The Campaign   7 comments

A skiff of snow overnight and a very frosty autumn morning near Dallas Divide in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

A skiff of snow overnight and a very frosty autumn morning near Dallas Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

This is an image from my last road trip through the American West.  I had hoped to just catch the fall’s last colors in the Rockies, after most of the other photographers had gone, believing the peak had passed.

I spent a freezing night and next morning the sun didn’t show.  Instead the light was a sort of overcast glow, great for details and colors in either macro or intimate landscapes, but with a sky very unfriendly to larger landscape images.

Besides very high contrasts, the relatively featureless sky was a problem.  As I drove down out of the Mt Sneffels Range trying to avoid being stuck in the snow, it turned to rain.  So I just stopped and admired the beautiful tones and detail in the landscape, and the great fencing in that country, decorated with frost.

I decided to throw on a parka, protect my camera from the cold rain and make an attempt at capturing some images.  I was sure none would end up to be award-winners, but that wasn’t stopping me with this fairly unique color palette in front of me.

Now I know that just broke my promise of avoiding giving you a boring blow-by-blow account of image capture in this blog.  But I just wrote that because this is one of those images I could never have made with this point and shoot camera I’ve been using ever since my DSLR died a painful death.

Too much detail and depth would have been lost, and the colors would not have been rendered quite as faithfully by the little zoom lens.  And besides, you really need a decent DSLR, one with good dynamic range, to handle these contrasts.  Even using a graduated ND filter is virtually impossible with a point and shoot camera.

And there are countless other images that I’ve made that would never have been possible without a certain minimum  in quality of camera and lens.  Starscapes, for example, are impossible.

In other words, this little snapshot camera can only go so far before it stymies me.  It won’t work.  I simply cannot remain a serious photographer this way.  I can’t pursue my short and long-term goals, can’t chase the dream.

This long exposure starscape from the Grand Canyon would of course had been impossible without my full-size camera.

This long exposure starscape from the Grand Canyon would of course had been impossible without my full-size camera.

Last week I started a crowdfunding campaign in order to replace the lost camera gear.  Although I’ve gotten some contributions, for which I am so grateful, it needs to ramp up in speed.  I’m working on some other (local non-tech-based) ways to advertise the campaign, but I definitely need more online help as well.  There is no problem with the campaign.  The goals I have are both realistic and designed to make a difference.  And in exchange for contributions I am giving away high-resolution, high-quality images, plus my knowledge.  But more eyes need to see it.

I can be persistent, almost to an extreme.  I will keep at this until I succeed.  I have real faith that my vision and the way I see this beautiful world will garner enough genuine appreciation among people to be worth continuing and doing something useful with.

And so, please, when you have a few minutes, check out the write-up and sample gallery.  It is on a crowdfunding site called Indiegogo, and here is the link:  My Campaign.  If you decide you can afford a contribution, you will not only have my heartfelt thanks, you’ll have some of my images for your wall too!

But I have another request.  Equally important to contributions is getting the word out to a wider audience.  You all are a pretty darn loyal and sincere bunch.  In fact, you’re what has kept me blogging!  So I have faith you can help me to spread the word.  Share that link, talk to your friends, have them take a look at my website (though there is a good sampling of images also on the campaign’s page).

I hope you don’t mind if I remind you by including a simple blurb and link in succeeding blog posts.  It’s very important to me.  Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend!

One of my favorite sunset  images, classic Oregon Coast.  The metaphor is too tempting: I don't want the sun to set on my photography.

One of my favorite sunset images, classic Oregon Coast. The metaphor is too tempting: I don’t want the sun to set on my photography.

Single-image Sunday: The Viewpoint   12 comments

One of my favorite viewpoints in the Columbia River Gorge is on the Oregon side, a short hike from the (Historic) highway.  I’ve had some trouble getting the perfect light, but this day I came close.  It’s sad it had to happen after my DSLR died, so this is with my point and shoot.  Though pictures like this captured with a lower-resolution camera and cheaper lens look okay on the web, it is when you print at larger sizes when a DSLR with good glass will show a big difference.  But I like the image anyway.

