Archive for April 2013

Rowena Plateau is Blooming   8 comments

Dawn breaks on Rowena Crest in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Dawn breaks on Rowena Crest in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

Rowena is one of my favorite places to hike and photograph in springtime, not only in Oregon but anywhere.  Around Easter the showy yellow blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot appear, and they are soon joined by lupine, paintbrush and other more subtle flowers.  It’s a show that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest in spring.  It is very popular with photographers and hikers both.

Early morning dew coats arrowleaf balsamroot at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

Early morning dew coats arrowleaf balsamroot at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

To get there, take Interstate 84 east of Portland all the way out past Hood River to the town of Mosier.  Get off the freeway and turn east on the Dalles-Mosier highway.  This is an extremely scenic two-lane that winds up through the hills toward Rowena Plateau (also known as Rowena Crest).  When the road tops out and the trees thin out, look for a turnoff and parking to the right.  What a view!

Note also that there are wide spots to pull off along the road before you get to the official viewpoint.  But please don’t drive off the gravel; this is fairly delicate terrain.  After your visit, you can keep going on this road as it winds spectacularly back down to the Columbia River, where you’ll be able to access the freeway again for the return.  I’ve seen car companies shooting commercials here.  It will take about an hour and a half to drive here from Portland.

Mount Adams is visible on the hike up to Tom McCall Point at Rowena Plateau in Oregon.

Mount Adams is visible on the hike up to Tom McCall Point at Rowena Plateau in Oregon.

Trails head in both directions from the viewpoint at the crest, and you can’t go wrong with either one.  If you take the trail that heads north toward the river, you’ll pass fields of wildflowers and a small lake.  It’s less than a mile to the cliff-edge, where you can look straight down on the freeway and the river.  Use caution!

If you go the other direction, toward the south, wildlfowers will again greet you as you climb toward McCall Point.  Making the short <2-mile climb to this point will reward you with views of both Mounts Hood and Adams.  Please stay on the trail, and avoid stepping on the plants.  Some are quite rare, even endangered.

Doe and yearling mule deer are curious to see who is visiting at Rowena Plateau near the Columbia River, Oregon.

Doe and yearling mule deer are curious to see who is visiting at Rowena Plateau near the Columbia River, Oregon.

This whole area is a preserve named for Tom McCall, a former governor of Oregon known for his environmental stewardship.  He was also famous for his unofficial motto “Oregon, enjoy your visit but please don’t stay!”  He did not want his beloved state to become California, and a sign was even posted with this motto on the main highway near Oregon’s border with our southern neighbor.

The area is preserved because of its unique botanical treasures.  The showy sunflower-like balsamroot and lupine are very common of course, but there are smaller, less noticeable plants here that are rare and make botanists go giddy with pleasure.  It’s a gorgeous place, especially at sunrise.  I camp here in my van so as to be here at daybreak.  It’s one of the few places I go that I share with a good number of other photographers.  It’s just too good to miss.

Mount Hood stands beyond the spring blooms on Tom McCall Point in Oregon.

Mount Hood stands beyond the spring blooms on Tom McCall Point in Oregon.

If you come here note that it can often be very windy (see image at bottom).  When the sun shines and temperatures rise (which often happens on this drier side of the Cascades), watch for snakes.  Rattlesnakes, which are potentially dangerous, are not as common as gopher snakes but the two can be hard to distinguish.  This is not least because the non-venomous gopher snake has some tricks up its sleeve that it uses to mimick the venomous rattler.  The triangular-shaped head of the rattler, along with its well-known method of warning hikers, should be enough to tell the difference.  Various birds (including raptors), lizards, wild turkeys and deer also frequent the area.

Rowena would definitely be high on my list if I was visiting the Hood River/Columbia Gorge area.  I hope you enjoy the images.  Please be aware that they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Click on any of the pictures to go to the main part of my website, where there are purchase options for high-resolution images.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks a lot.

A very stiff wind blows the balsamroot and lupine at sunrise on Rowena Plateau in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A very stiff wind blows the balsamroot and lupine at sunrise on Rowena Plateau in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

 

Tamanawas Falls   7 comments

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon's Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

I recently took the first hike since I broke my ribs.  It was only about 4 miles, along a glorious stream east of Mount Hood called Cold Spring Creek (I like calling it Tamanawas Creek though).  The hike heads a short way down the East fork of Hood River and turns up the rollicking creek to Tamanawas Falls.  This is an American Indian name, but I’ve had trouble tracking down its meaning.  It’s a beautiful hike and a beautiful waterfall.

By the way, I hope you enjoy these images.  Just click on any of them to go to the main part of my website, where purchase is possible.  They’re not available for free download, sorry.  The versions here are much too small anyway, but purchase as print or download of high-res. versions is possible by going here.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

To get there drive from Portland to Hood River on I-84.  At this town, get off the freeway and head up the Hood River Valley on Highway 35.  You’ll pass beautiful apple and pear orchards (which bloom around Easter), and in nice weather you’ll have grand views of Mount Hood.  Soon the road begins to be crowded by the valley walls as it heads into forest toward the mountain.  Before you begin climbing you will see a sign for Sherwood Campground.  Look for the trailhead on the right.  There will likely be other cars there.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

From the trailhead walk into the woods and cross the East Fork Hood River on a log bridge.  Come immediately to a T-junction and take a right.  In a half mile or so you’ll curve into the canyon, then soon come to another wooden bridge.  Cross this and turn left at another junction, heading up Cold Spring Creek.  Follow this all the way to the falls.  Return the way you came.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

The snow had just recently melted off the trail when I was there a few days ago, so this was the first time I photographed the curtain-like cascade with leftover snow.  It added an extra challenge to the photography, since the white of the snow wanted to blow-out (over-expose) whenever I properly exposed for the darker moss.  The even darker basalt that the falls flows over is nearly impossible to expose perfectly, but I think it’s fine to allow those areas to go nearly black.  Let me know what you think!

