Archive for May 2013

Friday Foto Talk – Patterns I: Line   7 comments

A short hike will take you to beautiful Elowah Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A short hike will take you to beautiful Elowah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  This is an example of very subtle use of line and pattern in an image.

This Friday Foto Talk let’s think about the very basics of composition.  Patterns are definitely worth seeking out in your photography, and this applies especially to nature and landscape photography.  The most essential part of patterns are the lines that define them.  Lines can lead you into a scene, point to your subject, mimic the shapes of your main subjects, and frame your composition, among other things.  They’re very powerful parts of an image.

Tall grass is reflected in a pond in the Potholes area of eastern Washington.

Tall grass is reflected in a pond in the Potholes area of eastern Washington.  Abstracts like this one often make use of repeating lines.

Think about looking out at a landscape.  There is a winding river or roadway stretching toward some overlapping hills.  The ridgelines that define the hills are slightly curved.  And wouldn’t you know it, the clouds above are in gentle arcs as well.  Perhaps you got lucky and sitting in the grass alongside the road or river there is an old abandoned car.  It’s from the 1950s and has nice gentle curves that define its fenders and hood.  These curves are outlined by a bright backlight from the setting sun.  This image draws your eye partly because of the beautiful light of course.  But it is the lines which lead the eye and clouds and hills that mimic the gentle shapes of the car that makes you stand and stare.

The narrows at Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are here full after spring rains.

The narrows at Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are full after spring rains.  The curved lines in the water contrast with straight and jagged vertical lines of the canyon walls and falling water.

A photograph I’ve always believed is effective if it captures what you would stop and look at even without having a camera.  I always try to keep this in mind: would I stop and admire this even if I wasn’t out shooting pictures?  Lines that make up patterns draw our eyes because of our evolutionary history.  We evolved in semi-open areas where picking out patterns from the background of grasses and trees really mattered.

One of the many lakes in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington is calm and colorful at sunrise.

One of the many lakes in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington is calm and colorful at sunrise.  The curved shoreline and angled lines of the orange sky help this simple image.

Lions and other predators, I found out during my recent trip to Africa, blend in very well to their surroundings.  I drove right by one in Kruger, South Africa.  She was crouching at the roadside only a few feet from my open window as I passed slowly, scanning for wildlife.  I stopped to look at something else (a rock it turned out) and caught a tiny movement out of the corner of my eye.  That’s the only reason I saw her, and she was actually in plain view.  Our ancestors, already very visual creatures, developed even greater ability and passed this acuity on to us.

The Columbia River where it passes through the gorge along the Oregon/Washington border forms wetlands along the river bottom in springtime.

The Columbia River where it passes through the gorge along the Oregon/Washington border forms wetlands along the river bottom in springtime.  Reflections can often get you a two-for-one, doubling the lines in the landscape to make a closed shape.

Often the most interesting photos are those that mix and match different line patterns.  Straight lines combined with curved, horizontal combined with vertical, or slightly curved combined with tightly curved.  You only need to see these patterns and photograph them in the kind of light that brings them out.  Some amount of contrast can be added later in software, but you need light with depth and clarity to really bring line patterns out.

One of the many wetlands in the Potholes area of eastern Washington, a paradise for waterbirds.

One of the many wetlands in the Potholes area of eastern Washington, a paradise for waterbirds.  The think lines of the grass are fairly subtle but contrast with the overall horizontal nature of the image.

For me, I think I like gently curved lines the best.  I normally seek out peaceful settings, and gently curved lines help to establish that mood.  The image at top shows an obvious gentle arc (the falls), repeated by the more subtle curve of the tree’s left side.  The rock at right also has a similar angle.  Very dramatic and imposing  mountain or desert scenes may benefit from a different type of line pattern.  When photographing these scenes it is natural to go for sharply angled or jagged lines.  Maybe you like different kinds of subjects.  Whatever you are photographing, think about the kinds of lines that will both help to define the mood of your image and also lead the viewer’s attention to your main subject(s).

A double rainbow appears as a spring storm clears over the lush Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

A double rainbow appears as a spring storm clears over the lush Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  I loved how the arcs of the rainbows were so close to the forested walls of the Gorge, and also at a similar angle.

The photos here are all very recent, captured during my recent trip to eastern Washington and in the nearby Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  I hope you enjoy them.  Remember they are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  These versions are much too small anyway.  If you’re interested in high-res versions just click on the image.  Then once you have the full-size image on the screen click “add this image to cart”.  You will then get price options; it won’t be added to your cart until you make choices.  If you don’t see an option that matches what you want to purchase, just contact me with any special requests.  Thanks for your interest.

The sun goes down over the wheat fields of the Palouse in eastern Washington.

The sun goes down over the wheat fields of the Palouse in eastern Washington.  The subtle lines in the rows of wheat lead into the scene, and the angled line of clouds helps to frame the sun (which has its own radiating pattern of lines).

The Palouse IV: Travel Tips   3 comments

The vibrant green of the Palouse in eastern Washington after a spring shower.

The vibrant green of the Palouse in eastern Washington after a spring shower.

The Palouse in southeastern Washington is one of those areas of the Pacific Northwest that does not receive many visitors.  It is out of the way and not nearly as spectacular as the Cascades or the Coast.  But if you are into photography you really can’t do much better.  It is a slice of rural life in the drier eastern parts of the Pacific NW.  Perhaps it doesn’t belong at the top of your list during a first visit to the region, but it should definitely be considered on a second trip.

WHEN TO GO

The Palouse is best in spring and fall.  It is quite windy and cold in winter, and in high summer it’s a dry and often dusty place.  When I say summer I mean from July through early September.  June is really late spring in these parts.  The flowers, which are only found in certain areas, begin to bloom in mid- to late-April.  The bloom continues through May or early June.  The splashy yellow sunflower-like balsamroot peaks around early May.  Spring is a very green season, with the rolling fields taking on an almost electric hue.  Fall offers superb golden wave-like fields of wheat.

A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.

A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.

