Part I: how did we come to be and why? In this post however, I’m going to take a short detour and speak about a scientist who greatly influenced how we have tackled these questions. He is Carl Sagan, an astronomer from the United States. Now passed away, he was widely known as a popularizer of astronomy. He influenced NASA policy along with millions of people who watched his Cosmos TV series. He had a significant effect on me.
In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.
While he was charismatic and very good at getting all sorts of people enthusiastic about space science, he was also a very good scientist. Among the general public in the U.S., he was mostly known for going on the Johnny Carson Show and expounding on astronomy. Of course everyone knew that Johnny would eventually get him to say the word “billions”. In Sagan’s landmark TV series Cosmos and in lectures, he often referred to billions (of stars, years, miles) with a definite, purposeful emphasis on the b. With his great voice, the b literally boomed. Comedians of the day had a great time imitating it.
Sagan started out as a planetary scientist, studying under the great Gerard Kuiper at University of Chicago and going on to make important contributions. For example, he put together observations from the early Venus probes to demonstrate that the reason our sister planet is an incredibly hot, dry place is that it suffers from a runaway greenhouse effect. He was first to suggest that Jupiter’s moon Europa has an enormous subsurface ocean and that Saturn’s moon Titan is bathed in an organic-rich atmosphere and had liquid organics on its surface. He was a key figure in several important NASA missions, including the Viking robotic mission to Mars. He led a small team that designed humanity’s first (and 2nd & 3rd as well) message to the stars.
Carl Sagan and Frank Drake came up with the idea to send messages to the stars on the Pioneer space probes. Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in the early 1970s to pass close to Jupiter and Saturn and then head out of the solar system into outer space. These space-ready plaques, these cosmic messages in a bottle, had very simple messages inscribed on them. There was a map showing where our solar system was located, along with figures of male and female human beings waving a greeting. Five years later, the Voyager probes (which are now passing into interstellar space) carried a much more involved package. It included a gold-plated record of pictures plus sounds from Earth (music, frogs croaking, volcanic action, human greetings in many languages, etc.). This time capsule was designed by a team led by Sagan.
Also, in 1974, Carl Sagan and Frank Drake sent for the first time in human history a deliberate radio message out to the stars. Aimed at the enormous globular cluster in the constellation Hercules, it was a coded radio transmission sent from the huge Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico. It was not approved or sponsored by NASA, and drew great criticism. Some prominent astronomers complained that it was arrogant and stupid for Sagan to advertise our presence to potentially hostile aliens. Sagan countered that we have been broadcasting into space for generations, though the messages which continue to be broadcast (radio programs, TV sitcoms, etc.) may not be putting humanity’s best foot forward.
Wandering around Monument Valley during a full moon is a special experience.
SAGAN & ET
Carl Sagan believed deeply in both the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence and in the many benefits that contact with them would provide humanity. Do not misunderstand, however. He was not a believer in ancient aliens or even that UFOs were evidence that we are being visited in recent times. He simply believed that life had not only gotten started in many many places throughout the galaxy, but that it had progressed far beyond our level in a significant number of star systems. He believed that if we made contact with any aliens, it would be near certain that their technology and culture would be far more sophisticated than ours.
This makes perfect sense if you believe that the Drake Equation (which estimates the chances of extraterrestrial intelligence) strongly suggests there are very many instances of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Sagan combined that conclusion with the Fermi Paradox. In 1950, Enrico Fermi famously asked of his colleagues (including Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb) “where are they?” If there are so many potentially life-friendly star systems and literally billions of years to play with, why haven’t we seen any evidence of aliens, present or past? Sagan took these two factors, plus the fact that we are in the infancy of space exploration ourselves, and concluded that any civilizations which do exist have somehow avoided having destroyed themselves, and are thus greatly advanced both technologically and culturally.
The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.
He had faith that we would eventually make contact with an advanced intelligence. He also believed that their success in handling increasingly sophisticated, potentially destructive technology meant that they would be peaceful and non-aggressive. Further, he thought they could teach us how to avoid destroying ourselves through technology, wars or ecological collapse, and that this would be the greatest discovery in the history of humanity. This is why in the latter part of his career he focused intensively on making contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, and on convincing the general public that this was a worthwhile endeavor.
