Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Bridges for People   17 comments

A big Douglas fir fell across Panther Creek, Washington, living on as a bridge.

This themed post is for the WPC challenge – Bridges.  Even though the images here are of bridges made for our feet or the bicycles we ride to pass over them, I was inspired to post this because of one simple, obvious fact of life today.  We are too separate as a people.  Perhaps technology is partly to blame.  Perhaps it is the nature of our modern society or simply our huge numbers.  Whatever the underlying cause, something has made us distrust each other.  We are in desperate need of reconnection.

Being estranged from each other, as so many of us seem to be, is like being estranged from our families.  It is self-destructive.  It prevents us from creating solutions to the problems we face.  It creates an unhappiness that comes from isolation.  We need bridges to bring us back together, back into the family of humanity.

A bridge for strollers in one of Portland, Oregon’s many parks.

The so-called leaders we choose (and who are chosen for us) are too self-serving to avoid the temptation to stoke the separateness that creates distrust, tribalism and fear.  They are somehow misled into believing that the ends justifies the means, that appealing in vanity to dark emotions in order to gain or retain positions of power, is somehow worthwhile.

Of course the ends, however positively they’re imagined, are never justified by such means.  There is nothing positive that such men (they’re mostly men) can do with that power.  They cannot be true leaders or create a legacy that will be admired by future generations.  They can only make things worse.

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge crosses a footbridge in a verdant canyon.

A covered bridge originally built for horse-drawn wagons: historic Bollinger Mill, Missouri.

But there are many people out there, young and old, who want to rebuild the bridges that have been dismantled.  And many more who are not aware that helping in this effort is really what they want to do.  It would make their lives worthwhile.  If we want to make not just America but the world great again we must not only rebuild the bridges, we must leave the “us vs. them” mentality in the past.  We must invite “them” to walk over the bridge we build and meet “us” in the middle.

Will you join in and begin to build bridges?  Enjoy the images and have a great week!

A huge downed redwood tree acts as a bridge, allowing easy passage above the tangled undergrowth of Redwood National Park, California.

A spiral bike bridge along Portland’s Willamette River.

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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: Scotty’s Castle   1 comment

This incongruous place is located in a remote area of the California (Mojave) desert, in the northern part of Death Valley National Park.  Though officially it was called the Death Valley Ranch, it’s better known as Scotty’s Castle.  This post is about a friendship between two men as improbable as a castle in the desert.  I think when you really consider unlikely pairings real truths are often revealed.  These pairings can tell larger stories and illuminate the motivations behind the often-strange behavior of  human beings.

Despite the name, Scotty’s Castle never belonged to Scotty.  Walter Scott (aka Death Valley Scotty) was a colorful character who lived from 1872 to 1954.  He worked for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show for some time, then tried gold mining near Cripple Creek Colorado.  That would be the extent of his working life, as he spent most of the rest of it convincing rich easterners to invest money in fictitious gold mines out west.

Scotty’s last and best benefactor was a Chigagoan named Albert Johnson.  When Johnson was a young man he was fascinated with the west.  While young he made a lot of money investing in a mine in Missouri, and he planned to invest in mines out west.  He wanted a life there.   But a broken back from a bad train accident (which killed his father) changed his life.  He was temporarily paralyzed and made a miraculous recovery.  But his health was never the same and he was forced to settle on a career in the insurance industry.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Johnson would fall in the sights of Walter Scott.  After Johnson had invested some thousands of money into Scott’s secret (and fictitious) Death Valley gold mine with no return, he became suspicious.  It was soon apparent that Scott was lying.  Strangely, despite all the evidence he was being conned, Johnson remained convinced of the mine.

It took quite a number of years and several visits before Johnson finally gave up on the secret mine’s existence.  Through all of this Scott tried to deceive him with several elaborate schemes.  This included (of course) the salting of various fake mines, but Scott was not one to stop there.  He once planted a group of friends in a canyon masquerading as outlaws. They surprised Johnson, Scott and their companions and a fake gunfight (but with real bullets!) ensued.  The ruse was meant to scare away Johnson and his associates in hopes they might forget about seeing the mine with their own eyes.  But the plan quickly went awry when one man was shot and seriously injured.

Scott had learned the art of Wild West theater from the best (Buffalo Bill) and he used that flair for the dramatic in his long career as a con man.  He had a certain boldness. His colorful personality made him a media star in fact.  He made it into newspapers nationwide on several occasions.  And he parlayed that fame into a number of gigs (including a play about himself, starring himself).

Albert Johnson, though a genuinely rich insurance executive, was enchanted with Scotty in the same way he was enchanted with the mythical wild west.  Perhaps Johnson saw his alter ego, the embodiment of a life he wished he had lived.  Of course it was all based on false premises.  The era when the Wild West was real overlaps with the succeeding (longer) era when the concept of the wild west was parodied and used to fire the imaginations of sedate city-goers from “civilized” America – for profit.

Incredibly, Johnson eventually forgave Scott for defrauding him and the two became good friends. You would not expect a man to befriend a man who had conned him out of money, but that’s exactly what happened.  Johnson and Scott genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.  Scott was known as an entertaining storyteller.  All of this might explain why Johnson believed in Scotty’s secret mine for so long, and why he later forgave him.

