Archive for the ‘waterfalls’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Why Video?   4 comments

Nearly every digital camera sold nowadays has video.  In fact, I can only think of one DSLR without video that I would shoot with.  It’s the excellent Canon 50D, a camera that I used to own (I even took it to Africa).  Camera makers are building video in for a reason.  I don’t have to tell you that videos are very popular on the web.  But even for those of us who buy a camera thinking only of still photography, to have the option of shooting high quality video through high quality glass (lenses) is very tempting.  So it’s usually not long after that shiny new digital camera arrives that we switch to video mode and start winging it.

I say winging it because, while there are important similarities, video is quite different than still photography.  Mistakes are inevitable and can easily make our videos look amateurish.  This series is designed not to make you an expert videographer.  I can’t claim to be, after all.  It’s meant to get you thinking about capturing motion and sound rather than still scenes.  It’s also to give you a baseline from which to start your journey into videography.  This is the first time I’ve posted videos on this blog, and so it’s a bit of an experiment.  I’m inserting them from my Vimeo page.  They’re unedited but not too lengthy.

So why shoot videos at all?  Other than the novelty of capturing motion through a variety of lenses, videos are good for…

  • Mixing things up.  Anything you can do that’s different will help to keep you from slipping into a shooting rut.
  • Adding value to a shoot.  Even if you are shooting a portrait, where the goal is clearly to get a great still shot of your subject, a video is the kind of bonus that’s guaranteed to make him or her very happy.  Only video can show the laughs, changes of expression, and all the interactions that happen on a typical shoot.
  • Showing context.  If you put in a lot of work and money to get someplace great to photograph, you’ll want to bring home something that, while perhaps not your best stuff, is nonetheless critical for documenting your visit.  A wide-angle, so-called establishing shot or two that shows the wider area is one thing.   A video that pans through the area can show even more.  Plus it includes sound!
  • Showing movement.  I know, duh!  While it’s often interesting to show movement in a still photo, only a video can show movement as it actually is.
  • Including the sound-scape.  For me this is one of the most valuable (and challenging) aspects of video.  Still pictures have a huge shortcoming: lack of sound.  A motion picture overcomes that.
  • Profit.  If you are thinking of going pro at some point, there is another major advantage to capturing video.  You’re getting practice for that (inevitable?) moment when you make the transition.  If you follow a number of pro photographers you may have noticed that many if not most of them eventually make the jump to video.  They are doing this not because they like it better than still photography.  Most of them would much prefer to stick with what they love.  No, they’re doing it for money.  For reasons I don’t completely understand, it’s much easier to make a good living being a videographer than a photographer.

Next time we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of shooting video.  Have a fun weekend everyone, and press play!

Friday Foto Talk: Intimate Landscapes   14 comments

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. 55 mm., 20 sec. @ f/22, tripod.

Last week I posted under the somewhat ambitious title How to Shoot Landscapes.  I mentioned that landscapes come in all sizes, so this week we’ll look at the small scale world of landscape photography.  Most of the photos here are of this type, what I call intimate landscapes.  But a few straddle the line or are definitely the more typical large-scale landscape.  I like sharing recent images with you here on the blog even if they don’t match the topic precisely.  But I also think they help to illustrate the difference between the two kinds of images.

No clear dividing line exists between the more photographed grand landscape and the less common intimate variety.  The same goes for the lower boundary between intimate landscape and macro photography.  In general if you’re shooting something less than the size of a football field/pitch (often much smaller), but you’re including more real estate than a typical macro photo (and not using your macro lens), then you’re shooting an intimate landscape.

Entrance to the narrows at Red Wall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California.

Entering the narrows at Red Wall Canyon, Death Valley National Park.  16 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100, tripod.

A traditional home in west-central Cambodia, shot from the edge of the rice paddy about a hundred feet away.

A traditional home in west-central Cambodia.  Shot from the edge of the rice paddy about a hundred feet away, this one straddles the line between intimate and large landscape. 135 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/14, ISO 200, handheld.