Some criticized this belief as not only quasi-religious, but as out-of-date and quasi-colonial. They thought Sagan’s beliefs smacked of the justification for imperial powers of the west conquering primitive peoples in order to provide them with the benefits of the modern world (all the while stealing their resources and infecting them with disease). In this cosmic case, those backward beings would be us Earthlings, and the “benevolent” conquerors would be extraterrestrials. Many people who think about this stuff believe that contact with aliens would bring a similar fate: exotic disease, theft of the Earth’s resources, and similar bad outcomes. I think this criticism of Sagan is unfair.
A full moon illuminates Ship Rock in New Mexico.
SAGAN & SETI
The movie Contact is based on Sagan’s book of the same name, where SETI’s Jill Tarter (played by Jodi Foster) makes first contact with aliens. SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), the effort that Frank Drake, Guiseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison started is now a very mature organization. Basically an effort to detect alien transmissions, SETI was kept alive during the 1960s by the Russians. Carl Sagan, during the Cold War, collaborated with the Russians on SETI. Now an American organization run by Seth Shostak, with both Frank Drake and Jill Tarter still involved, SETI is carried out by an international cast of scientists. They conduct highly sophisticated monitoring of our galactic neighborhood. Still looking primarily for alien radio transmissions, SETI incorporates sophisticated computer-assisted arrays of telescopes and also looks for optical signals (such as messages carried on laser beams).
SAGAN & MARS
Carl Sagan has been criticized for his almost religious zeal and optimism surrounding the existence of life on other planets. He was very adamant that cameras on the Viking Lander be capable of sweeping the area in case any intelligent creatures show up to check out the intruder. He endorsed a theory by the Russian Iosof Shklovsky which proposed that Phobos and Deimos (the two small moons of Mars) were artificial satellites created by Martians to escape a deteriorating climate on the planet’s surface. Regarding the controversial “face” on Mars, Sagan parted ways with mainstream astronomers when he supported further study of it. But he believed it was probably natural, a fact that was confirmed during subsequent flybys.
Sagan has been likened to that controversial icon of early 20th century Mars exploration, Percival Lowell. Lowell was the dogmatic scientist who was convinced up to his death that Mars was laced with canals. Sagan criticized Lowell for his refusal to accept evidence against the canal theory, but it is said secretly admired him for his belief in intelligent Martians. Lowell was a tireless promoter of the theory for an advanced Martian society and, at least in part, so was Carl Sagan. I think it’s a stretch, however, to label Sagan as Percival Lowell’s successor.
The full moon as viewed through a translucent veil formed by geothermal steam at Firehole Lake in Yellowstone National Park.
SAGAN THE SCIENTIST & AUTHOR
While it’s true that Carl Sagan had a strong belief in alien intelligence, possibly nearby, I regard him as a very good scientist, a straight thinker who could never ignore evidence that contradicted his beliefs. He famously said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Although he though the study of UFOs was a legitimate effort, he debunked the famous alien abduction of d considered the chances of alien visitation to be extremely small. For years he taught a course at Cornell on critical thinking. But there’s no getting around the fact that Sagan’s interest in astronomy was stoked at an early age by the science fiction of H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Sagan was a well-trained astronomer who had a huge diversity of scientific interest and knowledge. I have read quite a few of his books, and they are diverse. Cosmos, The Pale Blue Dot, Cosmic Connection, Comet and Intelligent Life in the Universe are all great astronomy reads. But he also wrote The Dragons of Eden, which explores the evolution of human intelligence. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, about human evolution, is a fascinating book. He worked for some years with famous biologists and geneticists, including Harold Urey and H.J. Muller. He also worked with famous physicist George Gamow. In a book called Demon-Haunted World, he defends science as a way to counter the chaos and misery of totalitarianism and war, along with ignorance.
The starry sky on a clear evening is reflected in the aptly-named Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.
SAGAN & FAITH
Sagan claimed that he was agnostic. Based on some of his statements (“The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing white beard is ludicrous.”) many considered him an atheist. But others thought he brought a religious bias into his science. He believed that “Not only is Science compatible with pirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality.” I believe he was somebody who welcomed that soaring elation that comes with scientific discovery, and that he regarded this as a deep spiritual experience with the nature of the universe, a sort of God. I don’t think he was an atheist. In fact, he once said:
An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.
In eastern Washington state stands a replica of Stonehenge, here viewed just before complete darkness descends with the stars coming out.
