Archive for May 2014

Foto Talk: Abstract Patterns & Photography   6 comments

 

Panajachel, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Atitlan, has some colorful murals in its busy little town center.  Please click on image for download options.

Panajachel, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Atitlan, has some colorful murals in its busy little town center. Please click on image for download options.

It is very common in books and blogs on photography, and in workshops and classes, to highlight line and shape as being very important elements of good compositions. Count me among those who believe that.  In fact, I did a blog post on line that dives into the reasons they are so important. It would be very helpful for you to read that first: Friday Foto Talk – Line. Also check out my post on Shape.  

But before I join the crowd and trumpet the value of the abstract over the literal, I would like to ask a simple question: Is it worthwhile while photographing, to go searching specifically for line, shape and pattern?  The reason I ask is that I have come to question whether the emphasis on abstract patterns among many instructors (as opposed to a more literal focus) isn’t doing a disservice to the learning photographer.

If interested in any of these images, please click on them to go to the full size versions on my main website.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

An semi-abstract of a dried water pocket in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

An semi-abstract of a dried water pocket in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Just looking for a good angle on this old cabin in Utah, I naturally liked the one where the monolith repeated the triangular roof line.

Just looking for a good angle on this old cabin in Utah, I naturally liked the one where the monolith repeated the triangular roof line.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know how I generally feel about learning photography. I think it’s one of those things best learned by doing. Isn’t everything that way you may ask? Well, I think I would prefer to learn how to calculate rocket trajectories from an expert rather than go experimenting with it (especially if there are astronauts onboard!). Photography is an art, and art can only be genuine when it comes from you not others.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Utah's Vermilion Cliffs National Monument form beautiful curving line patterns.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument form beautiful curving line patterns.

Adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a natural study in line and pattern.

Adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a natural study in line and pattern.

We live in a time that is flooded with how-to.  And photography is a particularly apt example of this.  In nature and landscape photography, and in travel photography as well, most professional have to teach in order to make ends meet.  While nearly all of these folks are very good if not great photographers, perhaps some of them do not put enough thought into their teaching approach.

I have seen photographers whose images I greatly admire preach that you must learn to seek out abstract patterns if your nature and landscape/cityscape photography is to rise above average. I believe these teachers, good as they are at photography, are giving style-specific advice and making it sound as if it’s a universal principle.

Gently curving lines naturally attract my attention.  This is a building in Portland, Ore.

Gently curving lines naturally attract my attention. This is a building in Portland, Ore.

Las Vegas at night is a study in pattern, highlighted by the ubiquitous neon.

Las Vegas at night is a study in pattern, highlighted by the ubiquitous neon.

While I agree that line, shape and the patterns they form are certainly key parts of many compelling and interesting compositions, I don’t agree that a learning photographer should go out with the specific aim to find abstract patterns.

Of course if abstraction becomes part of your style, then go ahead, knock yourself out.  I do it from time to time.  But don’t let anyone (even if their photography is masterful) convince you it is the way to successful image-making.  That is far too rigid. Instead, I believe your overall approach should be more open-minded.  The elements you seek out when you’re shooting should be guided by your own personal take on the character of your subject and the mood of its surroundings.

I was amazed at how nearly circular this ostrich’s body seemed when silhouetted against the setting sun in Namibia.

A strong photo will always tell good story about its subject. I don’t think you can focus on the character and mood of your subject, scene and lighting if you are too wrapped up in the abstract patterns. As I mentioned in the post on Line, we are visual creatures who naturally seek out leading lines or repeating shapes and patterns. So trust that you will find them even without a conscious focus.

Concentrate on what makes your subject or scene cool and interesting, on how that light helps to set the mood you wish to either create or pass on from the scene directly to your viewer. Do this I believe, and those compelling lines and patterns will show up all on their own.

The angled lines formed by the clouds and active Volcan Masaya in Nicaragua were not in mind when I decided to take this picture. The the setting sunlight filtering through the volcanic steam and ash was.

 

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Respecting the Sherpa   19 comments

Stupa and Ama Dablam:  Khumbu, Nepal

Stupa and Ama Dablam: Khumbu, Nepal.  Click on pictures to see and download high-res. versions.

A Chinese climber has apparently climbed Mt. Everest from the Nepal side, the first to do it since a tragic avalanche last month killed 16 climbing Sherpas.  The avalanche occurred on the notorious Khumbu Icefall portion of the main route on Everest.  After the accident, Sherpas all agreed to go home and grieve for their fallen comrades instead of continuing to work.  All the companies guiding climbers withdrew out of respect for the Sherpas’ decision.  The Chinese woman used Sherpas contracted privately.

She also reportedly used a helicopter to leapfrog the Icefall.  She maintains that only her cook and other staff were flown to Camp II.  If she is lying about that then she breached climbing etiquette big time.  Most climbers would not consider her summit of Everest genuine.  It just would not count.  But that is a minor quibble compared to the main question.  Should she have climbed at all, at least from the Nepal side?  What do you think?

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.  The west face is so steep that little snow and ice can stick to it.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

When you trek through the Khumbu region near Everest, as I did in 2010, you have the time to absorb and appreciate Sherpa culture.  Or you do if you’re paying attention.  It helps if you choose to diverge from the main trekking routes, on trails like that running along the east side of Gokyo Valley to Khumjung for example.  The pictures below are from that area.  The little boy lives on that farm with the blue roof and stone fences.  You see more wildlife on trails like this as well (see photo of the tahr below).

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal's HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal’s HImalayas lies in spectacularly rugged country.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

For me this little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest.  He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

This little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest. He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

Khumbu has elements of the past, before Everest became a commodity.  Sherpas are an extremely proud yet humble people.  In fact, the two opposite qualities coexist more gracefully in Sherpas than in any people I’ve come across in my travels.  But Sherpas in the Khumbu are in the midst of change.  Many are making real money while most Nepalis, especially in rural mountainous areas, continue to struggle.  There’s a reason many of the abused workers in Dubai are from Nepal.

This increased wealth has effects both good and bad.  Children are receiving better educations than children ever have in that region.  The negative effects are more subtle.  They mark the slow change (destruction?) of a culture into something more like the developed world.  Homogenization continues across the world, and the Khumbu is one place where some of its earlier stages are very obvious.  I pray that it at least remains roadless.