His early dreams of an adventurous life out west ruined by his devastating injury, Johnson made repeated trips back, particularly to Death Valley.  Trains made some places in the west at least as accessible (in some cases more so) than they are now.  In 1915 Johnson bought and developed an old ranch in Grapevine Canyon.  Though Johnson was content to rough it on his visits, his wife Bessie convinced him to build a vacation home.  And Johnson did not go halfway!  Both he and Bessie loved the peace and quiet of the desert.  As for Scotty, he lived his later years five miles from the the Castle in a cabin built for him by Johnson.

Though Scotty’s Castle was never quite finished, it remains a stunning place.  It was originally run on direct current electricity from a Pelton water wheel powered from the same spring that supplied water.  Johnson did much of the original engineering himself.  The National Park Service purchased the place years after Johnson’s died.  It is nicely preserved and rangers dressed in period costume lead daily tours.

In the picture you can see a cross on the hill overlooking Scotty’s Castle.  This is the grave site of Walter Scott.  He is buried right alongside a beloved dog.  I think this little fact alone might explain why I have a charitable opinion of a man who lied and cheated for most of his life.

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Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park, California.

Friday Foto Talk: Lessons from the Field   11 comments

The day begins in southern Utah's desert.

The day begins in southern Utah’s desert.

I had quite an eventful day yesterday.  I don’t normally spend a lot of time blogging about the goings-on in my life.  This isn’t reality television after all!  But I’m going to make an exception because of how the day unfolded as a cautionary tale for any nature photographers out there.  Amazingly enough, all three parts of my day (sunrise, mid-day and sunset) contain lessons relevant to photography.  It might be instructive to take a look at how yours truly sometimes does things, if only so that you might learn what not to do!

Lesson 1 – When to Challenge Yourself

This is something that was brought home to me while shooting sunrise yesterday.  I was camped at Bartlett Wash in southern Utah.  It was my second visit.  As far as I know, the place is relatively unknown amongst photographers.  But I think it has a lot going for it.  Beautiful reddish & smooth sandstone with fascinating patterns overlooks a pretty canyon.  Atop this so-called slickrock lies a collection of white, mushroom-shaped sandstone monoliths, with views that include the La Sal Mountains.

On the first visit to Bartlett I was a bit late for the dawn light.  And having walked up to the white sandstone monoliths, I had trouble finding a good composition.  Even though it’s obviously an interesting place with plenty of photographic potential, it is also challenging.  The main trouble comes when trying to find good shooting positions (or points of view).  Some of the best compositions are found from atop the mushroom monoliths, but some of them are far from easy to climb.  And which one to climb?  It’s a bit confusing.

Dawn from the "mushroom monoliths" at Bartlett Wash.

Dawn from the “mushroom monoliths” at Bartlett Wash.

On the contrary, the reddish slickrock below is not only easier to get to, it is chock full of leading lines and other strong patterns.  It’s much more a gimme than the mushroom rock above.  So on this second visit, I told myself I would be early and make sure to shoot the reddish sandstone in the best light.  I woke early enough alright, but something made me go up to the mushroom rock.  I spent the time of best light up there, again getting frustrated looking for good compositions.  By the time I got around to the red slickrock the sun was well up and the light a bit harsh.

Classic cross-bedded sandstone slickrock in southern Utah.

Classic cross-bedded sandstone slickrock in southern Utah.

I don’t know about you, but I often go for the more challenging photo  subjects, even when I know a more-certain option exists.  The red slickrock was there for the taking.  I saw plenty of strong compositions which don’t involve any real challenge; you just walk right up to them.

But here’s the thing: it’s not at all clear that it was worth the extra effort to bang my head (metaphorically) against the white mushroom rock.  It may or may not have yielded the best images at Bartlett.  But the fact that it’s more challenging up there drew me.  And so I missed good light in the more certain photographic terrain of the red slickrock.

The mountain-biking terrain at Bartlett Wash, Utah.

The mountain-biking terrain at Bartlett Wash, Utah.

Only you can decide which path you will take when presented with similar options during your shooting.  It may depend on your mood.  I don’t know if it’s very smart for me (a non-morning person) to pick the more challenging path for sunrise.  But without thinking about it that’s what I did.  You might be better able than me to see where the better pictures are to be had and go there without regard for challenge.

In fact, it makes more sense to save the more challenging terrain for a time without the extra stress of quickly passing dawn light.  The idea is to find the good composition at leisure and then return for it in good light.  That would be the logical way to do it.  Sometimes I am not the most logical person.  But I’m sure of one thing: the process of tackling challenging photographic subjects in quickly changing light can definitely make you a better photographer.

This juniper tree appears to lean against a sandstone monolith at Bartlett Wash, Utah.

This juniper tree appears to lean against a sandstone monolith at Bartlett Wash, Utah.