Sagan was in some ways a child of the 1960s. He was strictly anti-war, a staunch environmentalist, a believer in a woman’s right to equality and access to birth control (including abortion). He smoked marijuana, and did little to hide the fact. He married three very talented, intelligent and strong women throughout his life. I believe Sagan’s most important legacy is what he did to make astronomy (and science in general) understandable and exciting to the public. Sagan really believed science was a spiritual quest, but not in the strictly religious sense in which the word spirituality is often used. Many people think his belief in extraterrestrial intelligence had strong religious elements. But I think that he simply wasn’t conflicted about his science, and that he really was agnostic. I believe that many of his critics mistook his spiritual-like enthusiasm (especially evident when he talked to the public about science) for some sort of religiosity.
Carl Sagan died in 1996 from pneumonia (of all things). It was related to a disease he had called MDS, a condition that destroys a person’s bone marrow. He was only 62, with plenty more to contribute to science and society. Among many scientists and science enthusiasts, and nearly all science educators, he is sorely missed. The movie Contact, an adaptation of his novel, came out in 1998. If we do make contact with intelligent aliens within what would have been his natural lifetime (to the late 2020s, say), it will be a true shame he did not live to see it.
An old abandoned schoolhouse out on the Oregon prairie is illuminated by a crescent moon. The Milky Way glows pink in the coming dawn.
This is an impressive waterfall in Washington’s southern Cascade Range, near Mount St. Helens. Here you see it in full-on spring flood.
One Soggy Rose.
This is the second of two parts on what regions to visit and when in the Pacific Northwest. The recommendations are particularly relevant for nature and landscape photographers, but anyone who plans to visit during spring or early summer will find it useful. Since I’m going to just jump in where I left off, it’s best to check out Part I first.
Speaking of spring flowers (I was actually speaking of them in the 1st part!), let’s not forget the gardens and cultivated areas through the western valleys and cities of the Pacific Northwest. The tulips bloom starting in April and there are several farms that welcome visitors. The area around Woodburn is very popular; so popular with photogs. in fact, that I’ve stubbornly avoided taking one picture there! I do love tulips, and there are plenty around town to photograph. The roses for which Portland is famous bloom about the time of the city’s signature event, Rose Festival (go figure!). This is late May into June. A visit to Portland’s Rose Garden during a cloudy day right after rainfall can yield amazing flower pictures.
At Portland’s Rose Garden, spring showers linger into the season of bloom.
For people pictures, head down to the waterfront for the Rose Festival itself, or to one of the street fairs such as Last Thursday (Alberta Street, last Thursday of every month, May – October). Or just go to one of our “hip” neighborhoods and hang out. There is always something going on in this town.
The cherry blossoms and unsettled weather go along with Spring in Portland, Oregon.
Portland’s Rose Festival is a great place to stroll around, enjoying the perfect weather and comfort food.
The street fair in Portland known as Last Thursday attracts thousands of artists, musicians and spectators.
At some point in springtime, hopefully during the kind of off and on weather that the season is known for around here, you’ll want to visit the coast. The greening up does not skip this part of Oregon, and spring storms can bring great wave action as well. Extra-low tides are great for exploring (and photographing) the fascinating sea life in tidal pools. The Oregon Coast is simply one of those places you should try your level best to see at some point.
Big waves pound the tilted layers of an ancient delta at Cape Arago on the central Oregon Coast.
And while you’re at it do the northern California coast and/or the Olympic Coast in Washington. These are just as beautiful as Oregon, since it’s really just a continuation. Have to admit I’m partial to our coast though. For one thing, you’ll see no private property signs or fences blocking access to a beach in Oregon. That would be against the law, since every bit of coast up to high-tide line is public property. For another, the whole coast is beautiful, from one end to the other. It’s one long continuous stretch of pretty little towns, capes and sea stacks. The Olympic Coast is wilder though, being in a National Park.
The sun goes down as wading birds forage for tiny crustaceans along the northern California coast where a creek enters the ocean.
Spring used to not be my favorite season around these parts. I still don’t really like how long it can be. Enough already! But with the flowers and generally good weather conditions for photography, with the lush green forest and filled-to-the-brim waterfalls, with all the days conducive to rainbows, I’ve come around to liking this season..a lot. There must be some reason I tend to stick around the Northwest during this time of year.
A small barn in rural western Oregon, at day’s end on a typical spring showery day.
