Archive for the ‘Washington’ Tag

Adventuring Mt. Rainier ~ In the Dark   6 comments

Mt. Rainier and Upper Tipsoo Lake.

There really is no Cascade peak like Mount Rainier.  Mt. Hood is spectacularly beautiful.  Mt. Saint Helens has a dangerous beating heart.  And Glacier Peak is surrounded by the kind of wilderness that reminds of Alaska.  But Rainier is at another scale altogether.  Not only is it broad it’s lofty.  It is flanked by dramatically steep glaciers that drop dramatically down to relatively low-lying forested valleys.

From Seattle, Rainier looks like a normal snow-capped mountain.  But when you approach close to or inside the national park that covers the mountain, it’s a different story.  It’s a massively rugged mountain ringed by high country, like the Tatoosh Range to the south.  Each side of the mountain has its own character, with extensive subalpine meadows a consistent feature.

Last post I related a little bear story from one of these meadow areas:  Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on Rainier’s southwest side.  I was a young buck then; years later I returned to photograph the wildflower display.  The thing about Indian Henry’s that makes it a little challenging is its distance from trailheads.  Most people backpack in.  But if you hike up Tahoma Creek trail from West Side Road, it’s a mostly straightforward, if long, day-hike.  Don’t take it too lightly though.  At over 12 miles round-trip with more than 2500 feet elevation gain, and with parts of the trail sometimes washed out, it isn’t an easy trek.

Mirror Lakes in the center of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, Mt. Rainier National Park.


On a photo trip to Rainier five years ago I decided that Indian Henry’s would make a great late-day hike.  It’s the sort of hike only a nature photographer would consider.  The kind where you time it to be someplace awesome to shoot at sunset.   And since your camera gear alone is heavy enough, you really don’t want to schlep the extra gear for camping.  So your shoot is followed by a hike back in the dark.

I started at mid-day from where West Side Road is closed off to vehicle traffic.  After a couple miles on the gravel road-bed you take a trail that follows Tahoma Creek upstream.  This is a powerful glacier-fed stream, and the previous spring’s melt had torn out long sections of the trail.  The lower part of the hike thus featured a few nervous stream crossings.  I’ve been swept away before and felt very close to drowning, and so I respect rapidly moving water as much as I do anything in nature.

After a few long stretches of boulder-hopping I left the creek and climbed steeply to the meadows.  From the photos you can see the light was very nice, despite the cloudless skies.  Best of all the wildflowers were in perfect bloom.  It was late August, which may seem to be late in the season for peak flower bloom.  But Rainier’s subalpine meadows are high and snow lingers well into summer.  On that special day the wildflower close-ups and the grand scale shooting were both sublime.

The pasqueflower is a different sort of bloom: Mt. Rainier, Washington.

After the golden light left the mountain, dusk began to approach rapidly.  I packed my gear into the pack and wasted no time starting my descent.  Not long after crossing timberline and entering the forest night began to come on like a train.  I stopped at a waterfall and grabbed one more shot, confident of my headlamp.  But after only 20 minutes or so my headlamp began to flicker.  I had put what I thought were fresh batteries in before I started out, but they must have been well past expiration.  I should have had spares, but had failed to check my pack before starting out.  I silently cursed my impatience to get going.

Just as I began to hear the roar of Tahoma Creek below my lamp finally gave out and darkness gathered around me.  At first the trail was barely discernible and easy enough to follow.  I was confident of being able to reach and follow the creek bed.  But the night was moonless and exceptionally black.  I missed a turn and struggled to regain the trail, falling a good 10 feet or so between two huge rock outcrops.  I wasn’t hurt, but slowed down considerably after that close call.  Then I reached Tahoma Creek and began to follow it downstream.

Narada Falls at night-fall, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

I was lucky.  If there had been more dense forest walking ahead I would have been forced to stop and spend a cold night with no shelter.  Luckily, frequent glacial floods had removed most of the trees along the creek, allowing the stars to shine through.  With eyes now fully dark-adapted, and with the normally unnoticed added light from many suns burning far away, I discovered that if I went slow, I could just barely see features before reaching them.

