Archive for the ‘nature photography’ Tag

Learning to Love Reptiles   4 comments

An alligator lizard basks in the warm spring sunshine of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

An alligator lizard basks in the warm spring sunshine of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

 

I used to be a bit of a sissy when it came to snakes, and by extension nearly all reptiles.  A few of my childhood friends had pet snakes of course, but I never even got into going to the reptile house at the zoo truth be told.  The only reptiles I liked were turtles, and they are so different as to be considered by most of us as a separate group, incorrect as that notion is.  So turtles were the only reptiles we kept as kids.  We even dug a nice little pond in the backyard and filled it with water for those box turtles who were “lucky” enough to be saved from predators in the nearby woods.

Boomslangs are highly venomous snakes native to southern Africa, here emerging from a tree in Kruger National park.

Boomslangs are highly venomous snakes native to southern Africa, here emerging from a tree in Kruger National park.

 

I taught science some years ago in an outdoor setting, a semi-desert chock-full of snakes and lizards.  I simply had to overcome my distaste at touching snakes at that point, since the school-kids who I taught there would have never taken me seriously if they knew I was afraid of reptiles.  I learned that handling a large gopher snake was not at all as unpleasant as I had believed.  Like anything you just need to go slow and get used to it.  It did not take me as long as I expected it would to get over my aversion to the slimy-muscular feel of their skin.

A deadly fer de lance (mapanale in the local language) hangs out near Angel Falls, Venezuela.

A deadly fer de lance (mapanale in the local language) hangs out near Angel Falls, Venezuela.

 

I encountered plenty of rattle snakes on this job as well, and there were a couple close calls.  One dark evening I was approached by a young girl, just as I was packing up a telescope after an observing session.  She said there was a rattle-snake in their cabin.  I was skeptical but went up the hill to find all of them standing outside in their jammies, beyond excited (imagine a group of school girls on a camping trip and you have the picture).  I scoured the cabin but found nothing.  On the way out, smirking at yet another city-kid over-reaction to being in the outdoors, I heard the tell-tale rattle.  I shone the flashlight around and heard it again, coming from underneath the eaves of the A-frame cabin.  I crouched down and there he was, a big rattler coiled and glaring at me.

A close-up of an alligator lizard.

A close-up of an alligator lizard.

 

I moved the girls further away, getting their slightly less-panicky chaperone to keep watch on them while I fetched a snake stick.  This is a pole with a sort of grabber on the end.  It allows you to grasp a snake behind its head and capture it without getting too close.  I then crouched down and while shining the flashlight with one hand reached under and slowly approached the snake with the snake stick.  Just when I thought he was mine, he decided to make his move.  He slithered right for me.  Since I was laying on the ground, I couldn’t move out of the way quickly enough and had to make a capture attempt before I was ready.  Luckily my coordination was with me that night and I got him.  I don’t like to think about the alternative, with that big ugly snake wanting out of there with nothing in his way but my big ugly face.

A gopher snake shows off the tip of his tongue in eastern Oregon.

A gopher snake shows off the tip of his tongue in eastern Oregon.

 

Since then, I have gotten close to some fairly impressive snakes and reptiles.  There was one in southern Nepal, a rock python who had recently consumed a deer.  This was the biggest snake I’ve ever seen.  And my guide, who grew up around there, had never seen a bigger one.  He estimated it was at least 7 meters long!  I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo and this one was bigger than any they have.

My that's a long tongue you have: a komodo dragon sniffs out a lunch option, the one holding the camera.

My that’s a long tongue you have: a komodo dragon sniffs out a lunch option, the one holding the camera.

 

In Venezuela, I got pretty close to a fer de lance, the deadliest snake in the Americas (see image).  I saw a black mamba crossing the road in South Africa, and got much closer to a boomslang (see image).  And in Indonesia I visited the islands of the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard.  It is very disquieting watching these monsters watch you.  The look they give you is unmistakable: they are waiting for you to make a mistake, just calmly waiting for you to become their dinner.

A small lizard perches on the back of the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon in Indonesia .

A small lizard perches on the back of the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon in Indonesia .

 

On a hike recently in the eastern Columbia River Gorge near home in Oregon, I saw a couple snakes and an alligator lizard (see images above).  It’s been a long winter and a long time since I’ve seen a reptile.  I suppose I am completely over any lingering fear of snakes and lizards.  Now all they do is make me smile, as I know they are harbingers of warm sunny afternoons ahead.  In addition, they are fascinating creatures, real holdovers from Earth’s bygone days.  All they want is a slow-paced lifestyle with plenty of sunbathing.  What’s not to love?

Close-up view of a geometric tortoise's shell, in the western Cape, South Africa.

Close-up view of a geometric tortoise’s shell, in the western Cape, South Africa.

 

Click on any photo to go to the main part of my image portfolio, where there are purchase options.  Sorry these are not available for free download.  Thanks for your interest, and please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

Might not want to leave your room just yet:  a large komodo dragon prowls the grounds of my guest house on Rinca Island, Indonesia.