  • Which one to shoot?  Let your unconscious be your guide, but realize it’s easier to miss smaller, intimate landscapes.  When a grand landscape inspires you, shoot that.  But always be on the lookout for smaller scenes as well, and photograph those when they interest you in some way.  Try not to go out with the goal of shooting one or the other.
  • Composition is still king.  The same things that make large landscapes work well (subject off-center, sense of depth, use of leading lines, layers, tone and color, and balancing elements) will strengthen your intimate landscapes.
In central Oregon's Painted Hills, you can walk among colorful badlands.  19 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

In central Oregon’s Painted Hills, you can walk among colorful badlands. 19 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Strong subjects help.  Of course a strong main subject helps any landscape image, but in smaller more intimate scenes, where all of the elements tend to appear the same size and are usually lighted similarly, a good strong subject is even more important.  Remember a striking color contrast can also make for a strong subject.

Shot under an overcast sky, Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is a very popular intimate landscape to shoot. 45 mm., 1 sec. @ f/10, ISO 160, tripod.

  • Issues of light and sky.  Oftentimes intimate landscapes are more appropriate when the sky is overcast and the light is even (image above).  Typical small-scale landscapes don’t include much (if any) sky.  But those aren’t rules!  Now we know that great light, whether it’s strong & directional or filtered & reflected by clouds is perfect for grand landscapes that include a lot of sky.  But that light is also great for intimate landscapes, even when you don’t include any sky (image below).

Beautiful light filters into Oregon’s Eagle Creek Canyon near sunset. 24 mm., 3.2 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Careful with clutter. This point is closely related to the one about strong subjects above.  It’s important to be careful with clutter in all landscape photos.  But when your landscapes are composed of elements that are all close to you, it’s even more important to simplify compositions as much as possible.  With big wide-angle landscapes, more distant things tend to look small in the frame, so are not as likely to distract the viewer.  When everything is close, that stuff may easily distract.
These redwood trees grow not in California but in Oregon.  A very simple image shot from a steep slope out into the forest.

These redwood trees grow not in California but in Oregon. A very simple image shot from a steep slope out into the forest.  To limit clutter it isn’t a wide-angle shot.  55 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/8, ISO 800, handheld.

  • Images with a sense of depth.  Shooting near to far compositions (one good way to lend a sense of depth) are more challenging when working on smaller scales.  But it’s possible.  You may be focusing very close to the lens, so choose a lens that has a so-called “macro” setting.  It’s not truly macro of course (marketing).  Always wide-angle with fairly short focal lengths, these kinds of lenses open up a lot of possibilities for intimate landscapes because they can focus very close, in some cases less than a foot away.  Getting down low can also help add depth.
Recent shot in Washington's Columbia Hills in the eastern Columbia Gorge.  Borders on a large landscape, the bit of sky and close-focus on the flowers giving it depth.

Recent shot in Washington’s Columbia Hills in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Borders on a large landscape, the bit of sky and close-focus on the flowers giving it depth. 16 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Sky and depth.  While we’re talking about a sense of depth, here’s something to try.  After shooting an intimate landscape that excludes the sky, zoom out a little or shift the camera up a bit and include just a small bit of sky, not much.  Compare and see if that doesn’t add more depth to the image.  The image above makes use of both this and the above tips on adding a sense of depth.

So next time you’re out photographing your favorite landscape, try to find more intimate scenes.  It adds variety to your portfolio and can yield some of your favorite images.  Tune in next week for Friday Foto Talk for some tips on focus and depth of field when shooting intimate landscapes.  Have a great weekend!

Landscape at larger scale but shot from the same place as the image above, just turned around to face the sunset.

Landscape at larger scale but shot from the same place as the image above, just turned around to face the sunset. 16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200, tripod.

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.





Gorton Creek’s Cascades   9 comments

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorton Creek tumbles down one of the formerly not well known little side-canyons in the Columbia River Gorge.  Now, like the Gorge itself, it is fairly popular with photographers.  This verdant place is even on many photo workshop itineraries.  That’s because it’s a short hike in, is very green, and has two lovely waterfalls that are not well visited generally.

Parking at the end of the campground just off the Wyeth exit, a 1/4-mile walk will take you to the first falls, which is so small it has no official name.  The second one, called Gorton Creek Falls, involves either scrambling up along the steep left side of the creek on a user-made path, or hopping rocks and logs along the creek proper, and probably getting your feet wet.  It’s only another 1/4 mile up the creek.