A trekking Sherpa leads his charge down to Gokyo from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.

A trekking Sherpa and his charge head down to Gokyo Lake from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.  He is on the cell phone making sure there is room in a tea house.

At base camp for Island Peak, night before summit day.  Sherpas hauled these tents.

At base camp for Island Peak the night before summit day. Sherpas hauled these tents.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

While I try my best not to judge the actions of others (the Chinese climber gets to make her own decisions), I believe the decision by the Sherpas at base camp on Everest was the right one.  I think every climber true to the sport should respect that decision.  Either that or climb fast and light without Sherpa support.  While there are plenty of people in the world at a fitness level sufficient to summit Everest, very very few have the ability to do it unsupported by Sherpas.

She did not respect the decision of the climbing Sherpas.  She took the easy way out.  Climbing Sherpas make good money (for Nepal).  It is a competitive job, and there are always plenty of trekking Sherpas who await their chance to get in on the action.  I don’t blame those that hired on with the Chinese woman.  They don’t make the kind of money that climbing Sherpas do.  Most climbing Sherpas can easily afford a season off.  They are working of course, trekking the lower trails instead of climbing.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

The ubiquitous yak.

The ubiquitous yak of the Himalayas.

It’s true that the Chinese climber may have hired Sherpas who disagreed with the majority decision to pull off the mountain.  But I suspect she hired Sherpas who don’t routinely climb on Everest. It would have been a simple thing for her to hire perhaps one climbing Sherpa plus a small team of strong trekking Sherpas, eager for their chance at the “big bucks”.  Was that disrespectful to those mourning for the fallen?  I know what I believe, but I would like to hear your opinions.

Thanks for reading and commenting.  If interested in any of these images, just click on them.  Then click “Download Options” for pricing.  If you want to work a deal or have any other questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

Two Himalayan Tahr descend from the high country in the Khumbu of Nepal.

The setting sun's alpenglow hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal.  Everest is just left out of frame.

Setting sunlight hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal. Everest is just left out of frame.

Single-image Sunday: A Green Spring   11 comments

Fall's Creek in the SW Washington Cascadesi.  I experimented with several different exposure lengths.  20 sec. @f/22, ISO 200.

Fall’s Creek in the SW Washington Cascadesi. I experimented with several different exposure lengths. 20 sec. @f/22, ISO 200.

 

The Friday Foto Talk this week (you know the one I posted on Saturday!) was about long exposure.  This is one more image, a very simple one I captured along Falls Creek in southwestern Washington’s Cascade Range.  A trail heads up this beautiful creek to a waterfall, one that attracts plenty of photographers & hikers.  It is quite an impressive cascade, even for these parts, during spring runoff.

The big shallow pool pictured is very close to the trailhead.  I stopped on the way up, spending nearly an hour exploring all the compositions.  My exposures were not very long, maybe 2-3 seconds at the most.  When I got back from the falls, the sun was low, and because it was also cloudy not much light was making it into the verdant canyon.  I decided to grab a few more shots, and because of the lower light it was easy to go longer on exposure.

This one was actually my last.  I had been shooting at ISO 100 and the light fell enough to force exposure longer than 30 seconds.  Since I was too lazy to wade back to the shoreline and get the shutter-release cable out of my pack so that I could switch to bulb mode and go longer than 30 seconds, I bumped up to ISO 200 and played with aperture to shoot a few at different exposure lengths.  This one at 20 seconds pleased me the most.  It gave a nice soft look to the water, but not quite as featureless as 30 seconds was.

I also had a polarizer on, but I rotated so that it was only partly reducing reflections from the water surface.  This way it was blocking maybe a bit less than one stop of light.  At the time, I was actually much more concerned with how the light and trees were reflecting off the water than with exposure time.  Composition and how much polarization I used were what I tried to get right, and the exposure time just happened.

But since the water was moving, albeit slowly, the longer 20-second exposure helped to flatten and make the water reflect the surrounding trees more nicely.  On the negative side, the longer exposure and incomplete polarization allowed the little rapids in the back to come out brighter than I really wanted.  A more thorough job on the computer using Photoshop would take care of it.  I can only spend so long on an image before I’m bored of staring at the screen.

It’s the kind of image I’m liking these days, since itshows the subtle beauty of the Northwest well (I hope).  I would appreciate your feedback.  And if you are interested in the image just click on it to get access to the full-size version, with options for print purchases, etc.  If you have any questions or want to work a deal, please contact me.  Thanks!

Weekly Foto Talk: Long Exposure & Neutral Density Filters   13 comments

Click on image if interested in it.  The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula in Mexico is a peaceful place to be at dusk.  30 sec. @f/16, ISO 400.

Click on image if interested in it. The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula in Mexico is a peaceful place to be at dusk. 30 sec. @f/16, ISO 400.

Like how I change the title of Friday Foto Talk when I’m late!  Let’s talk long exposure!  It’s a whole world of possibilities to be sure, where reality can be stretched and manipulated with your camera.  But going beyond the realm of the real world is not the only thing you can do with long exposure.  For me, it’s another way to try and get at the character of a place or subject, and of a particular time and mood in that place or with that subject.  Does that make sense?  This is where I’m at with photography.  Trying techniques to get certain looks is not.

The first thing people think of when they want to go long is what filters they need to buy.  This is typical in a capitalist world:  “What else do I need to buy?”  The fact is that your camera and lens, combined with a good choice of what light you shoot in, will get you going on long exposures in no time, no extra money out of pocket.

A trail in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.  10 sec. @f/16, ISO 400

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. 10 sec. @f/16, ISO 400

But it is true that you’ll want to get a filter or three in order to really get into long-exposure photography.  The neutral density (ND) filter is commonly used to lengthen shutter speeds.  These are made of darkened glass or plastic that blocks some of the light from reaching your lens.

But hold on!  Do you have a circular polarizer?  If so, it can do double duty and block some light, giving you longer exposures.  Depending on your polarizer, it can block as much as two stops of light.  Of course if you don’t want to polarize the light and reduce reflections while you’re shooting longer exposure, a polarizer is not the thing to use.