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

The trail offers many opportunities for communing with the rapids and small waterfalls along the way.  I used a circular polarizer for these shots.  Combined with a fairly small aperture and the fact that the sun was by that time too low to shine into the canyon, this gave me the long exposures that result in the smooth silky water.  Most of the photos had exposures on the order of 2-5 seconds, a few much longer (15-20 seconds).

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon.  In April the falls hastens the snow's retreat.

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon. In April the falls hastens the snow’s retreat.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting at Sunrise & Sunset – Part I   7 comments

Sunrise on the north side of Mt Hood from the pastoral Hood River Valley, Oregon.

Sunrise on the north side of Mt Hood from the pastoral Hood River Valley, Oregon.

I moderated a discussion last night with my photo club, all about photography at sunrise and sunset.  Not surprisingly, I found it difficult to narrow things down so we could avoid talking all night.  Photographing at sunrise and sunset covers a lot of ground: things like technique, equipment and style, along with issues like safety and locations (including avoiding over-photographed subjects).

In this first part of a two-part post, I’ll go through some important things to think about when planning and setting out to shoot at sunrise and sunset, things I’ve learned over the years, and equipment to bring along.  Tune in next Friday for Part II, which will cover what types of things to shoot when the sun is low, plus tips on how best to capture them.

Sunset is not just for landscapes: Portland, Oregon's street fair known as First Thursday.

Sunset is not just for landscapes: Portland, Oregon’s street fair known as First Thursday.

Tips

      • Planning – The Photographer’s Ephemeris:  Google and download this free application (there is a charge for mobile versions) so you can see rising and setting times for both sun and moon, along with a map-based view of rising and setting directions for any location you specify.  
      • Planning – Research:  While you’re traveling about your local area, be aware of where the sun has risen and will set, and whether it offers some opportunity for nice shots in good light.  Read about nice viewpoints on hiking websites or guidebooks.  Talk to friends.  But don’t stress on planning things to a tee; get out and see what happens (see Location below).
      • Planning – Timing & Scouting:  For sunset, when the light builds in quality and then after sunset slowly transitions to the subtle beauty of blue hour, it’s okay to not have a specific location picked out.  Pick out a general area and see how things shape up light-wise when you get there.  But leave plenty of time, arriving up to a couple hours before sunset time.  For sunrise, it’s important to scout beforehand (the day or weekend before).  You want a more specific idea of where you’ll shoot from compared to sunset.  Still, arrive anywhere from a half hour to an hour before sunrise.  The progress of the light is the reverse of that at sunset, so things happen more quickly to start out, with blue hour being first to appear and the light quality fading more slowly.
      • Location – Where?  I’ve found this to be something many photographers have trouble with – where to go?  Although you can certainly get recommendations from photog. friends as a way to start out, I recommend finding your own spots.  Drive out to areas you know are scenic late in the day towards sunset.  Stop and take pictures at places you find compelling or beautiful.  While you’re doing that, try to imagine if it would be good for sunrise too.  Go anywhere you know has a relatively clear horizon towards the east and/or west, someplace scenic.  This is winging it I realize, but it works to get you away from over-shot locales.  Use others for inspiration or information of course.  And there’s nothing wrong with photographing a popular spot in great light.  But you will benefit in the long run to find your own compositions.
      • Location – General:  For me at least, bodies of water nearly always help a picture, especially at sunrise or sunset.  Because of its reflectivity, water helps with contrast, and it can also act as a beautiful mirror.  Also look for relatively un-vegetated areas (such as desert or grassland).  As with water, the bright, reflective nature of these landscapes help with contrast, especially when shooting into the sun.  As you get better at exposure and use of filters, go for darker landscapes.
      • Location – Elevation:  An elevated position (your classic viewpoint) is always worth looking for, though shooting from lower down, next to water or down the length of a valley framed by trees for example, is also a good plan.
The sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion below a darkening dusk sky in the rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

The sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion below a darkening dusk sky in the rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

      • Light:  This is of course one of the two most important things that will determine how good your photos turn out (the other being your subject/composition).  Clouds and unsettled weather are good for a number of reasons.  But when the sun sets into a thick bank of clouds well before the light gets good, I don’t think you’ll tend to agree with this wisdom.  I always consider clouds better than a clear sky, but whether this turns out to be the case for any given sunset or sunrise is another thing.  One thing is certain: when the sun peeks out from beneath gorgeous, colorful and dramatic clouds just before setting, putting forth beautiful crepuscular rays (a.k.a. Jesus rays), you will thank yourself for ignoring the threatening weather or rain earlier and heading out.  Clouds can also turn outrageous colors after the sun sets.  But good luck predicting any of this hours before sunset.  Believe me I’ve tried.
      • Composition – Elements:  Picking out silhouettes is a great idea when shooting toward the sun.  They must be recognizable and nearly black to work (expose for the bright sky behind the silhouetted object).  Also worthwhile during iffy weather is keeping an eye out on the scene away from the sun.  Golden light and rainbows are not an uncommon reward.  Reflections are also worth looking for, either in water or (in the case of cityscapes) on buildings.
      • Composition – Depth:  As any photography 101 book will tell you, try to find beautiful or interesting foreground elements to put in the bottom or at the sides of your frame, and get close to them (a few feet is not too close!).  Try for a photo with great depth, your aperture at f/22 or similar.  But never think this is always the best choice.  Other types of compositions, say with the closest elements a hundred or more yards away or even an image that is all background and sky, are not “amateur” or the lessor image in any sense.  They will provide variety to your pictures, and often have more impact (and sharpness) than photos with a lot of depth.
      • Composition – Your Frame:  You’ve heard of the rule of thirds, and not centering elements in the middle of your frame.  When you’re shooting at sunset or sunrise, the sky and landscape often contrast greatly with each other.  Unless you have strong subsidiary layering (such as a strong line of hills or trees, a reflection), it’s usually not a good idea to center the horizon line.  Decide which is more interesting, above or below the horizon, and shoot with that taking up roughly 2/3 or more of the frame.  If your decision here wasn’t a slam-dunk, quickly raise or lower the camera so you’re emphasizing the opposite section.  There’s nothing wrong with hedging your bets!
The Painted Hills in central Oregon takes on deep hues at dusk.