A perfectly symmetrical daisy blooms in Portland, Oregon.
Of course we have beautiful (but much shorter) autumns. And summer is filled with near-perfect days and breezy nights (generally too clear for a photographer’s liking though). Come November now, I’ll be itching to get out of Dodge. But spring and early summer are really when the Pacific Northwest shines. The only problem? There is much too much to do, and with the year’s longest days to do it in. Spring is also the time to kayak and raft the whitewater on the smaller, undammed rivers. It’s the time to climb (and ski down) the snow-clad volcanoes. It’s time to join in the fun of outdoor festivals and outings. It’s a time when you wonder if sleep really is overrated.
Thanks for looking!
A spring storm clears at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon coast just in time for sunset.
This Sunday I thought I’d post a black and white image. I don’t do a lot of black and white. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much when I do capture an image like this one. Then it’s back to the computer to see if I can bring back the mood in the scene. I’ve found especially with black and white that RAW digital captures can take away some of the subtle contrasts and tones and make them feel a little lifeless. I processed this with Nik Silver Effex Pro.
This little outing was really sort of a bust. I arrived in the Columbia River Gorge (Oregon) to get some pictures at sunset. Unfortunately a rainstorm timed its arrival for sunset too. It was a race to get a picture before the deluge, a race I lost. As I set up it began raining. So I grabbed a few shots and quickly put my camera away.
The light was rapidly fading with the building clouds, robbing the scene of what a minute before was a very vibrant green. I thought immediately that it might make a good black and white landscape image. A minute or so after I captured it the rainstorm grayed out the nice shadows and highlights on the water. So this was definitely one of those pictures that straddles the edge of changing light and weather conditions. I think that’s the reason it turned out well. What do you think?
Rainy weather descends on Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.
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Metlako Falls in the Eagle Creek Gorge (Oregon), as viewed from above.
First of all, let me say these pictures may indeed be the last ones my Canon 5D Mark II has captured. That’s because it took a bad fall and bath. I had climbed down through the steep brush in Eagle Creek Gorge (Columbia River Gorge in Oregon) trying to find an interesting view of Metlako Falls. Metlako Falls is one of the tougher waterfalls in Oregon to access and photograph. I ended up in a spectacular spot, looking down a tumbling stream toward the hidden grotto that the beautiful cascade spills into
The clamp on my tripod head had been a little loose lately. I’d tightened it but apparently not enough. I was trying to mount my microphone on the camera to take a video. In sketchy spots like this, I usually have the camera strap around my neck for safety. But I had taken it off to get the mic. The camera was about 7 feet above the creek.
Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is difficult to access. Here it’s viewed from above.
You know what happened next. The camera slipped out of the clamp and fell directly onto a rock then into the creek. I quickly grabbed it before it went over the edge and frantically dried it off. But the damage was done. There is a big dent in the top. This camera has served me very very well. It has given me zero problems and captured excellent images for about a year and a half. I was planning to keep it at least until the next version of the 5D came out (or a new high-resolution full frame Canon).
One more of Metlako Falls, this from a small steep path that leads to this view.
Now of course that’s all changed. Luckily my lens appears to be fine, but the camera is damaged goods, no matter whether it can be repaired or not. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m using my backup, a Canon 50D. It’s a solid DSLR, but it’s a crop-frame. I’m too much the wide-angle enthusiast to shoot with it on a constant basis. Also it doesn’t do video and has slightly lower resolution. So with few financial resources right now I need to somehow get a new camera. Though I’m curious about the 6D, I’ll probably just go with the 5D Mark III.
The Columbia River Gorge’s high cliffs turn gold at sundown, reflected in wetlands formed during spring’s high water flow. This was captured the day before my camera took a fall.
Now to the advice. Shooting in the Pacific Northwest gives one plenty of experience with water. From plain old rain to splashing creeks and waterfalls, even the humidity, this area tends to be hard on cameras. My 5D II was not the best sealed of cameras, so I needed to be careful. I use a towell that sort of has a big pocket built into it. It is very absorbent. I found it at Walgreens. The pocket fits right over the top of the camera, then I can drape it over the lens. I do this when it is raining lightly or if I have waterfall spray.
You can buy quite expensive rain gear for your camera. But nothing I’ve tried is very convenient for use in the rain. I want to get a housing. I would just love to start shooting underwater pictures at freshwater creeks and wetlands. Housings are extremely expensive though.