Lesson 2 – Be Prepared

This one isn’t tied directly to any photographs I took, but it’s certainly relevant to photography.  In mid-morning, after the sunrise shoot (see Lesson 1), I decided to do a short mountain bike ride at a place called Bartlett Wash in southern Utah.  Or that was the plan, to play on the slickrock there for just an hour or so.  By the way, slickrock is smooth sandstone that is perfect for off-trail hiking and mountain bike riding.  The Moab, Utah area here is famous for it, but it occurs throughout the American desert southwest.

While riding, I became intrigued by the slickrock terrain on the other side of the wash from where I was riding.  Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, and the slickrock is always smoother!  Finished and back at the bottom, I saw a little sign I had not noticed, pointing to the area I had been curious about.  It said simply “3-D Jedi”.  I had not heard of that ride.  Bartlett was in my guidebook but not this one with the fascinating name.

Views of canyon country: the Book Cliffs, Utah.

Views of canyon country: the Book Cliffs, Utah.

So instead of heading back as I should have done I biked up onto the slickrock.  I told myself I would just check out the first mile or so, but you know how that goes!  The thing is, since I was only out for a little bit, I didn’t bring any sun screen or sunglasses (the day started out cloudy).  I also didn’t bring a repair/patch kit or bike pump. And crucially, I had no map and no water.  Yep, you heard it right, I was out in the desert with no water.

Stupidly, I kept going..and going.  The ride turned into a 5 hour ordeal (I mean ride!).  Though I never saw another soul, a set of bike tracks was visible in places, plus sporadic rock cairns marked the route.  So I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting lost.  I kept wanting to head back but the thought (hope?) that I was riding a loop kept me going. For over a mile the “trail” skirted a narrow ledge with a truly dizzying drop on one side.  Needless to say I walked my bike on the narrowest parts.

View from the Jedi area near Moab, Utah.

View from the Jedi area near Moab, Utah.

When the route finally descended onto more great slickrock and dropped onto a jeep track, I saw my first sign at a junction.  Though the sign didn’t say 3-D or Jedi, I guessed the left fork would lead me back to where I came from.  Deep sand had me pushing my bike for a good while, and the sun came out in force.  I was THIRSTY!  Then my luck turned: I saw a sign that said 3-D with an arrow pointing ahead.

When the sandy jeep track crested a ridge I recognized the canyon.  I was back in Bartlett!  The surface grew firm and I raced down the twisting trail.  I had made it!  I almost attacked the water back at camp, and in fact had to rein myself in.  You can get very sick drinking too much water at one time.  It even has the potential to kill you.

Slickrock makes the finest riding surface for biking around Moab, Utah.

Slickrock makes for the finest riding surface for biking around Moab, Utah.

Lesson 3 – Go slow to go fast

You might have heard this expression before.  If you don’t take your time enough to do things right, even under stressful conditions when hurrying is important, you will pay the price.  You’ll spend much more time either fixing mistakes or regretting not having been more careful.  This was brought home to me during my sunset shoot yesterday.

After the big bike ride, I realized I had time to go somewhere for sunset.  I felt I had played Bartlett out, and it’s best for sunrise anyway.  There’s an area I also like near Moab, one that also doesn’t see photographers.  It’s great for sunset, with a grand view of the La Sal Mtns.  There is one hitch though – access.  You either need to do a rough 4WD jeep trail or hike in from the other side.

The hike up the wash toward my sunset spot.

On the hurried hike up the wash toward my sunset spot, I paused just once for this shot.

The hike (which takes about an hour) goes up a canyon.  Then you need to climb out of the canyon up onto the rim.  There are only a couple reasonable routes, the rest being cliffs.  I explored this area awhile back for the first time.  When I started out sunset was 55 minutes away, so I was in a hurry.

Almost at the top, I glanced over to the La Sals and saw beautiful light beginning to hit them.  There was one more 10-foot ledge to scramble up, and I was determined not to miss the light.  I stepped on a huge block of sandstone that I should have been suspicious of.  It shifted and came smashing down on my ankle.  I wrenched my leg away just in time then came a mad dash for safety as the huge rock began rolling.  Luckily it didn’t go far and I was able to get out of the way.

I lay there on my back in some pain.  Looking up into the sky I saw the clouds turning orange and pink.  But suddenly that didn’t matter.  I gingerly rotated my ankle.  Amazingly it seemed okay.  The real test came when I got up and put weight on it.  Yes!  It seemed to be only bruised and cut.  To shorten the story, I made it to the spot I had in mind and got some nice shots (bottom).  After the sun set I made my way down.  Though I had my headlamp, it’s somewhat nerve-wracking to pick your way down a steep rocky descent in the dark.

On a different hike in Arches National Park, I decided to capture what it's like to still be on the edge as darkness falls.  Car headlights trace the park road.

On a different hike in Arches National Park, I decided to capture what it’s like to still be on the edge as darkness falls. Car headlights trace the park road.

That night as my ankle swelled up, I thought about how stupid I had been.  Go slow to go fast!  It’s even more important advice when the light is pushing you to hurry. Though it’s important not to waste time getting set up (the light won’t wait after all), over-hurrying often results in mistakes that show in your pictures.  Bad photos are one thing; always remember that much bigger disasters are possible when you’re in a big rush.