The Painted Hills in central Oregon takes on deep hues at dusk.

      • Equipment:  

Bring a good solid tripod with ball-head.  And use it!  If you don’t like using your shutter-delay mode, also get a cable release.  

A wide-angle lens, offering a focal length no longer than about 27 mm. (35 mm equivalent) is really necessary for most landscape photography, including sunset and sunrise.  A focal length on the order of 15 mm. or so will give you an ultrawide view and help to make everything in your frame sharp from front to back (if you use a small aperture – f/22 for example).  Don’t leave your normal or long focal-length lenses home however.  Many of my best sunset and sunrise photos were taken at focal lengths of 50 mm., 100 mm., even 200 mm. or more!  

For filters, bring a graduated neutral density filter or two, the rectangular (not screw-in) type.  Singh-Ray makes an excellent one, and a 3-stop grad. is a great first purchase.  Also I highly recommend a circular polarizer.

Bring a flashlight or headlamp whether doing sunset or sunrise.  There’s nothing worse than dropping an item and not being able to search for it in the grass because of low-light.

Totally optional but nice to have are knee pads for getting down low near your foreground without denting your knee on a sharp rock.  Also if you’re anything like me and love to get very near to a watery foreground, bring or wear rubber boots (“wellies”).  Some photogs. even bring hip waders.  Or you can do what I often do and simply wear warm wool socks, old sneakers and quick-drying pants.  It will toughen you up getting your feet and legs wet, and you can then claim that you “suffer for your art”.

The sun goes down with a show of glory along the Redwood Coast, northern California.

The sun goes down with a show of glory along the Redwood Coast, northern California.

Eastern Columbia River Gorge   4 comments

I recently spent a beautiful spring day n the eastern Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.  Hood River, Oregon is known for being a magnet for wind and kite surfers.  After an afternoon with my local photography friends touring the Hood River Valley during the apple (and pear) blossom festival, I spent the hour before sunset walking along the Columbia shooting in some dramatic light.  I was actually in Washington, across from the town of Hood River, Ore.  This is my favorite picture from that shoot:

A lone sail boat takes advantage of a windy late-afternoon on the Columbia River in Oregon.

A lone sail boat takes advantage of a windy late-afternoon on the Columbia River in Oregon.

I also caught some nice light just after sunset on the rocks along the river.  The yellow flower is not very spectacular but was an important food source for American indians in this part of the country.  The roots can be dried and ground into flour, and used throughout the long winters in this part of the world.  The leaves and flowers make a nice tea, and there are also medicinal uses.  The plant is called Lomatium, or biscuit root.

If you are interested in any of these images, please click on them to go to the larger version.  Click on “add this image to cart” to see prices for prints, downloads, and more.  The images are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  If you have any questions, just contact me.  I really appreciate your taking a look at my blog and my images.

The Columbia River in the  Pacific Northwest offered not only fish to the American Indians of the region, but biscuit root (Lomatium).

The Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest offered not only fish to the American Indians of the region, but biscuit root (Lomatium) as well.

Limited Edition Prints   Leave a comment

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.

The goal for this post is two-fold:  First, it displays a few examples of fine-art images that are available as limited edition prints.  This means they are numbered and signed, and are custom-made to your specifications.  There will only be 10-20 copies of each released.  The exact number will depend on demand.  And second, I am offering followers of this blog 15% off on your orders.  This offer is good until Memorial Day (May 31st).  It covers all of the fine-art images in this gallery, including those you see here.

The full moon sets just as morning light hits the cracked salt flats near Badwater, North America's lowest point, in Death Valley, California.

The full moon sets just as morning light hits the cracked salt flats near Badwater, North America’s lowest point, in Death Valley, California.

There are a number of treatments that I have found to make these images really stand out when they are framed and displayed in your home.  The special high-end papers that I use include lustrous and pearlescent, but I am also eager to work with you if you have ideas on how you would like the print to look.  We will communicate with each other on this and together decide on the best medium for your image.  Of course you can leave the decision to me, in which case I can guarantee it will look great.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

 Custom framing is also available, or you can order your print(s) matted and shipped flat.  You can also elect to have it shipped rolled in a strong, protective box.  They will also be signed by me inconspicuously at bottom.  Or if you prefer, they can be signed on the back of the print.

A bit of the old west survives at the old Gifford homestead, now inside Capitol Reef National Park.

A bit of the old west survives at the old Gifford homestead, now inside Capitol Reef National Park.