There is one challenge that often goes overlooked when talking about this subject. When it starts raining you need to quickly transition to camera protection mode. How do you do this without getting the camera wet? If you have an umbrella it might help. But it’s often a stressful scramble when the sky suddenly decides to open up and take a big pee on you and your gear.
A fisherman tries his luck in the lake that sits beneath Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. This picture was captured with my backup camera the day after the “accident”.
I also shoot above rushing water very often. I have a friend who uses a safety strap that connects the camera to the tripod. If the head or plate fails, the camera does not fall to the ground or water. But that still leaves the tripod itself vulnerable. So I try to always keep the camera strap around my neck near cliffs or over water. That way if a disaster develops I can save at least the camera/lens and probably the tripod as well.
There is a major Catch 22 here. Often you want to be out shooting when the weather is “interesting”. I usually am trying not to shoot in actual rain but just before or after. I don’t regard grey skies and steady rain as interesting weather! I think it is the edge of things that you want to target with your camera: the edge of a storm, edge of an ecosystem, edge of the day, edge of a facial expression, etc.
The walls of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge at day’s last light.
So my approach is to avoid having my camera out while it’s raining, to wait until the rain lets up before shooting. And then I cover it with the special towel when I have it out shooting. I think the electronics in this gear we have will never get along with moisture very well. Of course if I was independently wealthy, or was somebody famous, sponsored by Canon (yes I’m talking about you Art Wolfe!), I would have a well-sealed Canon 1Dx. If something happened to it Canon would just send me another. If I had this $6000+ camera I would not worry about drizzle so much, though full immersion (and salt water) would still be a danger.
The last image below was captured the day after the accident. I had done a sort of rock climb 100 feet or so up Rooster Rock. A nearby osprey in her nest was not amused at my presence, and I clung to a precarious spot to get the shot. I definitely kept the neck strap in place this time. But I won’t ever stop putting my camera in dangerous spots just because of the possibility of an accident. That’s just not me. I know, what about putting myself in danger? I don’t want to talk about it!
Hope you found this advice helpful. It’s a mean world (at least for camera gear), so be careful and good luck out there!
A viewpoint gained after a short rock climb partway up Rooster Rock in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge gives a fine view of early evening colors on the river. Captured with my backup camera the day after the accident.
Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park features blooming cherry trees in springtime.
Springtime in the Pacific Northwest can last a full 4 months! That’s right, 1/4 of the year for a season that doesn’t even exist in some places, and in others (the far north for example) it is a couple weeks of melting snow and ice – it’s called breakup not spring in Alaska. This is the first of a two-part summary of recommended times to visit and photograph the different destinations in this corner of the country.
The two years previous to this one we’ve had very long, cool springs, starting in fits sometime in mid- to late-February and lasting through the July 4th holiday weekend. Clouds, storms, cool weather, sun, hail, snow in the mountains: you know, spring! And well over 4 months of it! But this year it didn’t really start until March and it appears to be over now. We had some very warm weather (for May), then one more spate of cool, wet weather, then May went out and left us with gorgeous dry summer-like weather. It looks like it wants to stay too.
Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
For photography around these parts, you want to time it so that starting in mid-spring you are out as much as humanly possible. That’s because a bunch of things happen one after the other. So here is a brief summary of where to go and when during glorious spring in the Pacific NW.
EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS
East of the Cascade Mountains early flowers bloom beginning in March. The weather and light is often interesting in early spring too. But by mid-April, the flowers really start to peak in the drier eastern parts of Oregon and Washington. This includes the eastern Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic landscape. Perhaps you’ve heard of or seen images from a place called Rowena Crest (I call it Rowena Plateau, ’cause that’s what it really is). Fields of yellow arrow-leaf balsamroot abound!
Sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.
A grass widow blooms in the eastern Columbia River Gorge.
Also check out the Washington side of the eastern Gorge for great flower displays and sweeping landscapes - places like Catherine Creek and the Columbia Hills. The flower bloom gradually moves west and up (in elevation) through May, with purple lupine and red/orange indian paintbrush joining the party. One of my favorite flowers of the east is the beautiful purple grass widow. It is very early (March) in eastern Oregon but a little later in the Gorge. Another favorite of the dry parts, the showy mariposa lily, blooms rather late, throughout May.