Gorton Creek Falls.

The second method is good if you want to get pictures along the creek, but it’s best to have shoes or sandals that can get wet.  The potential shots are more numerous when water is high, in late winter and early spring.  This year the water is fairly low, which means it’s easier to hop rocks up the creek but harder to get good creek shots (in my opinion).

In fact on this recent visit, for the first time, I didn’t do any creek pictures, only shooting the two waterfalls.  The bottom image is from a previous year, in high spring flow.  The more rain, the greener everything is.  So it’s wise to try and plan a trip to the Gorge during or at the end of a wet springtime.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek's verdant little canyon.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek’s verdant little canyon.

Two for Tuesday: Waterfall Photos   3 comments

The two-fer today is a little different than previous posts.  It’s something to think about if you get bored with a frequently-shot subject (flowers, rainbows, etc.).  In this case it’s waterfalls, which I shoot a lot of.

It takes a bit of effort to shoot a subject in a way that is authentically different than the usual way.  For me at least it also takes a certain mood, sort of a rebel attitude.  At Bennet Falls, a gorgeous cascade in the southern Appalachian foothills of eastern Tennessee, I decided without thinking about it much to do just that.

We hiked the trail down to the falls.  Since it was down, we arrived at the top before the bottom.  Shooting in front of a waterfall, usually at or near the bottom, is where most of us shoot from.

Despite a disaster that happened last year, I really like photographing from the top of a falls.  So I stopped and let the rest of our small little group proceed to the bottom.  It would’ve been worrisome for them to see me leaning out over the top in order to get a straight-down point of view.

This gave me an abstract that, like any shot from a height looking down gives, very little sense of depth.  Height is flattened when you do this.

Leaning out over the top looking straight down.

Leaning out over the top looking straight down.

Joining the group at bottom I started to go for standard shots of the beautifully tiered falls.  But the mood for something different was already on me, so I got my nephew Michael and his wife Cassie to pose in front.  It was her idea to kiss, and it was a good one!

The challenge was to get the kissing couple to remain as still so as not to be blurred during a long exposure.  But I didn’t go too long, just a half-second.  Why push my luck?  It turned out very nicely and I decided to give it a sepia tone.

A cascading kiss!

A cascading kiss!

I hope you like them.  Have a great week!

Posted March 31, 2015 by MJF Images in People, Photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

The End   50 comments

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River.  It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River. It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

I’ve been trying to avoid this post for the last few days.  This weekend I was shooting at the top of a waterfall, a virtually unknown one called Summit Creek Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  It’s rare you can get in a relatively safe position to shoot decent pictures at the lip of a falls.  Most of them end up being disappointing because when you look down you lose the sense of depth in pictures.

Anyway, while I was there I momentarily broke one of my rules and didn’t have my neckstrap on.  Only one other time did I do that in the past couple years, and that’s when the 5DII went in.  Murphy’s Law is a vicious thing.  Murph took over at that point and my tripod, Canon 5D III and an L lens went over.  Amazingly it got caught about 10 feet down off the lip of the 100-foot falls, on a submerged log or rock.

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

After almost dying in a foolish attempt to climb down and get it (maybe a bit of subconscious suicidal thought going on there!), I stopped and caught my breath and thought about the certain consequence of going any further.  I retreated back up, took off my bootlaces, rigged a slip knot and loop, tied off to a long stout stick I found, and went fishing.  I was able to grab hold of a tripod leg.

It’s funny to think about, but if I still had my fancy Gitzo tripod (which has twist leg locks), I would have never recovered it.  With my old trusty Manfrotto that has bulkier lever locks, I was able to grasp it with the loop.  After a frantic wrestling match, fighting the implacable, uncaringly powerful spring snowmelt, I got it.

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The gear had been pounded with tons of water for almost an hour.  But my tripod and head (not like the camera but not inexpensive either) are fine.  I just got off the phone with Canon and they can’t accept it for repair.  They say if it’s repairable it would be almost the cost of a new camera.  So it’s gone.  My bad: no insurance!