Included as well is a detailed description of the image and the location, along with other information on how to care for and mount your art.  For unframed images, you will get special gloves to use in handling your print before it is mounted.  The detailed captions and information on the natural settings will enrich your experience of your artwork and help you to knowledgeably share with your friends and family the amazing locations and natural phenomena represented in the images.  Finally, all of my work comes with a 100% money-back, no-questions-asked, one-year warranty.

Firehole Lake in Yellowstone National Park lets off some steam on a cold autumn night.

Firehole Lake in Yellowstone National Park lets off some steam on a cold autumn night.

Displayed here are a small sample of recent limited edition fine art pieces.  For more, please take a look at my Limited Editions Gallery.  Also feel free to contact me with questions or information requests.  Thanks for looking, and I hope your weekend was truly wonderful.

A beautiful sunrise begins at Death Valley National Park, California.

A beautiful sunrise begins at Death Valley National Park, California.

Friday Foto Talk: Shoot what you Know & Love?   13 comments

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

Shoot what you love.  Shoot what you know.  Have you considered these little nuggets of advice lately?  Whether you are a professional, part-timer or serious amateur photographer, you spend enormous resources on your passion.  Of course you spend plenty of money on camera equipment, classes, etc.  But perhaps your biggest investment is time.  We only have so many breaths in this life, and to be engaged in things that are worthwhile and enriching is a common goal for all of us.

Shoot what you love

I assume most of you are like me in that you enjoy photography not only for the sake of it but also for what appears in your viewfinder.  Many of us love to capture beauty, in people as well as in nature.  But plenty of photographers love the intrigue and mystery of things, and try to capture them to cause the viewer to wonder and to question.  Others love to take pictures that tell stories.  Some photographers even like to capture the seamy side or even the downright ugly side of the world.

Squarely in my comfort zone: Mount Rinjani's summit on the island of Lombok is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

Squarely in my comfort zone: Mount Rinjani’s summit on the island of Lombok is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

I think it is worth remembering from time to time what you like to capture and why.  No matter how abstract your photography becomes, you are still putting yourself in front of real scenes in real life.  We all want to enjoy the time we spend doing this.  What do you love to shoot?  You know, because when you grab your camera and go out with no real goal in mind.  And then you find yourself in front of something or someone, capturing images in the best light you can find, that means you love to shoot that subject.

Documenting a climber's desires, and the spectacular peak of Taboche with prayer flags on the way to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

Documenting a climber’s desires, and the spectacular peak of Taboche with prayer flags on the way to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

But there might be times when you choose a subject for other reasons.  Perhaps it’s because of the likelihood of making money with the images, or because you know your friends or loved ones will enjoy seeing the pictures.  Perhaps it is simply because that is all that is available, and you feel a strong urge to photograph something.  I don’t particularly love still lifes, for example.  But when I feel that urge and the weather is unsuitable for shooting outside, then I might look for the bowl of fruit or the flowers.

I'm drawn to children and their open-book faces: young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal.

I’m drawn to children and their open-book faces: young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal.

Your decisions on what to shoot are your own of course, but your images will soon begin to impart something that most of us could do without: a label.  You become a landscape photographer, a portrait photographer, a macro or wildlife photographer.  You might even be labeled a lifestyle photographer or a wedding photographer.  There are no shortage of labels.  Some of them we apply to ourselves (perhaps in order to market a business) and some are applied by others.  (“Hey Jim, I’d like you to meet Michael, a very good landscape photographer”.  Does this make me feel good?  Would it feel better to be introduced as a very good person?)

Active volcanoes are one of those features of Earth that have always fascinated me, as if the planet itself is a living, breathing beast: Indonesia.

Active volcanoes are one of those features of Earth that have always fascinated me, as if the planet itself is a living, breathing beast: Indonesia.

Shoot what you know

I do indeed shoot a lot of landscapes and nature subjects.  But not just because I love it.  This is what I’m most familiar with, and have the most intimate knowledge of.  I also have a good knowledge of wildlife, but sadly my telephoto lens was stolen not long ago and I cannot now afford to replace it.  I’m an astronomy nerd as well.  So I have gotten into shooting starscapes.  In recent times this has become a very popular subject to photograph, so I’m not alone.

I'm a night person and an astro nerd.  The Milky Way emerges above the redrock country of southern Utah.

I’m a night person and an astro nerd. The Milky Way emerges above the redrock country of southern Utah.

But it’s funny when I speak to some photographers who do excellent night sky work.  With most I can’t have a lively back and forth with them on astronomy, about the actual objects in the sky, even about constellations and their stories.  All the subjects I shoot I already knew about and I tend to shy away from those subjects I am fairly ignorant of.  Perhaps this is why I don’t shoot many pictures of women!

I love being out in the wilds when others take shelter:  Blowing sand in the dunes at Death Valley made for difficult conditions but a unique image.

I love being out in the wilds when others take shelter: Blowing sand in the dunes at Death Valley made for difficult conditions but a unique image.

But I’ve found that for many photographers it is the opposite.  They begin to shoot something for other reasons (such as for business reasons as mentioned above) and then proceed to learn about the subject.  This seems a backwards approach to me.  But I’ve learned to appreciate those who actually make the attempt to learn something about what they’re shooting; some can’t be bothered at all.

I love the subtle beauty of nature:  A typical scene in the southern Utah desert features nothing more spectacular than lichen.

I love the subtle beauty of nature: A typical scene in the southern Utah desert features nothing more spectacular than lichen.

All of the above verge on being truisms.  But since I tend to reject labels and also really love to do photography of any kind, I think these matters bear considering in a balanced way.  What I mean is that while you should definitely shoot what you love and what you know best, it is also important to mix things up, to not be pigeonholed.  The sooner you consider yourself an artist, the better your images will be.  And good artists explore their art.  They don’t settle (immediately at least) on one type of art and do it to the exclusion of all else.