So think about what you’re doing when out photographing nature.  It’s a real excursion, and you are the only one responsible for your safety.  Go prepared.  Pay attention to your surroundings.  Take your time.  It’s important to come back with the best pictures possible.  But it’s even more important to come back!

Thanks for sticking with this long post.  If you’re interested in any of these images (which are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission), please contact me.  Click on any of the pictures to go to my galleries.  Thanks for your interest.  By the way, my ankle is sore but just fine.

The view from "almost broken ankle point" in Utah.

The view from “almost broken ankle point” in Utah.

Wordless Wednesday   2 comments

Zion_Park_Nov-2012_5D_029

Posted September 11, 2013 by MJF Images in Reflections

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Friday Foto Talk: Reflections, Part II   8 comments

A calm wetland in the Montana Rockies greets the morning.

A calm wetland in the Montana Rockies greets the morning.

This is the second of two parts on that particular part of the light we encounter as photographers: reflection.  Reflected light can really enhance your images, but it is also a potential distraction.  There are several ways to control and use reflected light to your advantage during the capture phase.  There are additional things you can do during post-processing, but this post will focus on the capture phase.

By the way, I’ve been not posting this week because I’ve been offline, enjoying Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks.  Stay tuned for posts on these destinations. Meanwhile here’s a teaser:

Mount Rainier reflected in Bench Lake.

Mount Rainier reflected in Bench Lake.

Note that the images you see on my blog are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission.  If you do have interest in any of them, just click to go to the main gallery part of my website.  Once you have the large, high-res version of the image you like before you, just click “Purchase Options”.  Thanks for your interest, and please contact me if you have any questions.

The upper Snake River, between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, flows across a wildlife-rich and lonely valley.

The upper Snake River, between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, flows across a wildlife-rich valley.

Here on a frigid night at Yellowstone National Park, the moon is reflected in a hot pool even though the steam obscures it's shape above.

Here on a frigid night at Yellowstone National Park, the moon is reflected in a hot pool even though the steam obscures it’s shape above.

USING REFLECTIONS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

      • First the bad news:  Reflections can be distracting, unattractive, and rob your scene of color.  The reason why I often use a circular polarizer on a drizzly cloudy day in the Oregon forest (all 8 months of it!) is that the leaves and needles, the rocks, even the soil, all of it is covered with a thin sheen of water.
      • What to do: If you want to bring out the verdant green of those leaves, the subtle hues of that rock standing in the stream, you need to at least partly block that reflection.  That is what a polarizer does for you.  It will also block the reflection from the top of the stream or lake, allowing you to see (if it’s shallow enough) the color of the rocks, gravel or logs beneath.  Be careful though.  Don’t always rotate the polarizer until the maximum reflected light is blocked. You might want some of that reflection in your image if it’s attractive.  Essentially, if a reflection is not adding color or depth to your image, it is usually taking away in some way.
The evergreen trees are turned gold and reflected in a mountain lake just outside Cave Junction in southwestern Oregon.

The evergreen trees are turned gold and reflected in a mountain lake just outside Cave Junction in southwestern Oregon.

Black and white works well for reflections too, as demonstrated here in the morning mist and fog at Mount Rainier National Park.

Black and white works well for reflections too, as demonstrated here in the morning mist and fog at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • A little more bad news:  Reflections, especially strong ones, can fool your light meter.  The light meter in your camera does not like extremes of light or dark. So it can mess up and underexpose your picture.  This is especially true if you place the center of your frame right on the brightest reflection in your composition.  If you use Live View, the little white square (it’s white on Canon cameras at least) that floats around inside your frame will read mostly that part of the scene and adjust exposure accordingly.
A Himba girl in Namibia is perfectly lighted by virtue of standing in the shade of a hut with blazing sunshine being reflected off the light-colored ground and back up into her smiling face.

A Himba girl in Namibia is perfectly lighted by virtue of standing in the shade of a hut with blazing sunshine being reflected off the light-colored ground and back up into her smiling face.

      • What to do:  Be careful where you place that white square when using Live View.  If you use Live View to frame and focus your shot, you can turn it off right before tripping the shutter.  That way you can use your camera’s (normally excellent) evaluative or matrix metering.  Basically, you want to meter off of not the absolute brightest thing in your frame but a peg or two down.

When I say “meter off of” I mean being in manual mode and pointing the center of your frame at what you wish to meter, setting aperture & shutter speed, then re-framing to get the image you want.  Or you could, if you prefer to be in another mode (say aperture priority), simply point the center of the frame at what you’re metering and press the exposure lock button.  Then while keeping it pressed, re-frame and take the picture.  Whatever you do, it is safest to review your picture on the LCD (including the histogram) right after capture, so you can re-shoot then and there if necessary.

A frog in a high mountain lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington is reflected in waters near the shore.

A frog in a high mountain lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington is reflected in waters near the shore.