Might not want to leave your room just yet: a large komodo dragon prowls the grounds of my guest house on Rinca Island, Indonesia.

Tamanawas Falls   7 comments

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon's Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

I recently took the first hike since I broke my ribs.  It was only about 4 miles, along a glorious stream east of Mount Hood called Cold Spring Creek (I like calling it Tamanawas Creek though).  The hike heads a short way down the East fork of Hood River and turns up the rollicking creek to Tamanawas Falls.  This is an American Indian name, but I’ve had trouble tracking down its meaning.  It’s a beautiful hike and a beautiful waterfall.

By the way, I hope you enjoy these images.  Just click on any of them to go to the main part of my website, where purchase is possible.  They’re not available for free download, sorry.  The versions here are much too small anyway, but purchase as print or download of high-res. versions is possible by going here.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

To get there drive from Portland to Hood River on I-84.  At this town, get off the freeway and head up the Hood River Valley on Highway 35.  You’ll pass beautiful apple and pear orchards (which bloom around Easter), and in nice weather you’ll have grand views of Mount Hood.  Soon the road begins to be crowded by the valley walls as it heads into forest toward the mountain.  Before you begin climbing you will see a sign for Sherwood Campground.  Look for the trailhead on the right.  There will likely be other cars there.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

From the trailhead walk into the woods and cross the East Fork Hood River on a log bridge.  Come immediately to a T-junction and take a right.  In a half mile or so you’ll curve into the canyon, then soon come to another wooden bridge.  Cross this and turn left at another junction, heading up Cold Spring Creek.  Follow this all the way to the falls.  Return the way you came.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

The snow had just recently melted off the trail when I was there a few days ago, so this was the first time I photographed the curtain-like cascade with leftover snow.  It added an extra challenge to the photography, since the white of the snow wanted to blow-out (over-expose) whenever I properly exposed for the darker moss.  The even darker basalt that the falls flows over is nearly impossible to expose perfectly, but I think it’s fine to allow those areas to go nearly black.  Let me know what you think!

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

The trail offers many opportunities for communing with the rapids and small waterfalls along the way.  I used a circular polarizer for these shots.  Combined with a fairly small aperture and the fact that the sun was by that time too low to shine into the canyon, this gave me the long exposures that result in the smooth silky water.  Most of the photos had exposures on the order of 2-5 seconds, a few much longer (15-20 seconds).

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon.  In April the falls hastens the snow's retreat.

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon. In April the falls hastens the snow’s retreat.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Oneonta Gorge   29 comments

Oneonta Gorge is a lush slot canyon in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Oneonta Gorge is a narrow and verdant canyon in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

This is a lovely canyon that lies not far east of Portland (Oregon) in the Columbia River Gorge.  Being lush, verdant and wet, it offers the kind of scenery and a feeling that is quintessentially Pacific Northwest.   It is Oneonta Gorge, and to explore it requires a bit of an adventurous spirit.

To get there, drive east of Portland into the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 84.  Keep going past Multnomah Falls and take the next exit (#35, Ainsworth).  Loop around and head back west, turning left at the stop sign on the Historic Highway toward Multnomah Falls.  In fact, an alternative is to travel the Historic Highway all the way out from Corbett (see previous post) past Multnomah Falls and on to Oneonta.  If you take the freeway, all you need to do is drive a couple miles back west along the Historic Highway.  You’ll first come to Horsetail Falls on the left.  Keep going (or stop and take a photo!) for another quarter mile and you’ll see a small tunnel off to the left.  The road does not go through the tunnel.  Cross over Oneonta Creek on a small bridge and pull off at the wide spot just past the tunnel.

Logs are swept down Oneonta Gorge in Oregon during heavy winter rains.

Logs are swept down Oneonta Gorge during heavy winter rains.

Walk back towards the tunnel and you will see a small set of stairs that drops down to Oneonta Creek.  Depending on the time of year, you will either be able to hike up the creek a short way without getting wet or you will quickly get your feet wet.  In either case, in order to proceed very far up the narrow gorge, you’ll need to scramble over a large log jam (be very careful) and then wade up the creek.  Bring old sneakers and wool socks with either shorts or quick-drying pants.  It’s cool in the canyon so warm clothes are a good idea.

The walls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are covered in moss and other plants that are kept wet by the constant water seeping from above.

The walls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are covered in moss and other plants that are kept wet by the constant water seeping from above.

You can wade up the gorge only about a half-mile before you come to a waterfall, which will halt your progress.  The walls along the sides of this narrow canyon are covered with moss and ferns.  During the wet season (winter and early Spring) you will likely not get all the way to the falls, and you can even be stopped at the far side of the log jam in high water.  In hot summer months you will be able to wade all the way up.  But since this is a very popular place during the warm season now, definitely go during the week.  Better yet go up when the weather is cooler and you will probably have the place to yourself.