There are several spots from which to photograph at this place, which is one reason I like it.  All of the spots you need to perch on the edge of a cliff, so you can’t be afraid of heights.  It’s funny, but I’ve become more cautious over the years around drop-offs.  There was a time I would walk right up and stand at the edge; now I am more likely to hunch down and even lay on my belly to get close.

The other reason I love this place is that it appears to be relatively unknown by other photographers; I’ve never seen another there.  It’s a great view upriver into the heart of the Gorge.  Notice the barge moving slowly upriver.  Hope your weekend is going well.  Thanks for looking.

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Friday Foto Talk: How to Handle Contrast the Natural Way   9 comments

Dead camel thorn trees trace a former watercourse in the Namib Desert near Sesriem.

Dead camel thorn trees trace a former watercourse in the Namib Desert near Sesriem.

Contrast is one of the main things photographers have to deal with.  Even in the studio a lot of work goes into handling contrast in the amount of light across your subject.  And in natural light there is only so much you can do to control contrast.  For the most part you just need to accept and deal with it.  In this post I’ll discuss ways to handle it without going too crazy with filters, multiple exposures and post-processing.

Before we get to tips, here are some things you should know:

      • Let’s be real.  Your eyes can pick up details in a much larger range of brightness than your camera can.  This is called “dynamic range”.  In fact, one of the biggest reasons to get a big fancy DSLR is to get a little closer to the dynamic range your eyes can see.  A point and shoot (which I’m using now) can only see a fraction of the range your eyes can see.

 

      • Contrast is relative.  So if you shoot dark scenes, your camera sees that as normal light and meters accordingly.  To the camera that not-too-bright sky is very bright in comparison with the mostly dark scene.  The same goes for mostly bright scenes, where dark things come out as silhouettes.
This interior courtyard in the ancient Khmer ruins of Ta Prohm, Cambodia was a contrast nightmare.

This interior courtyard in the ancient Khmer ruins of Ta Prohm, Cambodia was a contrast nightmare.

 

      • Clearly, contrast is a part of natural light, so you definitely want some.  When it gets bad you’ll know it by using your histogram (see below).  The trick is to pay close attention to your scene and try to reproduce the amount of contrast you have.  If there is plenty of black, that’s what you should have.  If some places are so bright you can’t see detail, that may be what you want (the sun for example).

 

      • You need to think about how you want to handle the contrast in your scenes.  Do you want to minimize it and go for an HDRish look, which has been very popular lately.  Or do you want to keep a fair amount of it in your finished image.  This decision will help to define your style.  Do you want to be popular or stay true to your vision?

 

High-contrast scenes like this one in Death Valley, California, can make for dramatic images.

High-contrast scenes like this one in Death Valley, California can make for dramatic images.

      •   Another decision you will make is where and what you shoot.  A big choice is in what direction relative to the sun (see below).  Will you shoot high-contrast scenes or will you deliberately avoid them?

 

      • The direction you shoot makes a huge difference.  If you shoot with the sun behind you (frontlight), you’ll have very little contrast.  If you shoot into the sun (backlight), you’ll have the maximum.  If you shoot at an angle to the light, the amount of contrast varies according to the scene and quality of light.

 

When you're shooting from within a cave like her in the desert of Mexico, you're guaranteed to have high contrast.

When you’re shooting from within a cave like her in the desert of Mexico, you’re guaranteed to have high contrast.

Ready to shoot?  Here are some tips:

      • First of all, you will do well to handle contrast from the beginning instead of just trying to reduce it later on computer.  That’s what this post is about, handling contrast on the front end.

 

      • Use your histogram.  Get set up and shoot, then look at your histogram.  Or, if your camera allows it, use LiveView and set your LCD screen to show your histogram in one corner.  Use the Evaluative or Matrix metering mode (and Exposure Simulation in LiveView).

 

      • If the histogram is stretched out across the width of the graph, you’ve got some serious contrast.  But it’s not necessarily bad until the histogram starts climbing up the sides.  The right side (representing over-bright areas of the scene) is much worse than the left side (over-dark areas).  You can recover more in the shadow areas than in the bright areas.  Though Lightroom has gotten very good at both, you still can’t recover highlights from completely blown-out areas.

