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Playing in the Park

Summer is here and I have not been able to get out and play in the wonderful Pacific Northwest outdoors. It feels like I’m wasting my summer away! Hopefully you are finding time to go out and do what you love this July. I am hoping perhaps to get a backpacking trip in later in the month. Last week I did manage to get over to Point Defiance Park with my camera to take a few shots. I found myself concentrating on details of plants, buildings, etc. Here’s a few shots from my evening playing in the park. Enjoy your summer (or winter for those of you in the other hemisphere!).Point Defiance detail shot 1Point Defiance detail shot 2Point Defiance detail shot 3Point Defiance detail shot 4Point Defiance detail shot 5


Iconic Photography

Pike Place Market1When traveling, unless you’re a more self-assured photographer than I, there’s a burning desire to capture that iconic shot. You know, the one image of a place that was great the first dozen times it was shot, but now is a cliché after being shot a million+ times. Still, it’s a cliché for a reason – it’s a great shot, and most of us want to have it in our portfolio. Sure it lacks creativity, but it’s such a great shot!

My normal advice is to get that clichéd shot out-of-the-way, then move on to try to capture the subject with a more creative eye: use ultra-wide angle, use telephoto, shoot details, shoot from different viewpoints, shoot in HDR, try different processing methods, etc. Put your own spin on it!. Of course, that is easier said than done when your subject has been shot a million times.

Well this story is a bit of a twist on my standard advice. Last week, Tanya, Nahla and I spent two nights in Seattle, staying a great bed and breakfast at the Pike Place Market (Pensione Nichols, dog friendly and highly recommended). This was not a photo trip, so while I brought my gear, I didn’t take a lot of images. I didn’t mind too much, I’ve shot at the Market several times before, and it was fun just hanging out in Seattle with Tanya and the dog without anything on the agenda. Besides, Nahla was the hit of the Market – strangers asked us probably 100 times if  they could take her picture.

However, even though I’ve shot at the Market before, I’ve never gotten the iconic shot – the neon Market sign at dusk. I’m sure you’ve seen it; if not just to a Google image search for “Pike Place Market Sign”. There are actually two signs, one with the clock set amongst the market buildings and the other with a fish with sky as background. And the classic time to shot the signs is at dusk, when the neon glows, but you still have good color in the sky.Pike Place Market

So, I did haul the camera and tripod out one of our two evenings there and captured my version of the clichéd icons. Then I put the camera away. I felt a bit guilty, taking only the icon shot; but I rationalized my choice because as an expert on Seattle travel photography (having literally written the book on the subject), I absolutely needed these images in my portfolio. Self justification? Perhaps, but also somewhat of a guilty pleasure (being original is hard after all!).

I’m sure I’ll be photographing up at Pike Place Market again before too long. After all, it is a top Seattle travel photography site. But now that I have my icon shots out-of-the-way, I will be able to try to get more creative next time. At least that is my hope.

 

 


Waterfalls of the Lewis River – a Photo Guide

Lower Lewis River Falls

Lower Lewis River FallsWhen you live in western Washington and are a nature photographer, you better have a a fallback subject to photograph in the rain. Luckily, we have such a subject – waterfalls. The Pacific Northwest is chock full of waterfalls. The most comprehensive list of local waterfalls is the Northwest Waterfall Survey. This site lists more than 2,000 waterfalls in Washington, about 1,250 in Oregon, and around 225 in Idaho.

When I decided to venture forth last Friday, I didn’t need the Northwest Waterfall Survey to pick a place to go. I had just the place in mind – the Lewis River in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Lewis River drains the south and east sides of Mount Saint Helens. I’d been in the area before, but had only photographed one waterfall previously. Yet, I know of several more. So, I headed out with Greg Vaughn’s book, Photographing Washingtonin hand to explore the upper Lewis River valley.

Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

The day was near perfect for waterfall photography – cloudy, with light rain on and off, but not much wind. Cloudy days work well for waterfall photography because of the contrast inherent when viewing white water, particularly when surrounded by dark forest. The rain gives the foliage a nice saturated look. And because, if you like the silky water look (like I do), you need long exposure times, so lack of wind helps.

To reach the Lewis River area, turn east off I5 at Woodland, take Highway 503, and just keep going. The highway, also known as the Lewis River Road, eventually turns south, but Lewis River Road keeps going straight eastward, eventually turning into Forest Road 90.  The lower and middle portions of the river are dammed in three spots, forming large reservoirs. Near the end of the third lake, Road 90 turns right. Turn and stay on Road 90 (going straight will put you on Forest Road 25, which travels north away from the Lewis River).

About 5 miles from where Road 90 turns, turn left onto Forest Road 51 (shown as Road 9039 on Google Maps) to go to Curly Creek Falls.The trailhead to Curly Creek Falls is about  1 mile down the road, just uphill from the one-lane bridge over the river. An easy, 0.1-mile trail brings you to the viewpoint. The bottom of the falls is partly obscured by trees at the viewpoint, and a better view might be gained by bushwhacking down the steep hill. I had Nahla with me, so I stayed at the viewpoint.