I lost the trail at the first washout and was forced to stumble down the rubbly stream bed for the duration.   I traveled in a sort of slow-motion crouch, using starlight to show me boulders and other obstacles.  I tripped and fell a bunch of times anyway.  And the stream crossings were even more fun than on the way up.  Thankfully by the time I reached them the stream’s flow was lessened because of slower melting from upstream glaciers brought on by the cool of night.

I followed the creek longer than necessary, not noticing the road off to my right beyond some dark trees.  When I finally realized my mistake I climbed the bank and crawled through the trees, where my feet touched something strange.  Flat, even ground, the road!  The feeling that washed over me was pure ecstasy.  But easy walking on the road felt very strange.  Have you experienced this?  Where your legs, after endlessly struggling up, over and around, can finally walk normally.  But it suddenly feels like you’re swinging heavy stone blocks?  My head and torso felt like they were floating above my too-heavy lower half.

My van looked even better than West Side Road had, parked there all alone, patiently waiting as if certain of my safe return.  The little clock on the dash said 2:55 a.m.  I can count on one hand the number of times in life that the cliche’ actually came true.  You know the one, where sleep takes you before your head even hits the pillow.  Going hard for so many hours will do that.

Next morning, it’s needless to say, my body was sore all over and bruised in a dozen places.  But it was worth it.  The photos, which turned out nicely with or without the accompanying adventure, seemed even better for having come at a price, and with a memory.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Low clouds move up the Nisqually River, but the stars are revealed from a high perch on Rainier as night comes on.


Rural America, Part II: The Pacific Northwest   10 comments

Snowy Mt Hood catches the first rays of the sun as it presides over rural Hood River Valley, Oregon.

America is still largely a rural nation.  And not just in terms of area.  Many states lack major cities and most people still live rurally.  In states with metropolises, a well-documented trend, the return of Americans to city centers, has been going on for some time.  But another trend has continued unnoticed, and it involves far greater numbers of people.  Suburbs have expanded into more traditional rural areas, places once dominated by farming and ranching.  These so-called exurbs sit some distance from a city but are still connected to it in many ways.

While some of the exurbs resemble true suburbs and should probably be described as quasi-rural, many actually have a strong countryside feel.  They’re usually centered around small towns that retain much of their original character.  As mentioned in the last post, those living here are an important political force these days, as witness the last election.

In many exurbs it is only a matter of time before they lose any remnant rural feel.  A progressive expansion, fed in large part by retiring baby-boomers but also by steady population growth, is pushing aside America’s original rural character.  But this blog series is not about bemoaning that loss.  I prefer to celebrate what is left, which while inevitably changed from the old days, is still very much intact.

Western Oregon.

Seeing Rural America – The Pacific Northwest

Let’s start out in a part of the west that will always be special to me.  If you have read this blog for awhile, you know that Oregon is where my heart lies.  It’s a place I’ll always call home.  I was born and raised on the east coast, but I’ve lived by far most of my years there.  I’m currently living in Florida, in self-imposed exile.  But I’ll return someday.

A farmhouse sits in the Willamette Valley south of Portland.


In order to see some of the prime farmland of that drew early settlers to this territory on the Oregon Trail (see the Addendum below), start in Portland and drive south up the Willamette River.  I know, south upriver sounds strange.  Avoid Interstate 5 wherever possible.  Instead take the back roads, hopping back and forth over the river using the few ferries that remain (Canby, Wheatland).  Visit Aurora, and Silverton, stretching your legs and being wowed on a hike in Silver Falls State Park near Silverton.  Continue south past Eugene, saying goodbye to the Willamette as it curves east into the Cascades.  The Cottage Grove area is famous for its covered bridges, so get hold of a map and enjoy the photo opps.!

Keep going south, making sure to stop at the Rice Hill exit off I5.  Here you should partake of Umpqua ice cream the way it should be eaten.  Delicious!  Visit the little town of Oakland just north of Roseburg, where I lived for a time.  Then divert west from Sutherlin on Fort McKay Road. to the Umpqua River.  Then wind down the river on Tyee Road.  Drive slow or better yet, do this on a bicycle!

You can keep going to the coast or return to I5 on Hwy. 138.  Another detour takes you east from Roseburg up the North Umpqua to Diamond Lake and the north end of Crater Lake.  If you’d rather stick with the rural theme and save nature for later, keep going south and visit the rather large but still charming town of Ashland, where a famous Shakespeare Festival happens every summer.

