Archive for the ‘Pacific Northwest’ Category

Single-image Sunday: Cool!   11 comments

Everybody is posting winter images these days.  In some parts of the U.S. it is very hot.  Not too hot.  It’s summer after all, and to complain about heat in Texas during July is rather pointless I think.  It’s supposed to be hot there in July.  Besides, we should enjoy these summers.  They’re cool compared with what’s coming in the future.  But this isn’t a post about global warming calamities.  Just a winter image I captured in February, and probably my favorite one so far this year.  It’s also a post with good news!

The reason I like this picture is because of the (lucky) timing and unusual combination of weather forces.  The Columbia River Gorge occasionally freezes up.  Doesn’t happen too often, and when it does, local photogs. head out to shoot frozen waterfalls.  It never lasts very long.  This time it lasted 3 days, and I was out there at the stormy peak getting shots of big icicles and such.

On the 4th day a warm front started moving in.  I went out to the Gorge, curious to see what the melting would look like.  The freeway was a mess.  Cold air had held on within the Gorge, causing sleet to fall overtop the snow.  I finally made it with not much day left, and only had time for one stop.  Instead of a waterfall I walked through the thick brush to the river at this spot I know with a view of Beacon Rock.  Ice had glazed over all the trees and branches, and at the riverside the mossy rocks had a layer of ice-covered snow on them.

But what was most intriguing was the sky.  The warm front was riding up and over the cold air, causing some very angry-looking cloud formations.  I grabbed a few shots as the freezing rain started to turn to slushy rain.  I love shooting at transitions like this.  It often produces strange but beautifully moody pictures, and this time was no exception.

The reason I’m posting the picture (again) is that I’m hoping now to get an even better picture this year.  I couldn’t say that with confidence before yesterday, because I didn’t have a good camera.  The one that allowed me to capture this image, as most of you know, took a dive into a waterfall last spring.  I’m happy to say I can finally put that episode truly behind me.

Yesterday I rode my motorcycle up to Seattle to meet a woman who sold me her Canon 6D.  It’s a much simpler and cheaper version of my trashed 5D Mark III.  She was upgrading to the 5D in fact.  And she had not had the 6D long; it’s in new condition!  So now I’m almost home free.  All I need is to buy a lens to replace the one damaged in the waterfall and I’ll be back to full strength.  I’ll post new images from it soon.  That’s right all you wonderful people in blogville, I’m back baby!!

Crashing Skies:  A winter storm passes through the Columbia River Gorge, Beacon Rock sitting on the Washington side of the river.

Crashing Skies: A winter storm passes through the Columbia River Gorge, Beacon Rock sitting on the Washington side of the river.

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!

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.

The Value of Kindness   35 comments

The first image made after the act of kindness, sunset along the Columbia near home.

The first image made after the act of kindness, sunset along the Columbia near home.

Believe it or not this is a photography-related post.  I was recently surprised with a loaner camera!  A person I met through my photography club, someone who went to the same college as I but who I don’t know well at all, saw my situation and took pity on me.  She loaned me her Canon 60D because (she said) it wasn’t really being used.

Now I know plenty of other photographers who have cameras much better than that as backups (they shoot with top of the line cameras).  And I have spent time shooting with these people.  None of them were coming forward after learning of my recent misfortune, losing my camera gear over the waterfall.  This is despite the fact that it would not have disrupted their photography.  This was her only DSLR, she didn’t know me very well, and she made the sacrifice.  That’s real kindness.

Springtime in an Oregon forest.

Springtime in an Oregon forest.

Elowah Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge tumbles down the canyon below the waterfall of the same name.

Elowah Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge tumbles down the canyon below the waterfall of the same name.

You never learn about kindness except through acts like this.  If someone can afford to do something for another without being put out or inconvenienced; I think it’s nice of them.  But it’s not the same as this.  This is the kind of thing that humbles you and makes you think about your own decisions.  To go through life convincing yourself that you are kind and giving without ever doing something for another that causes you real inconvenience is the same as fooling yourself.

And now I’m searching too hard in my history for times when I have displayed real kindness.  I want to change this.  I want to be able to come up with instances right off the top of my head.  And I’m sure you do too!  The only way to accomplish this is to act when the time is right.  We all know that, but the thing we tend to forget is the happiness and joy that we derive from acts of real kindness.

Spring brings the water flowing down theverdant side canyons (such as Elowah Creek) of Oregon's Columbia Gorge.

Spring brings the water flowing down theverdant side canyons (such as Elowah Creek) of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge.

Pink bleeding hearts bloom in a green Oregon forest.

Pink bleeding hearts bloom in a green Oregon forest.

And so we go along making a flawed calculation; that is, focusing solely on how much inconvenience or pain comes from our decisions.  We forget about the payoff because we don’t experience it very often (if at all).  What I’m saying is that small acts of kindness that don’t cost us anything give us a good feeling, sure.  But it’s nothing compared to the feeling we get when we give something up in our lives in order to give something to another that will fundamentally change someone’s life.  My benefactor did not know me as well as other people did, but she knew enough.  She knew that I didn’t just lose a piece of equipment, I lost the ability to express myself and to share my love of nature and the world.

A spring rainstorm passes over the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.

A spring rainstorm passes over the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.

Spring flowers bloom on Rowena Crest in Oregon.

