Archive for the ‘North Cascades’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Tripods and When to Use Them   14 comments

Good morning Glacier Park!  While a tripod wasn’t really necessary here, it allowed me to lower the ISO.  50 mm., 1/25 sec. @ f/9, ISO 50

Let’s continue with tripods.  Not what to buy, that’s not so interesting.  This series is about when and how to use them.  Check out the other posts.

I’ve found many people don’t use tripods when they should, causing blurry pictures from camera movement.  But I’ve also seen plenty of people using them when they’re not needed.  Believe it or not the answer to “when do I use a tripod?” is not “always”.  Each situation is different, a truism in photography if there ever was one.

Whether or not to use a tripod is a question often ignored in photography education.  I think it’s because so many workshop leaders & teachers don’t consider things from a learning photographer’s perspective.  Back before we got serious about our photos, when we were shooting casual snapshots, we never used a tripod.  Now we hear and read that one is always necessary for quality images.  I’m here to call bull on that, and I hope this series is giving you reason to believe that there are no hard and fast rules.

Boats spend the night at Deception Pass, Whidbey Island on Puget Sound, Washington. I used a tripod because of the low light of dawn.  50 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.

Boats spend the night at Deception Pass, Whidbey Island on Puget Sound, Washington. I used a tripod because of the low light of dawn. 50 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.

Are you someone who doesn’t use it enough?  Or are you never without your tripod?  Only you know which end of the spectrum you’re on.  All I’m saying is to consider both the pros and the cons of using a tripod for each situation (see Part I), and don’t over-react and swing over to the other end of the spectrum.

There are, of course, those occasions when a tripod is at the least very helpful and at most plain necessary for a sharp image.  For example, if the light is low and/or you’re using a small aperture for depth of field, definitely use a tripod.  That’s why you paid good money for one.  But other times they are just in the way.  Isn’t it better, when possible, to be free to move around quick and easy?  If it’s bright and you don’t need it, or if seconds count, hand-held is the way to go.

Last Sunday I gave an example of when using a tripod for a landscape image might not be a good idea.  Now let’s look at a couple more examples.  As usual, my focus here is on landscape and nature photography, but the advice certainly applies to other types, especially street/architecture.

EXAMPLE 1: A SHORT HIKE

I got the shot below last week in the northern Idaho panhandle.   I was looking for a nice place to swim.  We’ve been having an intense heat wave in the western U.S.  I found a short hike along a stream named Myrtle Creek.  It was mid-morning and very bright out, so I didn’t anticipate any good photo opportunities (my main goal being full bodily immersion).  But I grabbed my camera with the wide-angle lens.  At the last minute, despite wanting to go light with no pack, I grabbed my tripod.

An idyllic waterfall and swimming hole: Idaho panhandle near Bonner's Ferry.  16 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50.

An idyllic waterfall and swimming hole: Idaho panhandle near Bonner’s Ferry. 16 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50.

If I’m going a short distance, I tend to just bring the tripod; if I don’t use it, no harm.  If I’m on a longer walk or hike, and especially if I have other heavier gear, I think about whether I will really need it.  If I don’t foresee using my tripod much, I may allow weight to be the deciding factor.  But I try never to allow weight to over-rule photographic considerations.

The 1+ mile trail ended at creekside.  I heard a falls, so waded carefully downstream, hopping slick rocks.   After some scrambling where the tripod was a hindrance, I came upon the waterfall from above.  I was glad I had the tripod.  The falls was mostly in shade, allowing a nice little motion-blur picture.  I also had my circular polarizer, which helped to bring out the colors of the rocks and vegetation.  After shooting I dove into the deep aquamarine pool at the base of the falls.  Heaven!

Bonus shot, from the top of the Idaho waterfall showing the swimming hole at its base.  It was  some 15 feet deep and bracing!

EXAMPLE 2:  MACRO OPPORTUNITY

This crops up when you least expect it.  You’re in nice bright light, away from your tripod hiking or exploring somewhere, and you were wise enough to have your macro lens (or extension tubes or close-up filter) in your backpack.  But you saw no reason to take a tripod.  I did this recently in North Cascades National Park.  It was a daytime hike and, as usual for this park, very steep!  So no tripod.