WHERE TO STAY

Despite its lack of big towns and parks, it is fairly easy to find a good base from which to explore the Palouse.  You can stay in the small town of Palouse, which is very central, but there are only a few motels.  You’ll find more choice in Pullman or Moscow, Idaho.  Realize that, depending on where you intend to photograph at sunrise, this will involve getting up VERY early.  Tekoa in the north is also a good base, with several places to stay.  Throughout the Palouse lie scattered  B&Bs to choose from, so google this.

Newly planted rows of wheat grace the smooth terrain of the Palouse in Washington state.

Newly planted rows of wheat grace the smooth terrain of the Palouse in Washington state.

For campers there are several options.  Towards the western end of the Palouse, you’ll find Palouse Falls State Park.  This compact little park has a big advantage in that you can photograph the stunning waterfall here at any time when the light is good.  Near the eastern end of the Palouse, there is a beautiful campground at Kamiak Butte.  This county park has a great hiking loop that takes you over the top of the butte, with flower-fields and views of the rolling fields below.  The problem with Kamiak is that the gates are closed at dusk, ruling it out as a base from which to make forays for sunset photos.

You can also camp at the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds 20 miles north of Pullman.  The Boyer Park RV camp 22 miles SW of Pullman is a good choice if you have a camper/RV.  They have showers and laundry there.  Wherever you stay, note that the region is fairly spread out, so prepare for some driving.  The great news is that the roads are pleasantly rural with little traffic.

In this view from Kamiak Butte in southeast Washington, the fields of the Palouse appear to form a green carpet over the undulating landscape.

In this view from Kamiak Butte in southeast Washington, the fields of the Palouse appear to form a green carpet over the undulating landscape.

WHAT TO DO/PHOTOGRAPH

There are not many traditional tourist sights in the Palouse.  There are a number of small, quirky museums and plenty of great barns and farms to see and photograph.  Check out Palouse Scenic Byway and Visit Palouse, and of course Trip Advisor’s Forums.  For photographers, you’ll notice almost immediately that it helps to get up in elevation a bit.  The easy approach is to head up Steptoe Butte or Kamiak Butte (the latter which you’ll have to hike to access the summit).  Tekoa Mountain south of Pullman is also a great choice.  But since you don’t actually need to be that high for good photographic compositions, you’ll find hills when you’re driving around which will get you high enough.  I’ve got a secret little hill that sticks up, but I’m going to keep that to myself for now, sorry.

Arrowleaf balsamroot bloom on the slopes of Kamiak Butte in southeastern Washington.

Arrowleaf balsamroot bloom on the slopes of Kamiak Butte in southeastern Washington.

Some ideas:

      • Drive the Palouse Scenic Byway and turn off at random dirt roads that strike your fancy.  Many of them loop back to the pavement.  Take along a good atlas (such as Delorme’s).
      • Visit Steptoe Butte.  This isolated hill lies in the heart of the Palouse.  The great thing about it is that you can stop on the road that winds its way up the butte at whatever elevation you wish.  This will allow you to pick your perspective for photography.  Or simply drive to the top for 360 degree views.
      • Visit Kamiak Butte.  To photograph at sunset and/or sunrise, you’ll need to camp here, because they close the gates at dusk.  Make the short hike to the top of the butte for both sunset and sunrise.  If its springtime the flowers are as fantastic as the views.
      • Visit Palouse Falls.  This is an amazing waterfall with a spectacular plunge pool.  You can hike to the bottom or do a short loop around the top.  There is a state park here which requires a Washington Discovery Pass ($10/day).
      • Walk around a couple of the small towns with your camera.  Try Garfield, Lacrosse & Rosalia.  Uniontown has a fence made of wagon wheels.  In addition, during your driving explorations, keep on the lookout for beautifully situated barns.
      • If you are in the Colfax area and want a nice quiet picnic spot, check out Klemgard County Park.  From Hwy. 195 heading south of Colfax, turn right (west) on Hamilton Hill Road, then right on Upper Union Flat Rd.  There are signs.  A short trail loops up through the small forest and there is plenty of open grassy space in this peaceful little park.
      • Drive along the major watercourses in nice light for great photo opportunities.  The Palouse River meanders through the countryside and is a lovely stream.  Even where it flows out of the town of Palouse it is picturesque (see image below). The Snake River is accessible in several places, but for me its size clashes with the more intimate nature of the Palouse landscapes.  The Pataha Creek valley west of Pomeroy along U.S. Hwy. 12 is beautiful.  Wind turbines add some interest.  Often in the Palouse you will be starved for subjects, the landscape is so spare, so windmills, barns, etc. are worth keeping an eye out for.
The Palouse River winds its way through the rural landscape of eastern Washington.

The Palouse River winds its way through the rural landscape of eastern Washington.

The Palouse is an understated yet beautiful and peaceful place to visit.  If you’re looking for action or adrenaline sports, look elsewhere.  But for history and photography enthusiasts, and for those who wish to spend time being transported back to America’s simpler times, the Palouse is one of the best places in the Pacific Northwest.

Please note that the images here are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry ’bout that.  But if you’re interested in one of them you can either click the image or contact me with questions and requests.  Thanks for your interest!

A small farm with big broad fields sits under a big beautiful dusk sky in the Palouse region of eastern Washington.

A small farm with big broad fields sits under a big beautiful dusk sky in the Palouse region of eastern Washington.

The 60th Anniversary of Hillary & Norgay’s First Ascent of Everest   4 comments

Everest (center) stands tall between its almost as enormous neighbors.

Everest (center) stands tall between its almost as enormous neighbors.

A quick break from extolling the virtues of the Palouse and channeled scablands of eastern Washington to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the climb of Mount Everest for the first time.  I happen to think George Mallory and Sandy Irvine made it in 1924 and died on the way down, but a successful ascent to me includes getting back down alive.  So Edmund Hillary (an amazing Kiwi among many amazing Kiwis) and Tenzig Norgay (an amazing Sherpa among many amazing Sherpas) have the honor of standing on Earth’s highest point for the first time.