My backup camera, a 5D II that  had itself been repaired from a brief dip at the top of yet another waterfall, I sold a couple months ago to help pay off the bill from the 5D III more quickly.  So I’m down to an older point and shoot, which means I’m down to snapshop/street photography only.  I am in the worst financial shape of my adult life right now so can’t afford even a used cheaper DSLR.  I will likely sell off the rest of my gear and give up the dream of going fully pro, at least for now.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

I debated discontinuing this blog, but my interests are so varied, and I believe I have much to say.  So I’ll keep at it and probably post Friday Foto Talks too, though perhaps not every Friday.  One negative about this plan:  I’ve been blogging for quite awhile now and I have included many images in my posts, believing that I will always be shooting new images; now that’s not the case, and so some of the example images will be reposts from my archive.

So that’s it.  A sad week for me, and something big in my life has now gone.  A big transition back to just observing light and nature instead of always wanting to capture its beauty.  But it’s how I started out and how I came to be a decent photographer in the first place.  Please don’t feel bad for me.  It was a great run!

By the way, these images are from the last day shooting with my camera.  CF memory cards are amazing!

The very last image.  Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls.  Note my tripod leg; this is an unprocessed image.

The very last image. Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls. Note my tripod leg.  Unprocessed & uncropped.



Friday Foto Talk: Creeking   13 comments

Gorton Creek Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Gorton Creek Falls is not very well known and not on a trail: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

No this post isn’t about creaky knees.  I don’t know any more than you do how to stop the process of a nature photographer’s knees going creaky with age.  It’s a different spelling anyway!  No, this post is about photographing creeks and streams.  Big rivers require a different sort of approach, so this will focus on the small and medium-sized water courses.  When I go out to shoot in these environments, I call it “creeking”, a term borrowed from hard-core kayakers.  If you’re from certain areas of the U.S., you might pronounce it “cricking”!

If you’ve seen enough of my images, you know I like to shoot water, and usually that water is photographed more or less smooth (long exposure).  After going out again yesterday afternoon for some good old wet miserable creeking, I thought about how I have come to do this sort of shooting.  It really is unlike any other kind I do, and I’m not sure if it’s fun I’m having or not.  Since it’s Friday, I’m going to be positive and say it’s fun!

Creek and moss, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Mist and fog add atmosphere to any creek shot: Gorton Creek, Oregon.

Since the way you photograph water is a personal thing, I will talk little about the details of exposure and such.  Instead I’ll concentrate on the approach I take to ensure I get the most out of my flowing, gurgling or tumbling subjects.  But I will say you would do well to at least try long exposures with water.  Don’t get married to it of course, but also don’t be surprised if you get drawn into a passionate romance.  However long your exposures, the fun part of this is composing an interesting “‘intimate landscape” – an image of a fairly small piece of nature.

Many of these I captured yesterday in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  Please click on the image or contact me if you are interested in any of them.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.


  • Tripod:  Since streams are often lined with trees, light is usually low.  Also, for long exposures a tripod is almost a necessity.  The only other way to do them is to set your camera on a rock or your pack.  That’s a hassle and you also run the risk of dumping it in the water.
  • Tripod Head:  A ball-head is probably best, since you will want to quickly change the camera angle in a number of directions.  Make sure your entire attachment system is bomb-proof.  Having a camera come off the tripod in the grass of your front yard is okay.  But when you’re perched over a stream, you can’t afford anything of the sort.  So check the screw that attaches your camera plate to the camera & make sure it’s tight.  If it frequently works itself loose, apply blue Loctite to it.  Your tripod head’s clamping mechanism should fit well and be very snug on the plate.  Get a camera plate made for your camera and buy both the clamp and plate from the same manufacturer.  The camera shouldn’t move at all if you push and pull at it.  You can also attach a safety strap from the camera to the tripod head.  But if the whole tripod goes tumbling that will just make sure your camera follows.  At the edge of or in water (and also near cliffs), I either keep the camera strap around my neck or loop it around my arm.
Wahclella Falls

From a creeking trip last week, this is Wahclella Falls.