      • Yay, the good news!  Reflections can really add to any image.  The better your sky looks, the more opportunity you’ll have to make y our foreground look better by using reflections.  Let’s take an example.  You are shooting a mountain lake with a beautiful sky where the sun has just set behind the hills.  The light from the sky bounces off the water and gives that part of your photo a lot of interest with the shadows of colorful cloud and azure sky being accentuated in the water.  Instead of getting too excited about that and framing your picture with only water down to the bottom, find an interesting part of the near shore (mud ripples, round rocks, etc.) to include.  If you position yourself right (often you’ll need to get pretty low), the light reflecting off the water can help to light up that extra foreground.  It might just provide rim light around the edges of the rocks.  All this adds depth and texture to your image.
Mount Rainier is reflected in a subalpine pond lined with avalanche lilies.

Mount Rainier is reflected in a subalpine pond lined with avalanche lilies.

A building in downtown Portland reflects the golden light of the setting sun.

A building in downtown Portland reflects the golden light of the setting sun.

      • More good news:  Reflections give you so many more options.  They are really a good friend if you’re into abstracts.  The way sunlit water behaves in streams or in the wind provides fascinating compositions.  In cities you can much more easily shoot into the sun when there are abundant reflective surfaces.  You can put away the flash when you’re photographing someone under a tree or the eave of a building if there is an adjacent marble patio or walk.  You can play around with mirror effects, using store or car windows to put figures & faces in very compelling spots within your compositions.
An example of an abstract composition using reflections: water from springs collects in Snow Canyon, Utah.

An example of an abstract composition using reflections: water from springs collects in Snow Canyon, Utah.

Reflections are all around you.  They make up, after all, approximately one half of the natural light you use as a photographer.  Use them to your advantage, be aware of their ability to intrude on your images, and above all, have fun with them.

An empty beach along the lower Columbia River in Oregon glows with a colorful summer sunset.

An empty beach along the lower Columbia River in Oregon glows with a colorful summer sunset.

Friday Foto Talk: Reflections, Part I   18 comments

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the Snake River.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the Snake River.

Although I should probably get busy and write the follow-up posts to those series I have going right now on this blog (patterns, life in the universe, the Cascades, etc.), I just can’t help going with what is on my mind at the moment.  What I’ve thought about off and on all day long is light, so that is what I’ll post on for this week’s Friday Foto Talk.

Photographers of all stripes know the importance of good light.  You either create it in the form of strobes, flashes and such, or you take advantage of nature’s own brand (which is of course the finest).  Here in the Pacific NW, we have seen a seemingly unending succession of clear days lately.  Although you can always find something to shoot no matter the light, clear skies mean high contrast and a short golden hour.  But we’ve had clouds move in the last couple days, and I’m elated.

This simple shot from Oregon's Cascade Mountains takes advantage of water's ability to reflect beautiful light that is being itself reflected from the fir trees.

This simple shot from Oregon’s Cascade Mountains takes advantage of water’s ability to reflect beautiful light that is being itself reflected from the fir trees.

If you are serious about photography, you should (no MUST) take advantage of good light.  That means getting  out during the golden hours straddling sunrise and sunset.  You might be excused for not doing this when skies are clear.  But when clouds move in, covering part of the sky, you need to do your best to drop everything and get your butt out there to shoot early or late in the day.

This shot from the Okavango Delta would lack a clear subject if the tree was not reflected so nicely.

This shot from the Okavango Delta would lack a clear subject if the tree was not reflected so nicely.

When the light turns beautiful, I typically seek out ways to magnify that great light.  What can I say, I’m greedy!  There are two ways that light rays can interact with a nice cloud-studded atmosphere in order to sweeten themselves.  One way is refraction, the bending and skittering of light rays between and through molecules of cloud and air. The other way is reflection, the simple bouncing of light from some reflective surface.  Great light is always a combination of these two, and this post focuses on the second: reflection.

Yesterday evening we got the first truly good light we’ve seen in quite some time.  I celebrated by going to my special spot where I never see another person, let alone photographer.  What makes this place so special is the quiet waters of the lower Columbia, ready to take on and make even better all the beautiful light that the heavens can give her.  I went to see her sparkling show, and as mostly happens, she did not disappoint (image below).

Color on the Lower Columbia!

Color on the Lower Columbia!

TYPES OF REFLECTIVE SURFACES

      •  Water: The most common of all reflective surfaces is really your go-to, especially if you’re a landscape photographer.  Whenever you’re looking up at the sky a few hours before sunset and thinking “this could really develop into something”, you should first think of places near water.  Even if you’re not much of a landscape person, maybe you like shooting people/action pictures on a pretty day, remember that everybody likes water, including your potential subjects.
The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

      • Ice/Snow:  Okay I hear ya, these are really water in another form.  But their character is very different.  Ice can indeed act very much like water, in a mirror-like way.  Ice can also refract light, so you’ll get a great combination of effects in some circumstances.  Snow also reflects light, but in a very scattered way.  No mirror here.  I’ve found that depending on the angle of the sunlight and the character of the snow, you can get some pretty fine effects when the light bounces off snow.  You’ve heard Eskimos have a bunch of different words for snow.  Well I think photographers can learn something from Inuits (call them Inuits not Eskimos).
Snow reflects the setting sun from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon.

Snow reflects the setting sun from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon.