Oregon’s Painted Hills are made up of repeating layers of ancient and colorful volcanic ash.
A small fry gambols in the spring pasture near the town of Fossil, central Oregon.
The Palouse of Washington state is a beautiful rural area of quiet farms.
It’s worth trying to hit the dry, eastern parts of the Pacific Northwest (our steppe) sometime in April or May. This includes the popular landscape photo destinations of the Palouse in Washington and the Painted Hills in Oregon. Photographers should try to time a visit with some weather if possible, since clear skies are the rule out there.
I visited the Palouse this year in late May. That was a bit late but really only for the flower-bloom in a few areas (like Kamiak Butte). I had an injury and could not go when I originally wanted to, but it happened to work out perfectly. The weather & light conditions at the end of May were superb. For the Palouse, really anytime in spring through early summer is a good time to visit; any later and those famous rolling green fields lose their sheen.
Driving the rural roads of the Palouse in eastern Washington.
The Palouse in eastern Washington is a region of wide-open spaces.
Self-portraiture in the Painted Hills, central Oregon.
THE VERDANT FORESTS
Anytime in mid- to late-spring (April or May), during or just after rains, visits to your favorite waterfalls and cascading creeks are very worthwhile. This is because the warmer weather and intermittent sunshine, along with abundant moisture, really amps up the already green forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest. The almost electric green of mosses and ferns, the thundering fullness of the countless waterfalls, all of this results in photographers snapping many many images of a kind of green paradise.
The rugged Salmon River Canyon of western Oregon is mantled in clouds and dusted with a late-season snowfall.
Oregon’s highest waterfall is in springtime flood: Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.
The Columbia River Gorge is the most common destination (and features the most in pictures you’ll see), but really any forested area laced with creeks and rivers will do. The Salmon River Valley near Mount Hood, the Lewis River Valley near Mount St. Helens, the North Santiam and Little North Santiam east of Salem, they’re all good! In mid-spring (April into early May), look out for our signature forest flower, the beautiful trillium.
Dogwood Blooms along the trail in western Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Ferns and a waterfall thrive in a dim grotto deep within the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon.
Stay tuned for the second part on this subject. If you’re interested in any of these images, simply click on them to access purchase options for the high-resolution versions. Then click “add this image to cart”. It won’t be added to your cart right away though; you need to make choices first. Thanks for your interest, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.
A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.
In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a stretch of water, a rarity in otherwise dry eastern Oregon.
A very calm dawn at Hutchinson Lake in eastern Washington’s Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
Several recent posts have highlighted eastern Washington, a region I visited the last week or so of May to scout and photograph. While the Palouse in the southeast is quite famous as a landscape photography destination, I made a point to visit an area that is just as famous but with a different group of people altogether. The Channeled Scablands cover a rather large region in central Washington with spectacular erosional features. It’s unusual geography records the largest flood we know of in earth history. For this reason the Scablands are on most geologists’ bucket lists.
In springtime, Drumheller Channels in eastern Washington is a paradise for wildlife because of the numerous wetlands formed in a normally dry area.
The Missoula Floods came racing down through this area towards the end of the last ice age. The last one happened about 12,000 years ago, but there were dozens of similar deluges stretching back thousands of years before that. The floods were triggered when an ice dam across the Clark Fork River in western Montana burst and the enormous Lake Missoula drained catastrophically. The water cascaded down through what is now eastern Washington, down the Columbia River to what is now Oregon, and on to the coast. Some of the larger floods equaled more than 10 times the annual flow of all the rivers in the world.
The Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington are a maze of canyons cut into thick columnar basalt lava rock.
As you might expect with that much water, the evidence of its passing is still around. Now it seems obvious of course, but it was not until a geologist named J. Harlan Bretz studied the area in detail in the early 20th century that the story was uncovered. Initially, Bretz’s interpretation was rejected by the “titans” of the science of the time. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Eventually one of the more powerful geologists of the day, Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, visited the scablands and came around to Bretz’s point of view. It helped that the source lake, glacial Lake Missoula (which Bretz originally did not identify) was identified from ancient shorelines in Montana.
A quiet evening descends at Drumheller Channels in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington.