By the way, I don’t go in the now-popular sport of bashing Everest.  Smug people, most of whom have climbed nothing of consequence, promote the myth that it has become a walk in the park.  True it is getting too crowded.  It’s called the world’s highest traffic jam because of a few major bottlenecks.  But this is one heck of a huge mountain, poking up into extremely thin air.  Though it is easier (and much more expensive!) to ascend now than it was in Hillary and Norgay’s time, it is still a very difficult and very awesome undertaking.

The 7165-meter high mountain of Pumori on the Nepal - Tibet border is a classic climber's peak.

The 7165-meter high mountain of Pumori on the Nepal – Tibet border is a classic climber’s peak.

 

I have traveled to Nepal twice.  The second visit brought me up to the Khumbu region of Nepal, where I trekked and climbed for a few weeks.  My best view and photo of the big boy Sagarmatha (Everest) was from a viewpoint called Kala Pathar.  This is a small ridge-top peak overlooking Everest and its huge neighbors.  When trekking to Everest Base Camp, you normally stay one night in the small group of teahouses at the base of Kala Pathar.

From this place, called Gorak Shep, you can hike up to the 5400-meter high Kala Pathar for a view of Everest, Lhotse, Pumori and more.  Most go in the early morning, because of the better chance for clear weather.  I don’t like getting up before light if I don’t have to, so took the chance and hiked up there in the late afternoon after I arrived and stoked myself up on a quart of tea.  The weather cleared for me and I had the place to myself.  It was magical!

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.

 

So these are the images I made there.  I remember being very impressed with both Pumori and Nuptse.  Pumori is just plain beautiful, a classic mountain.  And Nuptse’s west face is so incredibly steep and rugged!  What a view!  I definitely recommend that you include this in your trek.  Amazingly, some people are so fixated on the Base Camp that they blow right by this side-hike.  Everest Base Camp actually has a much poorer view of the mountain than you get from Kala Pathar.

The image below was my best of the mountain itself.  The alpenglow was perfect.  When I show this to people they wonder where all the snow is.  This is Everest’s southwest face, which is much too steep to hold the snow.  Enjoy!  Just click on the photos to go to the high-res. versions, where purchase is possible.  Sorry, they’re not available for free download without my permission.  Go ahead and contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

The Palouse III – Loess & Farming   1 comment

The classic view of the Palouse from atop Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington.

The classic view of the Palouse from atop Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington.

I just returned from a trip to southeastern Washington.  The Palouse region north of the Snake River and stretching along the Idaho border was my prime destination.  Among landscape photographers, the Palouse is justifiably famous for its unique landscape of rolling, wave-like fields of wheat.  It is a very rich farming region, primarily known for its dryland wheat.  But it’s also one of the world’s premier lentil-growing regions.

As is the case for most of our planet’s resources, where and how we take advantage of the bounty is dictated by geology and geography.  This is especially true of farming.  The Palouse bears a lot of resemblance to other rich farming regions in the world in at least two respects: it is relatively flat and it’s covered in a special kind of silt called loess.  You can pronounce loess anyway you want.  But perhaps Lois is best reserved for some women by that name.  Most people in the know pronounce it somewhere between loose and lus, sort of luhs.  Brits put an r in there right before the s.

Some of the terrain in the Palouse of eastern Washington is left golden-bare even in late spring when most everything is vibrant green.

Some of the terrain in the Palouse of eastern Washington is left golden-bare even in late spring when most everything is vibrant green.

Loess is a windblown silt found in many places throughout the world.  It is made of angular pieces of rocks and minerals somewhat finer than sand.  It forms such rich soils because the minerals in it are diverse.  This is not always the case with fine debris deposited on the earth’s surface, but loess is special.

It is a gift of the Ice Ages.  All over the world, when glaciers retreated (both after the last time 10,000 years ago and during previous retreats), the fine debris scoured from the various rocks that the ice passed over was left bare.  Winds picked up this silt and sand and deposited it downwind, often far downwind.  Natural depressions, the base of mountains, or anywhere that wind speed drops, were natural places for loess to be deposited.

In springtime, wildflowers bloom on Kamiak Butte in the Palouse.

In springtime, wildflowers bloom on Kamiak Butte in the Palouse.

In the case of the Palouse, loess from the Ringold Formation and from glacial deposits exposed to the west and south was blown in and deposited essentially in dunes.  This is a big reason for the wave-like nature of the landscape.  It accumulated during the drier and windier climates between glacial advances, and did so for over a million years.  The loess in the Palouse reaches up to 200 feet thick in places.

Two little extra features of the loess deposits found in the Palouse help to make it such a rich dryland farming region.  For one, the Cascade volcanoes to the west occasionally supplied layers of ash into the mix.  This ash not only adds to the mineralogical diversity (and thus the richness of the resulting soil) but is also very good at holding water.  The Palouse soils are famous for their ability to hold onto the modest amount of water they receive.

The wheatfields of the Palouse in eastern Washington on the north side of Kamiak Butte.

The wheatfields of the Palouse in eastern Washington on the north side of Kamiak Butte.

The second feature is another happy coincidence.  The topmost loess deposits, blown in after the last glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, also happen to be among the most diverse minerals-wise.  So they support the richest soils.  Mount Mazama in Oregon (now Crater Lake) blew its top 6700 years ago and its ash is prominently represented in these latest Palouse loess deposits.

So farmers have it good in the Palouse, growing their crops on a landscape covered in especially rich soils that hold water well.  There is one little problem though: these latest loess deposits are also the most prone to loss through erosion and poor management.  Just like so many agricultural areas in the world, this one requires careful management practices to conserve the precious soil.

Wind turbines are situated along the crest of a ridge in the Palouse, Washington.

Wind turbines are situated along the crest of a ridge in the Palouse, Washington.

The geologic story does not end here though.  The loess deposited in long wave-like dunes originally extended far to the west of where you find it today.  If you head west from the Palouse you run right out of rich dryland wheat country and into a different terrain altogether.  This is the so-called channeled scablands, spectacular result of the great Missoula Floods of the last Ice Age.  I will cover this great story in a coming post; suffice it to say these floods removed much of the region’s rich loess before human farmers ever got the chance to farm it.