The Oneonta Gorge in Oregon narrows to a point where not much light makes it down to the creek bottom.

The Oneonta Gorge in Oregon narrows to a point where not much light makes it down to the creek bottom.

Over the past week I’ve gone up twice.  The first time the water was much too high to continue past the log jam, but on my second visit I saw that the water had dropped quite a bit.  So I waded upstream in the icy water (brrr!).  The last section to the waterfall passes the narrowest and deepest part of the creek, so that was as far as I got.  If you were to swim, you could get all the way.  But it would be a cold swim!

The narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon were created over uncounted years by the creek's frequent flooding.

The narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon were created over uncounted years by the creek’s frequent flooding.

In Onenta Gorge, Oregon, the approach to its waterfall is guarded by deep water in spring's high water flows.

In Onenta Gorge, Oregon, the approach to its waterfall is guarded by deep water in spring’s high water flows.

Hope you enjoyed the photos of this incredible canyon.  I’m sorry these images are not available for free download.  The versions here are much too small for use anyway.  Just click on any you might be interested in to gain access to the high-resolution versions.  Then click “add image to cart” to go to a tabbed price list.  Your image won’t be added to the cart until you see the prices.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.  See ya next time!

The Columbia River flows west toward the sea in deep evening as the moon shines above.

On the way back from Oneonta Gorge, wet feet didn’t keep me from stopping along the way and admiring the evening glow on the Columbia River with the moon and Orion’s Belt glittering above.

Oregon Weather   4 comments

Typical weather in western Oregon's forested Cascade Mountains outside of the height of summer.

Typical weather in western Oregon’s forested Cascade Mountains outside of the height of summer.

 

The weather in the Pacific Northwest (western Oregon and Washington) can be described in one word: drippy.  This is not always true of course.  Summer is typically sunny and beautiful.  But for much of the year, this region of the country gets hit by one storm another other coming off the Pacific Ocean.  The percentage of cloudy days here is by far higher than anywhere else I have lived.  In short, there is a good reason the Northwest is green and heavily forested.

This Spring, the weather has been typically cloudy and wet.  There have been a few warm sunny days of late, and that has given the hopelessly optimistic (naive?) among us the impression that the rainy season is over.  But this past weekend’s cool wet weather shattered that fantasy.  I feel sorry for newcomers to Oregon.  They actually expect springtime to bring warm and sunny weather.  They don’t really get it yet.  Reliably warm and bright weather does not arrive here until after the 4th of July.  Cruelly, it really does seem to like waiting until after this holiday weekend.

Fog and sun battle for dominance in an Oregon forest.

Fog and sun battle for dominance in an Oregon forest.

Being a photographer, I know that bad weather provides some opportunities along with its challenges.  So over the weekend I spent some time trying to get atmospheric pictures of our lush green forests and waterfalls.  (Tune in to the next post for the waterfalls.)  I look on weather like this as an opportunity to capture the unique and special feel of this place, the deep forested canyons and ridges that make up western Oregon’s Cascades and Coast Range.  You really can’t do that when the skies are clear, because the pictures end up looking like so many other beautiful places.

The steep forest of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon sees plenty of misty-rainy days.

The steep forest of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon sees plenty of misty-rainy days.

So I went on short hikes into the nearby Columbia River Gorge.  My goal was to be out photographing between showers.  I really don’t enjoy hiking in the rain for one thing.  For another, my camera gear is even more averse to wet weather.  Go figure!  As I should have expected, things did not turn out as I hoped.  Dry periods were spent driving to and from my hiking destinations, while a steady, soaking rain fell for nearly my entire time spent in the woods.  In other words, I spent my weekend getting muddy and soaked from head to toe.

Fog and mist permeates a deep evergreen temperate rain forest in Oregon.

Fog and mist permeates a deep evergreen temperate rain forest in Oregon.

Although it was a struggle to keep my camera gear dry, I managed to get a few good pictures and (amazingly) returned home with a working camera.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.  They are copyrighted and illegal to download without my permission.  Click on any of the images to gain access to the high-res. versions where purchase options are given.  You’ll need to click “add this image to cart” in order to see prices, but they won’t be added to your cart until you decide what you want.  Please contact me with any questions or requests.  Thanks for your interest.

There is a reason Oregon is green and chock-full of streams and rivers.

There is a reason Oregon is green and chock-full of streams and rivers.

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons Sampler   6 comments

The Snake River's Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming reflects autumn colors.

The Snake River’s Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming reflects autumn colors.

I am in the process of updating my website with pictures I’ve made in the past few months.  Yes, I know.  I have been suffering that most common of website owner maladies: utter neglect!  I guess I don’t really love my website.  All I like is the color of the background and the photos, of course.

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.

Here are a few of the shots I have re-edited, spruced up, and made ready for the world.  All are from the first leg of my recent trip around the American west, of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts under a starry night.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts under a starry night.