So while they’re not necessary to begin, ND filters are key to gaining a lot of control over how much light you stop.  They also allow you to shoot with longer exposures even in bright natural light.  A two or three stop ND filter is probably all you need, at least to start.  But as always the correct advice depends on what kind of shooting/subjects you’re after.  Many photogs. get a small set of two or three NDs.

You can get screw-in ND filters, which are accurate and easy to use.  Buy the size that fits the largest lens you think you’ll use, and then get step-up rings to fit any smaller lenses you plant to use.  You can also get rectangular ND filters (like graduated NDs) and place them in front of your lens, either in a holder or using your hand to hold it.

You can also get a vari-ND where you dial in (like with a circular polarizer) the right amount of light-stopping power.  But those tend to cause pretty bad artifacts when you dial them down darker and/or the light is strongly directional.  Then you can easily get ugly black bands through your pictures.  They do work under many conditions however.

Icy Oneonta Creek (and numb lower limbs!) this past February.  8 sec. @f/13, ISO 100.  Click on image for full-size download options.

Icy Oneonta Creek (and numb lower limbs!) this past February. 8 sec. @f/13, ISO 100. Click on image for full-size download options.

Unusual light and color palette are enhanced by smoothness of long exposure along the Columbia River.  30 sec. @f/11, ISO 320

Unusual light and color palette are enhanced by smoothness of long exposure along the Columbia River. 30 sec. @f/11, ISO 320

 

I do a lot of long exposure (LE), but not so much in bright conditions where I’m panning or blurring moving subjects.  When I am doing that sort of thing, I often go for a wider aperture (f/5.6 or even larger).  That’s when a small set of screw-in ND filters makes a lot of sense. But I’m usually shooting with fairly small apertures in lower light where a polarizer and lower ISOs are all I need. In fact my favorite time to do LEs is that moment in blue hour when no filters and ISO 100 or 50 yields the perfect long exposure.

I don’t usually want to go long in bright conditions or super-long in any daylight, where a dark ND filter is necessary.  But if you want to try that, you’ll need an ND like the Lee Big Stopper, which blocks 10 full stops of light!  How popular is this filter?  I just checked B&H for the price, and despite the fact it’s $140, they are out of stock!  By the way, it’s not a screw-in; it’s rectangular.

So what are the conditions where a major ND like the Lee become necessary?  One is certainly when you want to have that very long exposure look while shooting into a setting or rising sun. If the sun is in frame (or behind a thin veil of clouds), it usually doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t go very long without a serious ND filter.

For example, say you’re near a large body of water, with at least some ripples if not outright waves.  You want to completely flatten out the water for a surreal look (if you have a pier front and center it’s a perfect cliche!).  But let’s say you cant resist!  Well it isn’t happening without blocking at least 4 stops of light and usually more.  And in that situation where you’re shooting into the sun, you want a single filter (no stacking) to minimize flare. A vari-ND in here will almost always produce artifacts.

Compare this image of the setting crescent moon (start of Ramadan) with the next one.  5 sec. @f/22, ISO 400.

Compare this image of the setting crescent moon (start of Ramadan) with the next one. 5 sec. @f/22, ISO 400.

Note the subtle difference in the water between these two resulting from the increase from 5 to 30 sec.  Which do you prefer?  30 sec. @f/11, ISO 50

Note the subtle difference in the water between these two resulting from the increase from 5 to 30 sec. Which do you prefer? 30 sec. @f/11, ISO 50

There are plenty of myths out there regarding longer exposures.  (It’s funny but photography is becoming littered with misconceptions)  One example:  You’ll hear people say the colors are more vibrant and “colorful” when you go long.  Something to do with more light collecting on the film/sensor, resulting in richer color. That’s not really true, though it can seem that way under certain conditions.

When the light is low our eyes start losing the ability to perceive color, and a long exposure is like dialing that light back up so we can perceive it again.  But it isn’t a linear effect, and as usual the look you get, the richness of the color, depend mostly on light conditions, not on how long you go.  Also, when people go long they often wind up on the right side of the histogram (brighter).  Then when on the computer they darken, the colors appear to be richer and more saturated.  And they’ll add contrast, which saturates colors as well.  It’s not the long exposure giving them rich colors but everything else!

When it's almost dark, long exposure is easy!  And the mood of this waterfall in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge matches the feel of the place at that time of day.  30 sec. @f/4.5, ISO 400.

When at the edge of night, long exposure is easy! The mood of this waterfall in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge matches the feel of the place at that time of day. 30 sec. @f/4.5, ISO 400.

If you want to check out this image, please click on it.  The Subway in Zion N.P, Utah in the rain.  10 sec. @f//20, ISO 50.

If you want to check out this image, please click on it. The Subway in Zion N.P, Utah has a fascinating appearance in the rain. 10 sec. @f//20, ISO 50.

You’ll find when going long that there can be unintended consequences.  Continuing with the example above, where you’re shooting very long over a body of water or other reflective surface, the reflected color can get washed out. I have to admit I don’t like that look; too unnatural.  If your goal is to increase color saturation, going too long can actually have the opposite effect.

In general about 20 seconds is the limit where more is not getting you a different look in your water texture-wise.  There are a few exceptions.  But like I just mentioned, very long exposures will give you a brighter water surface.  And if you’re also using a graduated ND filter in order to block the light from the brighter sky, a super long exposure will yield an unnaturally brighter reflection off the water.  Though I will often darken my skies to bring out details, I try to keep relative brightness between areas of the picture closer to reality than you often see in popular photos on the web.

I think many fans of long exposure go through a phase where they’re always trying to go longer and longer, simply for its own sake.  This is a big reason Lee’s Big Stopper sells so well.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for exploring the limits and experimenting with your photography.  But at some point you have to pull back and ask yourself if you’re not losing sight of the objective – to capture a good photograph.

Long exposure and light trails, here in Arches in Utah from a high perch.  106 sec. @f/10, ISO 200.

Long exposure and light trails, here in Arches in Utah from a high perch. 106 sec. @f/10, ISO 200.