It’s difficult not to include Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, in photos of rural bliss.


Let’s not forget the great state of Washington.  One of my favorite places in the world is the Olympic Peninsula.  It can be visited on a road trip that takes in both nature and rural charm.  The towns are spaced far apart here and Olympic National Park covers much of the northern peninsula.  But lovely farms still lap the slopes of the Olympic Mountains and talkative waitresses serve pie at cafes in towns like Forks, which retain much of their timber-town flavour.  Everybody still knows everybody in these towns.

Lake Crescent (image below) is incredibly scenic and a great place for a swim.  At dusk, in certain light, you can sit lakeside and easily transport yourself back to quiet summer evenings at the lake.  I wonder when vacations stopped being full of simple pleasures like jumping off a tire swing, fried chicken on a screened porch and word games in the dark, and became all about ticking off bucket lists and posting selfies?

Even areas quite close to the metropolis of Seattle retain much of their charm.  Take the back roads directly east of the city and drop into the valley of the Snowqualmie River.  Take Hwy. 203 north or south through Carnation, site of the original dairy farm of the same name (remember?).  Generally speaking you need to travel either east or, overwater via ferry, west of Seattle and the I5 corridor in order to experience rural western Washington.

Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula in very interesting dusk light.


I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention the forgotten half of the Pacific NW.  It encompasses an enormous region east of the Cascades, one that retains in many places nearly all of its rural character.  The Palouse is a perfect example.  Lying in southeastern Washington and far western Idaho, the Palouse is wheat-farming at its purest.  It is an expansive area of rolling hills, backroads and picture-perfect barns.  Despite having become very popular with landscape photographers in recent years, its size means it always feels quiet and uncrowded.  I won’t say anymore about it since I posted a mini-series on the Palouse geared toward anyone contemplating a photo-tour.  Check that out if you’re curious.

There are so many other routes to explore in the Pacific NW that will allow you to experience the unique flavour of each region.  For example a fantastic road trip, again from Portland, is to travel east over Mount Hood.  But instead of continuing to Madras, turn off busy Hwy. 26 at easy-to-miss Hwy. 216.  Drop into the high desert and visit the little burg of Tygh Valley.  Continue east to Maupin on the Deschutes River, famous for its trout fishing and whitewater rafting.  Then drive over Bakeoven Road to historic sheep central, Shaniko.  Then drop east down twisty Hwy. 218 to Fossil and on to the Painted Hills.  This tour, by the way, is popular with motorcyclists in the know.  Thanks for reading and have a fun weekend!

A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.

Addendum:  Pacific NW History

I’ve always vaguely resented the fact that the Pacific NW is divided into two states.  I think the Oregon Territory should have been left as Oregon, no Washington.  To make 50 states we could have split off northern California (plus far SW Oregon) and called it the state of Jefferson.  I know a bunch of people who would be very happy with that!

Native tribes have occupied this region for thousands and thousands of years.  In fact some of the earliest remains of paleo-indians in North America come from eastern Oregon and Washington.  Now a semi-desert, back then it was significantly wetter, with large lakes full of waterfowl, and the rocky hills bursting forth every spring with all sorts of edible plants.

White Europeans began to take an interest in the area very early on in the 1700s.  But they only visited by sea.  To the north, British fur trading companies sent parties into the Canadian part of the Pacific Northwest eco-region.  But it would not be until Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a party of young, energetic men down the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast near what is now the little town of Astoria, Oregon in 1804 that the young country signalled its intention to make the region part of America.

Edgar Paxson’s famous painting of Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, Charbonneau and Clark’s slave York at Three Forks.

In the mid-1800s mountain men of the west, with beaver all but trapped out in many areas, turned to guiding settlers west along the Oregon Trail.  The destination these hardy families had in mind was the rich farmland along the Willamette and other rivers of the Oregon Territory.  Some never made it all the way, instead stopping in cooler, drier areas like the Baker Valley of eastern Oregon and the Palouse, a dryland farming area in Washington.