If you are interested in prints or downloads just click on the picture.  The versions here are very low-resolution, but when you click you will have the option to purchase high-res. versions.  All of the images are copyrighted and thus illegal to download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me for more information or special requests.  The direct link to my main website: MJF Images.

 Hope you enjoy them.

The Grand Tetons are a must-stop on any road trip through America's Rocky Mountain states.

The Grand Tetons are a must-stop on any road trip through America’s Rocky Mountain states.

An icy early autumn morning along Yellowstone's Firehole River and the enormous steam plumes rising from Grand Prismatic Spring.

An icy early autumn morning along Yellowstone’s Firehole River with colorful steam plumes rising from Grand Prismatic Spring.

Bare trees and a frosty meadow form a dramatic setting for lifting morning mist at Yellowstone National Park.

Bare trees and a frosty meadow form a dramatic setting for lifting morning mist at Yellowstone National Park.

Bison roaming the road at Yellowstone, and a tourist who had no idea they were that big.

Bison roaming the road at Yellowstone, and a tourist who had no idea they were that big.

 

The marvelous Swan River Wildlife Refuge in NW Montana, at the foot of the purple Swan Mountains.

The marvelous Swan River Wildlife Refuge in NW Montana, at the foot of the purple Swan Mountains.

 

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of evening.

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of  a crescent moon.

Happy Vernal Equinox   3 comments

Bring on the light!  The first day of spring, or vernal equinox, is a time for celebration in the northern hemisphere.

Bring on the light! The first day of spring, or vernal equinox, is a time for celebration in the northern hemisphere.

This is the day that makes everybody in the northern hemisphere happy.  It is spring (vernal) equinox.  That means the first day of spring, the day when daytime and nighttime are equal in length (thus “equi” and “nox” – night).  It’s been happening in recent years on the 21st in North America, so some think that it always occurs on this day.

The fact is, the 20th is just as likely as the 21st.  After all, the event is not tied to a date.  It happens when the sun lines up with the equator.  Since the earth is tilted as it goes around the sun, there are only two times during the year that this happens:  once in spring and once in fall (the autumnal equinox).

This annular eclipse, though different from an equinox, reminds us of the different movements of Sun, Earth and Moon.

This annular eclipse, though different from an equinox, reminds us of the different movements of Sun, Earth and Moon.

The other astronomically-significant days on the calendar, the solstices, are when the earth is tilted at its maximum angle with respect to the sun, and so represent the longest (winter) and shortest (summer) days of the year.  On solstices, I have had the habit of trying to do something awesome.  As with my birthday, if I’m not working I try to get out and hike, ski or otherwise enjoy the outdoors.  Climbing a mountain is a favorite.

I have never really thought of equinoxes in the same way.  Maybe it’s time to change this.  I thought I would look through my picture catalog over the last few years, searching by date taken, to find out if I had accidentally done something awesome on the vernal equinox.

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Tajamulco.

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Volcan Tajamulco.

It turns out I had, on the 21st of March in 2010.  In western Guatemala, I climbed to the summit of Tajamulco, the highest mountain in Central America.  We had camped not far below the summit the night before, and before sunrise we climbed the final 800 feet or so.  The sunrise was spectacular.  Hope you enjoy the photos.  Remember to click on any you are interested in purchasing.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.   Happy Equinox wherever you may be!

Offerings at the summit of Tajamulco, Guatemala.  A lone climber stands in the shadow of the mountain.

Offerings at the summit of Tajamulco, Guatemala. A lone climber stands in the shadow of the mountain.

Puttin’ on the Green: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!   7 comments

 

The O'Flaherty Castle in Connemara, Ireland.

The O’Flaherty Castle in Connemara, Ireland.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  This post will be a bit short on words but very long on green.  I love all the colors found in nature.  I’ve been blessed to admire the crystal blue of a clear sky, the deep brown and ochre of rich earth, the impossibly-pure white of fresh snowfall, the vibrant fuschia and magenta of a desert sunset; even that most fiery of red-orange in flowing lava!

But there is something about the color green that speaks to all of us.  It is the color that means life.  I make my home in a very green part of a green state: northwestern Oregon.  Also, I’ve traveled to lush and very green places in the tropics all over the world.  But I believe that when I visited Ireland about 6 years ago, I saw the most incredible variety, the most luminous shades of green that I’ve ever seen in my life.  This is where my ancestry lies, in the Connemara region of western Ireland.

If you’re interested in buying any of these images either framed or in high-resolution download form, just click on those you like (except the top one).  All of them are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Enjoy the green!

A mother giant river otter leads her babies across a plant-covered pond in western Venezuela.

A mother giant river otter leads her babies across a plant-covered pond in western Venezuela.

Rice paddies surround a small village on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

Rice paddies surround a small village on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A green frog floats in a green pool in Namibia's Naukluft Mountains.

A green frog floats in a green pool in Namibia’s Naukluft Mountains.