By the way, there is another way I get around using an ND (besides the polarizer).  I only have a vari-ND and I limit its use).  But I have one oversize graduated ND filter.  I got it for my ultrawide lens, which has a big honkin’ front element. The filter blocks 2.5 stops of light and I just hold it up in front of the lens.  But if I switch to a smaller lens for a shot of the sunset, I’ll sometimes use that grad. as a standard ND, since the darker half of it covers the opening for some of my lenses.

I can do this with my 50 mm. lens, and with my 24-105 f/4 for most of its focal lengths. Even if you don’t have a big ultrawide lens (but need a grad ND), you can buy one that’s too big for your lenses.  Just one more way to postpone shelling out for a set of NDs, that is if you buy an extra-large rectangular ND like I did.

So to summarize, I would say if you want to show motion blur, pan, etc. in daylight conditions, then sure, get yourself a small set of regular ND filters.  But if you simply want to do some long-exposure nature/landscape photography, picking the right light to shoot in (most important) combined with choosing the correct settings (lower ISO & smaller aperture) will give you shutter speeds that are long enough.

Don’t forget to check out and contribute to my campaign if you can.  I’m trying to replace my ruined camera and end the camera-less funk I’m in right now.  Also help me to spread the word!

Here’s the link: Campaign.  Thanks a bunch!

Please click on image if interested.  A glorious sunset over the Banda Sea off Flores, Indonesia.  30 sec. @f/16, ISO 100.

Please click on image if interested. A glorious sunset over the Banda Sea off Flores, Indonesia. 30 sec. @f/16, ISO 100.

I love low light along the Pacific Coast, where rollicking little creeks flow into the sea.  Click on image if you are interested in it.  20 sec. @f/16, ISO 200.

I love low light along the Pacific Coast, where rollicking little creeks flow into the sea. Click on image if you are interested in it. 20 sec. @f/16, ISO 200.

 

Single-image Sunday:   8 comments

Farm near the Ochoco Mountains, central Oregon.

Farm near the Ochoco Mountains, central Oregon.

Yesterday I finished the series of travel posts for the John Day region in Oregon.  So for today’s image, here is one of Oregon’s many great barns.  I captured this shot in the afternoon when the light was still quite harsh.  Normally I would pass it by because of the time of day.  But it pays to keep an open mind about time of day.  Here the colors were so vibrant I thought it was a worthwhile shot.

So after passing it by and thinking twice, I turned around and went for it.  I captured several angles, moving closer each time, both with and without a polarizing filter.  As often happens, I decided on the shot closest to my main subject, the barn, and selected a shot without polarizer.  Perfectly blue skies like this often end up with uneven brightness when you use a polarizer.  The wider the angle, the more uneven the color in the sky.  Please let me know what you think of the image.  Hope you all are having a great weekend!

John Day Fossil Beds: To Clarno & Beyond   9 comments

Good day Central Oregon!

This is the last post in a series on the Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon.  Be sure to check out the last two, which have tips for visiting the Painted Hills and Sheep Rock Units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  It’s at Sheep Rock where we pick up the big counter-clockwise loop.

Just north of Cant Ranch on Hwy. 19 is a great hike.  Blue Basin is a fantastic section of blue-green sedimentary rock that rivals the Painted Hills.  It is the Turtle Cove member of the John Day Formation, some 30 million years old.  The blue-green color results from weathering of the volcanic ash in the rock to oxygen-poor iron oxide (green) and the clay celadonite (blue).

You can do a short in and out hike with interpretive panels, or a longer hike that takes you up and over the formations on a 3+ mile loop.  Make sure and take plenty of water, especially if it’s summer when this area can get very hot and dry.

Blue Basin with purple sage in bloom.

Blue Basin with purple sage in bloom.

Continuing north of Blue Basin, you’ll come upon an interesting geology stop.  A large lens of conglomerate is bisected by the road at Goose Rock.  The cobbles within the rock are perfect, like they had been plucked from a rocky stream.  But that stream flowed millions of years ago.  Continuing north you come to Cathedral Rock, which in the right light offers great photos with the John Day River as leading line.  Continue to the town of Kimberly, then follow the highway west along the John Day River to Service Creek, where lodging and camping is available.

Service Creek is a popular place for rafters and canoeists to put in for a float down the John Day.  In late spring, the river is perfect for this.  Rapids get up to class 3 but in general the river is quite mellow.  If you can handle a canoe through moving water, I recommend this over rafting, though both are a great idea.  It is an easy 2-night, 3-day float to the bridge crossing at Clarno.

Springtime brings green along creek bottoms in central Oregon.  Osage orange blooms on the right.

Springtime brings green along creek bottoms in central Oregon. Osage orange blooms on the right.

Keep on Hwy. 19 north through pine forests to the town of Fossil.  On the way, a detour can be made to the ghost town of Kinzua.  Two small forest service campgrounds are found along the route; they’re in pine trees not far south of Fossil.  Near these is Pioneer Park, which is perfect for a picnic.  A cold spring is one of its features, great for filling up with fresh clean water.  The creek running through is perfect for hunting crawfish.  If you have kids with you, this is a must stop for burning off some of that excess energy.

In the town of Fossil are two spots I recommend visiting.  One is the General Store, a very authentic old place that turns the pages back to a simpler time in America.  The other is the High School.  Why the High School?  Well, the hill next to it is one of the easiest places to find fossils I know of.  It’s an ancient lake bed that some 30 million years ago filled with sediments rich in volcanic ash.  Now perfectly preserved leaf fossils are revealed on dinner-plate rock surfaces.  The best part about it is you can dig your own fossils, and for a very small fee keep your favorites.  Recently established, the Oregon Paleo Lands Center here has a very helpful staff who will get you started and make sure your dig is successful.

A fossil leaf is perfectly preserved in lake-bed sediments rich in volcanic ash.

A fossil leaf is perfectly preserved in lake-bed sediments rich in volcanic ash.

From Fossil, take Hwy. 218 west toward Clarno.  Along the way an old homestead on the right makes a great photo stop.  When you begin to see tall cliffs on the right, you have arrived at the Clarno Unit of the National Monument.  There are a couple hikes here worth taking.  One, which takes off from a parking lot with bathroom, follows Indian Creek up to a shallow cave with pictographs.  This gives you a great feel for central Oregon’s ranching country.  Beautiful flowers bloom in April.