Night photography has become a favorite of mine:  The Gallatin River flows from Yellowstone north into a beautiful valley in Montana.

Night photography has become a favorite of mine: The Gallatin River flows from Yellowstone north into a beautiful valley in Montana.

In other words, you must break out of your comfort zone from time to time.  That is an overused expression but also a truism.  For one thing, if you love taking pictures, putting yourself in front of any subject will likely leave you feeling like the time was well spent.  Sure you will experience some frustration trying to photograph in a manner with which you are unfamiliar.  Sure your images will probably not be up to your usual standard.

I am not a frequent photographer of people, but I do love opening up to them when I'm traveling: Two vaqueros from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

I am not a frequent photographer of people, but I do love opening up to them when I’m traveling: Two vaqueros from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

But you’ll learn something new and I bet you’ll end up having fun.  There’s another reason to do this.  You could very well discover that you love something that you never thought you would.  I did not know I loved shooting candid street portraits until I began to travel to other countries with my camera.  Now this is one of the things I most look forward to when I travel, and I load up on knowledge of the cultures I visit partly for this purpose.  I’m not sure why I don’t do it at home, but this weekend I will be attending a workshop on available-light portraits.  Heck, I don’t even do workshops, so this is a bold departure for me on two counts.

Misty Cross

I love mood and mystery, perhaps because I rarely find it: a cross stands improbably on the summit of a tropical mountain on the island of Flores.

But while you’re cross-training, or “breaking out of your comfort zone” (if you prefer), remember your core photography.  In other words, just because you don’t like being labeled, don’t ever devalue – even a little bit – those things you love to photograph.  Why is this so important?  I believe it has little to do with photography itself.  You started photographing those subjects because you felt good being in their company.  It does not make any sense to over-think this.

I love wildlife, especially when you can catch them when they seem to be unaware of your presence: a long-tailed macaque appears to admire the sunrise at Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia.

I love capturing images of wildlife, especially when when they seem to be unaware of your presence.  A long-tailed macaque appears to admire the sunrise at Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia.

For example, I have since I was small loved being out in nature.  I loved looking out across wide expanses of land, feeling a brisk wind blow in my face, or the soft crunch of leaves on my belly as I lay on the autumn earth.  I loved spying on a creature going about its daily business, or finding a small sculpture of ice hidden in the snow-covered world of winter.  I loved touching my nose to the flowers or grass and pretending I was an insect seeing the amazing world that lay hidden at my feet.  I did not decide what to shoot when I first picked up a camera.  It had already been decided long before.

Now I”m an adult and I can never fully reclaim the wonder I had as a child.  I know too much, and that gift of knowledge was never meant to be free of charge.  You know how it goes: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”.

I love to capture nature in what I call semi-abstracted form.  That is, you can still recognize what you are looking at.  This is an agave plant in Baja California, Mexico.

I love to capture nature in what I call semi-abstracted form. That is, you can still recognize what you are looking at. This is an agave plant in Baja California, Mexico.

You undoubtedly have similar experiences in your background.  But what about now?  You now have both the freedom of choice and the ability to capture most anything with your camera.  And so there is nothing keeping you from getting out there to explore new subjects; nothing to keep you caged within the four walls of your labels, whether they’re self imposed or placed by others.  By all means shoot what you love and know, but for as long as you and I breathe the world will be a big place.  It will be a place that constantly presents new things to see and experience.  Of course you can photograph these new things as well.  What are you waiting for?

Thanks for looking.  If you’re interested in any of the images just click to access the pricing for high-resolution versions.  These are low-res. and are copyrighted, not available for free download, sorry.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks for your interest.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake with a dam-producing landslide.

Oneonta Gorge   29 comments

Oneonta Gorge is a lush slot canyon in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Oneonta Gorge is a narrow and verdant canyon in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

This is a lovely canyon that lies not far east of Portland (Oregon) in the Columbia River Gorge.  Being lush, verdant and wet, it offers the kind of scenery and a feeling that is quintessentially Pacific Northwest.   It is Oneonta Gorge, and to explore it requires a bit of an adventurous spirit.

To get there, drive east of Portland into the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 84.  Keep going past Multnomah Falls and take the next exit (#35, Ainsworth).  Loop around and head back west, turning left at the stop sign on the Historic Highway toward Multnomah Falls.  In fact, an alternative is to travel the Historic Highway all the way out from Corbett (see previous post) past Multnomah Falls and on to Oneonta.  If you take the freeway, all you need to do is drive a couple miles back west along the Historic Highway.  You’ll first come to Horsetail Falls on the left.  Keep going (or stop and take a photo!) for another quarter mile and you’ll see a small tunnel off to the left.  The road does not go through the tunnel.  Cross over Oneonta Creek on a small bridge and pull off at the wide spot just past the tunnel.

Logs are swept down Oneonta Gorge in Oregon during heavy winter rains.

Logs are swept down Oneonta Gorge during heavy winter rains.

Walk back towards the tunnel and you will see a small set of stairs that drops down to Oneonta Creek.  Depending on the time of year, you will either be able to hike up the creek a short way without getting wet or you will quickly get your feet wet.  In either case, in order to proceed very far up the narrow gorge, you’ll need to scramble over a large log jam (be very careful) and then wade up the creek.  Bring old sneakers and wool socks with either shorts or quick-drying pants.  It’s cool in the canyon so warm clothes are a good idea.

The walls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are covered in moss and other plants that are kept wet by the constant water seeping from above.