A fern-filled grotto in western Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A fern-filled grotto in western Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

A capuchin monkey peers down from the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

A capuchin monkey peers down from the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

In the foothills of the Andes in Colombia, a cloud forest seems a great place to hide leprechauns.

In the foothills of the Andes in Colombia, a cloud forest seems a great place to hide leprechauns.

One of spring's colts gambles across a green pasture in eastern Oregon.

One of spring’s colts gambles across a green pasture in eastern Oregon.

A waterfall in the jungle on the slopes of Mt Rinjani on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A waterfall in the jungle on the slopes of Mt Rinjani on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A river flows through remote jungle in southwestern Costa Rica.

A river flows through remote jungle in southwestern Costa Rica.

A moss-covered bank overlooks a small rapid on Hood River, Oregon.

A moss-covered bank overlooks a small rapid on Hood River, Oregon.

Home in the Jungle: Life on the Rio San Juan, which flows along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Home in the Jungle: Life on the Rio San Juan, which flows along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Big sky and rolling green plains grazed by roan antelope define the pristine Nyika Plateau of northern Malawi.

Big sky and rolling green plains grazed by roan antelope define the pristine Nyika Plateau of northern Malawi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Mixing White Balance   3 comments

Geese fly along Yellowstone National Park's Hayden Valley.

Geese fly along Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley.

This week we talk about a fairly simple way to enhance your photograph in post-processing: mixing white balance.  I always use Lightroom 4 to bring my photos on to the computer and do the basic editing.  Normally this is the only program I use, but sometimes I will use Photoshop Elements or a plugin (Topaz, Nik, etc.) to perform a task that is difficult to do in Lightroom.  I shoot in RAW.  One big reason I do is because this is the only way you can change white balance after taking the picture.  If you shoot in Jpeg you need to choose your white balance before taking the shot, and then you can’t change it on the computer.

These photos you see, by the way, are quite small Jpeg versions created from the RAW photos.  They are small to make them not so good for downloading, which is illegal anyway since they’re copyrighted.  Click on an image for purchase options.

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What is white balance?  It’s simply a color scheme for your picture.  Take a look at a color wheel (google it).  Think of it as a sort of graph for color, where colors on the opposite side of the wheel represent extremes.  Sometimes colors out in the world will be relatively pure, but mostly they will be a mix of these extremes.  For example the color blue, as in a deep blue sky, is the opposite of the color yellow or orange (gold), as in a golden sunset.  But think of what you see (and what you photograph) as a mix, a balance between the extremes represented by the color wheel.

An example of a "blue-hour" shot of the iconic Crown Point over the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

An example of a “blue-hour” shot of the iconic Crown Point over the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

 In other words, each time you go outside and look around, you are seeing a particular white balance in the colors of each scene.  Sometimes when you face one direction you will see one color scheme, and then you turn around and see a different one.  The most dramatic differences in white balance come as the day moves along.  During pre-dawn and again during deep dusk hours you get a fairly cool lighting scheme, rich in deep blues.  That’s why this time is called by photographers the “blue hour”.  When the sun is very low and reflecting off of a scene (such as in the image below) you are in “golden hour”.  This is a time when the light is very warm and rich in yellows and reds.  In mid-day, depending on the weather conditions, a pale blue scheme can dominate.

(A disclaimer for scientifically-inclined readers: I know that the more blue a light, the warmer it is.  Red is cooler light than blue.  But we are talking artists here, and for these purposes blue is thought of in cool terms while red is considered warm.  So reverse your thinking.  I know – artists!)

Simple front light on this pronghorn antelope has a uniformly warm color scheme (white balance).

Simple front light on this pronghorn antelope has a uniformly warm color scheme (white balance).

Now take a look at your white balance adjustment in the software you use to edit your photos.  In Lightroom and most other software, it occupies a position near the top of your panel.  That’s because it is usually good to adjust your white balance before you do anything else.  But also notice that the adjustment includes two sliders.  In Lightroom they are labeled temperature and tint.  Temperature takes care of the balance between blues and yellows, while tint takes care of the green vs. magenta balance.

(Sorry I am just not going to put screenshots in this blog, at least not right now.  Bring up Lightroom or have a book or tutorial open if you want to follow along.  You will need to play with it yourself anyway to get the hang of it, and I don’t think a screenshot here will help you in the long run.)

 This post will not go over all the ins and outs of setting white balance in your camera and then again adjusting it (provided you shoot in RAW) once you are in front of your computer.  Instead I will (finally) jump into the main topic, that is how to incorporate different white balances into your photo.  I will use Lightroom 4 to explain, but programs like Aperture, GIMP, etc. are quite similar.  I’ll also assume you know how to use two tools in Lightroom: the graduated filter tool (shortcut M) and the brush tool (shortcut K).  Get a Lightroom book or go online for basic Lightroom tutorials to learn how to use these tools.

This is a back lighted scene, where the sun is low and the white balance is uniformly warm and golden.

This is a back lighted scene, where the sun is low and the white balance is uniformly warm and golden.