Curly Creek Falls is one of the most unusual waterfalls in the Northwest – a waterfall with a natural arch over it. Actually, according to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, it has two arches spanning it. When I was there last week, however, the water was high and I could only see the top arch. The water level falls rapidly over the summer, exposing the second arch, and then eventually drying up the waterfall entirely. (According to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, the creek bed has intersected a lava tube, which shallows the entire flow prior to the falls. If that isn’t strange enough, this phenomenon reportedly did not happen prior to 2003.) If you continue down the trail another 0.25 miles past Curly Creek Falls, there is another, though less impressive, waterfall – Miller Creek Falls. The Northwest Waterfall Survey reports the view of Miller Falls is “quite obscured by several trees.” With bigger and better waterfalls waiting, I skipped it and headed back to the car.

Back out to Road 90, continue up valley for another approximately 3.8 miles to Big Creek Falls. This one is a bit tricky to find. There is no sign and the parking area (on the left side of the road) has been blocked off. If you drive over Big Creek, you’ve gone a bit too far. There is room to park on the shoulder near at the driveways to the blocked parking area. A short, now apparently unmaintained trail, leads east out of the former parking area.

Detail of Lower Lewis River Falls

Detail of Lower Lewis River Falls

The viewpoint described by Northwest Waterfall Survey and in Greg Vaughn’s book is no longer there (well it is partially there; the pad is there, but there are not guard rails and it’s a steep fall off the edge). You can see the falls from here, but the view is mostly obscured by trees. It looks like a nice set of falls, but I didn’t take my camera out of the bag. Further down this trail, about 1/2 a mile, there is another waterfall, Cave Falls. Reportedly, it’s a great waterfall, but only the bottom part is visible, and even that part is obscured by trees. Considering it was raining and I was with the dog, I skipped it and drove down the road.

The next set of falls down the road are easily the most accessible, arguable the most scenic, and probably the easiest to photograph. Lower Lewis River Falls, is the first of four large falls on the Lewis River. Northwest Waterfall Survey ranks Lower Lewis Falls as the 20th best waterfall in the Pacific Northwest. A little over 5 miles from Big Creek brings you to the Lower Lewis Recreation Area. Park at the day-use area (or camp here if you want to do more than a day trip), and the viewpoints of the falls are just a short walk away. There is a viewpoint directly at the top of the falls and several more downstream. For the view of the falls shown above, go to the furthest downstream developed viewpoint. It is also possible to get right down in the riverbed above the falls via a set of stairs, but with the high water I found, the bottom of the stairs was closed. At low flows later in the summer, it is possible to get some interesting shots from above the falls. The falls face west, and according to Greg Vaughn, are shaded in the morning, which makes that a good time for photography (if not there on a cloudy day like I was). With the western exposure, they also may get good light late in the day.

Forest scene near Middle Lewis River Falls

Forest scene near Middle Lewis River Falls

The next set of falls on the Lewis River is Middle Lewis River Falls. It can be reached by hiking 1.7 miles upstream from Lower Lewis Falls (the trail continues on to Upper Lewis River Falls and Taitnapum Falls) on the Lewis River Trail or by driving a mile down the road to the Middle Falls trailhead. From the trailhead, take the trail off the southern side of the parking lot which leads to the Lewis River Trail and turn upstream. The falls are about 1/2 mile from the trailhead. These falls are not as scenic as the Lower Falls, but are worth a quick visit if in the area. Unfortunately, the view from the trail is not the best – you cannot get an entire view of the falls in your frame. Reportedly, the view is better from the rocks in front of the falls, which are easy to reach from the trail. However, when I was there, these rocks were under flowing water, so I settled for the inferior view. Middle Lewis River Falls comes in at 46th on the Northwest Waterfalls Survey top 100 list.

 

When visiting the Middle Falls, it is also worth a stop to see Copper Creek Falls. Unfortunately, when I was there last Friday, I only had Greg Vaughn’s book with me, which describes a 1/2 mile loop trail to the falls. I didn’t see that trail, so didn’t visit the falls. Northwest Waterfall Survey states that the falls are accessed by a trail from the Middle Falls Trailhead parking lot. This trail leaves the left side of the parking lot and parallels the road and travels several hundred feet to a bridge over the falls.  (This goes to show you should do your research before your trips! Had I done so properly, I could have seen these pretty little falls.) I did see Lower Copper Creek Falls, which are very close to Middle Falls. However, to get a good view of these falls, you need to be down at river level, which wasn’t possible when I was there due to high water.