A group of mergansers rides the Palouse River downstream near the town of the same name in Washington state.

A group of mergansers rides the Palouse River downstream near the town of the same name in Washington state.

People have been farming here since the late 1800s.  In the 1880s there was a land-boom after dryland wheat farming was proved valid in the previously settled Walla Walla area to the south.  In fact, the last decades of the 19th century saw far more people living here than lived in the Puget Sound region to the west.  Now of course it’s the opposite.  The Palouse is sparsely populated while the Puget Sound has Seattle, Microsoft and traffic nightmares.  There are signs of new growth here, as some people tire of the rat race and move here, expanding the suburbs of large towns like Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho into prime agricultural lands.

The empty Palouse of eastern Washington at sunrise is all wheatfields and sky.

The empty Palouse of eastern Washington at sunrise is all wheatfields and sky.

But for now the Palouse remains a quiet, peaceful place where open spaces are the rule.  Stand atop Steptoe or Kamiak Butte and look out on the endless waves, bright green in early summer and golden brown in autumn.  You’ll only see scattered farmhouses, a few barns, a few two-lane roads with little traffic.  It’s a gorgeous setting, especially at sunset when the shadows are long, bringing out the unique textures and look of the place.  I will surely be coming back.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for more on eastern Washington in the next post.  Hope you enjoy the images.  Please be aware they are copyrighted and not available to download for free without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  If interested in one of the images, just click it to get purchase options.  Thanks for reading!

A solitary clump of blooming lupine decorates a piece of bunchgrass prairie in the Palouse, Washington.

A solitary clump of blooming lupine decorates a piece of bunchgrass prairie in the Palouse, Washington.

Single-Image Sunday: the Mariposa Lily   Leave a comment

I’m going to start trying to use each Sunday to post single images, in posts that are word-scarce, especially compared with Friday’s photo how-to posts.

A beautiful flower of springtime in the drier semi-desert areas of eastern Washington, Oregon and adjacent Idaho is the Mariposa lily.

A beautiful flower of springtime in the drier semi-desert areas of eastern Washington, Oregon and adjacent Idaho is the Mariposa lily.

The beautiful mariposa lily is my favorite wildflower from the steppe regions of the Pacific Northwest where I live.  It blooms in late springtime, usually in single, tall flowers.  They look so delicate and easy for the wind to flatten (and the wind does blow strong in these parts).  But they are as dependable in eastern Oregon and Washington after spring rains as the smell of sagebrush.  Enjoy!

Note that this image is copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  Just click on it if you’re interested in it.  Once you are in the high-res. version, click “add this image to cart”.  It won’t be added to your cart right away.  Click the appropriate tab to be shown pricing options.  Please contact me if you have any questions, and thanks very much for your interest.

Friday Foto Talk: the Palouse II (Photo Trip Planning/Approach)   7 comments

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I’ve been thinking about how I make my decisions on where to go and what to photograph while on the road.  I’m returning now from the Palouse, a spread-out region in southeastern Washington state that is quite popular with landscape photographers.  I did as much planning as I ever do before any trip; that is, not very much.  I identified a few spots that I wanted to visit, both there and in the channeled scablands to the west of the Palouse.  Then I drove out there, knowing that most of my time would be spent winging it.  This is the way I prefer to do things, but I’m getting a little more structured as time goes on.

There are obvious benefits to each approach, and also obvious drawbacks.  An itinerary, complete with expected driving time between the spots and a planned amount of time for each location, is completely beyond me, at least to this point.  But some sort of plan, with a general routing lined out, is a good way to cover an area.  Adherence to some sort of time schedule can help avoid what I sometimes deal with: a mad scramble to get somewhere photogenic while the light is quickly approaching its peak quality.  Having an itinerary and planned place to be for golden hour (the time preceding sunset) allows you to drop a stop or two as you go, in order to make it to your sunset spot in plenty of time.

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But too strict an itinerary and you end up in what I consider to be the wrong frame of mind to capture images that are not over-photographed, images that surprise you.  And it’s more free and fun.  The amount of time you spend just wandering where your impulses take you is rarely a waste of time, so long as you don’t allow yourself to be caught down in some hole when the light turns golden.  At this point, you will wish you had skipped that side-road and instead been already set up to take advantage of that great light.

Having a bit more wanderlust and less adherence to an itinerary makes more sense when you are visiting an area for the first time.  Even on a second visit, there are bound to be whole areas that need some exploring.  On this trip to the Palouse, for example, I was fully in scouting mode.  Although I had been there once before, it was only for a day and night.  It is a large area, with near-countless roads looping through the rolling countryside.

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So this is the approach I take on any first real visit to a place for landscape and/or nature photography:

PLANNING:

      • I look at tourist-related websites devoted to the area.  I also check out sites that are devoted to special interest topics.  In the case of the Palouse/Channeled Scablands, there are several websites devoted to the region’s interesting geologic origin.  The Missoula floods moved through here during the latter part of the Ice Age, greatly shaping what you see.  These topical websites will often give you ideas for places that are both interesting and beautiful to photograph.
      • What I don’t do a lot of is check other photographers’ websites & images, or images on stock photo websites.  I do just enough to figure out where the “go-to” photo spots are, and decide whether or not it’s worth visiting (or avoiding) them.  This can also be easily accomplished once you arrive at towns in the area, by looking over the postcard racks.  I find this to be a more interesting way to do it, in fact.  You can ask people in the shop about places pictured in the postcards and often get very valuable local information that way.
      • If it is a very unfamiliar place, or overseas, I might get in touch with tour agencies and guides by email.  Even if you, like me, prefer to choose a guide once you are on the ground, it is worth getting an idea what is offered and at what price before you travel.
      • If I am going it alone, either the whole time or for the most part, I will purchase maps of the area.  It’s good to have a regional (driving) map and also an atlas that will show much more detail.  These maps can be electronic of course, but I prefer ones I can hold in my hand and read in bright sunshine.  In the case of the Palouse, I have a good Washington-state highway map, along with the Gazetteer.  Published by Delorme and others, these are oversize booklets with dozens of large-scale maps.  They show all the roads, down to dirt tracks, for any state in the U.S.  They show parks, wildlife preserves, and even a general topographic overlay.  For other countries, do some research and find a good map resource.
      • I take my Gazetteer and mark those few primary photo destinations I have planned.  Then on the computer I look at the Photographer’s Ephemeris  (which I highly recommend downloading) to see the directions and times of sunset & sunrise for the approximate date of my visit.  If the moon could be a target for photos (say at full or as a sliver crescent), I also note the moonrise and/or moonset direction and time.  For each of my marked locations, I sketch in pencil these directions as lines, writing along each line the time of sunrise/sunset.  Even if I end up not going to a precise location, I know both the times and directions are going to be very similar for any nearby location.  I don’t overdo this; a few locations per map sheet are enough.