 

Using reflective surfaces, like here in Botswana's Okavango Delta, can both even out contrast and double the great light.

Using reflective surfaces, like here in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, can both even out contrast and double the great light.

      • Don’t be afraid to shoot with high contrast.  This is what makes your images pop, after all.  You want to handle it not make it disappear – read on.

 

      • But try to minimize the amount of it in your scene.  You can make small movements with the camera, changing your composition slightly in order to exclude some or all of a relatively bright area.  For example, with a sky much brighter than a foreground, you can move the camera down to exclude most or all of it.  You can move your camera to exclude too much dark area as well.  But always remember you can successfully incorporate more dark than bright in your images.

 

This recent image, with my point and shoot, I probably would not have used a graduated ND filter with.  But the bright water was enough to create a lot of contrast.

This recent image, with my point and shoot, I probably would not have used a graduated ND filter with. But the bright water was enough to create a lot of contrast.  I also excluded the sky.

 

      • Some people make it a habit to shoot into the sun, especially with candid people shots.  Extremely bright areas near your subject can form a partial or complete silhouette.  It’s a popular look to have a fairly bright subject in partial silhouette, with the bright sunlight partly silhouetting and partly wrapping around your subject.  The precise composition makes or breaks these images.

 

      • Shoot away from the sun.  As long as the light is beautiful, shooting front-lit scenes is a fine way to avoid contrast.  But the light should be near direct from the sun when it’s fairly low.  That way you have some contrast, instead of ending up with flat light.  Shadows are great in this situation; they increase contrast and depth.

 

Normally the desert is a haven for high contrast, but low frontlight from the rising sun softens and evens out everything in this Death Valley image.

Normally the desert is a haven for high contrast, but low frontlight from the rising sun softens and evens out everything in this Death Valley image.

      • By shooting across the light, at more or less 90 degrees to the sun, the shadows will give you plenty of natural contrast.  If the sky is too bright you may need to use a graduated neutral density filter (see below).

 

      • If you are shooting toward a low sun (even if it’s behind clouds), your contrast will be high.  There are a couple ways to handle it.  One way is to choose scenes with reflective surfaces.  Water, snow, bright sidewalks or squares in a city, any reflective surface really, can dramatically reduce the amount of natural contrast in your scenes.  It’s part of the reason I tend to think of water when I’m choosing a place to shoot.

 

 

Sunset, Point Lobos, California coast.  Though I used a graduated ND filter here, the sky is still very bright.

Sunset, Point Lobos, California coast. Though I used a graduated ND filter here, the sky is still very bright.

      • If you decide to shoot at a place with darker surfaces and a relatively bright sky or water, you will likely have some trouble with your light meter.  If you point most of the frame at the dark foreground, for example, your camera may easily overexpose the sky.  If the frame covers a good chunk of the bright sky, your camera will underexpose the foreground.

 

      • This is when a graduated neutral density filter (or two) comes in handy.  These rectangular filters are especially useful when you are shooting into the setting or rising sun.  If you already know about these filters, great!  But if you don’t, next Friday’s post will cover the basics.

 

      • Try to limit your use of the grad. ND filter to when the histogram climbs up the sides of your histogram (particularly the right side).

 

      • Also be aware of how much you can easily recover from shadows and bright areas later on the computer without running into problems like halos on edges or other artifacts.  Knowing what you can and can’t do on the computer will help you to decide how much to minimize contrast when you’re shooting

 

      • Reflective foregrounds as mentioned above are probably the most natural way to minimize contrast.  But more than this, they allow you to shoot well-balanced compositions in very low light, when the color tones darken and become very rich.  With a dark foreground you are left with either avoiding that beautiful sky or shooting only the sky.
Low light and a reflective foreground equals the perfect amount of contrast for me: along the Willamette River near Portland.

Low light and a reflective foreground equals the perfect amount of contrast for me: along the Willamette River near Portland.