If not hiking from Lower or Middle Falls, the next two falls on the Lewis River are reached by hiking about 1/2 and 3/4 miles from the Quartz Creek Trailhead respectively. That is the way I went. Quartz Creek Trailhead is about 1.7 miles from the Middle Falls Trailhead, just before the road crosses Quartz Creek. Hiking down the trail to the Lewis River, brings you in first to Taitnapum Falls. There is only one viewpoint for these falls, and that view is partially obstructed by trees. Due to steep canyon walls, scrambling for a better view looked extremely hazardous to me. A tall tripod will help take a few of the trees out of your frame.

Taitnapum Falls

Taitnapum Falls

A short distance further down the trail, you will come to Upper Lewis River Falls. The official viewpoint is down a short spur trail from the Lewis River Trail. This puts you directly above the top of the falls, making it difficult (if not impossible) to capture the entire falls in a single frame. Northwest Waterfalls Survey states the best view is from river level, which is accessed by bushwhacking down along the north side of Alec Creek (which the trail crosses a bit further downstream from the viewpoint). With the high water, I doubted I could get a good view even from there, and it was getting late in the day, so I hiked back to the car to visit one last waterfall for the day. Upper Falls is the tallest falls of the four on the Lewis River at 58 feet. It is similar in form to Lower Lewis Falls, and in fact, comes in on the top 100 list at number 24, only four spots lower than Lower Falls.

My last stop was Twin Falls. To reach this waterfall, travel about 9.5 miles further up the road, turn right on a side road to the Twin Falls Campground (at the time of my visit last week, the campground sign was missing, but the road is obvious if you are watching your mileage). Twin Falls is a double falls (the top one is only partially visible) on Twin Falls Creek that almost falls directly into the Lewis River. The campground is on the shore of the Lewis River directly across from the falls, and good photos can be captured from the shore at the campground.  Northwest Waterfalls Survey report contrast can be a problem when photographing the falls, so a cloudy day like I had last week is the perfect time to photograph them.

Depending on how adventurous you are, there are more waterfalls in the area to visit. Northwest Waterfalls Survey lists many, some with easy access, others with impossible access. East of Twin Falls, Big Spring Creek Falls is very pretty and right next to the road. Or if visiting Big Creek Falls, there is a 3/4 mile trail to the viewpoint of the 250-foot tall Hemlock Creek Falls. You could easily spend several days in the area exploring nothing but waterfalls (but take time to look at the forest and flowers as well!).

Portion of Upper Lewis River Falls

Portion of Upper Lewis River Falls

Twin Falls

Twin Falls

Forest Foxglove

Field of foxgloves along the road to the Lewis River

 


Planning, planning

Fiery Furnace and the La SalsThis September, Tanya and I are planning to take a trip to Utah and Arizona. The American Southwest is one of my favorite places in the world. It combines the best of my two passions: photography and geology. And though I’ve been to the Southwest perhaps twenty times or more, on this upcoming trip, we are planning on going to some places I’ve never been before, including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

We will probably also go to Antelope Canyon as well, since I’ve never been there and it is one of the top photographic destinations in the world. I’m just a bit wary about how crowded and commercial it has become (see this blog by photographer Stephen Penland). If any of you have gone to Antelope Canyon, please let me know what you think.

I enjoy planning for trips such as this, reading guidebooks, looking at maps, making internet searches, and thinking of photographic possibilities. This year, the planning started perhaps a bit early because I wanted to get a permit to the Wave. You need a permit to hike into the Wave, and there are only permits for 20 people per day. There is a lottery for 10 daily slots on the internet four months ahead of your visit. Thus Tanya and I put in our lottery applications last month, and we were not chosen. The other 10 daily spots are given out by in-person lottery the day before your visit at the ranger station in Kanab, Utah. Right now I’m not planning on trying for two of these permits as we will be traveling to the Paria area (in which the Wave is located) from the other direction (from Page and not from Kanab). So, the Wave may have to wait for some other trip. But with so many other great photographic locations waiting in the area, I’m not too upset.

Our first stop of the trip will be Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. I have been there perhaps four or five times before, but the last time was nine years ago. It’s certainly time for a visit again. The photo above was from that trip to Arches in 2005. I hope to get some great light like this again, in  fact, I’m planning on it!

 

 


San Juan Sculptures Park

"Silent Words III" by Llyod Whannell

“Silent Words III” by Llyod Whannell

As I recently mentioned, I spent a long weekend on San Juan Island several weeks ago. While there, we spent an hour or two at the San Juan Sculptures Park. If on the island and you like art, this is a good place for a quick visit even if you don’t bring your camera. Not only are there sculptures to view, there are also large natural areas including a bit of waterfront. The artwork, more than 125 pieces, is scattered over 20 acres, providing plenty of room to explore. Apparently new sculptures are being added all the time, as when we were there, several pieces had not had their title/artist signs added yet and two workers were building a new stand for a yet-to-be-displayed piece. There is also a resident sculptor, who was setting up shop for the summer while we were there.  Admission is a suggested $5 donation per person. The park is within walking distance of the Roche Harbor resort. Together, the two make a good stopping spot for doing some travel photography.