The walls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are covered in moss and other plants that are kept wet by the constant water seeping from above.

You can wade up the gorge only about a half-mile before you come to a waterfall, which will halt your progress.  The walls along the sides of this narrow canyon are covered with moss and ferns.  During the wet season (winter and early Spring) you will likely not get all the way to the falls, and you can even be stopped at the far side of the log jam in high water.  In hot summer months you will be able to wade all the way up.  But since this is a very popular place during the warm season now, definitely go during the week.  Better yet go up when the weather is cooler and you will probably have the place to yourself.

The Oneonta Gorge in Oregon narrows to a point where not much light makes it down to the creek bottom.

The Oneonta Gorge in Oregon narrows to a point where not much light makes it down to the creek bottom.

Over the past week I’ve gone up twice.  The first time the water was much too high to continue past the log jam, but on my second visit I saw that the water had dropped quite a bit.  So I waded upstream in the icy water (brrr!).  The last section to the waterfall passes the narrowest and deepest part of the creek, so that was as far as I got.  If you were to swim, you could get all the way.  But it would be a cold swim!

The narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon were created over uncounted years by the creek's frequent flooding.

The narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon were created over uncounted years by the creek’s frequent flooding.

In Onenta Gorge, Oregon, the approach to its waterfall is guarded by deep water in spring's high water flows.

In Onenta Gorge, Oregon, the approach to its waterfall is guarded by deep water in spring’s high water flows.

Hope you enjoyed the photos of this incredible canyon.  I’m sorry these images are not available for free download.  The versions here are much too small for use anyway.  Just click on any you might be interested in to gain access to the high-resolution versions.  Then click “add image to cart” to go to a tabbed price list.  Your image won’t be added to the cart until you see the prices.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.  See ya next time!

The Columbia River flows west toward the sea in deep evening as the moon shines above.

On the way back from Oneonta Gorge, wet feet didn’t keep me from stopping along the way and admiring the evening glow on the Columbia River with the moon and Orion’s Belt glittering above.

Crown Point: A Short Scenic Drive from Portland   3 comments

The rolling pastureland near Corbett in northwestern Oregon just begs to be ridden horseback.

The rolling pastureland near Corbett in northwestern Oregon just begs to be ridden horseback.

I recently visited this lovely place not far east of town at the west end of the Columbia River Gorge.  With the injury I can’t do much hiking, horseback riding (of course) or even the gym.  Long drives are a bad idea too.  So I’ve been going up to my favorite little photo spots nearby.  This is one of those spots.

To get there from Portland. drive east on I84 past Troutdale, east of Portland, Oregon.  A few miles from Troutdale you will take the Corbett exit.  Drive up the steep winding hill and at the top continue east (left) on the Historic Columbia River Highway.  You pass beautiful pastureland with  stunning views of the mountains on the Washington side of the river.  Not far down the road you’ll see a sign for Portland Women’s Forum Park.  This is a simple pull-out on the left that allows a view of Crown Point and on up the Gorge.

A view up the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest, with Crown Point and Vista House overlooking it all.

A view up the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, with Crown Point and Vista House overlooking it all.

This view is justifiably popular with photographers, especially at sunset.  The low sun often spotlights Crown Point and the iconic Vista House on top.  Vista House was constructed, along with the Historic Highway, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  The CCC was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help get Americans back to work during the depression.  The rock-work and rails are very well built and very picturesque as well.

The landmark Vista House at Crown Point, Oregon, settles under a dusk sky.

The landmark Vista House at Crown Point, Oregon, settles under a dusk sky.

You can continue along the Historic Highway past Crown Point and down along the river.  You will pass many waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls.  I wrote a recent waterfall post, so check that out for photos of some of the cascades in the Gorge.

The Vista House at Crown Point at the western end of Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

The Vista House at Crown Point at the western end of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 Thanks for reading.  Click on the photos to see the high-res. versions, which are available for purchase as prints, downloads and more.  Make sure and click “add this image to cart” to get the prices and make choices.  Don’t worry, they won’t be added to your cart until you see prices.  Thanks for your interest.

The largest river in the American West is the Columbia, which rolls westward to the Pacific at dusk in this image.

The largest river in the American West is the Columbia, which in this view from Crown Point rolls westward towards the Pacific at dusk.

A Walk on Portland’s Waterfront   4 comments

The Willamette River flows through Portland, Oregon, as viewed from atop the Broadway Bridge.

The Willamette River flows through Portland, Oregon, as viewed from atop the Broadway Bridge.

Regular readers of this blog might wonder why on earth I would be hanging around so close to home for this long.  After all, most of the posts on this blog have been made from the road, either around the American West or in some of the world’s other beautiful places.  I am currently recovering from broken ribs.  I was thrown from a horse, and when I landed there wasn’t much doubt; the cracking sound was quite obvious!  So I’m trying to avoid cabin fever and getting out to shoot (in a mellow way) when the pain isn’t too bad.

Portland's downtown area nestles in behind the trees and grass of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Portland’s downtown area nestles in behind the trees and grass of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

This post will continue the occasional series on Stumptown’s highlights (it’s a cute nickname, don’t you think?).  I recently posted on some of our parks, and also on using urban photography as a way to shake things up .  In this post, I want to make a simple recommendation for any visit to P-town:  simply go down to the east bank of the Willamette River, just across from downtown.  Park somewhere close to that river, and then take a walk for views of the city.

A spiral bike ramp allows bicyclists traveling on the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, Oregon to access one of the many bridges over the Willamette River.

A spiral bike ramp allows bicyclists traveling on the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, Oregon to access one of the many bridges over the Willamette River.