The photos above illustrate something about this subject that I think is very important.  It is a photo that naturally contains areas of different white balance, and it is these that I like to work on with mixed white-balance techniques.  In the image of the geese in Hayden Valley, the top and bottom of the photo are blue and cool while the middle has nice warm golden front light.  The other photos above have uniform white balances, and so changing white balance in part of the photos would result in unnatural effects.  The reason I think this is important is that I do not want to introduce strange color schemes into my photos, at least for 99% of them.  Although I do enhance things, I don’t like to see an image on my computer screen that is significantly different from the one I saw in the field.  Again, there are exceptions that prove this little rule of mine.

Back to this image from Yellowstone’s wonderful Hayden Valley.  In the river, the deep blue results from light back-scattering toward my shooting position.  I had my camera set to auto white balance for this image, and given the perfect front light I didn’t have to adjust the global white balance in order for me to retain the great warmth that was part of the original scene.  Water that is front-lit like this often has as deep a blue as you can possibly want, so I did not adjust the white balance in this part of the image.  The sky, which is blue because of back-scattering as well, originally had a paler blue color.  The second image from top, by the way, is the image before I did my selective white-balance adjustment.

Since I wanted the sky to match more closely (but not exactly) the blue of the water, I used Lightroom 4’s graduated filter tool.  This is located at top of Lightroom’s Develop panel, and is shaped like an upright rectangle with a graduated shading inside.  Clicking and dragging from top to bottom, I put the middle of the grad. filter at the contact between sky and land.  Once it was in place, I then adjusted the temperature slider to the left a modest amount (9 points).  I also bumped up clarity and contrast a bit, to bring out the clouds; and voila!  I had a deeper, bluer sky to better match the deep blue of the river.  Though this is a subtle difference, it certainly adds some pop to the image I think.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

Sometimes I will decide to go with a fairly cool (blue) white balance globally, across the entire photo.  Then upon looking at it I decide that some part of the image needs more warmth.  That was the case above, with the image of the Goosenecks in Utah.  This time I dragged the graduated filter from bottom to top, made it very narrow and placed the center at the horizon.  I added back some of the warmth I took away, and then some, by sliding the temperature slider to the right 16 points.  Then I noticed the river below was not the way I wanted it, so I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom.  This is located at the top of the Develop panel, just right of the graduated filter tool.

My adjustment for the brush – temperature 12 points to the left – took away most of that warmth I had added with the graduated filter.  I also bumped exposure and saturation up a bit to make the river stand out a little better in its deep shadowy canyon.  Other than some normal contrast, clarity and sharpness/noise reduction adjustments, I did not do anything else to this photo.  Note that it was taken under a full moon, thus saturation in the rocks was there but subtle (thus my desire to make it a bit less subtle).

A canyon in Zion National Park is flooded with warm light even from a sunset that has not yet turned the sky to gold.

A canyon in Zion National Park is flooded with warm light even from a sunset that has not yet turned the sky to gold.

In the photo above, I used two graduated filters plus a couple adjustment brushes.  I began with the graduated filters.  One was for the top third of the photo, and involved sliding the temperature slider to the left (blue/cool).  I wanted to accentuate the blues that were still in the sky as the sunset had not really begun to peak yet.  This was despite the fact that the canyon’s red rocks were catching all of the warm colors.  The other graduated filter, therefore, was for the bottom third of the photo.  I slid the temperature slider to the left (orange/warm) this time to accentuate that warmth a bit.

I was trying to capture the early stages of a sunset in that interesting location.  I cleaned up the middle third by using a couple adjustment brushes: one with temp. warmed a bit (orange bias), the other with temp. cooled a bit (blue bias).  Where the sky transitioned between a warm white balance below and a cool one above, I painted the clouds with the warm brush and the sky with the cool brush, to accentuate that transition.  In addition, for the warming brush, I also slid the tint slider a bit to the right (magenta), because there was a subtle pinkish glow to the clouds that I wanted to bring out.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

The photo above involves a combination of graduated filters and brushes as well, with subtle changes in white balance for each.  I included this one because it involved a challenge.  It’s not challenging because of the adjustments themselves, but because with the shadows and sharp (but beautiful) light transitions, it was difficult to retain a natural color cast.  What do you think?  Does the image look natural to you?  Does it have impact (does it “pop”) without looking like an HDR image?  Often even professional photographers get “too close” to an image.  Like a writer, they get too comfy in front of their work and as a result lose some objectivity.  It’s important to step away and come back to it after a day or so in order to see whether the color cast still looks natural.  Hey!  I just thought of another topic for Friday Foto Talk!

A pronghorn antelope rests in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar River Valley.

A pronghorn antelope rests in Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar River Valley.  A subtle decrease in white balance in the sky via graduated filter.  On the pronghorn, an adjustment brush with slightly increased exposure, temperature and saturation was used to help bring out the subject.  These changes bring out the contrasts already in the scene.