"Double Swirl" by Andrew Carson

“Double Swirl” by Andrew Carson

"Island World" by Kirk McLean

Close up on “Island World” by Kirk McLean


Back in the Saddle

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Lime Kiln LighthouseComputer upgrade is mostly complete, and I am back to having a digital darkroom. It’s like magic! Lightroom is like a totally different program. When going to a 1:1 view, it snaps into focus in about 2 seconds and not the seemingly (I never actually measured) 1/2 minute. When running my Tony Kuyper triple play actions in Photoshop, they finish up in a few seconds. This is great!

The big test, though, was running Nik Silver Efex Pro, which would not run at all on my old computer. Several months ago I posted about wanting to do more black and white work, but not being able to use Silver Efex Pro. I was still able to produce quality black and white images, but was unable to use one of the top plug-ins for creating black and white images. So now with the new computer, it was time to put it to the Silver Efex test; it passed with flying colors (or actually lack of colors that is)!

I tried it out on an image I took over Memorial Day weekend on San Juan Island. Being on San Juan Island over the long weekend, I had hoped to capture some good images. However, since we were with friends and Tanya took pains to remind me that the trip “was not a photography trip,” combined with not the best weather in the world, I didn’t get anything I was really happy with.

Since first seeing photos of the Lime Kiln State Park lighthouse, I’ve always wanted to photograph it. And Memorial Day weekend was my chance. I convinced Tanya and our friends to have an early dinner so we could go out to the state park for sunset. Sunset was kind of a bust – not much color. However, we stayed into the blue hour, and I captured the shot featured here, which I thought might work well as a black and white. Below is the original RAW capture straight out of Lightroom with no development (other than the default). Also below is the color version after I developed in Lightroom and Photoshop – not bad, but not really what I was hoping for. I made a duplicate image and tried the Silver Efex Pro plug-in. It opened right up, and within a few minutes, I was able to create the image above. I was just playing around, and this probably won’t be my final version of the image. But Silver Efex Pro impressed me with how quickly I was able to get close to my black and white vision for the image. It’s great being back in the saddle again.

For those who are interested. This image was taken perhaps 10 or 15 minutes after sunset. The exposure settings were 13 seconds at f22, iso 100. I used a 2-stop, graduated neutral density filter.

Lime Kiln RAW

The original RAW capture with no post-capture development.

Lime Kiln Color

The processed color version used to create the black and white image.


Going Slow at Ingalls Creek

Ingalls Creek

Ingalls Creek – hand held, 1/8 second, f/16, iso 100, 17 mm

Last Friday Tanya, Nahla and I took a day hike along Ingalls Creek in the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area. When loading my pack at the trailhead, I decided the leave my tripod in the car – it was a bright sunny day, what would I need the tripod for? Actually, I needed the tripod for two things. First, I apparently forgot that I like that silky water look when photographing streams. Second, as the afternoon progressed, it got cloudy and much less bright.

So, what to do when you need to use slow shutter speeds and don’t have a tripod? Well that depends on the photo. In the case of low light, you can just increase the ISO and decrease your need for a slow shutter speed. Of course, this does have the problem of increasing noise. In the case of wanting a slow shutter speed for a visual effect, like creating silky looking water, a high ISO will not help. You have to find a way of holding the camera steady.

If possible, you try not holding the camera at all; set it on the ground or, when hiking, on your pack. However, this doesn’t always work well. It can be difficult to get the composition you want that way, though using the live view (if your camera is so equipped) can help. If you have to hold the camera, try some of these techniques:

  1. use the proper technique to support the camera and lens – support the body and lens with your hands, elbows in tight against your body, camera tight against your forehead, have your body braced if possible.
  2. You can also use the camera strap to help. In my case, I shortened up the strap and looped it under my elbow so there was just enough strap length to hold the camera when pressing my elbow after from the camera. This made the strap very tight and greatly steadied the camera.
  3. Shoot in short bursts, gently pushing the shutter button – often when shooting three or five images with one press of the shutter, later images may be more steady than the first one (when the button is first pressed).
  4. Shoot lots of frames – for the stream image above, I probably shot 20 or 30 frames to get one steady enough.
  5. Control your breath, make it slow and steady. Try to press the shutter button when exhaling.
  6. Shoot using a wide-angle lens – camera movement is less apparent with wider angle lenses than with telephoto lenses
  7. Use an image-stabilizing lens (nice if you have it; though in my case, the lens I was using does not have this feature)

With these techniques (except the last one), I was able to get a few decent shots without having the resort to software solutions (such as Focus Magic), which though good, do have limitations. But next time, I think I will bring my tripod, even on a sunny day.

BTW, the wildflowers are really out in force along Ingalls Creek right now. We saw lupines; red, orange and yellow indian paintbrush, mariposa lilies; and many more. This is a great time of year to do this hike.