You can park near or even at OMSI, the science museum on SE Water Ave. not far from the Hawthorne Bridge.  If you park at the museum, technically you should visit or else you could be towed.  Leaving time for a visit to OMSI is a great idea (I recommend the submarine), but if you don’t have enough time, just park near the museum to the north.  Then walk towards the river until you run into a pathway called the Eastbank Esplanade.  You can stroll north along this pathway and cross over to Tom McCall Waterfront Park (and downtown proper) on one of the several bridges along the way.

The setting sun in Portland, Oregon creates interesting interplay of shadow and light.

The setting sun in Portland, Oregon creates interesting interplay of shadow and light.

If you’re after photographs, shooting over to the city from the Esplanade is ever popular.  But getting up on one of the bridges will give you a multitude of other viewpoints.  My two favorite photos in this post, the Convention Center (below) and the picture immediately above, were both taken from atop bridges.  There are plenty of options, so just explore.  Using Waterfront Park on the west side, it is easy to do loops of varying lengths.  Just cross a bridge on the way to shorten the loop, or walk all the way down to the Steele Bridge to cross.

The twin glass towers of Portland's convention center stand against a deep dusk sky.

The twin glass towers of Portland’s convention center stand against a deep dusk sky.

Don’t expect foodcarts or other such options along the way, that is unless there is a festival of some kind going on in Waterfront Park.  This is a bicycling/walking/running path and is kept deliberately uncluttered so as to allow folks to stroll and enjoy the views of the city.  If you get thirsty or hungry, just strike “inland” away from the river and in a few blocks you should find something.

The Convention Center towers are in the background as I focus on the cherry blossoms on the cusp of nightfall.

The Convention Center towers are in the background as I focus on the cherry blossoms on the cusp of nightfall.

I hope you enjoy the pictures, and that you’ll get a chance to visit Portland soon to see for yourself.  And if you’ve already been, come back soon!  It really is a nice city, very walkable and in the right light quite pretty with its bridges and riverfront.  If you’re interested in purchasing  prints or high-res. downloads of any of the images, simply click on them.  When you get to an image you need to click “add image to cart”, then you’ll have a tabbed list of prices.  The images are copyrighted, and so aren’t available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for a more nature-oriented post next time.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk.

Friday Foto Talk: Photographing the Crescent Moon   6 comments

Getting good shots of the crescent moon is a bit different than shooting the moon at any other time.  In this Friday Foto Talk we’ll discuss some of the considerations during capture, as well as the way I process the images.  The crescent is certainly a worthwhile subject.  Especially when the moon is very new and a thin crescent is illuminated, it can be a very delicate and beautiful feature of the evening or early morning sky.

A thin crescent moon over the Columbia River, Oregon. Composite of two images: Background - 110 mm., 30 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; Moon - 200 mm., 3.2 sec @ f/4, ISO 400.

A thin crescent moon over the Columbia River, Oregon. Composite of two images: Background – 110 mm., 30 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; Moon – 200 mm., 3.2 sec @ f/4, ISO 400.

Moon Phase & When to Shoot

First off, when can it be shot?  Well, assuming your goal is to capture it when it is very thin, you will be shooting just after sunset or just before sunrise.  This makes sense if you think about why only a thin crescent is illuminated.  To get a good idea of this concept, go get an orange, tennis ball, or any round object you can hold in your hand.  Hold it up between you and a bright light bulb (without a lampshade).  Move toward the light so that when you hold the ball at arm’s length it just covers the light bulb when you close one eye.  Move your arm so it’s held out to the side, forming a right angle between yourself and the light.  Look at the ball.  It’s half-lighted.  This is a half-full, a first or last quarter moon.  Now swing your arm slowly toward the light and concentrate on the lighted part of the ball.  It should approximate a crescent shape that gets smaller and smaller until it is a small crescent before it completely covers the light (representing a new moon).

Setting crescent shot at the beginning of Ramadan: Columbia River, Oregon

Setting crescent shot at the beginning of Ramadan: Columbia River, Oregon

Now you have an idea of the position of the crescent moon relative to the earth (your eyes) and the sun (the light).  When the ball/moon is moving toward the light/sun it is a waning crescent, visible in early morning  just before sunrise.  When it is moving away from the sun it is a waxing crescent, visible in the evening just after sunset.  In either case the moon will be near the horizon, and so it represents a good opportunity to make an image with a pretty landscape beneath the moon.  You will also have the opportunity to shoot it at so-called blue hour (the time when the sun is below the horizon but the sky has enough light to give it a deep blue color).  You will also not have as much contrast between the bright moon and the dimmer sky or landscape as you do when more of the moon is illuminated.

All of this is good news.  It makes your life easier as a photographer, specifically in terms of contrast, but also easier to get a more interesting composition.  If the moon is only a day or so old, for example, you will be shooting it at dusk during the waning stages of the sunset.  In this case the moon will be close to the horizon, which is good so long as you don’t have a huge mountain or building in the way.  Also there will be little contrast between the moon and the sky (a good thing).  On the other hand, the ultra-thin crescent is often very difficult to even see at this young stage.  If it is 2-3 days old, it will be easier to see, and you’ll see it in blue hour.  But if you wait for it to get close to the horizon, it will be very deep blue hour, which means more contrast between moon and sky/landscape

The crescent moon decorates the dusk sky behind a towering cirios (boojum) in the Baja California Desert, Mexico.

The crescent moon decorates the dusk sky behind a towering cirios (boojum) in the Baja California Desert, Mexico.