      • Rock:  Light-colored rock can reflect light in a very unique way.  Some of the magic of Ansel Adams’ images of the Sierra Nevada were because of the play of light and shadow on the bright granite walls of the mountains.  The color of the rock can impart a definite tone to your subjects (see image below).  Even dark rock, like basalt, can if it is weathered smoothly reflect light in a subtle but attractive manner.
In this evening shot at Zion National Park, the old cabin takes on the color of the canyon walls after the sky's ambient light is reflected from them.

In this evening shot at Zion National Park, the old cabin takes on the color of the canyon walls after the sky’s ambient light is reflected from them.

      • Leaves:  Pay attention to small reflectors.  Leaves can act to bounce light toward or away from you.  Leaves transmit light too, so like ice the angle is worth taking note of and getting right.  You might have either a distracting or a pleasing reflection off the leaves in your composition.
      • Buildings:  The walls and especially the windows on buildings in your cityscapes will invariably reflect some light back at you.  Often the color saturation in light coming from the sky is enhanced when it bounces from the windows of a building.  With walls, it’s basically like rocks.  The lighter-colored and smoother they are, the more reflection you will get.  Again, you’ll need to decide whether the angle of reflection is giving you a distracting or pleasing result.
A Portland, Oregon cityscape is improved by the sky's beautiful light being reflected off the skyscraper.

A Portland, Oregon cityscape is improved by the sky’s beautiful light being reflected off the skyscraper.

      • Bright Ground:  The surfaces you walk on are natural reflectors.  Human-made surfaces tend to be brighter than natural ones, but there are exceptions. Beaches & snow are the best examples, but deposits of calcite (Pamukkale in Turkey or Mammoth in Yellowstone), white granite & marble bedrock, etc. can really bounce the light.  In areas where marble monuments or temples are found, or where the sidewalks and patios are particularly clean and bright, you can use reflection from the ground in several ways.  Providing fill light for portraits is the most obvious example, but you can also use it as you would a body of water during sunrise or sunset.
The nice directional light on this Nicaraguan man's face came largely from the strong sun being reflected off the nearby beach.

The nice directional light on this Nicaraguan man’s face came largely from the strong sun being reflected off the nearby beach.

      • Body Parts:  Eyes are very small but very important reflectors.  Everyone knows about red eye.  To avoid it, don’t use flash on your camera directed right at the person.  But plain old reflection from eyes is something to get just right.  Some of this is done on the computer, but it’s possible to have too much catch-light in a person’s eyes.  Some is good but too much light (or too obvious a reflection of the photographer) is often not attractive.  I won’t mention bald heads, since that is striking a bit too close to home!
This pretty young woman's eyes act as mirrors in this image from Cambodia, creating good catchlights.  But my own reflection is almost too obvious.

This pretty young woman’s eyes mirror the light in this image from Cambodia, creating catchlights. But my own reflection is almost too obvious.

      • Clouds:  Yes, clouds themselves can be a very effective secondary source of light.  When the sun that just set (or has not quite risen) is bouncing light off a large bank of clouds turned a fiery color, you often have enough light (and gorgeous light it is) to turn away from the sunset and photograph the scene behind you.  After sunset it would normally be pretty dark and colorless.  But with this sort of reflection you are given the gift of golden hour plus!  I’ve even noticed that if you have clouds on the opposite side of the sky, light can be reflected twice.  So if you’re shooting a smaller subject that would otherwise be a silhouette, you get some fill light that provides some details. This is a fairly rare & special situation, more common in the desert southwest.  When this late light bounces around, off of different cloud banks & off rock faces, maybe even water as well, you should thank the photography gods and shoot like a maniac!
This picture in Death Valley, California is directed at an angle to the setting sun.  It takes advantage of red-orange light reflected (and refracted) by the clouds back down on the salt flats.  The salt in turn reflects the light, but with a unique tinge created by interaction of the warm light with the salt crystals.

This picture in Death Valley, California is directed at an angle to the setting sun. It takes advantage of red-orange light reflected (and refracted) by the clouds back down on the salt flats. The salt in turn reflects the light, but with a unique tinge created by interaction of the warm light with the salt crystals.

Stay tuned next Friday for Part II of Reflections, where I’ll discuss ways you can use reflections to your advantage when you capture images.  If you are interested in any of these images, just click on them to go to the high-res. version.  Then once you have the full-size image you’re interested in, click “Purchase Options”.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Much-needed light is provided by the moon's reflection from clouds in this evening shot from Mt. Rainier National Park

Much-needed light is provided by the moon’s reflection from clouds in this evening shot from Mt. Rainier National Park

Quest for the Crescent   5 comments

A beautiful sunrise over the Columbia River Gorge, with Beacon Rock just visible through the mist.

A beautiful sunrise over the Columbia River Gorge, with Beacon Rock just visible through the mist.

I’ve been sort of fixated on photographing the crescent moon lately.  I wanted to capture it at sunrise (i.e. when it rises just before the sun on the day or two before new moon), but clouds interfered.  Instead I got a pretty nice sunrise shot (see image above).  Then I set my sights on the setting crescent after new moon.  Coincidentally, this moon when it is first sighted marks the beginning of Ramadan, the month of daily fasting & prayer for muslims worldwide.