Spring flowers bloom on Rowena Crest in Oregon.

So she did two important things before the decision to give.  She figured out how much that gift would mean to me, and she ignored the fact that she would be putting aside her own passion for an uncertain amount of time.  When she saw my reaction I could tell right away it was worth it.  She was experiencing the benefit of a genuine act of kindness.  And this is an often-forgotten part of it’s value.  It doesn’t just benefit the receiver.

Most of us know this, but we have to stop and think about it.  We mostly act out of the belief that there are so many who need so much that we cannot possibly give enough.  Maybe if we won the lottery we could give to our heart’s content.  I say this because I know my own mind has fooled me in this way.  I am going to give back to this kind person in an effort to pay her back for her kindness.

Elowah Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Elowah Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Gorge is tough to access during spring's high water, but it's still my favorite time to visit.

Oneonta Gorge is tough to access during spring’s high water, but it’s still my favorite time to visit.

But I know one thing for sure.  Even if I did nothing for her she would still derive a fundamental benefit from her gift.  And it will make her more likely to do it again in the future.  (By the way, if you’re reading this V, I’m using the word “gift” in a loose manner; I promise to give back your camera!)   The only question for me is, will I pay it forward?  Believe me I’ll be thinking about it.  If the opportunity arises to give when it genuinely costs me something, I hope I’m ready to pony up.

I hope your weekend went well and you have enjoyed these images shot with the loaner camera.  I also hope you’ll consider giving to my campaign in order to speed the return of her camera.  Although I will be giving it back at some point anyway, both her and I would love it to be at the end of this campaign when I am able to buy a replacement for my lost camera.  Also consider re-blogging or otherwise sharing my post The Campaign.  Thanks for reading and thanks so much for your support for my blog.

Michael

Dusk falls over the Columbia River where it flows along the border of Oregon and Washington through its famous gorge.

Dusk falls over the Columbia River where it flows along the border of Oregon and Washington through its famous gorge.

 

The Campaign   18 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Single-image Sunday: The Viewpoint   12 comments

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

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

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

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Friday Foto Talk: Creeking   13 comments

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

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

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

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

Creek and moss, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

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

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

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

EQUIPMENT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

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

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

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

 

 

Wordless Wednesday: A Rainbow!   9 comments

Rainbow over Vista House

Winter Olympics (Share your World)   14 comments

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

That Cee comes up with some great ideas for challenges.  This is a “Share your World” challenge, where you answer a few simple questions – this week on the Winter Olympics.  I really love the Olympics, I’m not ashamed to admit.  For some reason I’m not watching these games.  Maybe I’ll start.  Since I’m marginally better at winter sports than summer, the winter games have always been a favorite.  I really hope you’ll answer some too, either in the comments below or by going to Cee’s page and doing one yourself.  Now on to the questions:

      • Have you watched or plan to watch any of the 2014 Winter Olympics?  Think I’ve already answered this one.  I’ll probably catch a little, at least some skiing and maybe a hockey game.
      • What is your favorite winter Olympic event? Would you ever want to be an expert in that sport?  The Downhill, without a doubt.  I’ve gone pretty fast on skis but no way would I ever be able to go that fast.  About as likely as hitting a major leaguer’s slider or blocking Terrel Suggs (NFL linebacker).  I’d love to be an expert in the downhill skiing, at least down to the giant slalom.
Oneonta Gorge in Oregon's Columbia Gorge Scenic Area  is not an easy place to access in winter.

Oneonta Gorge in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge Scenic Area is not an easy place to access in winter.

      • Have you ever met an Olympic Athlete?  Actually two.  I ran into a U.S. mogul skier once, in Hawaii, hiking at night to the active lava entering the ocean (of all things).  Think she said she won a silver or bronze, but I don’t really remember much (besides the lava and her blonde hair).  For a time I knew a multiple gold medalist (summer games) named Mariel Zagunis.  She’s still one of the world’s best women at fencing sabre, and has golds from two successive games.  I was one of her high school science teachers.  I remember giving her homework to do while she was off to Europe or somewhere for fencing tournaments.  She always seemed very calm and focused, but otherwise not super-athletic.  I think that’s what it really takes.
Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

      • Do you have a favorite athlete? Name sport.  Currently, I’ll say Haloti Ngata of the Ravens (American football).  He’s just so huge (6’4″ 350 lbs) but very athletic and dominant.  He plays for my hometown’s team, went to my alma mater (U of Oregon) and best of all, he’s Samoan.  I imagine him on a palm-fringed beach, cooking up and eating whole chicken after whole chicken, and laughing.  Historically there are several more, but I don’t idolize athletes, at least since I was a young boy.
Snow on moss on lichen on basalt, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Snow on moss on lichen on basalt: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free of the icy grip of a cold snap.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free from a cold snap.

      • What is your favorite exercise or sport? Is there a reason why?  Probably cross-country skiing.  I love all types, from track skating to back-country telemarking.  To go on long tours where you must use all types of skiing technique, plus call upon your navigation and winter travel skills, ability to evaluate avalanche dangers, and your determination, it seems to bring everything together.  The fact that it exercises your whole body, you can do it when the weather is good, bad or in between, the zen state it can put you in, its rhythm and grace, the downhill fun; all that makes it almost the perfect outdoor sport.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Cees challenge and to add your two cents on any one or all of the questions below.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

 

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