Timber harvesting, farming and ranching have long been the mainstays of the Pacific Northwest.  If you’ve never read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Keasey you should do so.  It is expertly written and imparts an authentic look at traditional family-based logging in Oregon.  The movie is top-notch as well.

But times have changed.  The mills are shut down in most places.  Private timber lands are still harvested but with few exceptions federal National Forests are for reasons both environmental and economic no longer being cut.  The ways in which people here make a living have largely changed from natural resource-based to a mix of technology, tourism and a variety of service jobs.


Single-image Sunday: Mossy Creek   8 comments

Springtime on Alec Creek: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Springtime on Alec Creek: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

I found this mossy scene while exploring a creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington.  This is one of the most amazing of America’s National Forests, huge and full of hidden waterfalls.  The backroad I was on crossed over the creek and I decided it was time for some “creeking”.  Creeking involves getting up close and personal with a stream, looking for mostly small-scale intimate landscapes.  Mostly it requires scrambling over, under and around logs and rocks.  And your feet usually get wet.

In the Pacific Northwest, springtime means the color green will probably dominate the palettes of your photos.  While negotiating a section choked with huge logs, I found this mossy scene.  But it was impossible to shoot without getting very low.  The tripod was a possibility, but a simpler and easier method was just to plop the camera right down on a small shelf of rock on the stream bank, using small pieces of wood to prop the lens up.

The nearest moss was only inches away, so depth of field was a challenge.  I had to focus stack, shooting a few images with focus increasingly further away.  Then in Photoshop I stacked the images together so that in the end I had one with pretty much everything in focus.

In one respect it’s a picture with perhaps too much “stuff” in it.  But in a way it’s also a very simple composition.  It’s definitely not a very standard way to shoot a creek, from the side under a log, with an ultra-low point of view, and with super-close foreground.  I actually have no idea whether it will appeal to anyone other than me, so I’d very much like to know what you all think.  Thanks and have a great week ahead.

Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast   6 comments

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

Sometimes I follow up the previous week’s Friday Foto Talk post with one that relates in some way to the topic.  So this post is an extension to Using Foregrounds Judiciously.  It’s an example of how I go about using foregrounds, and in general how I often shoot landscapes (it’s not how most do it).

EXAMPLE – Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast:  

A few days ago I was at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  You may have seen pictures of the Olympic Coast on the web; it’s pretty popular with landscapers.  Less popular are sections of the coast away from the road that require hiking.  Backpackers are more common than serious photographers in these areas.

I scouted this one in the afternoon, hiking north along the beach to find good locations for what was looking like a great sunset.  I only took a few photos; mostly I just had fun beach-combing and exploring tide pools.  I don’t always scout ahead of time, but it’s nice when time allows.  It helps to give me ideas of how I want to portray the place.  And it’s fun!  Often I scout but then decide before golden hour to shoot somewhere else.  It’s still valuable though, since I can always return another day.

The coastline north of Rialto is spectacular and much too rugged for a road.  It has a wilderness feel, and it’s wise to take care if you decide to hike here.  Slippery rocks, rough surf, sneaker waves, and giant drift logs that can shift alarmingly under your weight are all potential dangers.

After setting up my camp just inland, I was pressed for time.  I knew where I wanted to hike to: just north of a place called Hole in the Wall (image below), but preferably a 1/2 mile or so farther.  Even though I was in a hurry, I shot along the way.The light was beautiful!  I didn’t take time with a tripod, but it wasn’t strictly necessary with the sun still above the horizon.  These little stops meant I wasn’t going to make it any further than Hole in the Wall, and even then it would be close.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

There is a campsite just before a headland that you have to climb up and over to get where you can shoot Hole in the Wall itself.  Some large sea stacks (formerly one single stack that collapsed several years ago) lie just off the beach there.  This spot is the most popular at Rialto (why I wanted to go further).  A few had their tripods set up, waiting for sunset.  I passed them, shooting a few quick hand-helds.  The stacks there are just too big and close for my liking, at least in silhouette shooting sunset.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

This may seem like I’m describing a measured approach, and it would’ve been if I was a bit earlier and the sun wasn’t sinking quickly (as it always does except for higher latitudes).  Truth is I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off!