IF YOU VISIT
Over the whole length of the floods, across 4 states, there is abundant evidence that any visitor to the region can see. In recent times the area has been receiving more attention of the tourist variety, but it is still very lightly traveled. There is a great non-profit, called the Ice Age Floods Institute, who pushed congress to establish the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail in 2009. The Institute runs great field trips, so if you’re planning to visit this region check out their website in the link above. Most field trips run in spring and summer.
The Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington were carved by massive ice-age floods.
I visited a small portion of the scablands. Traveling west from the Palouse I passed through Othello, visited the Drumheller Channels, and moved on to the Columbia River near Quincy. The Potholes lies between these two. With spring’s high water, I found superb wetlands and wildlife (especially birds) all through this area. But Drumheller Channels was perhaps my favorite, because of its manageable scale and beautiful terrain. It is part of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
Despite the harsh name, Washington’s Channeled Scablands are full of wetlands and beautiful at sunset.
- Coulees. The most obvious terrain feature through the scablands is the coulee. The word comes from the French (to flow) and describes any drainage that is intermittently dry and wet. In the Channeled Scablands the coulees take on a variety of sizes, and were all carved by the Missoula Floods. Because the bedrock here is all Columbia River Basalt (a very hard lava rock formed 17 million years ago), the coulees are typically steep-sided. Grand Coulee (site of the large dam), Frenchman’s Coulee, and Moses Coulee are among the largest.
Columnar basalt is found throughout eastern Washington.
- Giant Ripples. Amazing features that are much rarer than coulees but also testify to the catastrophe are giant current ripples. When you walk along a tidal flat or beach area, you often encounter those small ridges in the mud or sand. They are only an inch or two high. Giant current ripples were formed in a like manner (water currents) but on a huge scale. They can reach 20 meters (66 feet) high! They occur near the town of Quincy on the west bank of the Columbia River, across from the resort of Crescent Bar (see image).
Giant current ripples formed during the ice-age Missoula Floods are found along the Columbia River in eastern Washington.
Potholes & Erratics. Another type of flood feature to look out for are the abundant pothole lakes and ponds. These depression, now havens for migrating birds and other wildlife, were either scoured out by the floods or formed when giant icebergs (torn from the ice dam and floated down by the floodwaters) grounded and then melted, leaving a depression. Large rocks carried within these icebergs, rocks like granite that occur in the Rockies but nowhere near this area, were simply dropped on the landscape when the floods receded. Now they stick out like a sore thumb, in fields and along gentle hillsides. They are called glacial erratics. You’ll see them along the Frenchman Hills road just west of Potholes Reservoir, among other places.
A glacial erratic dropped from an iceberg rafted down by a giant ice-age flood sits incongruously in a central Washington farm field.
- Steptoes. Underlying part of the Palouse is terrain similar to the Scablands. The floods formed three main channels, and the eastern-most carved into the Palouse, eroding away much of the rich soil. Fortunately for us, the floods were no bigger than they were. Otherwise all of the rich loess soils of the Palouse would have been carried away. Underlying all of this are the lava floods of the Columbia River Basalts, one of the world’s great lava provinces. But poking up in a few places (particularly in the Palouse) are small islands of older rock.
Both Kamiak and Steptoe Buttes in the Palouse are made of seafloor sedimentary rock that is much older than the surrounding sea of basalt. A bit of geo-trivia: a steptoe is the name that geologists use for this formation, where older rock pokes up island-like through younger rocks. The name comes from the town and butte of the same name in eastern Washington’s Palouse. Palouse Falls, described in a previous post, is a great place to get a feel for the power and scale of the floods.
The Potholes area in eastern Washington’s Channeled Scablands is filled with wildlife-rich wetlands in springtime.
I know I will return to the Channeled Scablands for further exploration, and you should do the same if you’re ever passing through the area. If you’re interested in any of these images simply click on them to go to the high-resolution versions. Then click “add this image to cart” to get price information (it will not be added to your cart until you make a choice). Being copyrighted, the images are not available for free download, sorry. Please contact me with any questions. Thanks for reading.
The Upper Columbia River in eastern Washington is full of water during spring’s heavy snow-melt in the Rockies where the big river originates.
Springtime in Oregon is a time of full rivers and waterfalls.
During spring’s high water flows, it is necessary to get wet to get a river-level view of Punchbowl Falls on Eagle Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Later in the year you can wade up further toward the falls. This spot is a 2-mile hike in from the trailhead (which is about 40 minutes drive east of Portland on I-84).