  • Backpack:  You need a camera backpack for this.  A sling or satchel type doesn’t really cut it, since you’ll be scrambling and balancing.  Try to find a backpack that fits closely to your body and wears like a real backpack.  Clik Elite is one company that sells such packs.  Unfortunately, most packs sold are too bulky and awkward, poorly suited for hiking in rough conditions.  Make sure your tripod attaches securely to the pack.
  • Camera Protection:  It helps to have camera & lenses that are fairly well sealed against moisture.  I’m not talking about waterproof cameras here, though you could use a waterproof housing if you can afford one.  Any DSLR or non waterproof point and shoot camera that falls into a stream will be in need of immediate service – not good!  But even aside from the creek itself, there’s always plenty of water around a creek.  Fine droplets hang in the air near any stream, especially near waterfalls.  In addition you will often be out when it is raining or threatening to rain.  So you need some way to cover your camera and keep it dry in rainfall or in the spray of waterfalls.  In the camera store, try to play with raincovers and see which one fits your camera best and yet still allows you to use the controls with relative ease.
  • Photographer Protection:  Figure the temperature near streams will be at least 10 degrees colder than away from them.  Also figure on getting wet, which will make you colder.  Bring rain coat and pants.  Wear your most water-resistant footwear, plus thick wool socks.  Bring a warm hat.  You can try rubber boots (wellies) but it’s easier than you think to get in water too deep for them.  A better choice: hip waders.  They will allow you to wade in as deep as you probably want to anyway.  I just use an old pair of boots and warm socks.  I don’t mind getting wet and hip waders have always seemed too clunky to me.  I bring a change of socks, shoes & pants for after the shoot.
  • Footwear+:  One more note on footwear.  If you are really into creeking consider getting felt-bottom boots.  These are the kind fly-fisherman wear.  Felt is the perfect sole material for slippery wet rocks.  Most people don’t know this, but so are your socks!  Since I”m too cheap for felt-bottom boots, this is how I do it when the rocks are super-slippery.
  • Hiking Pole/Staff:  It helps to have a hiking pole or stick to help balance and probe when creeking.  I sometimes take one of my (pair of) trekking poles, but only when I think I will be fully crossing streams.  Usually I just use my tripod.  But a hiking pole with a strap that goes around your wrist is best for stream wading.
  • Camera Gear:  You’ll want the option to shoot long exposures, so an auto-everything camera won’t really work.  A DSLR is perfect, and a full-frame DSLR even better.  Bring your wide angle lens; you’ll be using that most of the time.  Also bring along a circular polarizing filter.  Though not as useful as a CPL, a graduated neutral density filter comes in handy as well.
Eagle Creek, Oregon

Eagle Creek’s Inner Gorge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Other than that the gear is pretty much the same as for other kinds of landscape photography.  So let’s get out and do it!  Here are some things to keep in mind for a successful creeking trip.

  • Clouds are Best:  Creeks are normally found in the forest, or at least lined with trees.  And so sunshine is generally the enemy.  The colors of vegetation and cobbles are washed out by sunshine, and contrast in sun-dappled scenes can be a nightmare.  An overcast sky is good, and so is heavy cloud-cover and rain.  fog and low clouds add atmosphere.
  • Composition is King:  As always, composition is really the make or break in your images.  And when you get under the trees and into the small-scale settings of a creek, it becomes even more important (it stands more on its own because light doesn’t steal the show as much).  Be very careful about having too much “junk” in your photos.  Sticks, ugly rocks, really anything can clutter a creekside photo.  Be patient and hunt around until you find relatively clean and beautiful compositions.
  • Light Still Matters:  Although you can easily get great shots in the middle of the day (provided it’s cloudy) while creeking, golden hour is still golden.  Even if you’re in a canyon with only a small part of the sky above you, when that sky gets filled with great light near sunrise or sunset, the resulting reflected light down near the creek can become special.  I used to try and leave the creek before sunset so I could get somewhere to shoot.  Now if I’m somewhere nice I stay put and take advantage of the good light in the canyon.
Hidden Waterfall, Columbia River Gorge

A benefit of creeking is finding small, hidden waterfalls as you wade up the stream.