I climbed the headland and shot a few pictures from up top, looking down and out to the north (image above).  Then I stumbled down to the beach, taking a shot along the way, and still I had not gotten any close foreground.  I spotted a tide-pool that was reflecting the lovely light.  It was on a rock shelf composed of thin-bedded sedimentary rock stood on its end, forming great leading lines.  Running down there, I finally got those close-foreground shots I wanted just as the sun set.  I was actually a tad late for the peak light, more on the cusp of blue hour.  But I was just in time for images that I’m happy with, and that’s what counts.

Post-sunset with turbidite sandstone beds standing on their ends, Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Finally some close foreground, which is turbidite sandstone beds standing on end: Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

As you can see, I try to jam in as much as possible when the light is good.  This is one reason I like to shoot alone.  Most landscapers would look at me and think “there’s a rank amateur”.  Most prefer to be already set up at one place, from which they will shoot for the entire time that light is at its peak.  They don’t miss shots like I sometimes do, but that’s because they’re not trying to get as much as I am.

Sometimes things backfire on me, but I like the variety I can get from a single “light event”.  And even well-planned shots can backfire anyway.  I do sometimes plan or visualize beforehand and stick to a plan to get a particular image.  On those occasions I try not to extemporize (much!).  But that isn’t my main modus operandi, simply because planned shots so often don’t work out.  There are too many variables at play.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

To me it seems a bit old-fashioned to set up way ahead of time and stick your feet in the same place throughout the shoot.  It’s what was done in the old days with heavy large-format film gear, even glass plates if you go far enough back.  It’s also what you have to do when you’re shooting very popular compositions, just so you beat your competitors to the spot.  But digital gear is pretty darn lightweight.  So if you’re practiced at using your tripod and camera you can shoot different compositions in fairly rapid succession.  And who wants over-done shots anyway?

As you can see only one of my many shooting positions had very close foreground; the rest had either more distant foreground or middle-ground elements.  Some are just subject and sky.  I don’t always shoot like this of course.  Sometimes I like to work slower and get fewer shots, with more time to admire the moment.  But in a place like the Olympic Coast in great light, it’s tempting to make it sort of a workout.  When it goes well (like last night) I don’t feel stressed.  It’s actually sort of a rush, one that I slowly came down from walking back along the beach, the Pacific glinting in the moonlight.  Happy shooting!

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, the foreground not very close. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, almost to my close foreground but not quite there.  50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Friday Foto Talk: Using Foreground Judiciously   6 comments

Yellow balsamroot fill the foreground in this recent image of Mount Hood in the early morning.

I’ve posted previously on using foreground elements in landscape photography.  We’ll look  at it from a  slightly different angle here, adding a bit of subjective opinion (surprise!) along the way.  But don’t worry, there’s plenty objective advice on successfully using foreground as well.

They are important, obviously.  But I think too many landscape photographers think they need to include close foregrounds in every picture.  I’ve also fallen prey to the frantic search for foreground while light is happening, but I’m more relaxed about it now, taking what is there.  The fact is I don’t think foreground is absolutely critical to a successful landscape photograph.

Foreground is certainly worth keeping in mind however.  It can add a sense of depth and, for very close foregrounds (the subject of last Friday Foto Talk), it can put the viewer in your pictures.  So how do we go about using foreground judiciously?

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

  • DEFINE FOREGROUND BROADLY.  It can be close, even very close.  But it doesn’t have to be.  A larger foreground subject can be placed further away in a composition and still act as a fairly dominant element.  If you place it too close it may be too dominant.  You don’t want the viewers to lose sight of that beautiful background.  Bonus: foreground elements that are even slightly further away will be easier to keep in focus along with your background.

Recent sunset on the Oregon Coast at Ecola State Park.  No real foreground here, just middle-ground sea stacks.

  • FOCAL LENGTH IS IMPORTANT.   Since balancing elements is important in any photo, focal length matters quite a lot.  If you’re at a very wide angle, say 16-20 mm. on a full-frame camera, you’ll need to get closer to the foreground subject so it doesn’t get lost.  Again, how close depends on its size, but also in the way it contrasts with the rest of the scene (color for example).  Exception: if you’re wanting to show a sense of scale, you may want a fairly small looking foreground subject.  Live subjects (especially humans) can be smaller in the frame because we naturally lock onto them whatever their size.
Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.

Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.  Humans can be fairly far away and look small, and still be a kind of foreground subject for the image.

  • OBSERVE OBSERVE!  I’m always looking near and far when I’m out scouting locations or when the light is nice and I’m shooting.  I’ll get my face up close to see what a very close composition might look like.  I’m not the type to look through the viewfinder while searching for compositions.  I only do that once I see something I want to shoot, in order to dial in the exact composition I want.
Thought I'd throw in one showing how I'm getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

Thought I’d throw in one showing how I’m getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

  • COMPOSE HOLISTICALLY.  If your foreground includes interesting patterns or leading lines, anything that helps the viewer to move on to the rest of the image, more the better.  But I don’t think in terms of abstract patterns, only the subject (see below).  So if I find a foreground subject that is interesting in some way, especially with regard to the overall environment I’m in, then I position myself to take advantage of any leading lines, layering effect, etc.

* Most landscape photographers will counsel that you look for the abstract patterns, leading lines and the like.  Though they’re important to include in photos, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse.  We are naturally attracted to patterns, and once you have a good amount of time behind the lens, you do this without any conscious effort.  What requires conscious effort is to find subjects that mean something.  And in the case of landscape photos with foreground, that means finding multiple elements (hopefully meaningful subjects) that work together well.

On California's coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

On California’s coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

  • MIX IT UP.  I try to capture a variety of angles on a subject or scene.  If I come back from a shoot with only images with close foreground, I don’t feel I’ve succeeded, especially if the light was good.  I want images with at least a couple different foreground elements, some close and some a little further away.  I also like getting a few with no real foreground elements (maybe mid-ground).

I will post a follow-up that uses an example shoot to show how to make foreground just one part of your landscape images, not the whole enchilada.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Recent sunset on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees a a framing foreground element.

Day’s end on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees form framing foreground elements.


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.

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting without a Tripod   19 comments

Along the Little Missouri River, North Dakota

Along the Little Missouri River, North Dakota.  Shot hand-held, 29 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/11, ISO 250.


It’s Friday, yippee!  That means it’s time for Friday Foto Talk.  I’ve been out camping a lot lately so have been skipping weeks here and there.  This is the conclusion to my little series on tripod use (or non-use).    Check out the other three posts in the series.

Do you find yourself without a tripod and wish you had brought one?  Well, that’s what this post is about.  The idea of a tripod is to stabilize the camera (I know, Captain Obvious strikes again).  A good solid tripod is just the best way to stabilize a camera; it’s not the only way.

In dim light, and without a tripod (or flash), you essentially have just two choices (three if you count not shooting at all).  First, you can raise the ISO high enough that your shutter speed is fast enough to hand-hold the camera.  Or second, you can find some other way to stabilize the camera, keeping the ISO low and allowing you to blur motion (for example water).  The rest of the post is about how to put these two options into practice.

A baby grouse in North Cascades National Park, Washington.  Hand-held 100 mm., 1/160 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 400, cropped.

A baby grouse in North Cascades National Park, Washington. Only had my 100 mm. macro lens, hand-held: 1/160 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 400, cropped.

The first plan works pretty well in many situations, depending on the type of camera you have.  Of course, anytime you raise ISO, you need to think about noise.  Next post I’ll do a follow-up that goes into the issue of noise, ISO and you.

So you’re raising ISO and shooting unencumbered by a tripod.  This is the time to practice your hand-holding technique.  No, not that hand-holding technique.  I’m assuming you can decide on your own whether to link fingers with your girl or go with the standard palm grasp.

  • Elbows braced against the body, relaxed upright body, with legs slightly spread forming 2/3 of a tripod.  Even better, if possible make it a full tripod by bracing your hips and upper body against a tree or fence.
  • If you’re thinking of shooting from a low point of view, why not go all the way and lay on your belly with elbows forming a natural tripod.  There’s a reason marksmen choose this position for very long shots.
  • Relaxed but firm grip on the camera, other hand cradling the lens palms up.
  • Slow easy breathing, and a gentle squeeze of the shutter.  Some sort of roll the index finger across the shutter button.  Just don’t jab at it.
A bluebell, Olympic Mtns., WA.  Hand-held, 200 mm. w/Canon 500D close-up filter, 1/320 sec. @ f/9, ISO 200.