Lupines

The lupines were out in force along the trail. This image was taken after the sky clouded over. Hand held, 1/25 second, f/16, iso 800, 33mm


Darkroomless

An oldie but a goodie, shot on film and processed in my darkroom.

An oldie but a goodie, Devils Garden in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah; shot on film and processed in my wet darkroom.

My computer is down now, going through an upgrade. So for the next week or so, I am without a darkroom. I’m wondering how many of you remember the days when a darkroom was actually a dark room and not a computer? Or perhaps you are one of the few, the lonely, who still use a wet darkroom. I imagine there are very many, probably even the majority, photographers who have never even seen a real darkroom, let alone processed film or prints in one.

I do have nostalgia for my wet darkroom days. Back then, I shot with black and white film, usually Kodak TMax, and color slide film (Velvia or various versions of Kodak Extachrome). I don’t really miss shooting with film – I like being able to bracket and experiment with digital without having to worry about the cost of film and processing (though I’ve probably replaced those costs with camera and computer upgrade costs); I like being able to see instantly if a shot works on the back of the camera. But I do sometimes miss working in the darkroom, watching a print magically change from a blank sheet of paper to a photograph, or pulling a roll of film out of its developing can and seeing the negatives for the first time.

Processing film and producing prints in a wet darkroom was a much more sensory experience than working on a computer. And working in the dark, either in complete darkness or in the glow of a dim red safelight, enhanced.the sensory experience. With limited sight, the smells, feels, and sounds of the darkroom came alive. There was the unique smell of the developer or the vinegary smell of stop bath; the smooth feel of the paper and film, both wet and dry; the sound of the enlarger humming, the timer ticking, or the water running. And though the light was dim, there was plenty to see – the negative image (or color slide) projected by the enlarger, the neon green glow of the moving hands on the timer, and, as mentioned above, images slowly appearing from nothingness in the developer tray.

There was so much more activity too. Today, with computers, processing an image physically involves using a keyboard and mouse. But in the wet darkroom days, you loaded film into a development canister (in complete darkness) by breaking open the film canister, cutting the tapered end of the film off with scissors, threading the film onto a development reel (trying hard to make sure it’s threaded properly so each wrap of film doesn’t touch its neighbors – and never knowing for sure if you did it right or not until the development was complete!), placing the reel into the development tank, and piecing the tank back together (hopefully correctly) so that it was light tight. There was the pouring of chemicals in and out of the development tank, rolling the tank back and forth on a table top to slosh the film and agitate the chemicals. There was the washing of the film, and pulling it out of the tank for your first look to see if it was developed properly and if you messed up on your exposure settings. And finally, hanging the film to dry, using a hook on top and a small weight on the bottom to keep it from curling.

Similarly, printing was much more of an activity than sticking a piece of paper in a printer and pressing a button on a computer. There was loading the film or slide into a negative holder and placing that in the enlarger, moving the enlarger head up and down to get the right size for the print, focusing the enlarger (peering  through a special little scope gadget to make sure the film grain was in focus), adjusting the print easel, calculating exposure times, setting the f-stop on the enlarger and setting the timer, practicing the printing prior to putting paper in the easel, placing  the paper on the easel, turning on the enlarger, conducting dodging and burning with wands or holes cut out of cardboard, and slipping the paper into its chemical baths.

Before the days of digital, it was impossible to create totally identical prints when printing from the same negative. Small differences in timing of dodging and burning, timing in the developer bath, the age of the chemicals, etc. all conspired to make each print unique.

Those days are gone for me now. All that equipment was sold for pennies on the dollar or given or thrown away. Today, I process and print many more images in much less time, without dumping gallons of toxic chemicals down the drain. That’s progress I guess. But on these days when my computer is down, thinking back on those hours in the darkness does bring back some fond memories.


Moon Madness

Gig Harbor MoonI must be obsessed with the moon lately writing two posts in a row about the moon. Yesterday I joined others from the Tacoma Mountaineers photo group in shooting the full moon from Gig Harbor. Actually, yesterday was the day before the full moon, or what some call the Photographers Moon, since it looks full and rises before the sun sets. As viewed from Gig Harbor yesterday, the moon rose north of Mount Rainier, and by sunset was near the mountain. Unfortunately, the clouds did not cooperate, and the late afternoon sunshine was blocked by high clouds in the west. The beautiful sunset light on the harbor and mountain did not materialize. The golden hour turned pale.

The featured image above was taken shortly before sunset. Not a bad image overall, but a pale imitation of what it could have been. Imagine what it would have looked like if clouds in the west had not been blocking the sun. Imagine Rainier lit with a warm glow and the clouds burning with pink. Yesterday, it was not to be.

I’ve been thinking of this shot for several years, and last night just didn’t cut it for me. In looking ahead, the Photographers Moon next month (on June 11) and in July (also on the 11th) will rise closer to the mountain than yesterday. I think I will go back and try again. Anyone want to join me in my moon madness?