      • But if you’re committed to shooting a scene with high contrast and either have no graduated ND filters or they aren’t able to fully compensate, I recommend taking this approach for most scenes:

First, lower your ISO to the minimum your camera allows.  This will lengthen your shutter speed so hopefully you don’t have a moving subject that will look distracting if it’s blurred (water is an exception).  You will almost certainly need to be on a tripod with either a shutter-release or using shutter delay, plus mirror lockup.

Then shoot (and re-shoot) until you get the histogram as far to the right as possible without climbing up the right edge.  Of course this will yield a dark image, which you will later have to brighten and recover shadows from on the computer.  But the very low ISO will keep noise to a minimum.  You won’t totally avoid noise, since it always shows up when you brighten significantly on the computer.  The upside to this approach is that you can recover details and show that beautiful sky to its best advantage.

      • If you don’t have time for the tripod, and are grabbing a quick shot, you can often get away with allowing some things to go totally dark – a silhouette (see top image).  Then you don’t have to worry about ISO as much.  But you still need to make sure the histogram doesn’t climb up the right edge (too much).  All depends on the nature of the scene of course, and whether over-bright subjects look natural when they’re blown out.  The sun and moon are the best examples.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

The old point and shoot camera is at its limits in a recent shot of glacier lilies high above the Columbia River in Oregon.

The old point and shoot camera is at its limits in a recent shot of glacier lilies high above the Columbia River in Oregon.

Sunset over the Okavango, Botswana.  A hand-held shot from a boat, I had to go with faster shutter speed and underexpose in order to not blow out the sky.

Sunset over the Okavango, Botswana. A hand-held shot from a boat, I had to go with faster shutter speed and underexpose in order to not blow out the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Misty   17 comments

After checking out Ailsa’s weekly photo challenge and finding it was Misty this week, I couldn’t resist!  Most of these are from the archive but are fairly recent images.  A couple are very recent, taken with my point and shoot.  Please note these are copyright-protected and not available for free download without my permission.  Click on the image to go to the main gallery page, and please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking and enjoy!

In spring, the forests of the western Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest receive regular infusions of misty rain and fog.

In spring, the forests of the western Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest receive regular infusions of misty rain and fog.

A fisherman tries his luck at Lost Lake in the dawn mist.

A fisherman tries his luck at Lost Lake in the dawn mist.

Mount Rainier emerges one foggy early morning at Reflection Lakes.

Mount Rainier emerges one foggy early morning at Reflection Lakes.

Narada Falls at nightfall, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

Narada Falls at nightfall, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

Mist over Lost Lake, Oregon.

Mist over Lost Lake, Oregon.

Fog and mist are typical when venturing into the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest in winter.

Fog and mist are typical when venturing into the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest in winter.

On the Olympic Coast in Washington, mist and fog are common.

On the Olympic Coast in Washington, mist and fog are common.

Dark and mysterious:  Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Dark and mysterious: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Mist and fog hang about the temples and pyramids of Tikal in Guatemala.

Mist and fog hang about the temples and pyramids of Tikal in Guatemala.

When waterfalls are in spring flood, mist fills the air, like here at Wahclella Falls in Oregon.

When waterfalls are in spring flood, mist fills the air, like here at Wahclella Falls in Oregon.

The rugged coastlline at Big Sur, California.

The rugged coastlline at Big Sur, California.

The thermal areas of Yellowstone on cold mornings are comparatively warm, misty magnets for buffalo.

The thermal areas of Yellowstone on cold mornings are comparatively warm, misty magnets for buffalo.

As the dawn mist begins lifting, a pond in the Montana high country begs to be fished.

As the dawn mist begins lifting, a pond in the Montana high country begs to be fished.

 

Sun vs. fog in a redwood forest, northern California.

Sun vs. fog in a redwood forest, northern California.

At sunset, mist and fog fill Oregon's Columbia River Gorge behind Vista House.

At sunset, mist and fog fill Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge behind Vista House.