But as usually happens in cases like this, I ran into beautiful fields of flowers, got bit by the macro bug, and was forced to make do without a tripod.  Although macro is possible without a tripod, using one sure makes life easier.  Your chances of blurring a macro picture are greatly increased when you don’t stabilize your camera.

I used my backpack for some of the shots, but positioning for macro is such a precise thing that no tripod usually means hand-holding your shots.  Raising ISO and laying on my belly with elbows forming a triangular support, I shot in burst mode (a rarity for me) in order to increase my chances.  I was pretty happy to get this picture of the beautiful tiny bell-like flowers that were in bloom all over the subalpine meadow I hiked to.

Little white bells blooming in the subalpine of North Cascades National Park, Washington.  

Thanks for tuning in.  Next week I’ll conclude the series by considering those times when you left your tripod behind but run into shutter speeds which are slow enough to cause blurring.  That is, we’ll look at tricks for how to get sharp images when you’re caught without a tripod.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Rarely do I post a mid-day landscape, but this meadow high in the North Cascades was just too beautiful regardless of the harsh light.

 

 

 

 

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Stars and Photography (follow-up)   4 comments

The Milky Way soars over the North Cascades, with the city lights of Seattle (left) and Vancouver, B.C. behind the mountains.

A short post on photographing the night sky.  I’ve discussed this before, so won’t repeat myself.  If you want some general advice on this check my post and some of the many other web resources.  For some inspiration try Wally Pacholka’s site or that for TWAN.

The above photo demonstrates a few interesting things about the subject.  I’m showing it because it illustrates not only a few good things, but at least one thing to possibly avoid.  I’m still learning a lot about this stuff so I don’t mind admitting when I mess up.  I still like the image though, primarily because it shows the following:

SCALE:  It is so hard to show scale in photographs like this.  A very common technique is to include a strong foreground element, like a strangely shaped tree, an interesting building, etc.  But this is not strictly showing scale.  The background in these images is still just assumed to be large – not exactly precise.   It is, nonetheless, a great way to “depthify” the picture.  Like that word?

In the above image I was able to show the city lights of both Seattle and Vancouver, Canada, which are 150 miles apart.  At first I thought the lights were messing with my desire to show a deep starfield, but then I realized that the lights actually helped with depth.  It happens so often when doing photography, that you are frustrated with an element you think is interfering with your composition.  The key is to take a deep breath and consider what that element is actually capable of doing for your composition.

LOCATION:  For the above image I knew I wanted to be as high up as possible.  The air was somewhat hazy because of fires, and during the day I noticed as I crossed Rainy Pass that the smoke was mostly hanging in the valleys.  So I decided to spend the night at the top of Slate Peak, which at nearly 7500 feet is about as high as you can drive in Washington.  The height helped me to shoot over the haze, and made the stars that much brighter.  On the downside the top of a mountain does not usually offer a strong foreground element.  There was a lookout tower, but I didn’t think it was interesting enough.

SIMPLE COMPOSITION: This is of course a goal for all landscape photography, but for starscapes it might be even more critical.  I mostly like to make the sky – Milky Way, comets, aurorae, etc. – the star of the show (pun intended).  And when I use a strong foreground element I want it to share the spotlight.  I want to wow people with the universe, which we don’t look at or think about very often.

And so I went with the simple composition of Milky Way arcing over the North Cascades.  I would have liked to have a better profile of the mountains, which are jagged and thus interesting in silhouette, but my viewpoint was much too high for that.  It was a tradeoff between wanting to be above most of the haze and having the mountains in silhouette.  I could have driven back down a ways after the sunset, but believe it or not I was nervous about trying to turn around at night from my precarious parking spot.  It was a long way down.

Also, a simple composition allows for a super quick and easy composite when you’re combining two shots (in this case one for the foreground and one tracking the stars so that they are sharp).