On the day after the new moon, the crescent was exceedingly thin, only 5% illuminated.  Further complicating matters, it was due to set less than half an  hour after the sun.  These factors make it very difficult to sight.  You can make it easier by getting up in elevation with a clear view of the western horizon, and scanning with binoculars.  I almost went this route, but I wanted a different sort of picture of it.  I wanted some interesting foreground that included water.  So I set up at river-level in the Columbia Gorge near home.  While sharp-eyed muslims sighted this moon and Ramadan began, I failed.

A photo captured at dusk but with something missing - the crescent moon.

A photo captured at dusk but with something missing – the crescent moon.

I was disappointed but not beaten.  The next evening I knew the crescent would be easier to sight and probably make a more beautiful picture.  I went back to the same spot in the Gorge, Rooster Rock State Park.  The image at bottom was the result.  Hope you enjoy it.

If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them.  They are not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  Go ahead and contact me if you have any questions.  By the way, I wrote a post on capturing the crescent moon (with a photo not a lasso!).  Check it out.  Thanks for the visit!

Success!  A peaceful crescent moon sets at dusk over a small inlet of the Columbia River, Oregon.

Success! A peaceful crescent moon sets at dusk over a small inlet of the Columbia River, Oregon.

The Cascades I: Volcanoes Give and Take Away   16 comments

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

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

This is the mountain range I’m most familiar with, my home range.  I’ve climbed all of the high Oregon Cascades and many of the bigger Washington ones as well.  So I have personal experience and knowledge of these peaks.  Named for the many waterfalls that tumble over their volcanic cliffs, the Cascades are essentially a northern analogue of the Andes in South America.

The waterfalls for which the Cascades are named occur all through the range, including here at Toketee Falls.

The waterfalls for which the Cascades are named  include Toketee Falls.

GEOGRAPHY

The Cascades are volcanoes that still erupt from time to time, but with the exception of a single mountain are not the most active volcanic chain in the world by any means.  More on the exception below.  The Cascade Range, which stretches for 700 miles (1100 km.) in a north-south direction from Mount Garibaldi in Canada to Mount Lassen in California, is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire (see below).  This whole region of the western Pacific Northwest is often called Cascadia.

The Cascades are dotted with beautiful mountain lakes.

The Cascades are dotted with beautiful mountain lakes.

The dramatic and beautiful mountains that make up the Cascades in most cases exceed 10,000 feet (3000 meters).  The high peaks are generally well-spaced, with many miles of forested lower mountains and hills between each snow-capped peak.  Oregon’s Three Sisters area (which actually includes 5 big volcanoes) is an exception to this wide spacing.  The bunched-up and much more rugged North Cascades in Washington are a whole different range geologically, one that happens to coincide in space (but not time) with the volcanoes of the Cascades.

A wet meadow in Crater Lake National Park blooms with pink monkeyflower, among other flowers.

A wet meadow in Crater Lake National Park blooms with pink monkeyflower, among other flowers.

GEOLOGY

The highest peaks in the Cascades are quite young, most less than 100,000 years old – a moment in the earth’s 4.5 billion-year history.  They are built upon a much older eroded volcanic range, arranged along an axis situated slightly to the west of the present locus of volcanic activity.  These older volcanoes began erupting some 37 million years ago.  It’s lucky for life (including us) that these older, heavily eroded volcanoes are around.  It’s the reason we have those lush forests, those cold streams that nourish the region’s great fish runs, and the habitat for the region’s other wildlife.  And let’s not forget the many waterfalls!

From high on Cooper Spur at Mount Hood, Oregon, the view north includes Mount Adams in Washington.

From high on Cooper Spur at Mount Hood, Oregon, the view north includes Mount Adams in Washington.

The older ancestral Cascades are also responsible for the region’s enormous timber resources plus the very rich soils that drew settlers west along the Oregon Trail.  Volcanoes combine with ample rainfall to make rich soil for farming.  By the way, many often wonder why so many people, worldwide, live near dangerous volcanoes.  It’s simple:  the rich soils around volcanoes, the productive farmland.  There is really not much choice.  We must eat, and so we must live near volcanoes.

While the Western Cascades are responsible for many of the Northwest’s assets, let’s not totally dismiss the younger High Cascades.  Their snowpack, lasting well into summer, gives farmers and ranchers (especially those to the east) water for their crops through typically dry summers.

The older western Cascades are very different in character than the high Cascades.

The older western Cascades are very different in character than the high Cascades.

The Cascades are stratovolcanoes (aka composite cones).  These are the steep-sided, conical volcanoes you drew as a kid in school.  They are made of alternating layers of lava-rock and pyroclastic (ash) deposits.  The volcanic rock is characteristically lighter colored than the basalt which covers the region to the east of the Cascades.  A typical volcanic rock for the Cascades is andesite (named for the Andes), which flows over the ground in a somewhat stickier manner than more fluid basalt (Hawaiian volcanoes erupt basalt).  The Cascades do have their share of basalt too, along with dacite and a few other types of volcanic rock.