 

 

 

 

Single-image Sunday: Sunset from Munra Pt.   12 comments

I finally broke the photo drought and went up to the Gorge for a hike with my old point and shoot.  The goal was to make it up to the summit of Munra Point by sunset.  I rode my moto out there on a gorgeous afternoon.  One of the only benefits to having no DSLR these days is I can go very light!  So I made good time on the extremely steep route.  The point and shoot isn’t bad.  It’s a Canon S95.  Though the lens is not the quality I’m used to, it does a pretty good job for a P&S.   The best thing is it shoots RAW, so high contrast shots like this, where the camera itself doesn’t do a great job with the intense light contrast, can be dealt with in Lightroom.

Munra Point has a great view of the Columbia River flowing west through the Gorge far below.  This time of year there are spring flowers: glacier lilies & grass widows, among others.  At one point you need to climb hand over hand for a short stretch, but there is a rope to aid you.  It comes in very handy on the way down, when darkness is rapidly closing in.  I forgot a light.  My headlamp was still in my regular camera pack, which is no longer in use.  So I needed to go down fast in order to make it through the forest part before it got totally dark.  All in all a fine return to shooting.  Though I can’t help feeling a bit frustrated using a camera with much less control than I’m used to, I can certainly deal with it for now, at least to scratch the itch.  Thanks for reading!

Sunset over the Columbia River Gorge from Munra Point.

Sunset over the Columbia River Gorge from Munra Point.

The End   46 comments

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River.  It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River. It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

I’ve been trying to avoid this post for the last few days.  This weekend I was shooting at the top of a waterfall, a virtually unknown one called Summit Creek Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  It’s rare you can get in a relatively safe position to shoot decent pictures at the lip of a falls.  Most of them end up being disappointing because when you look down you lose the sense of depth in pictures.

Anyway, while I was there I momentarily broke one of my rules and didn’t have my neckstrap on.  Only one other time did I do that in the past couple years, and that’s when the 5DII went in.  Murphy’s Law is a vicious thing.  Murph took over at that point and my tripod, Canon 5D III and an L lens went over.  Amazingly it got caught about 10 feet down off the lip of the 100-foot falls, on a submerged log or rock.

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

After almost dying in a foolish attempt to climb down and get it (maybe a bit of subconscious suicidal thought going on there!), I stopped and caught my breath and thought about the certain consequence of going any further.  I retreated back up, took off my bootlaces, rigged a slip knot and loop, tied off to a long stout stick I found, and went fishing.  I was able to grab hold of a tripod leg.

It’s funny to think about, but if I still had my fancy Gitzo tripod (which has twist leg locks), I would have never recovered it.  With my old trusty Manfrotto that has bulkier lever locks, I was able to grasp it with the loop.  After a frantic wrestling match, fighting the implacable, uncaringly powerful spring snowmelt, I got it.

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The gear had been pounded with tons of water for almost an hour.  But my tripod and head (not like the camera but not inexpensive either) are fine.  I just got off the phone with Canon and they can’t accept it for repair.  They say if it’s repairable it would be almost the cost of a new camera.  So it’s gone.  My bad: no insurance!

My backup camera, a 5D II that  had itself been repaired from a brief dip at the top of yet another waterfall, I sold a couple months ago to help pay off the bill from the 5D III more quickly.  So I’m down to an older point and shoot, which means I’m down to snapshop/street photography only.  I am in the worst financial shape of my adult life right now so can’t afford even a used cheaper DSLR.  I will likely sell off the rest of my gear and give up the dream of going fully pro, at least for now.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

I debated discontinuing this blog, but my interests are so varied, and I believe I have much to say.  So I’ll keep at it and probably post Friday Foto Talks too, though perhaps not every Friday.  One negative about this plan:  I’ve been blogging for quite awhile now and I have included many images in my posts, believing that I will always be shooting new images; now that’s not the case, and so some of the example images will be reposts from my archive.

So that’s it.  A sad week for me, and something big in my life has now gone.  A big transition back to just observing light and nature instead of always wanting to capture its beauty.  But it’s how I started out and how I came to be a decent photographer in the first place.  Please don’t feel bad for me.  It was a great run!

By the way, these images are from the last day shooting with my camera.  CF memory cards are amazing!

The very last image.  Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls.  Note my tripod leg; this is an unprocessed image.

