Archive for the ‘Columbia River’ Tag

Wordless Wednesday: Evening on the Columbia River   1 comment

Hanford: Out of Madness, Accidental Brilliance   17 comments

Dawn on the Columbia River, Hanford Reach, Washington.

Recently I spent a night and day at Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington.  You may have heard of Hanford.  It is an enormous piece of semi-arid steppe in the eastern part of the state along the Columbia River used by the U.S. Department of Energy for nuclear purposes.  But we’re not talking energy here.  This is a little story (or travel post if you will) about how an idea of questionable moral foundation accidentally becomes a brilliant idea.

In the early 1940s, during World War II, the Federal Government came to this mostly empty part of Washington with an ultimatum.  They told the residents of the small town of White Bluffs, along with scattered ranchers and farmers in the region that they could support their country’s war effort by leaving their homes within 30 days.  The simple folk of eastern Washington didn’t know it but the Manhattan Project was getting started.

The White Bluffs baseball team before the Federal Government came to town.

The White Bluffs baseball team before the Federal Government came to town.

The Feds were interested in Hanford because it was remote, wide-open and with endless supplies of fresh water.  That last requirement was especially important because their goal was to do what Iran is trying to do more than 70 years later: enrich plutonium to make an atomic bomb.  They also used Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Los Alamos, New Mexico (where the bomb was finally assembled and tested).

But Hanford was by far the largest site.  That’s not because they needed all the space.  Actually the main development would take place in a relatively small area at the center of the nearly 600 square-mile site.  A few nuclear reactors were scattered along nearer the river, close to much-needed water to cool the reactors.  The enrichment took place in the center with plenty of buffer space..just in case.

An early spring morning on the Hanford Reach, Washington.

Nowadays nothing much happens at Hanford.  Intense cleanup efforts have been partially successful, although there are fears of groundwater contamination miles from the site.  But along the Columbia River things are going along quietly as they have been since the U.S. government came here.

This is the longest free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above tide-water.  No farming or ranching has taken place since 1943.  So the quality of the habitat  (what’s called shrub- or bunchgrass-steppe) is exceptional.  And it’s all because of the Manhattan Project, of all things.  Also it didn’t hurt that President Clinton in 2000 protected it as the Hanford Reach National Monument.

The bunchgrass steppe.

The bunchgrass steppe.


By the way, in 1996 the remains of an ancient hunter (Kennewick Man) was found eroding out of the river bank near the Reach.  The native tribes fought with Federal scientists to acquire and re-bury the remains in accordance with the law.  But scientists wanted to study the well-preserved skeleton to learn something about the earliest Americans.  The Feds won in court because it was unclear at that time if he was even related to modern tribes.  His skull indicated different looks.  But in 2015 DNA evidence pointed to the fact that Kennewick Man was most closely related to the native tribes of today.  If the tribes are still interested (which I’m assuming they are), all they need to do is take it back to court and I’m sure the decision will be reversed so that he may be reburied by his descendants.

Walking along the Columbia, Hanford Reach National Monument, WA.

Walking along the Columbia, Hanford Reach National Monument, WA.

There really isn’t too much to see here, but maybe that’s the point.  Much of it is off limits for protection of nesting birds and native vegetation.  You can simply drive along the river, stopping at the few places where there is public access.  Or if you really want to experience it you can float a canoe or kayak down the river.  From White Bluffs viewpoint you can walk or bicycle along a closed section of roadway.  Whatever you do and however long you stay, you’ll enjoy the quiet, wide open spaces.

Hanford Reach with White Bluffs in the distance. Note the retired plutonium reactors left of the river in the background.

Hanford Reach with White Bluffs in the distance. Note the retired plutonium reactors left of the river in the background.

What started off as a place to plan and build a device that would kill 200,000 people in Japan, a place that began the age when humans are able to destroy large parts of the planet, is now a windswept and pristine grassland, where a river that is largely dammed and tamed gets to just be itself.  That’s what I call a beautiful accident.  Or you could say “every dark cloud has a silver lining”.  Thanks for reading!

At riverside, Hanford Reach, Washington.

At riverside: Hanford Reach, Washington.