  • Get Wet:  If you are determined to stay dry, and to avoid going into the stream, your images will simply not be as good as they could be.  Sooner or later you’ll need to enter the water.
  • But Be Careful:  Being around water is a hazard for both you and your equipment.  This means taking your time and being deliberate about all your movements.  Use your pole (or tripod) to probe ahead.  Place your foot only when you know how deep it is and what the bottom is like.  Don’t take chances balancing and hopping when it’s much safer to  just walk through the water.  Plan ahead before you enter the stream so you aren’t fussing with gear and changing lenses.  Your camera is either around your neck or on your tripod (preferably both!).
  • Beware the Current:  People are surprised when they find out how it only takes a shallow stream to knock them off their feet.  If it’s swift, a creek does not need to be that deep to be powerful.  So enter current only after you’re sure of its power.  You can get an idea by probing with your pole/tripod.  Face upstream and take a wide stance, don’t take really big steps, maintain good balance.  Also be aware that your tripod will only be stable up to a certain speed/depth of water.
Panther Creek Falls Vertical

Here at Panther Creek Falls in Washington, I used the logs spanning the stream to help frame the picture. The heavy mist & rain, while a hassle to deal with, made for a great atmosphere.

  • Get Creative:  Look for logs and other interesting elements to help frame your pictures (see image above).  Climb up above the stream and look down, shoot both downstream and upstream, move up and downstream looking for creative compositions.  Try using a fisheye lens if you have one.
  • Use a Polarizer:  Put your polarizing filter on, point it at a bright part of the stream, where it’s reflecting the sky, or at rocks shiny with water, and rotate it to see the effect.  You’ll notice how, just as with your sunglasses, it’s possible to see the bottom of the stream when you do this.  If there are multicolored rocks below the water, you have a nice foreground if you have a polarizer.  It will also help to bring out the colors, especially if things are wet.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course (see image below).
Panther Creek Bridge, Washington

Standing in the middle of Panther Creek, I liked the reflection off the water, thought it may look good in B&W, so took off the polarizer for a shot.


  • Go Long:  Most photographers want to get at least some longer exposures, where the water takes on that silky look.  Yet another benefit of the circular polarizing filter is that it stops anywhere from one to two stops of light from reaching your sensor or film.  So this (plus smaller aperture and lower ISO) may be all you need for longer exposures.  If it is bright out, or if you want really long exposures, you’ll need a neutral density filter.  You can buy those that rotate to give you a varying degree of darkness, but be cautious about the quality on these.
  • Keep a Lens Cloth Handy:  Water droplets from a waterfall or rain will get on your lens surface and interfere with the light.  Then when you come home and look at your pictures, you will be disappointed.  Unlike dust spots, water droplets are very hard to clone out with software.  I have ruined many a shot not being fastidious enough about keeping my lens dry.  Prevent water getting on the lens by using a lens hood and covering up with a towel until the moment of the shot.  Check and wipe with a dry lens cloth when necessary.  That can mean constantly when it’s raining or near a falls.  Annoying but definitely necessary.
  • Take your Time:  Since there is a safety aspect here, taking your time is very important.  But more than any other kind of photography, especially when it’s raining (when I usually go), creeking takes time.  So plan on at least a couple hours in each location.  Exploring up and down the creek, to areas that are not accessible by trail, setting up, being careful with your camera gear, all this takes time.


I hope you got something out of this post.  And I hope you take some time to go play along a stream with your camera..soon!  If you’re patient you could easily come away with a beautiful intimate landscape that you’re proud to hang on the wall.  Have a great weekend!

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Gorton Creek’s moss and ferns take on a glow as beautiful light seeps into the canyon at sunset.

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Blue Hour in the Canyon:  One more shot before darkness falls at Gorton Creek.



Friday Foto Talk: Winter is Unforgiving I   11 comments

The wind comes screaming down the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

The wind comes screaming down the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

I thought I’d take a break from all the metadata talk and get back to the field.  We are getting some snow around these parts and the photography is changing as a result.  But getting to and from the places I like to shoot has been a challenge.  This and next week’s posts will discuss how to meet some of these challenges and safely enjoy photography in wintertime.

I have never been much to worry about footing in snow and ice.  Being a skier and climber, I have pretty good balance and coordination.  But recently I’ve performed a few spectacular face-plants.  Thankfully there is no photographic evidence.  I know, funny, huh?  Maybe for you!

Horsetail Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge.

Horsetail Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge.