Moon RisingGig Harbor Moon2


Moon Troubles

Full Moon TacomaI have trouble photographing the moon. Okay, it’s not so hard before for the sun sets (which is why the best full moon pictures are typically taken the day before the full moon and, consequently, before the sun sets), but after dark, I have lots of problems. There is just too much contrast. The moon is bright, basically as bright as anything lit by sunlight on a cloudless sunny mid-day. Everything else is dark. The dynamic range of any scene with the moon is too much for a camera to handle.

Perfect time to try some HDR photography, right? Maybe, but I’ve never gotten it to work well. I’ve always get funny looking light artifacts around the moon; all my attempts at using HDR for scenes with the moon have looked awful. How about shooting one exposure for the moon, one for the rest of the scene, and combining them in Photoshop. Again, maybe you can do that, but every time I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work – there’s too much glare around the moon and I can’t get the sky to look right.

Last month when I wanted to photograph the full moon rising behind the Glass Museum in Tacoma, I was disappointed when there were clouds on the eastern horizon and the moon wasn’t visible. Less than an hour later, the moon rose above the clouds, and though it was no longer aligned with the Glass Museum, it lined up nicely with the cable bridge over the Thea Foss Waterway. Nice shot, I thought, except now it was way too dark to capture both the moon and the with a single exposure. I set up the tripod anyway and took a series of shots, hoping that perhaps the contrast would not be too extreme.

Later, when I downloaded the shots, I was disappointed to find out contrast was too great – moon troubles were visiting me again. I tried HDR (once again) and was disappointed with the results (once again). I was frustrated. At that point, I figured someone else must have an answer to this problem, so I spent some time researching moon photography on Google. Most advice centered around photographing during twilight before it was too dark. Not helpful in my case. After a bit of searching, I found a YouTube video (which I can’t find again to credit here), where the photographer used HDR for only the moon and the area of sky immediately around it, a single image for the rest of the shot, then combined the two images in Photoshop. He then re-imported the resultant image into Photomatix for additional tone mapping, which I thought wasn’t necessary. But the first part sounded interesting.

I had a series of seven images, shot one f-stop apart. I imported all into Photomatix and worked it for the moon only. I re-imported the HDR moon image into Lightroom. Then I took a single image from the original seven and worked it in Lightroom for the foreground only. I also worked the HDR moon image in Lightroom to approximately match the sky to the sky (away from the moon) in the foreground image. I exported both images to Photoshop into a single document, with the foreground image as the background layer and the HDR moon image laying on top. I used a layer mask on the HDR moon layer to mask out everything but the area around the moon, feathering the mask match the sky in the underlying layer. The two skies didnt quite match, so I used a curves layer with a clipping mask on the HDR moon layer to get the tone of the two skies to be more similar. Once I was satisfied with the result, I continued with my normal Photoshop workflow to finish the image.

Perfect? No. But in the end, after a lot of work, the result is the best moon image I’ve ever captured after dark. What do you think, is it any good? And please, if anyone has some better way to handle my moon troubles, be kind and let me know.


Beezley Hills – A Photo Guide

Beezly HillsI’ve lived in Washington nearly my whole life, yet only heard about the Beezley Hills Preserve this year. Beezley Hills Preserve is a 4,800-acre natural area protected by the Nature Conservancy. On the hills north of Quincy, Washington, the preserve has views south over the Columbia Basin and west to the Cascade Mountains. However, the views aren’t the reason to visit – the plant life is. Beezley Hills is part of one of the largest intact tracts of shrub-steppe ecosystem in the state and one of the best wildflower spots in eastern Washington. Spring time, from late April to mid-May, is prime time to visit when most of the wildflowers are blooming. It’s during these few weeks in spring when this sagebrush desert shows its best colors.

Tanya, Nahla and I visited last Friday, April 25, and the wildflowers were not quite yet at their peak bloom. We did see arrowleaf balsamroot, Hooker’s balsamroot, phlox, sagebrush violet, trumpet bluebells, and common spring gold all in full bloom. My favorite, the hedgehog cacti, were just starting to bloom. Cactus are not that common in Washington, and Beezley has one of the largest concentrations of hedgehog cactus in the state. The lupines and bitteroots, for the most part, were not yet blooming, though we did see one white sulphur lupine just starting to flower (white sulphur lupines are the only white lupine in Washington). Beezley doesn’t get much visitation. We only saw two other people while on our hike, and they were just leaving as we arrived.

To reach Beezley Hills Preserve, make your way to Quincy (take either exit 149 or 151 off Interstate 90) and head east on Highway 28. Near the eastern edge of town, turn north on Columbia Way, which curves into Road P NW, also known as Monument Hill Road. (Note: directions I found in one guidebook and on the internet for Beezley Hills say to turn onto Road P NW off Highway 28. However, you can only turn south on Road P from Highway 28, not north.) Drive 7.1 miles and park next to the access road for a communications tower at the top of the hill. On the south side of the road, there is a gate into the Beezley Hills Preserve, marked with a small sign reading “Nature Preserve – Foot Traffic Only.” There is no sign announcing the preserve.