SHARPNESS:  One weakness of the shot is that the stars, while fairly sharp, are not perfectly round points.  I was using my tracking mount (a Vixen Polarie) to track the apparent movement of the stars.  This allows you to go much longer than the 20 or so seconds that you’re limited to when shooting from a regular tripod mount.  Of course you can always raise ISO, and if you have camera like the Nikon D4 or Canon 1DX, you (a) have more $ than I do, and (b) have more flexibility and might not even need to track in many cases.

The polar alignment you do for the Polarie is pretty basic.  You simply point it at the North Star, making sure it’s visible through a little hole.  Vixen sells a much more precise polar alignment scope for it, but for now I can’t justify the extra expense.  For one thing, when you use a very wide angle lens, as I usually do, the slight drift does not cause noticeable blurring of the stars.  But the longer your exposure, the better chance to get blurred or trailed stars.

I’ve already mentioned a second weakness of the shot.  It has no good foreground element, unless you count the mountains as foreground.  I happen to think the city lights add enough interest, but it certainly can be argued that this is a stronger image with a good foreground element, perhaps illuminated by “light painting” (shining a light on the subject).

EXPOSURE & PROCESSING:  I was using my Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 on a Canon 5D Mk. II, at 16mm focal length.  I took two shots (actually three including the dark frame).  One was with the tracking mount switched off, and the other had the mount tracking the stars.  I shot both at the same exposure, but I don’t always do this, especially when there is a moon or other complicating factor.  That exposure: 133 sec. at f/2.8 (largest aperture for that lens) & ISO 200.  I shot the same with the lens cap on for the dark frame.

I processed pretty simply.  First I imported into Lightroom and worked on the image with sharp stars.  I moved the highlights and the contrast sliders pretty high, moved the blacks lower, upped the shadows and clarity a bit, and added quite a bit of  noise reduction and sharpness (with a healthy amt. of masking for sharpening).  Then I used synch. to apply the same settings to the image with a sharp foreground.  Then I opened this and zoomed in to the mountains to adjust both sharpening and noise until I had the best compromise.

Then I took both into Photoshop, made the sharp mountain shot my background, selected the stars from the other one, and copied this over.  I added a mask overlay and used a brush to clean up the horizon.  In this simple case  it only required a few long strokes along the mountain tops to reveal the underlying image’s sharp peaks.

I zoomed in and looked around the image for the tiny red or green dots that indicate hot pixels, a common effect of long exposures in darkness.  I didn’t see many, so I decided not to bother with dark frame subtraction.  If I was to print this image at a large size, I would have done it.  But for most things those hot pixels won’t show up.  That said, it’s very worthwhile to always take a shot with the lens cap on, and at the same exposure as your real shot(s).  It has to be at the same exposure as your main shot(s), and at or near the same time for the Photoshop technique of dark frame subtraction to work.  Do it right after your main shot(s).

Okay, hope you found this useful.  I always appreciate comments and questions.  I normally don’t do photography tutorials on my blog (too boring after awhile), and prefer to educate more on the subjects and locations I shoot in.  But I will do this from time to time.

More Smoke and Photography   2 comments

Fires in the North Cascades

This shot looking up towards the North Cascades from the town of Winthrop, Washington was only a moment after the sun had dipped beneath the horizon.

This is a short follow-up post to my recent trip into the North Cascades of Washington.  After I left the mountains and traveled southwest on Hwy. 2o, to the town of Winthrop, I immediately noticed an increase in the smoke in the sky.  When I was up in the mountains, I was protected somewhat by (A) being up in elevation (smoke tends to flow down into valleys) and (B) being north of the smoke when the wind was from the north.  That was nice since I was hiking.  But then I began to head south and downward, and the smoke thickened, and thickened, and thickened.

The view looking SW from the top of Slate Peak, Washington takes in some rugged country in North Cascades National Park. Smoke in the air from fires to the south is subtle here since there was a north wind, but the hue it adds is noticeable and beautiful.

But in the Winthrop area, a gorgeous piece of country not too far from the Canadian border, the smoke was still largely to the south.  So in photographing I had some great orange skies, if a bit overdone, at sunset, and yet I could actually breathe!  This wasn’t the case as I traveled south, down the east side of the Cascade Mountains, headed back home.  Not only was the smoke so thick my eyes started burning, but everywhere I tried to turn off and camp, there was a fire burning not far away.  I was afraid that while snoozing in my van, a fire might cut me off from the highway.