Palouse Abstract I

ON THE ROAD

      • I check the weather forecasts just before heading out and then I take off, often traveling late to avoid traffic.  I can always stop along the way anyplace that has internet and get weather updates.  But I’ve found that photographers often mistakenly believe that they benefit by having constant weather updates.  Weather is anything but predictable of course, but more than that, I believe your attitude should be such that you will work with what you have at the time.  You can photograph in nearly any conditions and get good images.
      • More on weather: as I go along, I like to keep an eye on the sky.  If I crest a rise, I’ll stop and get out to observe the weather.  Maybe it’s just me, but I believe the more you do this, the better at weather prediction you will become, at least short-term weather prediction.  Of course I have some background knowledge on meteorology, but in general I find it much more useful to have my eyes on the sky than on some small screen.
      • While I do try to hit popular spots to photograph, I also never ever expect (or even hope) to get my best images there.  I think this is a bit different from the average novice landscape photographer’s approach.  I don’t know what the pros do, but I believe there are just too many variables at work to expect any great photo from anywhere.
      • More on popular spots: taking the Palouse as an example, there is a rather prominent hill called Steptoe Butte in the heart of the region.  Standing well above the countryside and having a 360-degree view, it is popular as both a sunrise and sunset spot, drawing loads of tripod-toters.  I knew I would go there, but my Gazetteer also showed me other high points in the area.  One of these is Kamiak Butte, which I will discuss in another post.  But there are others that are not as high as Steptoe.  The top of Steptoe is almost too high for the best landscape images in the Palouse, and there is a lack of good foreground elements.  That’s just my opinion of course.

But I didn’t ignore the place.  I went up there for star shots toward 3 a.m. one sleep-deprived night.  The Milky Way was amazing!  After an hour’s sleep, I joined several other photogs. at sunrise.  The light was average at best.  But instead of going back up there when the light was much better the next day, I chose a different place.  Guess the upshot is that I don’t really want images that are too similar to those of other photographers as much as I want my own compositions.

      • I will take most impulse-driven tangents, indulging my natural desire to explore.  This is easy and natural during mid-day when the light is normally not good.  If there are a lot of clouds, I try to find interesting subjects to shoot that don’t require much sky to be included.  I also will indulge in macro photography, so seek out meadows and wetlands during mid-day.
      • But come late-day, I try to get somewhere that is either somewhat elevated or has a very interesting, photogenic subject (ideally both).  I try to arrive by at least 45 minutes prior to sunset.  For sunrise, I try to camp very near to the spot where I think sunrise will be good.  Often the sunset spot is the same or very near to the following morning’s sunrise spot.
      • I like to do night photography from time to time, so I seek open skies with interesting subjects in the foreground (old buildings, rock formations, etc.).
      • So between sunset, sunrise, the stars and scouting/exploring, when do I sleep?  If it is winter, I sleep as normal, getting up at sunrise and staying up.  During spring and summer’s longer days, I will often sleep in two shifts.  I get roughly half my sleep between a late dinner and sunrise, then the other half immediately following the sunrise shoot.  This is easy to do when camping in remote spots.  When traveling overseas, on travel days it’s tough.  It’s a good reason to plan more than one night in each place.

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      • Weather dictates all of course.  Clouds are good, unless they completely block the sun from doing its magic.  Never allow rain to dampen your enthusiasm.  They bring rainbows for one thing!
      • The quality of light can often be quite good well into morning hours, or alternatively well before sunset.  You learn to look at the sky, for example in the morning, and be able to predict whether it’s worth sticking with it for a couple hours.  Mid-day shooting is rarely any good, at least for landscapes and nature subjects.
      • So when do I get a chance to process photos, get online, post these things?  I try to find somewhere with internet access every couple or three days.  I think it’s actually more important to journal on a daily basis than to do what I’m doing now.  I try to write down my great finds, the little things I learned about the place and how to photograph it, even the disappointments.  On my map I also trace my route and mark the nice finds (such as interesting barns in the Palouse).

Speaking of that last point, right now I’m at a Starbucks and it’s 5 p.m.  There is the push to finish this post, but the light is calling.  Thus I will post fewer pictures this time, and encourage you to stay tuned for more on the Palouse and other areas of southeastern Washington.  Thanks for reading!

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The Palouse, Part I   10 comments

The sun's first rays sweep across the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse in southeastern Washington state.

The sun’s first rays sweep across the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse in southeastern Washington state.

I’ve finally checked something off my list I’ve been wanting to do for about two years.  That is, spend some quality time in Washington state’s Palouse region.  This is the rich farmland that stretches in a NE-trending belt along the Snake River southeastern Washington.  It laps over into southwestern Idaho.

The Palouse, a region of rolling, rich agricultural land in southeastern Washington is a very green and peaceful place in springtime.

The Palouse, a region of rolling, rich agricultural land in southeastern Washington is a very green and peaceful place in springtime.