From the gate, the trail is along an old jeep track, which becomes fainter with distance. After a short distance, we had trouble following the trail. However, it doesn’t matter much, hikers are free to roam at will through the preserve, taking care to not step on the fragile plants. The entire preserve is fenced. Just stay inside the fenced area. You cannot get lost, the communications tower is always visible. A loop around the property makes about a 3-mile hike.

We were there on a mostly cloudy day, which helps with wildflower close-up photos. On a sunny day, you may wish to bring a reflector and/or diffuser to help cut contrast. Consider bringing a macro lens for close-up shots. Alternatively, try a wide-angle lens and get in close to the flowers to show them in their natural setting. Sweeping vista shots will likely be best near sunrise and sunset, though I did okay with the cloudy skies in mid-afternoon. While spring is the best time to visit for wildflowers, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington, also suggests visiting in autumn.

After visiting Beezley Preserve, you might also consider a visit to nearby Moses Coulee for a totally different looking landscape. There are backroad routes into both the southern and northern portions of Moses Coulee from the Beezley Hills Preserve, but perhaps the easiest route, at least to the southern end of Moses Coulee, is to drive back to Quincy, head west on Highway 28 toward Wenatchee, and turn left onto Palisades Road where Moses Coulee where it intersects the Columbia River. The northern portion of the coulee, crossed by Highway 2,  is not easily reached from Quincy on paved roads without a fairly lengthy drive.

Hedgehog Cacti

Hedgehog Cacti

Pholx and Violet

Pholx and Sagebrush Violet

Hedgehog and Phlox

Hedgehog cactus and phlox

Moses Coulee

Moses Coulee near the small town of Palisades

 


Choices, Choices

When photography is exercised as an art form rather than an attempt to purely replicate a scene without any interpretation (which, of course is impossible, photographs cannot replicate reality – they are in 2 dimensions instead of 3, they are cropped and reality is not, etc. – this could be a whole separate blog by itself, but I digress), the photographer has a myriad of choices to make. Many choices are made when capturing the image – what lens to use, what exposure settings to use, what to leave in the frame and what to crop out, whether to use a high viewpoint or a low viewpoint, etc. And post capture, there are also a myriad of choices concerning processing – there are global adjustments for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, the white point, the black point, clarity, saturation, vibrance; cropping; distortion corrections; adding gradients or brush stroke or radial filters; etc. etc. and that is just in Lightroom; go to Photoshop and the choices explode seemingly exponentially.

For the capture side of photography, I’m a big advocate of trying out lots of different options when photographing a subject to really explore its possibilities (see this old post on the subject). Much is said about per-visualizing an image when photographing. And doing so makes a lot of sense and can make for a great image. However, don’t let that per-visualization get in the way of looking at a subject from different, non-per-visualized vantage points.

Okay, I have a confession to make here, I did not follow my own advice when capturing the images accompanying this post. I had one viewpoint in mind, went out, took the shots, and left. Call me bad. These images were taken earlier in the week at Union Station in downtown Tacoma. Union Station is no longer a train station but is now the US courthouse here in the city. Union Station is an iconic shot of Tacoma which I haven’t explored much before (so iconic in fact that I saw another photographer’s image of it hanging on a wall earlier the same evening I took this shot). And the fact that it is an iconic shot maybe why I neglected to cover it from other angles. So here’s so more unsolicited advice – when shooting icons, get the iconic shot out of the way, then try to cover it from other angles and get your own take on the subject (yes, I hear you, I should follow my own advice).

But even when you only get one shot, even the iconic shot, with your post-capture processing you can put your own spin on a subject by the choices you make. Here are four different interpretations of the same subject. Three are HDR images, processed initially in Lightroom, exported to Photomatrix, then re-imported and finished in Lightroom. The other is not an HDR image and was processed solely in Lightroom. If I decide to work on one or more of the images in the future, I may take it to Photoshop to make additional adjustments. The HDR images are made from a set of five images taken one f-stop apart.

The images represent choices for a single exposure of HDR, more realistic HDR and more “grungy” HDR, and distortion correction and cropping versus no distortion correction and cropping. No one image is correct, and no one image is wrong. None represent the reality of the scene as viewed by my eye (this scene, taken at night, is mostly lit from ugly yellow sodium-vapor street lamps for example). All are interpretations; all are artwork; all represent different choices. With these shots, I believe, at least to a small extent, I put my own spin on an icon. I think I favor the cropped, distortion-corrected version the best; but do like the other ones as well. Do you have a favorite?