Northern Washington near the town of Winthrop has long winters, but perhaps it is because of this that it is so idyllic in early autumn.

These kinds of thoughts don’t exactly lend themselves to falling asleep, so I kept driving until at 3 a.m. I finally gave up and pulled off.  I slept very near the highway, next to one of the many temporary barriers across all the side roads: “Road Closed Due To Fire Danger”.  This further irritated me, since the phrase “due to” is a grammatical pet peeve of mine.  Why don’t people use “because of”?  I don’t get it, who owes somebody something?  Due to??

Winthrop, Washington

Smokey skies turn the dusk orange near Winthrop, Washington.

I woke with eyes itchy & burning.  The smoke was thick in the trees.  I love photographing mist and fog in the forests of the Pacific NW, and smoke is similar.  So I shot a few.  I’m not sure I like the image below very much, but it looks better than it felt to be there.

Fires in Washington

Smoke from several nearby fires drifts through the forest of central Washington

I finally got home to Portland, to find the air the clearest that I had experienced over the past two days.  But my fellow residents were complaining fiercely about the unhealthy air, and their were advisories in place.  I myself was relieved.

Next post maybe I’ll continue the Maya/Central America series.  Enjoy, and keep exploring!

Mount Baker

The sun has just set behind the highest of the North Cascades in Washington. Mount Baker is at center left.

North Cascades   7 comments

I’m in the Methow Valley, in Northern Washington, in bad need of a shower, having just tumbled out of the mountains of the North Cascades.  And rugged mountains they surely are!  This will be a relatively short post, as far as writing goes (I can hear the cheers already).  I’ve gone & broken my left hand, so everything is slower, especially typing.  It’s a long story how I broke it.  The short version is that I am sometimes a stupid man, and it costs me.

Blue Lake in the North Cascades of Washington is calm as the sun begins to set.

I approached from the south, camping along Baker Lake, then followed Hwy. 20 east to Ross Lake, taking a hike to Blue Lake for a sunset view of Early Winters Spires.  It is only 2 or 3 miles up to the lake.  You will likely run into rock climbers here.  The Spires are a prime challenge for rock jocks.  After this, I drove down into the tiny burg of Mazama, and then back up (way up!) to Slate Peak.

I was under the stars here, at 7400 feet elevation, and shot some night photos in the company of an astrophotographer.  He was shooting at a considerably narrower angle than I was!  He showed me my first ever view of the Heart Nebula, a beautiful object I’ve never seen before.  And I thought I was a pretty savvy stargazer.

The Big Dipper is nearly lost amongst the stars above Slate Peak Lookout in Northern Washington.

The view from Slate Peak is amazing, making the rough, steep “road” up there worth it.  If you are the type to balk at narrow dirt tracks carved out of a mountainside, with no guardrail between you and a sheer drop, get somebody else to drive it, take a pill, and keep your eyes firmly closed.  But what a view!  The jagged peaks of the North Cascades lie to the west, and the wild Pasayten country rises to the east.

The wind was blowing up there overnight, so it was downright cold!  In order to stargaze, I had to put on more clothes than I’ve had on since last March.  But next morning dawned clear & the day warmed rapidly.  This is the start of the Pacific Crest Trail’s last push northward to the Canadian border, & I hiked up a few miles, scrambling up a minor peak.  It was a good challenge though, having only one hand to rely on for the knife-edge ridge.

The sun’s last rays hit the popular climbing crags of Early Winters Spires in Washington’s North Cascades.

The larches are changing color now, making me want to keep pushing north & east to the Canadian Rockies.  But I don’t have my passport on me, alas.  Oh for those good old pre-9/11 days, when crossing into Canada was not very different than crossing a state line.  Oh well, I really should go home & get a real cast put on this hand.  But for now I’m off to enjoy the little town of Winthrop, & the gorgeous valleys here.  This country is covered in snow for most of the year, but now it’s basking in beautiful September sunshine.   Hope you enjoy the photos.

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