The very last image. Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls. Note my tripod leg.  Unprocessed & uncropped.

 

 

Single-Image Sunday: Rock of Ages   10 comments

Columbia River Gorge

St. Peter’s Dome, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Yesterday the light was beautiful in the late afternoon when I went out to the Columbia Gorge.  I really like this section, and unbelievably no photographers seem to be interested in it.  They go for the waterfalls and creeks, and also the flower display to the east.

But this area features some of the most spectacular terrain on the Oregon side, and when weather is moving through the cliffs attract the fog like velcro.  There is a steep ridge hike in this view that we call ‘Rock of Ages’, which seems so appropriate.  It’s a b*** buster, if you know what I mean!

Something bad happened this evening.  I hate when bad things happen!

Friday Foto Talk: Creeking   12 comments

Gorton Creek Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Gorton Creek Falls is not very well known and not on a trail: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

No this post isn’t about creaky knees.  I don’t know any more than you do how to stop the process of a nature photographer’s knees going creaky with age.  It’s a different spelling anyway!  No, this post is about photographing creeks and streams.  Big rivers require a different sort of approach, so this will focus on the small and medium-sized water courses.  When I go out to shoot in these environments, I call it “creeking”, a term borrowed from hard-core kayakers.  If you’re from certain areas of the U.S., you might pronounce it “cricking”!

If you’ve seen enough of my images, you know I like to shoot water, and usually that water is photographed more or less smooth (long exposure).  After going out again yesterday afternoon for some good old wet miserable creeking, I thought about how I have come to do this sort of shooting.  It really is unlike any other kind I do, and I’m not sure if it’s fun I’m having or not.  Since it’s Friday, I’m going to be positive and say it’s fun!

Creek and moss, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Mist and fog add atmosphere to any creek shot: Gorton Creek, Oregon.

Since the way you photograph water is a personal thing, I will talk little about the details of exposure and such.  Instead I’ll concentrate on the approach I take to ensure I get the most out of my flowing, gurgling or tumbling subjects.  But I will say you would do well to at least try long exposures with water.  Don’t get married to it of course, but also don’t be surprised if you get drawn into a passionate romance.  However long your exposures, the fun part of this is composing an interesting “‘intimate landscape” – an image of a fairly small piece of nature.

Many of these I captured yesterday in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  Please click on the image or contact me if you are interested in any of them.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.

EQUIPMENT:

  • Tripod:  Since streams are often lined with trees, light is usually low.  Also, for long exposures a tripod is almost a necessity.  The only other way to do them is to set your camera on a rock or your pack.  That’s a hassle and you also run the risk of dumping it in the water.
  • Tripod Head:  A ball-head is probably best, since you will want to quickly change the camera angle in a number of directions.  Make sure your entire attachment system is bomb-proof.  Having a camera come off the tripod in the grass of your front yard is okay.  But when you’re perched over a stream, you can’t afford anything of the sort.  So check the screw that attaches your camera plate to the camera & make sure it’s tight.  If it frequently works itself loose, apply blue Loctite to it.  Your tripod head’s clamping mechanism should fit well and be very snug on the plate.  Get a camera plate made for your camera and buy both the clamp and plate from the same manufacturer.  The camera shouldn’t move at all if you push and pull at it.  You can also attach a safety strap from the camera to the tripod head.  But if the whole tripod goes tumbling that will just make sure your camera follows.  At the edge of or in water (and also near cliffs), I either keep the camera strap around my neck or loop it around my arm.
Wahclella Falls

From a creeking trip last week, this is Wahclella Falls.