An example of a photo that has a natural difference in white balance between the landscape and sky.  You could elect to add a graduated filter to the sky and change its white balance, but it's easier to either increase vibrance or increase saturation of the blue channel in Lightroom.

An example of a photo that has a natural difference in white balance between the landscape and sky. You could elect to add a graduated filter to the sky and change its white balance, but it’s easier to either increase vibrance or increase saturation of the blue channel in Lightroom.

Off-trail in the Columbia River Gorge   11 comments

A small tributary of Eagle Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge drops over a small falls in a mossy glen.

A small tributary of Eagle Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge drops over a small falls in a mossy glen.

I have a hiking buddy who likes Google Earth.  These words, for those who have similarly inclined hiking buddies, spell doom.  It means the person, instead of trolling around on Facebook or Twitter like any self-respecting citizen might, spends computer time finding great hiking locations with no trails.  They’re places that, though awesome, require bushwacking to access.  Bushwacking, if you don’t know, is the exhausting, humbling, even sometimes humiliating act of pushing your way through undergrowth.  It’s so much fun…not!

Eagle Creek flows through its gorge as Spring melt cascades from the surrounding lush Oregon forest.

Eagle Creek flows through its gorge as Spring meltwater cascades from the surrounding lush Oregon forest.

This past weekend myself and two other gullible suckers went along with Mr. Google Earth on a hike in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  I don’t know why this is, but he tends to zoom in on this area above others.  I know it is partly because it’s close-by, and doesn’t involve a lot of driving (bushwacking takes time, after all).  But I think he also likes the fact that such a struggle is involved to reach these places not many people (if any) will have visited.  Call it an allergy to trails and well-traveled places.

A bigleaf maple leaf from last autumn that had until recently been covered and preserved by rotting wood.

A bigleaf maple leaf from last autumn that had until recently been covered and preserved by rotting wood.

Since I do have a similar bias toward relatively unexplored places, I am prone to going along on these “adventures”.   There were about 10 people originally signed up for the hike, but 4 wisely backed out at the last minute, and another two showed up much too late to the meeting point for us to wait.  We headed out with me driving.  His truck he wore out on scouting missions and hikes.

The hike started out with about four miles on a very popular trail, in fact the same one I blogged about last week, Eagle Creek.  This stretch of trail hiking, you could tell, killed my friend.  I think being on a trail is something that really drives him crazy.  But we soon struck off into the thick brush and he was in his element.  We crossed a mossy creek where each step was more slippery than solid ice would have been.  Then we were faced with an insanely steep climb up an unstable slope made of thick moss covering loose boulders and rotten timber.  How pleasant!

Sunny Lunch Spot

But then we broke out on the open ridgeline, the one my friend had located using his beloved Google Earth.  It was knife-edge in places, and the kind of scramble where short steep traverses alternate with a sort of tightrope dance along the top with only room enough to place your foot.  Steep dropoffs on either side kept the focus squarely on the next step.

A small creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

But it was sunny up there!  The day was glorious, and if you had spent the long winter in the Pacific Northwest you know that I mean truly glorious.  Soon however, one of our team began to lose her nerve.  I’ve seen this before.  Somebody is along on the hike or climb who does not have the experience with exposure, and after an hour or so of being nervous they’ve had enough.  So we had to turn back after not much more than a mile on the ridge.

On an off-trail hike in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge, we use a slippery log bridge to cross a rushing creek.

On an off-trail hike in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, we use a slippery log bridge to cross a rushing creek.

We hope to go up again.  Now that I know what is involved to access the ridge, and how open the top of it is, I want to complete the long loop trip that climbs to a place called Tanner Butte.  I know there is a trail which returns to the Columbia from there, but my friend will probably locate an “alternative”.  I think this will require a hand-picked team and a late Spring day when there is plenty of daylight.

Scrambling up so-called 4 1/2 Mile Ridge in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Scrambling up 4 1/2 Mile Ridge (unofficial name) in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

I had my camera along and took a few shots.  Luckily we had a slower member and this allowed me to dawdle, setting up long-exposure shots of the beautiful tributary creek to Eagle Creek along with pictures of hiking & picnicking along the open ridge.  Click on the images if you’re interested in perusing similar images or purchasing.  They are not available for free download without permission, sorry.

Thanks for reading.  Spring is breaking, so get out there and hike!

The Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest stretches westward as the sun sets.

The Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest stretches westward as the sun sets.

Friday Foto Talk: Disappointment   6 comments

Frozen Mirror Lake in Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon.

Frozen Mirror Lake in Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon.

My goal with these weekly topics is to cover things that are not covered well in other photo blogs, but which nevertheless must be faced and dealt with by every photographer.  So many photography blogs tend to be a little too technical (hello, it’s an art form!) or at the opposite extreme so filled with attempts to elicit chuckles that you wonder at the end if there was anything useful to take away.