Another short hike takes off from the same parking lot, heading along the highway a short way before following a couple steep switchbacks up to the base of the cliffs.  You may see birds of prey hunting here.  The spectacular cliffs, called the Palisades, are made up of the Clarno Formation.  The Clarno, Eocene in age, is the oldest major formation in the Monument.  It is most famous for its fossils of huge mammals, along with one of the world’s premier fossil nut beds.  Very near here is an exposure of rocks where perfectly preserved nut fossils weather out like marbles.  It’s amazing:  some look as if you just reached into a bowl of walnuts – except they are heavier and made of stone.

A diorama depicting life in central Oregon when the area closely resembled modern Panama, but with early mammals prowling the forest, many now extinct.

A diorama depicting life in central Oregon when the area closely resembled modern Panama, but with early mammals prowling the forest, many now extinct.

A rare nearly complete skull of Eusmilus, a saber-toothed pre-cat of the John Day Fossil Beds.

A rare nearly complete skull of Eusmilus, a saber-toothed pre-cat of the John Day Fossil Beds.

If you want to visit the nut beds you can keep going on the trail up Indian Creek, but ask a ranger (back at Sheep Rock) for detailed directions.  There is also a fossil tree along the way that is upright and even includes traces of the roots!  But be aware that this area is shared by a science school.  In season (April – October) there are sessions taking place, with schoolkids getting a great field-based science education.  It’s best to give groups of kids and instructors their space and not attempt to hang out with them.

Following 218 west you cross the John Day River and climb over a pass to the tiny town of Antelope.  This was the base for a bizarre chapter in Oregon history.  In the 1980s a man from India, the Baghwan Shree Rashneesh, bought a ranch near here.  Having started his own religion, he brought a large group of followers and moved in.  The quiet ranching atmosphere was changed overnight, caravans of luxury cars and strangers running around.

It soon became clear that this was a cult.  The followers turned into a problem after several strange incidents and standoffs with local and state government officials.  It came to a head when they were caught poisoning the salad bar in a restaurant in the nearby town of The Dalles.  The Baghwan had also been dodging taxes.  The cult soon collapsed and broke up, and the Baghwan deported.  The ranch remains; I have toured the place and it is creepy-fascinating.  There is an old crematorium tilted over and rusting away in the sagebrush.  The followers included many talented engineers and other skilled people.  And they had not been idle.

Turning north at Antelope and staying on Hwy. 218 through a series of tight curves takes you up onto the plateau, to a ghost town named Shaniko.  Though a few people live here (which to me means it isn’t a ghost town), it is a shadow of once it once was.  You can get some good pictures wandering this little town.

Shaniko was once one of the busiest centers of sheep-ranching in the west.  This is the historic Shaniko Hotel.

Shaniko was once one of the busiest centers of sheep-ranching in the west. This is the historic Shaniko Hotel.

From Shaniko, if you follow Bakeoven Road, you come to the little community of Maupin, straddling the beautiful Deschutes River.  You can go white-water rafting or kayaking.  Continue west on Hwy. 216 back up out of the sagebrush and into the forests near Mount Hood.  You’ll hit Hwy. 26.  This is the fastest (and most scenic) way back to Portland.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of central Oregon.  You may have heard that Bend is central Oregon, but it’s really not.  This large region, the John Day Basin, is both the geographic and cultural heart of central Oregon.  It is much more than the Painted Hills.  If you want to explore a fascinating and non-touristy part of the west, a region with great photo opportunities and interesting human and geologic history, you can’t do much better.

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John Day Fossil Beds & Climate Change   4 comments

An old dairy farm along Bridge Creek in eastern Oregon near the town of Mitchell, it appears to have once been a going concern.

An old dairy farm near the town of Mitchell, Oregon appears to have once been a going concern.

As mentioned in my last post on the Painted Hills, this area of Oregon is about so much more than some colorful formations.  A little preview at the end of that post last Friday was a short description of the old dairy farm near Mitchell (see above).  And it’s from there that we’ll continue our road trip through John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon.

Travel east from Mitchell on Hwy. 26 toward the monument headquarters at Sheep Rock.  You will first come to Picture Gorge, a spectacular cut through stacks of basaltic lavas.  The Picture Gorge Basalt is a southern outlier of the great Columbia River Basalt flows to the north.  The gorge is named for ancient Native American rock art found on the walls.

Since I can't find any very good images of Oregon rock art, here is a pictograph from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

Since I can’t find any very good images of Oregon rock art, here is a pictograph from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

To see and photograph some pictographs, drive to the east end of the gorge and park alongside the John Day River.  Look up to the walls across the road.  From here, if the river is low enough, you can get a much closer look at great rock art alongside the river.  Just drop below the road and walk a hundred yards or so upriver, looking for short, smooth walls to your right.  A rare pictograph of a salamander can be found.

Midway through Picture Gorge you’ll turn north on Hwy, 19 and drive a short distance to the Sheep Rock Unit.  There is a great museum that explains the areas rich fossil heritage.  This is an important region of the world for paleontologists.  Along with Wyoming’s Green River area, it is where well preserved fossils of ancient mammals, plants and other creatures can be found.  These remains, preserved within colorful sedimentary rocks shed off  ancient volcanoes that were eroded away long ago, document the explosion of mammalian diversity in the Eocene (56-34 million years ago).

The typical bloom you find near water in eastern Oregon is monkeyflower.

The typical bloom you find near water in eastern Oregon is monkeyflower.

Mammals started off very small, literally in the shadow of dinosaurs.  Once the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, mammals slowly evolved and diversified until an inevitable point.  Just as happened with dinosaurs near the peak of their diversity, mammals began to evolve into huge forms.  This is well documented in the John Day.  In fact, the region has abundant mammal fossils all the way up through the Miocene (23-5 million years ago).

One of the largest mammals of all time was the huge rhino-like brontothere.  Enormous ground sloths roamed here as well.  Other mammals of the John Day:  early horses the size of dogs, camels, a large variety of canids, cats (including early saber-toothed varieties), rodents, even early primates.  And it’s not just mammals:  huge fossil turtle shells are found.