A lot of hikers around here use traction devices for your feet.  They range from simple “mini-chains” to a lighter version of crampons that ice climbers use.  Some look like the studs on car tires.  There is quite the variety – check them out at REI online .  You can also make your own, but that means dedicating a pair of boots or sneakers.  It’s certainly cheaper than buying, but you lose the ability to use them on a variety of footwear.

As I mentioned, I have always just dealt with slippery conditions.  I wear good boots and turn around when things too get steep and icy (unless I have my crampons and ice axe).  Yesterday I was hiking back from the waterfall pictured below, in the Columbia River Gorge.  About 5 inches of light snow lay over patch ice.  As you might expect I went down, hard.  It was a surprise to me; a wake-up call.  I’m glad my camera was safely stowed in my pack.  It would have likely been damaged.

Beautiful Faery Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is nearly frozen over.well on the way to being frozen over.

Beautiful Faery Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is nearly frozen over.

When I went down a second time, despite using care, I sat there thinking.  Perhaps it was time to get some strap-on traction devices.  Maybe it’s foolish pride that’s keeping me from getting them, similar to the fact I rarely use trekking poles.  I know one thing: it’s more embarrassing to go head over heels than take a moment to put on traction devices at the trail head.

Safety for yourself is most important.  But there’s also a lesson here concerning your camera gear.  I mostly recommend keeping your camera handy when out photographing.  You will certainly miss more shots if your camera is inside your pack or bag.  But winter is an exception.  If you are in snow or in areas where the footing is suspect, you need to take the time to stow your camera away in your camera pack or bag.  This goes for anytime you walk from one place to another.

Wahkeena Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is an easy cascade to visit in wintertime, being just a short hike from the road.

Wahkeena Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is an easy cascade to visit in wintertime, being just a short hike from the road.

If you don’t take precautions and sacrifice photo readiness, your camera gear could easily be damaged.  And if you somehow save it from being bashed against a rock, your camera could end up being encased in packed snow.  I’ve had it happen, and it’s very difficult to clear it before some water gets inside.

So go ahead, feel free to imagine my pratfalls and laugh.  But also use the opportunity to consider traction devices for your shoes when you’re out photographing in wintertime.  The goal is, after all, to not only get the shot but to get you and your camera back safely.  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

The pink light of a winter sunset catches a snowy Mount Hood over the Columbia River.

The pink light of a winter sunset catches a snowy Mount Hood over the Columbia River.

Single-Image Monday? Perspective   4 comments

I was late getting back from a climb this weekend so have to apologize for no single-image Sunday post.  I always have believed, however, in the phrase “better late than never”.  This is a somewhat unusual perspective on Panther Creek Falls in SW Washington.  It was captured during the rainy-misty weather we had recently, weather which now seems like a distant memory as temperatures soar into the upper 90s.

Panther Creek Falls, Washington

Panther Creek Falls, Washington

Enjoy!  All my images are copyrighted and most (including this one) are not available for free download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

Spring in the Pacific Northwest – Part I   8 comments

Portland, Oregon's Tom McCall Waterfront Park in springtime features blooming cherry trees.

Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park features blooming cherry trees in springtime.

Springtime in the Pacific Northwest can last a full 4 months!  That’s right, 1/4 of the year for a season that doesn’t even exist in some places, and in others (the far north for example) it is a couple weeks of melting snow and ice – it’s called breakup not spring in Alaska.  This is the first of a two-part summary of recommended times to visit and photograph the different destinations in this corner of the country.

The two years previous to this one we’ve had very long, cool springs, starting in fits sometime in mid- to late-February and lasting through the July 4th holiday weekend.  Clouds, storms, cool weather, sun, hail, snow in the mountains: you know, spring!  And well over 4 months of it!  But this year it didn’t really start until March and it appears to be over now.  We had some very warm weather (for May), then one more spate of cool, wet weather, then May went out and left us with gorgeous dry summer-like weather.  It looks like it wants to stay too.

The beautiful Falls Creek in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

For photography around these parts, you want to time it so that starting in mid-spring you are out as much as humanly possible.  That’s because a bunch of things happen one after the other.  So here is a brief summary of where to go and when during glorious spring in the Pacific NW.