When I first started taking pictures there were a few photography classes (which I couldn’t afford), and that was it.  Sure, a few photo how-to books were on the shelves, but I wasn’t into reading books on how to take pictures, I was into taking pictures!  Nowadays of course there are a bazillion ways to learn about photography.  The dirty little secret?  There is not all that much to learn (in a hushed voice); the rest is gained by doing.

So with that little dig directed at the photography education “industry” I will talk about something near and dear to my heart: disappointment.  Last Friday’s topic was on technique, this one isn’t (I like variety, what can I say).

If you are just getting going with photography, particularly landscape and/or nature photography, you will soon be very familiar with disappointment.  You’ll realize being skunked when you go out to get that epic shot is a more common occurrence than being blessed with a special image or three.  The key is to give yourself permission to be disappointed, but not to feel discouraged.

As you go along, you’ll naturally want certain pictures, and it’s often very specific light, foreground, etc. that you imagine capturing.   I live in Oregon and though I have 50 or 60 of my framed photographs on the walls, I don’t yet have a picture of Mount Hood.  Sure I have good shots of Hood, but I haven’t captured Oregon’s highest mountain in its snow-clad, alpenglow-tinged, crystal winter-light magnificence.  I might print and frame a shot of some monastery high in the Himalayas that is merely good.  The exotic location makes it worth framing, despite minor flaws.  But I somehow can’t allow an iconic mountain so close to home to be displayed in any other way than pure excellence.  Some days the mountain never crosses my mind; on other days it’s all I can think about.

That was the case today when I saw the perfect weather conditions developing.  I wanted a snowy winter portrait of Hood with plenty of clouds in the sky and the kind of light pervading the atmosphere that only cold weather can provide.  I drove up in the afternoon and parked near a trail that heads up to a frozen lake directly southwest of the mountain: Mirror Lake.  The exact viewpoint I was headed for, being halfway up a steep slope, is not one used other photographers.  A similar photo can be captured higher up at the top of Tom Dick & Harry Mountain (nice name, huh?), and this is a fairly popular place with local photographers.  But my hopes were for a better foreground.  Since the sun sets south of west these days, and since the snow gave easier access to the bouldery slope, I was destined to be in the right place at the right time, just before sunset.

Tom Dick & Harry Peak.  Actually this is Dick, one of the triple peaks.  They stand above Mirror Lake near Mt Hood, Oregon.

Tom Dick & Harry Mtn. Actually this is Dick, one of the triple peaks. They stand above Mirror Lake near Mt Hood, Oregon.

I donned cross-country skis and set out.  I climbed up to the lake, took a few shots, and continued up the steep slope behind the lake.  It got steeper and steeper, and I struggled a bit.  All the while, I noticed the mountain was peeping in and out of dramatic clouds.  I had high hopes.  Just as the light started turning golden, I grunted up the last few yards before it leveled out.  I’m not one to wax on about great dangerous adventures while taking photos, but the avalanche danger was definitely very near my comfort limit.

I began to notice some clouds coming in.  It had been showing signs of clearing, so I ignored the ominous grey blobs in the sky.  But as I crested the top, it began to snow, and I looked over to see…nothing.  Actually there was something, a dull grey expanse where there should have been a mountain.  I could even see, peeking through, swatches of perfect magenta light on one ridge of Hood.  But the clouds formed a very effective shroud.

I waited for a miracle, but it didn’t happen.  I had been clouded out.  After having spent time, money (for gas) and sweaty effort, I had nothing to show for it – zip, zilch, nada!  I had little time to sulk though, because it began to get dark.  I quickly realized my vulnerable position and skied back down to the lake.  A dozen or so nice powder turns was my reward, and this was certainly something!  After all light had gone but a dull red glow on the western horizon, the clouds quickly dissipated and the mountain came right out.  So typical!

Skiing out on Mirror Lake as the sun goes down.

Skiing out on Mirror Lake as the sun goes down.

Here is the lesson you might have learned already.  Unless you set up lights and can control most aspects of the shoot (except for which side of the bed your model woke up on), you will be forever at the mercy of capricious mother nature.  You will do best to get the pictures you can, but there is no avoiding the desire to capture some favorite subject in a specific way.  That’s when you are set up for the big D.  Just as with life, it is important to take all of your photography disappointments in stride too.  Get a few pictures if you can, but learn that you can live to fight another day.

Whatever you do, don’t give up.  Return to that spot again when the weather conditions are dynamic and unpredictable.  Do not return when the skies are impossibly clear and there is no chance for getting clouded out.  Why?  Because that will not give you the picture you really want.  You see, what we really want is something on the edge of being there and not there.  This diaphanous thing will only exist one day out of a hundred, and only for a few minutes at that.  Remember that persistence will eventually give you a picture that is worthy of hanging on yours or anyone else’s wall.  And most important, you will have earned it through your own dogged determination, all the while having the odd adventure and more than one brush with disappointment.

Mount Hood is completely covered with clouds just in time for a glorious sunset.

Disappointment: Mount Hood is completely covered with clouds just in time for a glorious sunset.

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