  • Backpack:  You need a camera backpack for this.  A sling or satchel type doesn’t really cut it, since you’ll be scrambling and balancing.  Try to find a backpack that fits closely to your body and wears like a real backpack.  Clik Elite is one company that sells such packs.  Unfortunately, most packs sold are too bulky and awkward, poorly suited for hiking in rough conditions.  Make sure your tripod attaches securely to the pack.
  • Camera Protection:  It helps to have camera & lenses that are fairly well sealed against moisture.  I’m not talking about waterproof cameras here, though you could use a waterproof housing if you can afford one.  Any DSLR or non waterproof point and shoot camera that falls into a stream will be in need of immediate service – not good!  But even aside from the creek itself, there’s always plenty of water around a creek.  Fine droplets hang in the air near any stream, especially near waterfalls.  In addition you will often be out when it is raining or threatening to rain.  So you need some way to cover your camera and keep it dry in rainfall or in the spray of waterfalls.  In the camera store, try to play with raincovers and see which one fits your camera best and yet still allows you to use the controls with relative ease.
  • Photographer Protection:  Figure the temperature near streams will be at least 10 degrees colder than away from them.  Also figure on getting wet, which will make you colder.  Bring rain coat and pants.  Wear your most water-resistant footwear, plus thick wool socks.  Bring a warm hat.  You can try rubber boots (wellies) but it’s easier than you think to get in water too deep for them.  A better choice: hip waders.  They will allow you to wade in as deep as you probably want to anyway.  I just use an old pair of boots and warm socks.  I don’t mind getting wet and hip waders have always seemed too clunky to me.  I bring a change of socks, shoes & pants for after the shoot.
  • Footwear+:  One more note on footwear.  If you are really into creeking consider getting felt-bottom boots.  These are the kind fly-fisherman wear.  Felt is the perfect sole material for slippery wet rocks.  Most people don’t know this, but so are your socks!  Since I”m too cheap for felt-bottom boots, this is how I do it when the rocks are super-slippery.
  • Hiking Pole/Staff:  It helps to have a hiking pole or stick to help balance and probe when creeking.  I sometimes take one of my (pair of) trekking poles, but only when I think I will be fully crossing streams.  Usually I just use my tripod.  But a hiking pole with a strap that goes around your wrist is best for stream wading.
  • Camera Gear:  You’ll want the option to shoot long exposures, so an auto-everything camera won’t really work.  A DSLR is perfect, and a full-frame DSLR even better.  Bring your wide angle lens; you’ll be using that most of the time.  Also bring along a circular polarizing filter.  Though not as useful as a CPL, a graduated neutral density filter comes in handy as well.
Eagle Creek, Oregon

Eagle Creek’s Inner Gorge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Other than that the gear is pretty much the same as for other kinds of landscape photography.  So let’s get out and do it!  Here are some things to keep in mind for a successful creeking trip.

  • Clouds are Best:  Creeks are normally found in the forest, or at least lined with trees.  And so sunshine is generally the enemy.  The colors of vegetation and cobbles are washed out by sunshine, and contrast in sun-dappled scenes can be a nightmare.  An overcast sky is good, and so is heavy cloud-cover and rain.  fog and low clouds add atmosphere.
  • Composition is King:  As always, composition is really the make or break in your images.  And when you get under the trees and into the small-scale settings of a creek, it becomes even more important (it stands more on its own because light doesn’t steal the show as much).  Be very careful about having too much “junk” in your photos.  Sticks, ugly rocks, really anything can clutter a creekside photo.  Be patient and hunt around until you find relatively clean and beautiful compositions.
  • Light Still Matters:  Although you can easily get great shots in the middle of the day (provided it’s cloudy) while creeking, golden hour is still golden.  Even if you’re in a canyon with only a small part of the sky above you, when that sky gets filled with great light near sunrise or sunset, the resulting reflected light down near the creek can become special.  I used to try and leave the creek before sunset so I could get somewhere to shoot.  Now if I’m somewhere nice I stay put and take advantage of the good light in the canyon.
Hidden Waterfall, Columbia River Gorge

A benefit of creeking is finding small, hidden waterfalls as you wade up the stream.