East of the Cascade Mountains early flowers bloom beginning in March.  The weather and light is often interesting in early spring too.  But by mid-April, the flowers really start to peak in the drier eastern parts of Oregon and Washington.  This includes the eastern Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic landscape.  Perhaps you’ve heard of or seen images from a place called Rowena Crest (I call it Rowena Plateau, ’cause that’s what it really is).  Fields of yellow arrow-leaf balsamroot abound!

The sunflower-like balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

Sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

A grass widow blooms in the eastern Columbia River Gorge.

A grass widow blooms in the eastern Columbia River Gorge.

Also check out the Washington side of the eastern Gorge for great flower displays and sweeping landscapes – places like Catherine Creek and the Columbia Hills.  The flower bloom gradually moves west and up (in elevation) through May, with purple lupine and red/orange indian paintbrush joining the party.  One of my favorite flowers of the east is the beautiful purple grass widow.  It is very early (March) in eastern Oregon but a little later in the Gorge.  Another favorite of the dry parts, the showy mariposa lily, blooms rather late, throughout May.

Oregon's Painted Hills are made up of repeating layers of colorful and ancient volcanic ash.

Oregon’s Painted Hills are made up of repeating layers of ancient and colorful volcanic ash.

A small fry gambles in the spring pasture near the town of Fossil, central Oregon.

A small fry gambols in the spring pasture near the town of Fossil, central Oregon.

The Palouse of Washington state is a beautiful rural area of quiet farms.

The Palouse of Washington state is a beautiful rural area of quiet farms.

It’s worth trying to hit the dry, eastern parts of the Pacific Northwest (our steppe) sometime in April or May.  This includes the popular landscape photo destinations of the Palouse in Washington and the Painted Hills in Oregon.  Photographers should try to time a visit with some weather if possible, since clear skies are the rule out there.

I visited the Palouse this year in late May.  That was a bit late but really only for the flower-bloom in a few areas (like Kamiak Butte).  I had an injury and could not go when I originally wanted to, but it happened to work out perfectly.  The weather & light conditions at the end of May were superb.  For the Palouse, really anytime in spring through early summer is a good time to visit; any later and those famous rolling green fields lose their sheen.

Driving the rural roads of the Palouse in eastern Washington.

Driving the rural roads of the Palouse in eastern Washington.

The Palouse in eastern Washington is a region of wide-open spaces.

The Palouse in eastern Washington is a region of wide-open spaces.

Self-portraiture in the Painted Hills, central Oregon.

Self-portraiture in the Painted Hills, central Oregon.


Anytime in mid- to late-spring (April or May), during or just after rains, visits to your favorite waterfalls and cascading creeks are very worthwhile.  This is because the warmer weather and intermittent sunshine, along with abundant moisture, really amps up the already green forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest.  The almost electric green of mosses and ferns, the thundering fullness of the countless waterfalls, all of this results in photographers snapping many many images of a kind of green paradise.

The rugged Salmon River Canyon of western Oregon is mantled in clouds and dusted with a late-season snowfall.

The rugged Salmon River Canyon of western Oregon is mantled in clouds and dusted with a late-season snowfall.

Oregon's highest waterfall is in springtime flood:  Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Oregon’s highest waterfall is in springtime flood: Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Columbia River Gorge is the most common destination (and features the most in pictures you’ll see), but really any forested area laced with creeks and rivers will do.  The Salmon River Valley near Mount Hood, the Lewis River Valley near Mount St. Helens, the North Santiam and Little North Santiam east of Salem, they’re all good!  In mid-spring (April into early May), look out for our signature forest flower, the beautiful trillium.

Dogwood Blooms along the trail in western Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Dogwood Blooms along the trail in western Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Ferns and a waterfall thrive in a dim grotto deep in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon.

Ferns and a waterfall thrive in a dim grotto deep within the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon.

Stay tuned for the second part on this subject.  If you’re interested in any of these images, simply click on them to access purchase options for the high-resolution versions.  Then click “add this image to cart”.  It won’t be added to your cart right away though; you need to make choices first.  Thanks for your interest, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.

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.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a rare stretch of water in the otherwise dry eastern Oregon.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a stretch of water, a rarity in otherwise dry eastern Oregon.

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