When & How to Capture the Crescent

(Note:  This discussion refers to the image at top.  The other images are just thrown in as a bonus)

Last night I shot the crescent moon at just under 2 days old.  Since I wanted it close to the horizon, it was the very end of blue hour.  So there was some contrast to deal with.  As with shooting the full moon, it helps to have a fairly bright or reflective landscape in front of the moon.  Deserts are good, but water is just as nice.  I had been shooting the sunset over the Gorge at popular Crown Point, and on the way home I drove right by the Columbia River.  I found a favorite spot of mine to shoot near the river, and quickly set up.  There was not much time.

Since I do not like to use high ISO when I am shooting low-light images like this, I let my exposure go up toward 30 seconds.  This was also necessary because of the fact I had foreground elements not far away, in the form of some pilings sticking up out of the river.  This made it necessary to use an aperture that gives good depth of field (i.e. f/11).  Even if I had raised ISO and dropped my aperture to f/5.6 or so, the darkness of the scene would have given me exposures on the order of at least 5 or 6 seconds.

A beautiful summer evening in Portland, Oregon features the crescent moon.

A beautiful summer evening in Portland, Oregon features the crescent moon.

And therein lies the challenge.  If you shoot the moon at a shutter speed of more than about 3 seconds, it will begin to blur.  This of course is because of the Earth’s rotation.  My shots at 30 seconds, which were perfect for the sky and river foreground, featured a moon that was completely smeared out.  Yuck!  My solution in this case was to shoot a frame where I zoomed in as much as my lens would allow (200 mm.).  I dropped my aperture to the maximum opening (f/4) for my lens.  I used Liveview to view the moon close-up while I focused it perfectly.  Then I shot it at an exposure of 3.2 seconds at f/4 with an ISO of 400.

When I’m shooting the moon, I always look for compositions that are effective (balanced, attractive, etc.) at longer focal lengths.  Of course sometimes the best composition is a wide-angle, but the moon will be small in those cases, very small.  Longer focal lengths make the moon bigger.  It is really a trade-off.  The image I finally decided on (I shot several) had a focal length of 110 mm. and included some nicely illuminated clouds along with the silhouetted pilings.

Now I had two images: one with a sharp, beautiful blue-hour rendering of the river and sky but with a badly smeared-out moon; and a second of the (sharp) crescent moon alone.  I knew I would be combining the two images in a composite during post-processing (explained below).  By the way, this image (top of post) shows almost unnaturally bright yellowish clouds.  They are that way mostly because of the reflection of nearby Portland’s street lights.

In this evening image from Zion National Park, a fat crescent forms a minor supporting element..

In this evening image from Zion National Park, a fat crescent forms a minor supporting element..

Post-Processing

I used Lightroom to make basic adjustments to both of these images.  I had to brighten things a bit, which is not ideal, since it increases noise.  Better would have been to capture the moon at an earlier stage.  The perfect stage for this moon, at least to shoot it at blue hour, occurred when it was just over one day old, which occurred during daylight hours.  Photographers on the other side of the world had it perfect!  I also did some sharpening and noise reduction in Lightroom.  You can also use Adobe Camera Raw, Aperture, GIMP or your camera manufacturer’s RAW processing software.

Then I took both images into Photoshop in order to composite (join) them.  In Lightroom right click and choose edit-in>Photoshop

      • Using the wider shot with the long exposure as the background layer, I copied that layer and then used the clone tool to remove the blurred moon.  I remembered its position using the ruler guides in Photoshop.
      • I then went to the shorter-exposure moon image and used the quick selection tool to select the moon.
      • I copied this (ctrl/cmd C) and went back to the background image, hitting ctrl/cmd V to paste it on.  This gives you two layers, the background and the moon.
      • Since I had zoomed in on that moon image, it looked too big.*  Hitting ctrl/cmd T to change its size and position, I dragged it’s corners to shrink back down to the original size.  Finally I dragged the moon to its correct position.
      • I adjusted this moon layer using Photoshop’s levels and hue/saturation controls (enhance menu) until it matched the background and looked similar to the way I remembered it.  I’ve found this step to be almost always necessary.  It takes some practice to get the moon to look like it belongs.  It will be easier if in Lightroom you adjust white balance identically for both of the images.
      • Lastly, I went around and checked the image for distracting sensor spots, bright lights and other distractions.  I left all of the artificial lights in the small community across the river from where I was standing, but I did remove the lights of a plane.

* Note: Some photographers will leave the moon bigger than its original size, or even use ctrl T to make it bigger.  You see these images all over the web, and I think they look FAKE! I recommend keeping the moon at the original size, or very close to it.  The human eye knows that a wide-angle scene with a big moon is not natural.  If you want a bigger moon, shoot with a longer focal length.

I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial.  Don’t worry if you are not yet comfortable with Photoshop.  I consider myself a novice with it, and the way I do these types of composites is fairly simple.  Don’t let it intimidate you.  There are undoubtedly other ways (perhaps simpler ways) to accomplish the same thing with Photoshop.  If you cannot afford Photoshop, consider Photoshop Elements, which is much much cheaper.  Elements will do all of the steps listed above, and do them just as well as the full version of Photoshop.  For the initial adjustments, you can use free programs like GIMP instead of Lightroom or Aperture.

A few last thoughts:  shooting long exposures after sundown is something I think every photographer will enjoy.  Including the moon can only add impact to your pictures.  Again, make sure it’s a sharp and natural-looking moon.  Click on the images for options to purchase larger high-res. options.  They are not available for free download, being copyrighted (these versions are much too small anyway).  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for reading!

Lost on a dirt road in central Nevada and the incredibly clear cold air makes it possible to photograph an extremely thin crescent.

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