  • Get Wet:  If you are determined to stay dry, and to avoid going into the stream, your images will simply not be as good as they could be.  Sooner or later you’ll need to enter the water.
  • But Be Careful:  Being around water is a hazard for both you and your equipment.  This means taking your time and being deliberate about all your movements.  Use your pole (or tripod) to probe ahead.  Place your foot only when you know how deep it is and what the bottom is like.  Don’t take chances balancing and hopping when it’s much safer to  just walk through the water.  Plan ahead before you enter the stream so you aren’t fussing with gear and changing lenses.  Your camera is either around your neck or on your tripod (preferably both!).
  • Beware the Current:  People are surprised when they find out how it only takes a shallow stream to knock them off their feet.  If it’s swift, a creek does not need to be that deep to be powerful.  So enter current only after you’re sure of its power.  You can get an idea by probing with your pole/tripod.  Face upstream and take a wide stance, don’t take really big steps, maintain good balance.  Also be aware that your tripod will only be stable up to a certain speed/depth of water.
Panther Creek Falls Vertical

Here at Panther Creek Falls in Washington, I used the logs spanning the stream to help frame the picture. The heavy mist & rain, while a hassle to deal with, made for a great atmosphere.

  • Get Creative:  Look for logs and other interesting elements to help frame your pictures (see image above).  Climb up above the stream and look down, shoot both downstream and upstream, move up and downstream looking for creative compositions.  Try using a fisheye lens if you have one.
  • Use a Polarizer:  Put your polarizing filter on, point it at a bright part of the stream, where it’s reflecting the sky, or at rocks shiny with water, and rotate it to see the effect.  You’ll notice how, just as with your sunglasses, it’s possible to see the bottom of the stream when you do this.  If there are multicolored rocks below the water, you have a nice foreground if you have a polarizer.  It will also help to bring out the colors, especially if things are wet.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course (see image below).
Panther Creek Bridge, Washington

Standing in the middle of Panther Creek, I liked the reflection off the water, thought it may look good in B&W, so took off the polarizer for a shot.

 

  • Go Long:  Most photographers want to get at least some longer exposures, where the water takes on that silky look.  Yet another benefit of the circular polarizing filter is that it stops anywhere from one to two stops of light from reaching your sensor or film.  So this (plus smaller aperture and lower ISO) may be all you need for longer exposures.  If it is bright out, or if you want really long exposures, you’ll need a neutral density filter.  You can buy those that rotate to give you a varying degree of darkness, but be cautious about the quality on these.
  • Keep a Lens Cloth Handy:  Water droplets from a waterfall or rain will get on your lens surface and interfere with the light.  Then when you come home and look at your pictures, you will be disappointed.  Unlike dust spots, water droplets are very hard to clone out with software.  I have ruined many a shot not being fastidious enough about keeping my lens dry.  Prevent water getting on the lens by using a lens hood and covering up with a towel until the moment of the shot.  Check and wipe with a dry lens cloth when necessary.  That can mean constantly when it’s raining or near a falls.  Annoying but definitely necessary.
  • Take your Time:  Since there is a safety aspect here, taking your time is very important.  But more than any other kind of photography, especially when it’s raining (when I usually go), creeking takes time.  So plan on at least a couple hours in each location.  Exploring up and down the creek, to areas that are not accessible by trail, setting up, being careful with your camera gear, all this takes time.

 

I hope you got something out of this post.  And I hope you take some time to go play along a stream with your camera..soon!  If you’re patient you could easily come away with a beautiful intimate landscape that you’re proud to hang on the wall.  Have a great weekend!

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Gorton Creek’s moss and ferns take on a glow as beautiful light seeps into the canyon at sunset.

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Blue Hour in the Canyon:  One more shot before darkness falls at Gorton Creek.

 

 

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Single-image Sunday: Reflection of the Sky   15 comments

This recent image from Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge shows the more subtle effects of reflection.

This recent image from Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge shows the more subtle effects of reflection.

 

A quick follow-up to my last post on reflections, this I captured toward the end of day in the inner gorge of Eagle Creek.  I bushwacked into the area and crossed the swift cold stream three times to get to this point.  But then I knew I may as well wait until late-day light, when if I was lucky a sort of golden overtone would pour into the canyon from below.

I got lucky and that happened.  Also the sky above the canyon remained bright and added a highlight – a subtle gold  - on the river in the middle of the picture.  These are all small things, but it’s the small things that add up to a nice image.  Click on the photo to go to the gallery on my website, and please contact me if you have any questions.  Have a great week!

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