Single-image Sunday: Sunset from Munra Pt.   12 comments

I finally broke the photo drought and went up to the Gorge for a hike with my old point and shoot.  The goal was to make it up to the summit of Munra Point by sunset.  I rode my moto out there on a gorgeous afternoon.  One of the only benefits to having no DSLR these days is I can go very light!  So I made good time on the extremely steep route.  The point and shoot isn’t bad.  It’s a Canon S95.  Though the lens is not the quality I’m used to, it does a pretty good job for a P&S.   The best thing is it shoots RAW, so high contrast shots like this, where the camera itself doesn’t do a great job with the intense light contrast, can be dealt with in Lightroom.

Munra Point has a great view of the Columbia River flowing west through the Gorge far below.  This time of year there are spring flowers: glacier lilies & grass widows, among others.  At one point you need to climb hand over hand for a short stretch, but there is a rope to aid you.  It comes in very handy on the way down, when darkness is rapidly closing in.  I forgot a light.  My headlamp was still in my regular camera pack, which is no longer in use.  So I needed to go down fast in order to make it through the forest part before it got totally dark.  All in all a fine return to shooting.  Though I can’t help feeling a bit frustrated using a camera with much less control than I’m used to, I can certainly deal with it for now, at least to scratch the itch.  Thanks for reading!

Sunset over the Columbia River Gorge from Munra Point.

Sunset over the Columbia River Gorge from Munra Point.

Wordless Wednesday: Crescent Moon & Columbia River   9 comments


Wordless Wednesday: Light Beam & Pilings on the Columbia   6 comments


Single-Image Sunday: Burnt Orange River   3 comments

The other evening I went out to the Columbia River near home in Oregon and this was the very last image I captured, just before it got dark.  I posted on “blue hour” recently, and this is very very late blue hour.  The exposure was 30 seconds, f/11 & ISO 400.

An unusual color develops in the dusk sky along the lower Columbia River In Oregon.

An unusual color develops in the dusk sky along the lower Columbia River In Oregon.

While dark was coming on fast, looking west (downriver) here gave me plenty of ambient light for a long exposure. One of the reasons I chose this image was because my last post was on reflections, and this is an excellent example. The light was being reflected off the clouds and then again off the river.  Its unique burnt orange color is mostly because of nearby Portland’s city lights.  You can see it in the sky.  But when that light is reflected in turn from the water (which is smoothed by the long exposure), other colors are mixed in and it ends up a very unique blend of orange, blue and green.  I think It’s a very interesting hue.  Do you agree?

I had already packed up and was headed back up to my bike when I noticed this very subtle color.  I knew a long exposure would bring it out even more in an image, so I went ahead and set up my tripod and camera again.  How many times have I done this, packing up and then changing my mind?  Hundreds, thousands?  The pilings make a very simple subject in a simple image.

Hope you enjoy it.  If you’re interested in purchase options (print, download, etc.) just click it.  Once you have the high-res. version in front of you, click “purchase options”.  It’s copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry ’bout that.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  As always I welcome any comments and questions here as well.  Thanks for looking!

Single-Image Sunday: Sun-Star   9 comments

A big sun-star is featured in a recent sunset over the Columbia River in Oregon.

A big sun-star is featured in a recent sunset over the Columbia River in Oregon.


What can I say, I dig sun stars.  Maybe to the point of shooting them too often.  Especially when I have a clear sky at sunset (a little boring to be honest), I will try to go for an unusual take on sunset.  So I put the trees between me and the water and maximized the sun-star effect.

Actually on this recent evening along the Columbia River in the Gorge, I was really just killing time before the main event, which was dusk and the crescent moon.  I already posted on that, but I thought I’d show the prologue here.  What really attracted me to the shot was the golden light over the opposite shore.  Hope your weekend is finishing up nicely!

Friday Foto Talk: Getting Familiar with your Camera   13 comments

A fading day illuminates colorful skies and the basalt cliffs at Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A fading day illuminates colorful skies and the basalt cliffs at Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

This subject is one of those in photography that everybody just assumes is true but many don’t put it into practice with enough rigor.  Getting familiar with your camera and lenses, along with your tripod and other accessories, is key to capturing your best shots.  This is tops on my mind right now since I just bought a new camera.