A bluebell, Olympic Mtns., WA. Hand-held, 200 mm. w/Canon 500D close-up filter, 1/320 sec. @ f/9, ISO 200.

Foggy Hurricane Ridge, Washington, this is a selfie!  Tripod, 100 mm., 1/13 sec. @ f/9, ISO 100.

Foggy Hurricane Ridge, Washington, this is a selfie! Tripod, 100 mm., 1/13 sec. @ f/9, ISO 100.

Say you don’t want to raise ISO and want to go with the second option.  For example, you’re after a smooth-blur waterfall, with sharp rocks and trees, and you don’t have a tripod.  Or you’re in the city and you want to blur the scurrying about of pedestrians or car tail-lights and keep all the surroundings sharp.

Here’s the basic procedure:

  • Set the camera up just as if it was on a tripod: shutter delay, mirror lockup, low ISO, maybe even a polarizer or neutral density filter.
  • Find a flat place to place the camera: a log, a rock, railing, or just the ground.  How high does the camera need to be?  Prop the lens up with a scarf, hat, stone or stick, anything you can find.

Be careful!  If it’s an elevated platform – rock outcrop over a river, stone wall over pavement, or a railing on a bridge – keep the strap around your neck.  Remember your camera is NOT secure when you’re doing this.

  • Either set the camera directly on your chosen pedestal or lay something in between as a cushion (see below).
  • It’s hard to keep the pedestal out of your shot (especially a wide-angle), so you may need to do some finagling to get clearance beneath and beside the lens.  I use LiveView in these situations, checking for out of focus blobs in the very-near foreground, adjusting as necessary.
  • I usually set the camera on my pack or on soft clothing, but a small bean bag is perfect for this.  You can buy them at camera outlets.  They actually have plastic pellets not beans (which absorb water), and so are light and easy to throw in your pack.
  • Finally, you’re ready to shoot as long an exposure as light will allow, with no tripod!
Barred owl, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic N.P., WA.  Tripod, 200 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

Barred owl, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic N.P., WA. Tripod, 200 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

If you practice the above techniques, you won’t allow the lack of a tripod lead to blurry photos.  You’ll move closer to becoming a complete photographer (who is, after all, a problem solver).  I’m not saying you should sell your tripod.  Just let each situation dictate whether you use a tripod or not.

Get out shooting this weekend, and, for at least one day, forget your tripod.  Practice your hand-held technique.  For each lens (and focal length) you use, find the minimum shutter speed required for a sharp picture, and in dim conditions practice raising ISO to various levels.  Find interesting places to place the camera, keeping ISO low and shooting long exposures without a tripod.  Happy shooting!

Sunset at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in SW Washington.  Hand-held, 30 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400.

Sunset at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in SW Washington. Hand-held, 30 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400.


Wordless Wednesday: Tipsoo Lake   4 comments

Single-Image Sunday: Fog over the Trees   11 comments

Subalpine firs filter fog atop Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Subalpine firs filter fog atop Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

I missed Friday Foto Talk, out camping.  The conclusion to my series on tripods will post this coming Friday.  In the meantime, here’s an image from a great time I had last week in Olympic National Park.  It was taken hand-held, no tripod.

An unusual display of fog and weather greeted me when I arrived on top of Hurricane Ridge on Washington’s northern Olympic Peninsula.  It had rained the previous couple days, though not hard, and a transition to drier weather was taking place.  The fog and low clouds that had formed over the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca started rising and dissipating as the air cooled toward sunset.

The stately subalpine firs that dominate the forest near tree-line on Hurricane Ridge not only were filtering the fog as it rose up the steep slopes, they seemed to be adding their own moisture (via transpiration) to the mix too.  The result was really beautiful as viewed through the low rays of the sun to the west.

As I hiked to the top of Hurricane Hill, the quick-moving fog several times enveloped me, causing me to stop and look around in wonder at the dreamy atmosphere.  I’ll post some more shots in a future post.  I was distracted so many times I barely made it to the top for sunset.  It was a memorable evening.

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.


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!


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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