The Palouse is justifiably famous among landscape photographers of the western U.S. and beyond.  But I’ve only spent snatches of time here on the way to somewhere else.  It has never represented a destination.  That changed this week, as I spent 5 days tooling around the rolling green wheat fields, the delightful glens, the sparsely forested hills of the Palouse.  I’ll just give an introductory taste here, saving more travel and photo tips, along with a geology primer, for later posts.

Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington.

Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington.

Coming in from the west, the obvious first destination is Palouse Falls, which lies on the western edge of the region.  This is a big bold waterfall, just shy of 200 feet high, that plunges into a large semi-circular bowl lined with tall dark cliffs of basalt.  It was cloudy when I arrived, and the sunset turned out to be fairly colorless.  So the picture here is not the best you will see of this spot, popular with photographers as it is.  But the short time I spent was definitely enhanced by the comical and obviously overfed marmots playing along the cliff edge, hoping for yet another handout from overindulgent visitors.

A marmot at Palouse Falls in Washington rests after a strenuous session of looking cute for handouts.

A marmot at Palouse Falls in Washington rests after a strenuous session of looking cute for handouts.

I went on to the heart of the Palouse, traveling northeast to spend the night in lonely rolling hills of spring wheat near the town of Dusty.  Yes, that is the place’s real name, but perhaps calling it a town is not really fair to real towns.  There is gas and a sometimes-open store but not much else.  The light was gorgeous at sunrise, and despite the evening before, I felt my trip was off to a good start.  Stay tuned for more.

By the way, if you are interested in any of these images (which are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission), please contact me.  Most will be up on my main webpage in a few days when I return home.  Thanks for your interest.

Wheat is the name of the game in the Palouse of Washington state.

Wheat is the name of the game in the Palouse of Washington state.

To the Summit of Mount St. Helens!   6 comments

The view of Mount St. Helens' lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

The view of Mount St. Helens’ lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

Last week a friend and I climbed Mount St. Helens, the famous volcano in Washington state.  I have up to this point only skied it, hiking up on my skis and then doing the moderate and fun descent.  I would have done it this way again, but with my ribs still healing, I didn’t want to take the chance of a re-injury.  So I just hiked it while my friend hiked up carrying his AT skis.  His wife came along, but she was only into a hike, so didn’t summit with us.

Mount St. Helens' steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

Mount St. Helens’ steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

It was a gorgeous day, perfect really.  The temperatures were not too cool and not too warm.  And so we didn’t sweat gallons, nor did the snow soften up too much for great skiing.  If it were any cooler though, crampons would have been required.  As it was we only hit one icy patch, which was easily handled by kicking steps.  I did have my ice axe, and that helped near the top.

Crater View II

Mount Rainier pokes above the clouds, as viewed from the summit of Mount St. Helens.

My friend had a great run down while I glissaded.  It has been awhile since I’ve done any glissading, (sliding down a snowfield to descend a mountain).  It is normally done on your butt, but it can also be accomplished on your feet, on your belly (penguin style!) or use your imagination.  A pair of slick rain pants will allow you to glissade shallower (and safer) slopes.  I alternated between a butt and foot glissade.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Glissade safety tips:  When glissading, it’s important to see where you are going and stay off the really steep stuff.  You want a “runout”, where the grade flattens a bit and you can slow to a stop.  If things get steep, and yet you still feel safe with a glissade, you must have an ice axe and slide on your butt, braking all the way with the axe.  You also need to be comfortable doing a self-arrest in case things get out of hand.  Safety first of course, but when you feel the need for speed and you have a good runout below you, let ‘er go!

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

After the climb I headed home to Portland the back way.  In other words, instead of returning west to I5 then south (boring!), I drove east on Forest Road 90, continuing as it turns into Curly Creek Road.  I slept overnight in my van along the upper Lewis River and did a couple short hikes next day in the beautiful forest here.   It was good to stretch my legs, which were sore from the climb.  Then I continued, turning right on the Wind River Road all the way into Carson.  I did stop again to do a hike along the beautiful Falls Creek Falls (see next post for that).  Then I simply traveled Hwy. 14 from Carson west to Vancouver and across the river to Portland.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Note that to climb Mount St. Helens you need to visit the MSHI website for instructions on the permitting process.  During summer a limited-entry permitting system is in place.  But I’ve always done it in Spring, where you can buy the $22 permit online, pick it up in Cougar on the way to the trailhead, and have at the mountain when it still has significant snow.  Believe me it is easier to climb it in snow, because of the loose pumice (2 steps up – 1 step down) nature of the surface in summertime.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens.  Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens. Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

Dog Mountain in Bloom   7 comments

A rusting railway bridge along the Columbia River just outside Stevenson, Washington.

A rusting railway bridge along the Columbia River just outside Stevenson, Washington.

I hiked Dog  Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge yesterday.  It was late in the day, so I only made it half-way up the steep hike.  Although I’ve hiked it many times before, this is the first time I didn’t go all the way.  But since the goal of the hike was to catch sunset from a position far above the Columbia River, and since there is a photogenic viewpoint about halfway up, I wasn’t disappointed.

The hike up Dog Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge is popular for a reason.  Here a hiker has it to himself.

The hike up Dog Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge is popular for a reason.  But everyone had gone by sunset and I had it to myself.

Dog Mountain is on the Washington side of the Gorge and is one of the area’s most popular hikes.  Get there from Portland by driving east on I-84 to the town of Cascade Locks, cross the Bridge of the Gods into Washington ($1 toll), and turn right on Hwy. 14.  Continue east through Stevenson and look for the wide gravel parking lot on the left.  It is just over an hour’s drive.

There is a loop option by going left on the trail from the parking lot, following signs up the Augsberger Mountain Trail and returning on the main Dog Mountain Trail.  Or just climb up the main trail to the right (east) from the parking lot.  This route forks not far above the parking lot, allowing yet another loop option.  Be aware it is a steep hike, about 7-8 miles round-trip to the top and back.

Flagged trees and wildflowers stand up to a stiff west wind on Dog Mountain in Washington's Columbia River Gorge.

Flagged trees and wildflowers stand up to a stiff west wind on Dog Mountain in Washington’s Columbia River Gorge.