A very important part of the John Day fossil beds is the amazing variety of plant fossils.  This allows the environments in which these animals once lived to be worked out in detail.  A period of global warming is documented here, followed by a long slow cooling and drying trend that has continued to the present day.  Nowadays of course humans are busy driving the climate in the opposite direction, toward a climate last experienced by those now-extinct mammals of ancient North America.

The old homestead  Cant Ranch, with Sheep Rock in the background.  Click on image if interested in it.

The old homestead Cant Ranch, with Sheep Rock in the background. Click on image if interested in it.

An Aside:  Climate Change – The Debate?

I recall having a group of high school science students at the museum at Sheep Rock.  I was showing them the fossils and how they told us the ancient climate was lush and subtropical.  On the wall was a chart that showed the estimated CO2 levels in the atmosphere during that period, and how they coincided with the types of plant and animal fossils.  A man and his wife were listening off to the side.

Later I heard him telling his wife, “see, what did I tell you?  Global warming happened in the past and was natural.  We don’t have anything to do with it, even if it was actually happening.”  Or words to that effect.  I wanted to correct his misinterpretation of the meaning of the evidence but realized it was not a good idea for several reasons.  For one thing, a person who uses faulty logic certainly missed something early in their upbringing/education.  When they got older they internalized this way of thinking, so that any faulty interpretations they make are perceived to be merely “common sense”.  Very difficult to explain anything to such a person.

Though it’s true that a warm, tropical climate is very conducive to a diversity of life, it is the change to those conditions that poses the risk.  And that’s especially true for very rapid changes like the one we’re entering now.  A transition to an ice-free world is upon us, and we can only pray that it will only be accompanied by a drowning of our coastal cities and dramatic changes to agriculture and water supplies.  The worse-case scenarios are much more dire.

Scientists are much too conservative to talk about these darker scenarios with the press.  But trust me, they aren’t pretty.  Picture enormous clouds of poison hydrogen sulfide gas spewing out of stagnant oceans, killing everything that breathes unless it is hidden underground.  There is evidence that this happened during past mass extinctions.

Old homestead in central Oregon.

Old homestead in central Oregon.

Leaving aside all these sunny thoughts, it’s amazing to think this semi-arid region of grassland looked like present-day Panama in the early Eocene (about 50 million years ago).  It had active volcanoes and the coastline was closer.  With no Cascade Mountains, there was no rain-shadow effect.  The warm Pacific Ocean sent abundant moisture over a lush river-laced landscape dotted with volcanoes.  Many of the animals (e.g. camel, rhino & elephant) that during present times are found only in Asia or Africa roamed (in early form) the jungly American wetlands of the west.

Animals like horses and camels evolved here in North America, then migrated across the Bering Land Bridge to Asia and eventually Africa.  They went extinct here.  Many other now-extinct animals, like brontotheres, oredonts (large & pig-like), creodonts (looked like a cross between a hyena and cat but more heavily built) and nimravids (a sleek & agile saber-toothed pre-cat) all lived, died and eventually went extinct here.

A mural depicting life in Eocene Oregon.

A museum mural depicting life in Eocene Oregon.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time out here teaching science.  After a time, I got to where I could experience that ‘other’ Oregon.  Believe it or not, for paleontologists or anyone who sees enough fossils, absorbs enough knowledge, and then quiets themselves while out in the places where the fossils are found, it is possible to time-travel with your mind.  You can bring up vivid images of that other world in the silence that surrounds you during semi-meditative states.  You actually start to feel the humidity and hear the buzzing of tropical insects.  Very cool.

So check out that museum!  Right across the road lies the historic Cant Ranch and picturesque Sheep Rock.  This is a great place for photos, with the old barns, the John Day River and Sheep Rock begging to be part of your compositions.  The rangers run tours of the historic ranch, giving you a picture of the old homesteading days when the west was first being settled by whites and their livestock.

The last part of this series covers the northern part of our loop, including the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Thanks for reading!

Sunset, John Day River Valley, central Oregon.

The Painted Hills   13 comments

The foothills of the Ochoco Mountains rise to the west of the grasslands near the Painted Hills, Oregon.

The foothills of the Ochoco Mountains rise to the west of the grasslands near the Painted Hills, Oregon.

It has been way too long since I’ve done a travel-oriented post.  It’s really my favorite kind!  So in place of photography advice this week, I’m going to recommend a photo destination:  The Painted Hills!  They are known by landscape photographers across the west, and even across the country and world.  Perhaps you have seen pictures of them.

Lying in a remote area of central Oregon near the small town of Mitchell, the Painted Hills are a series of colorful formations with photogenic textures.  This post will give some tips on visiting and photographing them, and also some background information on the area’s fascinating geology.  It is the first of two.

The Painted Hills are part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  National Monuments, if you don’t know, are sort of like National Parks lite; they’re protected federal land that is not as high profile as parks.  This national monument is made up of three main areas (units) separated by drives of 2-3 hours.  It is a very scenic area worth exploring outside of the Painted Hills themselves.

The three units – Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno Units – form a rough triangle that can be explored going either clockwise or counter-clockwise.  You’ll need a car, no 4×4 is necessary.  There is easily obtained camping and lodging scattered through the area.  It is definitely not touristy.

Morning light hits the Painted Hills in Oregon.

Morning light hits the Painted Hills in Oregon.

Home on the range in central Oregon near the Painted Hills.

Home on the range in central Oregon near the Painted Hills.

Directions

If you want to hit the Painted Hills first, drive east from Portland on Hwy. 26.  Follow it across Mount Hood and through an Indian reservation.  Then, just after passing through the town of Madras, turn left to stay on Hwy. 26.  It will take you through the cow-town of Prineville, up and over the beautiful Ochoco Mountains, and down into the huge basin where the Hills sit.

If you’re coming from Bend, first drive north to Redmond, then east to Prineville to pick up Hwy. 26.  The signed turnoff for the Painted Hills, Bridge Creek Road, is not far after you finish descending off the Ochocos.  The Hills are about 6 miles north of Hwy. 26 just off Bridge Creek Road.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a rare stretch of water in this dry area of eastern Oregon.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a rare stretch of water in this dry area of eastern Oregon.

Layers of fossil soils form colorful bands in Oregon's Painted Hills.