If you are a novice, or even beyond novice, photographer, I have to say right here that there is only one author that I’ve read who really dives into this subject with some detail.  That is longtime photography teacher Brian Peterson.  His Understanding Photography Field Guide should be required reading.  He does not go deeply into the idea of getting familiar with your camera, since beyond saying you should do it, there’s not much to mention that is not brand dependent.  But he does detail great ways to get familiar with your lenses.  So go read that book and I won’t go into lenses much here.

A quiet dusk evening along the Columbia River.

A quiet dusk evening along the Columbia River.

Nobody would argue that learning how to use a new piece of electronics is important, whether computer or phone or camera.  But I’m going to argue here that most people tend to do the minimum amount of learning when it comes to their camera.  They read the manual (maybe) and then begin using the camera.  They don’t go back to the manual, trying to figure out the best way to set it up.  But this is the best way to make sure you are doing things in the most efficient way.  It’s important to do this early on so you don’t get locked in too much to a less-efficient way of doing things.

Once you go through this somewhat clunky period of feeling out your camera with help from the manual, then you should just shoot shoot shoot.  This is the only way to get to the point where everything is second nature, where you never have to look at your camera to do anything.  Your eyes belong on the scene before you, not on your camera (except for reviewing the image on the LCD when necessary).

 By the way, regarding the plethora of books that come out on each new model of camera: I don’t see them as very useful.  They are basically extended user’s manuals, which you get for free with the camera.  Much of what you’ll learn is what that photographer does with that camera.  So long as you don’t let that influence you too much, there isn’t much harm in reading one.  I prefer reading the user’s manual and developing my own system.

Dusk descends on the Columbia River in Oregon.

Dusk descends on the Columbia River in Oregon.

When you get to the second-nature stage of using your camera, lenses and tripod, you can do things very quickly.  This allows you to take advantage of quick-changing light.  You can switch subjects quickly.  You can get that wide-angle shot PLUS the zoomed in composition.  When photographing people, you can capture quickly changing expressions and body postures, allowing much more natural looking pictures.

Don’t get me wrong.  You’ll still miss plenty of shots.  You will get set up and trip the shutter a few seconds after the golden light fades, you’ll be ready to photograph an animal just as it passes behind some brush, etc, etc.  I’m actually talking about minimizing the missed shots, not adding opportunities.  For that you’ll need to simply get out in front of interesting subjects and shoot more often.

My previous camera (one that is in the shop right now) is a Canon 5D Mark II.  I just bought a new 5D Mark III, and so there is a lot of overlap.  All the shots here were captured with my new camera.  I’m very familiar with my Mark II, so how different could the Mark III be?  Unfortunately it’s not a completely seamless transition.  That’s because it’s difficult to get used to those things that have changed.

One example on my new camera is the different button used to magnify images on the LCD screen.  This is a feature I use all the time, in composing and focusing images using LiveView, and in reviewing images on the LCD for good focus.  The magnify button on the 5D III is in a different place than it is on the 5D II.  Doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but when your fingers are very used to going to a certain place, it requires retraining to make the change.

New camera models will often have wholly redesigned features.  Autofocus is one example on the Canon 5D III.  Inherited from the 7D and 1D model series, there is a brand new autofocus system to learn.  Compared to the 5D II, it is quite complex, with many different possible settings.  Something new to learn for sure.  Expanded capabilities will just remain unused if you don’t learn how to use them.

Thus far I have only shot a few pictures with my new camera, so I’m sorry for not having a lot of images in this post.  I will post more new pictures as I take them.  In fact, I’m going out right after finishing this post!  Now I’d like you to really examine how familiar you are with your camera gear.  Could using it be more intuitive for you?  If so, get out there and shoot!  Perhaps go back and read that manual one more time.   And by the way have fun!  Thanks for reading!

One of the many old pile dikes sticking out into the broad lower Columbia River right at the edge of magic and blue hours.

One of the many old pile dikes sticking out into the broad lower Columbia River right at the edge of magic and blue hours.

Eastern Columbia River Gorge   4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Foto Talk: Photographing the Crescent Moon   6 comments

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

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

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

Moon Phase & When to Shoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When & How to Capture the Crescent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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