This time of year the entire upper mountainside is covered in blooming wildflowers.  The iconic flower of this area, the bold yellow balsamroot, is on the wane.  But it is joined in mid-May by purple lupine and red indian paintbrush, along with other flowers.  Clouds nearly ruined the chances for pictures, but I managed to get a few.  I even did a self-portrait, which is rare for camera-shy me.  It was windy, which is typical for the Gorge.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  They are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry.  If you’re interested in either download or printed high-resolution versions, just click on the pictures.  Then click “add image to cart” to see price options.  Don’t worry, it won’t be added to your cart until you make your choices.  Thanks very much for your interest, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Balsamroot bloom far above the Columbia River on Dog Mountain in the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Balsamroot bloom far above the Columbia River on Dog Mountain in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Friday Foto Talk: Bracketing   Leave a comment

The great monastery at Tangboche in Nepal's Khumbu region wakes to a spectacular morning.  A high contrast scene like this demands bracketing for exposure.

The great monastery at Tangboche in Nepal’s Khumbu region wakes to a spectacular morning. A high contrast scene like this demands bracketing for exposure.

This week let’s dive into this deceptively simple topic.  Bracketing is when you take three or more pictures of the same subject in an attempt to hedge your bets.  For example you might take one picture with your light meter dead center and the other two slightly under- and over-exposed.

There are two things about bracketing that are often misunderstood.  The first is that bracketing involves only adjusting exposure.  While this is the most common variable that is bracketed for, it’s by no means the only one.  Basically, you can bracket anything you vary during shooting.  I often bracket for depth of field when I am in aperture priority mode, for example.  More on this below.

Chili peppers dry on a windowsill in a teahouse high in a Himalayan village.  This image was bracketed for both exposure and depth of field (aperture).

Chili peppers dry on a windowsill in a teahouse high in a Himalayan village. This image was bracketed for both exposure and depth of field (aperture).

The second is the myth that with digital it is no longer necessary to bracket.  After all, modern photo processing software allows you to change what you need to change rather easily.  While this is true, it is also the wrong attitude to take.

You may choose not to bracket, but don’t do it because you think you can make the adjustment later on your computer.  This is a road you don’t want to go down.  Pretty soon you’ll be taking all sorts of short-cuts during capture, simply because you can “fix it in post”.  There are simply too many advantages to risk not getting your exposure (or aperture, etc.) the exact way you want it before doing any post-processing.  In fact, with digital there is every reason to bracket: you aren’t paying for film!

Men selling honey (miel) in Ensenada, Mexico pass the time in a card game.

Men selling honey (miel) in Ensenada, Mexico pass the time in a card game. This was bracketed for aperture, with f/5.6 chosen.

Let’s take one example.  You are shooting a high-contrast landscape, into a low sun.  You want to use just a single capture, so you slap a 2-stop graduated neutral density over the lens to bring the bright sky under control.  If you bracket exposure (by shooting three shots, one with no exposure compensation, one underexposed by a stop and one overexposed by a stop), you end up with captures that vary in foreground brightness.

A lonely corridor faces the sinking sun at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  With contrast like this, bracketing will give you a variety of looks to choose from.

A lonely corridor faces the sinking sun at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. With contrast like this, bracketing will give you a variety of looks to choose from.

The sky, of course, will vary in brightness across your bracketed exposures too.  You will hopefully have one with no blinkies (the highlight warning that tells you that part is overexposed) to one that has limited areas blinking.  Later you might choose any of them based on factors such as how deep you want the shadows to be, and how much noise you can accept in the shadowed areas.  You’ll need to balance that with how easy it is to bring down the highlights in the sky via your software.  You have a lot more options if you have bracketed exposure.

Fall Creek Falls is an impressive waterfall in Washington's Cascade Range, here in full spring flood.

Fall Creek Falls, an impressive waterfall in Washington’s Cascade Range, is in full spring flood. With moving water, bracketing for shutter speed will pay off. With waterfalls, I use one second as the starting (middle) point and bracket around that.

Bear in mind you normally want to start with a slightly brighter image and bring your brightness down in post-processing.  If you do the opposite, always doing a lot of shadow-fill to brighten darker areas of your image, you will end up with noise.  Then you’ll need to either do significant noise reduction (which softens the image) or leave the dark areas darker than you wish, to hide the noise.  Bracketing for exposure will allow you to evaluate your choices using your bigger computer display at home, which also has a better histogram.  The image on your camera’s LCD is obviously not as good, and the histogram accessible on your camera is not as accurate as well.

Street food in a village square high up in the Guatemalan highlands includes unusual sweets.  Depth of field was a big variable here, so I bracketed for aperture.

Street food in a village square high up in the Guatemalan highlands includes unusual sweets. Depth of field was a big variable here, so I bracketed for aperture.

There is another advantage to bracketing for exposure.  Even if (like me) you will process the image as a single capture, trying to keep things as simple as possible, you still might want the option to combine multiple exposures later.  For example, when you are better at Photoshop or if you get an image that is so great that it’s worth more work, you might want to try hand-blending multiple exposures, layered together in Photoshop.  This can result in an image with more pleasing tones and contrasts.  If you have the multiple captures, you have the option.  It’s like having that extra sweater in your backpack on a hike.  You might not wear it but if you need it you’ll be very happy you had the foresight to bring it along.

Inside the Mayan ruins of Xpuhil in the southern Yucatan, Mexico.  With contrast like this, bracketing for a broad range of exposure will give you more chances to get a usable image.  You could also try HDR with a bracketed set.

Inside the Mayan ruins of Xpuhil in the southern Yucatan, Mexico. With contrast like this, bracketing for a broad range of exposure will give you more chances to get a usable image. You could also try HDR with a bracketed set.

Let’s take another example.  You are shooting macro images of flowers and insects.  If you bracket for aperture your chances of coming away with a great image are better.  You might think f/11 gets you just the right depth of field.  But just for kicks, you go ahead and shoot at f/8 and f/5.6.  Then you go the other way and shoot at f/16 and f/22.  Later at the computer, you like the f/11 image but then when you look at the one at f/8 you see that, while there is a little softness at the edge of the flower, the background is much more pleasingly blurred than the one at f/11.  Since you didn’t really look hard at the background while you were in the field, paying more attention to the subject (understandable), you didn’t notice the too-focused background.