Fossil soils form colorful bands in Oregon’s Painted Hills.

What are the Painted Hills?

The Painted Hills are formed by exposures of sedimentary rock belonging to the Big Basin Member of the John Day Formation.  In the Oligocene epoch, some 34 million years ago, volcanoes to the west sent ash clouds over the area, and streams deposited more layers of ash-rich sediment in a subtropical river basin.  The sediment weathered to deep soil before being buried and turned into rock.  Because they are rich in volcanic ash (tuff), the rocks weathered to a clay-rich material.  Volcanic ash has a lot of silica and aluminum; just add water and you have clay.

You will not think of rocks when you first see the Painted Hills.  They look like they’re made of soft fluffy sand or dirt.  But if you could take a shovel and dig down into this stuff, you’d soon hit solid rock.  It is merely rock that has been heavily weathered, not just under today’s climate but under the ancient wet climate it was originally deposited in.  Don’t go digging though, take my word for it!

The frequent wet-dry cycles of today’s semi-arid central Oregon cause these clay-rich “fossil soils” to crack in a fascinating pattern called alligator cracking.  It can easily take years for the clays to crack in this way, so if you walk on them you are ruining the scene for countless photographers and other visitors who come behind you.  Please heed the signs to stay off the bare earth.

The different minerals within the original rock – iron, magnesium, etc. – stain this clay with a variety of rich colors.  Iron mostly weathers to red & orange but in oxygen-poor environments can weather to green.  The dark bands are mostly horizons of organic-rich lignite that trace ancient oxygen-poor stream bottoms.  Manganese-rich clay can form this ash-black color too.  The most obvious colors, the red-orange horizons, mark the ancient soil horizons that were deeply weathered to laterite.  Iron oxide (rust) is responsible for the color.  It’s the kind of thing happening in deep soils of tropical regions in the world of today.

Painted Hills meets Funhouse!

Painted Hills meets Funhouse!

The countryside around Mitchell, Oregon.

The countryside around Mitchell, Oregon.

Visiting and Photographing the Painted Hills

As you head into the area on Bridge Creek Road, you’ll pass some teaser exposures of painted hills.  Turn left at the sign and drive a short distance to a parking area on the left.  You have arrived at the most popular viewpoint in the Painted Hills.  They are to your east, so in late afternoon the hills can yield great photos in wonderfully warm frontlight, with the dark bulk of Sutton Mountain behind.  The sun sets behind the Ochoco Mountains here, so arrive early for sunset.

From the viewpoint, look up and to the left.  A dark band tops nearby Carroll Rim.  This rock band is a “welded tuff”, the Picture Gorge Ignimbrite.  About 30 million years ago a scalding hot wave of dense ash flowed across the landscape, killing all in its path.  You can hike a short trail up to Carrol Rim for a higher vantage point.  From the viewpoint, walk further up the ridge from the parking lot to get good views down into the colored layers.  Use a long focal length lens to get abstract images of the colored patterns.  Please stay off the exposed (cracked) earth.

Drive a little further in from the overlook to a T-intersection.  Go left for two short nature hikes (Leaf Hill & Red Hill).  If you keep going on this gravel road, just after you exit the Monument, you’ll come to a small area on the right where you can free-camp.  Just be quiet and respectful; leave it cleaner than you found it.  Back at the T intersection, turn right to go to Painted Cove, another short nature trail.  This place is great for close-up views (and pictures) of alligator cracking.  You also have a view of the only water in the area, a reservoir that is full and ringed with pretty yellow flowers in springtime.

Back out towards the main entrance there is a picnic area with wonderful green grass.  If you head left out at the turn off Bridge Creek Road, you’ll traverse south on a gravel road for about 6 miles to the John Day River.  This is one of the river’s largest rapids, and you can camp here.  Along this road there are a few spots where you can just park and head off  on a hike into the hills.  Get a map and make sure you are not on private land.  There is plenty of public land here.  In May keep an eye peeled for the wonderful mariposa lily.

Gopher Snake

Meeting a local in the Painted Hills

Deer don't heed the signs not to walk on the Painted Hills.

Deer don’t heed the signs not to walk on the Painted Hills.

 Mitchell

If you keep going east on Hwy. 26 past the turnoff to the Painted Hills you will quickly come to Mitchell, where lodging and camping (in the city park) is available.  Mitchell is a tiny town, but has a restaurant and bar, along with a great bed and breakfast.  Even if you don’t stay, stop for breakfast or have a beer.  Meet the locals!

On the west side of Mitchell, just behind and below the state highway maintenance station, is an old homestead.  Once a dairy farm, this is a fantastic and little known place to photograph.  Be very respectful and low-profile; don’t climb on fences or try to drive down there.  Park near the highway and walk down.  The buildings and barns are in good condition.  In late afternoon or early morning light they offer very good image potential, very different from the landscape shots you just got of the Painted Hills.

So that’s the Painted Hills.  Great pictures abound.  If it has recently rained the colors are that much richer.  You will also find the remains of Oregon’s geologic and human histories.  It’s very quiet and peaceful, a great getaway.  Stay tuned for the next installment, which visits the other two units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Thanks for reading!

The Painted Hills in central Oregon take on subtle hues as dusk arrives.

The Painted Hills in central Oregon take on subtle hues as dusk arrives.

Wordless Wednesday: The Other Side of Paradise   4 comments

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Friday Foto Talk: One Rule for Creative Compositions   24 comments

The White River Valley, living up to its name, and Mt. Hood at sunrise.

The White River Valley, living up to its name, and Mt. Hood at sunrise.

I have noticed a trend in photography-related tips on the web lately.  It has gotten somewhat away from the nuts and bolts of exposure, etc. and gone in two directions.  One is tricks and tips to get certain looks.  If you want your pictures to look like this, do this or that with filters or on the computer.  The other is sort of a reaction to the plethora of similar-looking images we see on the internet.  It involves composition, specifically how to compose pictures in a creative way.  This second trend is more interesting and relevant than the first.

Morning sun hits fir trees on Mt. Hood, which got a late-season snowfall earlier this week.

Morning sun hits fir trees on Mt. Hood, which got a late-season snowfall earlier this week.