An uncommon volcanic rock of the Cascades is obsidian.  It is very rich in silica (SiO2), which is also what quartz is made of.  In liquid lava, dissolved silica acts to make it stickier, more viscous.  Water does the opposite, makes lava less viscous – more fluid.  Obsidian is so rich in silica and erupts so dry that it literally squeezes out of the ground like thick toothpaste, heaping up into mounds and ridges.  Once cooled, obsidian is a beautiful natural glass, normally black, that can be sharp enough to serve as surgical instruments.  Obsidian arrowheads left along old American Indian trails and hunting grounds can still be found throughout the Northwest.

Admiring the view while on a climb in the Cascades.  That is Mount Adams in Washington.

Admiring the view while on a climb in the Cascades. That is Mount Adams in Washington.

THE RING OF FIRE AND PLATE TECTONICS

The Pacific Ring of Fire is that huge circle of volcanoes and earthquake activity that circles the Pacific ocean basin.  Some of the world’s most spectacular eruptions and devastating earthquakes happen along the Ring of Fire.  Truly an enormous geologic feature, it exists because the earth’s tectonic plates rub against and collide with each other (see addendum below if you don’t know about plate tectonics already).  Although they act slowly, the forces are gargantuan.  And something has to occasionally give.

The big snow-capped peaks of the Cascades are classic strato-volcanoes.

The big snow-capped peaks of the Cascades are classic strato-volcanoes.

One example of the power and beauty of the Ring of Fire lies in the remote Aleutian Islands and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.  Here the huge Pacific Plate dives under the North American continental plate (plus a smaller one called the Okhotsk Plate) along a so-called subduction zone.  The plate partially melts as it descends, because of the heat of course – but also because of it is loaded with water (which acts as a flux).  Plumes of magma rising from the descending and melting plate eventually erupt into some of the world’s most active (and thankfully remote) volcanoes.  In the Southern Hemisphere on the opposite side of the Ring of Fire, the oceanic Nazca Plate subducts under the South American plate to form the longest volcanic range in the world, the Andes.

Crater Lake in Oregon fills the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama, which blew its top about 7000 years ago.

Crater Lake in Oregon fills the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama, which blew its top about 7000 years ago.

All throughout the Ring of Fire there are earthquakes.  Some of the largest happen as a result of subduction and are called megathrust quakes (how’s that for a name!).  The earthquake that caused the destructive Japanese tsunami of 2011 was of the  megathrust variety.  This enormous earthquake happened where the Pacific Plate subducts beneath Japan’s Honshu Island.  The Pacific Plate moved as much as 20 meters (66 feet) west during the minutes-long quake.  Honshu drew closer to America by about 2.5 meters (8 feet).  The equally destructive Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was also generated by a megathrust quake along a subduction zone.

Other earthquakes happen when two tectonic plates slide past each other.  The San Andreas in California is the most famous example of this so-called transform boundary.  Because these earthquakes happen on land and have fairly shallow epicenters, they can be very destructive.  This is despite the quakes being generally smaller than subduction-zone, megathrust earthquakes.

Climbing in the Cascades.  Mount Adams (right) and Rainier are visible.

Climbing in the Cascades. Mount Adams (right) and Rainier are visible.

ADDENDUM: PLATE TECTONICS

The crust of the earth (plus some extra beneath it) is broken into enormous semi-rigid plates.  Over time, the plates move across the planet’s surface, on average about as fast as your fingernails grow.  That’s an average; during big quakes they can move up to a hundred feet!  But overall it’s a very slow process.  It can take over a million years for a plate to move 50 miles.  They ride atop enormous convection currents in the semi-molten part of the upper mantle.  The mantle is that layer that lies directly beneath the earth’s crust.  The weight of tectonic plates as they descend into the mantle along subduction zones (like the one that lies just off the Pacific Northwest coast) helps to pull the oceanic plates along.

Why do we have tectonics while the other planets don’t seem to?  For one thing the energy that drives the convection currents comes from heat given off by the still cooling interior of the earth.   Mars is too small to have much heat left.  For Earth, much of the core is still molten, and our fast spin sets up complex circulation patterns (which cause our magnetic field).  Combined with heat from the decay of radioactive elements, this gives rise to huge, slowly rising zones of heat.  When they hit the colder, more rigid upper parts of the earth, the crust, the currents spread outward horizontally.

Silver Star Mountain in Washington, after a heavy snowfall.

Silver Star Mountain in Washington, after a heavy snowfall.

But there’s another reason for plate tectonics.  It is because we are a water planet that all this partly molten rock is around.  Venus is much too dry for plate tectonics to get going.  Without water the pressures deep below would not allow enough melting.  Water essentially lubricates the earth’s tectonic system.  And without plate tectonics complex life would most likely not be possible, yet another way water is crucial to a living earth.

This series will continue.  If you are interested in any of the images, just click on them.  They are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for reading!

Sunset over the Western Cascades, as viewed from Mount Hood in Oregon.

Sunset over the Western Cascades, as viewed from Mount Hood in Oregon.

Friday Foto Talk – Patterns I: Line   7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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