A small fry gambles in the pasture just outside Fossil, central Oregon.  Shutter speed is an obvious choice for a bracket here, resulting in images from slightly blurred to motion-stopping sharp.

A small fry gambles in the pasture just outside Fossil in central Oregon. Shutter speed is an obvious choice for a bracket here, resulting in images from slightly blurred to motion-stopping sharp.

So you end up going with the one at f/8, something you couldn’t do if you had not bracketed for aperture.  When taking portraits of people outdoors you can take a similar tack.  You can shoot at f/4 but also get one at f/2.8 and f/5.6.  Then evaluate on your computer at home to see which is the best balance between clarity in the face and out-of-focus background.

Masaya volcano in Nicaragua remains active and is accessible by hiking trail.  Bracketing for exposure allowed me to get the shot and quickly move on.  A belching volcano does not encourage tarrying.

Masaya volcano in Nicaragua remains active and is accessible by hiking trail. Bracketing for exposure allowed me to get the shot and quickly move on. A belching volcano does not encourage stalling to experiment.

The same thing can be done when shooting in shutter speed priority mode.  If you’re panning or trying for motion blur, bracketing your shutter speed can save you.  Say you think 1/30th sec. is the thing when you’re out there shooting.  But later you find that 1/20th gave a better image.  Of course you can check results on the LCD and experiment.  But going with a plan to bracket gives some structure to your shooting and allows you to concentrate on capturing moving subjects, and also on technique (important when panning for e.g.).

The annular eclipse of the sun.  If you want to capture the symmetrical ring of light, you only have a few seconds.  Thus the need to set the camera on auto-bracket to make sure you get a well-exposed image.

The annular eclipse of the sun. If you want to capture the symmetrical ring of light, you only have a few seconds. Thus the need to set the camera on auto-bracket to make sure you get a well-exposed image.

MORE TO CONSIDER:

      • You can think of bracketing as structured experimentation, and there is, in my opinion, a continuum between experimentation and bracketing.  You will certainly want to experiment in the traditional way; that is, shoot, look at the LCD, adjust and shoot again.  But it is quicker and more efficient in many cases to bracket.
      • Think about how fine you want to get.  You could, for example, bracket at +/- 1/3 stop increments all the way to +/- 2 stops.  When you’re dealing with exposure, this might not be necessary; whole stop increments are likely good enough given your software’s ability to do the rest.  When you’re dealing with panning or motion blur, however, 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments might be necessary.
      • With exposure bracketing, your camera (if it’s a DSLR or micro 4/3) will usually allow you to take the bracketed shots automatically.  This is normally set through the exposure compensation menu choice.  If you are hand-holding the camera set it on burst mode so that all three (or sometimes five) shots are taken in succession.  If you’re on a tripod, skip burst mode and just take them one after the other.
      • You can bracket your ISO.  If you are shooting stars at night (and don’t want star trails), your shutter speed is limited to 20 seconds or so.  Your aperture  is also usually fixed (nearly always wide open).  There is only one variable left to change, and that’s ISO.  Later you can check the images on your computer monitor at home for that perfect balance between density/brightness of the star field and noise.  This is difficult to do in the field, as much because of your bleary eyes late at night as your camera’s imperfect LCD.
The Milky Way soars over Crater Lake in Oregon.  This image was bracketed for ISO to get the right brightness in the Milky Way.

The Milky Way soars over Crater Lake in Oregon. This image was bracketed for ISO to get the right brightness in the Milky Way.

      • You can also bracket your white balance.  This is only really necessary if you shoot Jpegs.  If you shoot RAW you can change your white balance in post-processing while not worrying about introducing artifacts like noise.  Many DSLRs will even allow you to set the white balance bracket so your camera will shoot it automatically, as it does with exposure bracketing.
      • Bracketing for exposure is necessary when shooting for HDR.  If you’re planning on doing HDR, you’ll need to bracket those high-contrast scenes you feel might be good candidates.  Many photographers will shoot 5, 7 or even 9 pictures, each separated by 1 or 2 stops.  They might not use all of them in their final image; often 3 is all you need.  With HDR, you need to use a tripod and make sure each picture is the exact same frame as the last.  Otherwise your software might have trouble lining things up.
      • Since bracketing is yet another thing to think about before shooting, introduce it slowly.  Don’t let it get in the way of thinking about light and composition.  These should always come first.  Try first bracketing for exposure.  The experimentation method mentioned above is a slower, more measured way to handle the rest of your shooting.  Bracketing aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (motion blur) and other variables should be a natural extension to experimentation.  It will eventually speed up your shooting, but there really is no reason to rush it.
A meadow covered in the next generation of flowers, near Mt Hood, Oregon.  Although f/8 is a good aperture to start with, why not bracket and include images with both lesser and greater depths of field.

A meadow covered in the next generation of flowers, near Mt Hood, Oregon. Although f/8 is a good aperture to start with, why not bracket and include images with both lesser and greater depths of field.

Bracketing is by no means a relic of the film days.  It can be a way to expand the options you have during post-processing, allow you to improve selected images or render them using more advanced software.  It can lend structure and efficiency to your shooting.  Most importantly, it can result in more keepers, improving your portfolio in the process.  Have fun out there and thanks for looking!

If you’re interested in any of these images just click on them to go to be given the option to purchase high-res. downloads or prints, along with other products.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download.  Sorry about that.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest.

A small cove on the northern California coast features a stream, abalone shells, and a peaceful sunset.  I was pretty sure on exposure here, but bracketing for shutter speed gave me different looks to the flowing stream in the foreground.

A small cove on the northern California coast features a stream, abalone shells, and a peaceful sunset. I was pretty sure on exposure here, but bracketing for shutter speed gave me different looks to the flowing stream in the foreground.

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