Once you’ve got the basics of photography down – being very familiar with your camera and lenses, knowing the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed & ISO), and knowing how to control sharpness and depth of field – it’s time to learn how to make compelling images.  The way I see it, great images depend on three things:  Subject, light and composition.  Putting yourself in front of interesting subjects is the most important, but it’s also the most subjective.  One person’s fascinating subject is another’s boring one.  Light I’ve blogged about before, and it is certainly important.  Even so-so subjects can look good in great light.  And good subjects look spectacular in great light.  But even though it helps if you can put all else in your life aside to go out when the light is good, quality of light is largely outside our control.

Water flows down and disappears into a mossy carpeted hillside in Oregon.

Water flows down and disappears into a mossy carpeted hillside in Oregon.

The third key to great images, composition, is definitely within our control.  A huge amount of information is available on composition:  rules, reminders, do thises and don’t do thats.  A lot of it is repetitive, and I’ll admit to blogging about some of these tips.  But I was thinking yesterday about how I learned good composition, and how I became able to shoot creative compositions (something I’m still learning).  I am very sure my way is not the only way to learn composition, but I think it is simpler than most.  Most important, it leads to developing your own unique style.  Nobody wants to follow along and copy the images of other photographers, at least nobody who is honest when they say that photography is an art.

The countryside outside of Portland, Oregon is used to grow all sorts of shrubs and trees used in landscaping.

The countryside outside of Portland, Oregon is where all sorts of shrubs and trees used in landscaping are grown.

My way to creative composition involves only one ‘rule’, if I can even call it that.  It’s a rule you follow whenever you are around things you may want to photograph, a rule you practice whether or not you have a camera in your hands.  It is practicing enthusiastic observation.

I’ll give an example from my own experience.  I never learned any of the rules or methods behind good composition prior to getting into photography.  Way before I got my first camera I was very interested in nature and the way people have influenced and been influenced by it.  I was an enthusiastic reader.  I wanted to know natural history in the same depth as those poets and writers:  Thoreau, Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Stegner, Muir.  I wanted to know people and the way they interacted with nature like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Ed Abbey and Annie Dillard.  I looked carefully at everything I saw.  I stooped down, climbed trees or got on top of rocks, walked around to see things backlit by sunlight.  I drew close and almost touched things with my eye.  I turned over rocks and logs.

The upper Sandy River on Mount Hood in Oregon.

The upper Sandy River on Mount Hood in Oregon.

When I got a camera, almost immediately I noticed that these different viewpoints yield different pictures, even though the subject was the same.  Even the mood or the story of the picture was changed with viewpoint slightly shifted.  I also learned that most pictures look better when you place important things off to the side somewhat, or when you don’t run the horizon straight across the middle.

Believe it or not, you can learn all the rules and methods behind good composition on your own, and you can learn them much better than reading or having someone tell you.  You only need to open your eyes and really look.  You need to be observant, especially during shooting but also when you view the pictures afterwards.

A church in the small town of Camas, Washington.

A church in the small town of Camas, Washington.

Being observant takes practice, and it requires a sort of relaxed focus.  Your body is relaxed but your eyes are most definitely on-the-job checking out anything and everything.  Your mind is both relaxed and focused.  To give a non-nature/landscape example, if you’re a very astute people-watcher, you’re likely to be a good street or portrait photographer.

By the way, I have seen a lot of photographers moving around with the camera up, trying out possible pictures.  And photography teachers encourage this.  I think this takes away and distracts from observation, which should have priority.  For me, observation comes first, then a decision to take a picture, then the camera comes up to my eye.   I prefer to get the broader view and mentally zoom in and out with my eyes/brain.

The western Cascade Mountains of Oregon filters moisture out of clouds coming in from the Pacific.

The western Cascade Mountains of Oregon filters moisture out of clouds coming in from the Pacific.

When I decide to take a picture, I have in mind a general focal length.  So I choose a lens (or zoom in/out) and frame the picture, making sure to look carefully at the edges and corners for “junk” that doesn’t add to the picture.   Of course my approach is different if I already have in mind the picture I want from a previous visit.  But I still practice observation, I expect pictures other than the one I’m going for to present themselves.  Among other things, the fickle nature of light and weather conditions can change things greatly.

The second part of the rule, being enthusiastic, is what I blogged about in one of my first Friday Foto Talks.  If you are curious about your subject and enthusiastic about shooting it, your images will be that much better.  If you love photography enough to spend all kinds of hard-earned cash on spendy cameras, lenses, tripods, backpacks, etc., then you must really love photography, right?  It means when you’re out shooting you are really into it – both the subject matter and the total immersion you get from the act of photography.

Mount Hood peeks out from low clouds on a frosty morning after overnight snowfall.

Mount Hood peeks out from low clouds on a frosty morning after overnight snowfall.

My opinion of a person who walks up to a viewpoint and plops their tripod down, waits for the light to get good, then shoots a bunch of pictures with very similar composition (perhaps with his camera taking pictures automatically every few seconds, ugh!) is that that person must not really like photography much.  Why get into such an expensive hobby (or a career that is anything but lucrative) if you don’t really love it?

But if you like it, really like it, you’re going to be a bundle of energy, always trying to see what other compositions are available.  You’ll move around a lot before really starting to shoot (a common tip).  You’ll get low or high to change viewpoint (another common tip).  You will work the subject (that’s another).  You will zoom in because you’re interested in the ‘picture within the picture’ you just captured (yet another).  You’ll draw ever closer, even creeping along on your belly if your subject is some furry critter (recall the quote, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”).

Spring runoff flows down the Salmon River in Oregon.

Spring runoff flows down the Salmon River in Oregon.

See the trend here?  There are many tips and rules that can be boiled down into one principle:  enthusiastic observation.  Don’t hold anything back; open your eyes wide and go for it.  Put your soul into it!  It’s how I learned all those things without ever picking up a book.  If you combine enthusiasm with well-practiced observational skills, I really think that good, creative compositions will come naturally.

So that’s all there is to it.  Get out and shoot this weekend.  And have fun!

The setting sun lights up Mount Hood as it watches over the Columbia River.

The setting sun lights up Mount Hood as it watches over the Columbia River.

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