Union Station - single exposure

Union Station – single exposure

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR version

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR version

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station - grungy HDR look

Union Station – grungy HDR look

 


Steamboat Rock

Steamboat RockLast week Tanya, Nahla and I decided to ditch the on-again, off-again rain of western Washington and drive to someplace dry. We chose to visit Steamboat Rock State Park in eastern Washington. In particular, we wanted to take the hike up Northrup Canyon, and I wanted to get some shots of Steamboat Rock and Banks Lake. We also made a stop at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park to take in the view of Dry Falls.

Steamboat Rock is a massive basalt monolithic butte that stands 800-feet tall in the middle of Banks Lake. Banks Lake is a 27-mile long artificial lake created as part of the Columbia River Basin Project created in the Grand Coulee, a 60-mile long, mostly dry (except for Banks Lake) desert canyon carved in the Ice Ages by the Columbia River and massive glacial floods. Near the southern end of Banks Lake stands Dry Falls. Though now dry (big surprise there), Dry Falls is the site of the greatest known waterfall ever to exist on Earth.

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

The whole area is geologically fascinating (especially for a geologist like myself). One of the better, short histories of Steamboat Rock and Grand Coulee can be found on the HistoryLink website. Even without caring about the area’s geologic history, it is a fun place to photograph – especially because it is so different from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest and indeed the world as a whole. (The area is part of the Channeled Scablands; the nearest equivalent landscape is on Mars).

Yet, being in a desert, and with the rocks being black, it can be a tough place to photograph, especially in the middle of the day. Contrast is extreme. It is typically windy, which can make it dusty as well. Morning is perhaps the best time of day to photograph, before the sun is too high in the sky. Additionally, the wind is usually calm in the morning. Late afternoon and evening also makes for good photographs.

Season wise, in the summer, it is very hot, and in the winter, quite cold. The best time of year to photograph the Steamboat Rock area is spring, especially during the fairly short wildflower blooming season. Some portions of the area can also be colorful in the fall when the cottonwoods and aspens turn color – however, there aren’t too many trees unless you know where to look.

One of those places is Northrup Canyon. Northrup Canyon is within Steamboat Rock State Park and is a fine, short spring hike. Unfortunately, when Tanya, Nahla and I took the hike last week, we were a bit early for the wildflowers and the aspens in the canyon where just starting to leaf out. So we missed some of the color that will be present later this month (mid-April through early May are probably the best times). However, I find the canyon walls fascinating, and the hike leads to an old homestead, so I had plenty to photograph.

Northrup Canyon

Aspens, Northrup Canyon

There is also a hike to the top of Steamboat Rock, which we left for another day. Not surprisingly, I’ve heard the views of are excellent on the top of the rock. Reportedly, it also has a good wildflower display in the spring. Rather than hiking to the top of Steamboat rock, I concentrated on taking some sunset photos and early morning photos of the Rock from pullouts along the highway. Because of the direction the rock is situated, the portion of the rock facing the highway is in shadow late in the day, making the best time to shot the rock in early morning unless you have a good sunset directly over it (when I was there, the sun set directly over the rock; later in the summer, it will set further north).

We could have easily spent another day or two exploring the area, but we had to drive on to Spokane to see my Dad. If you visit, there is a very nice campground at the state park and motels in the nearby towns of Electric City, Grand Coulee, and Coulee Dam. These towns are less than 10 miles from the park. Dry Falls is another 25 miles past Steamboat Rock. And, in case you couldn’t guess from the names of the nearby towns, Grand Coulee Dam – a true engineering wonder of the world – is also in the area (between the towns of Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam). Good views of the dam can be found at the visitor center and at nearby Crown Point Park.

Homestead, Northrup Canyon

Homestead, Northrup Canyon

Homestead, Northrup Canyon2

Another view of the old homestead, Northrup Canyon

Banks Lake

Banks Lake, south of Steamboat Rock

Steamboat Rock Sunset

Steamboat Rock Sunset

Banks Lake Sunrise

Sunrise at Banks Lake


A Rose by Any Other Name

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare might be right about roses, but I’m not so sure about the came can be said about photos of roses. I have the accompanying image of a rose currently in the Ocean Shores 2014 Juried Photography Show.  In preparing for the show, I printed it last week on canvas and really liked the result. However, when I turned the canvas into a gallery wrap, I stupidly ruined it, scratching off some of the ink and making white spots on the canvas. Easy enough fix – just print it again. Wrong!

First, an aside about printing. Printing photos seems like it should be easy. But, if you want to get the color right, it is not. Everything needs to be calibrated. You need a calibrated monitor so that the color you see on your monitor is the same color sent to the printer. You need a printing profile, so that the printer knows the correct way to print the color. Add in a less-than-intuitive printing menu in Photoshop and a similarly unintuitive printer setup menu and you have a recipe for printing problems. Well I have a calibrated monitor, and a profile for the canvas I was using. Plus, I am familiar with the menus, at least enough that I should know what I’m doing.

So, I printed another canvas, and it looked totally different. So, I thought, I had some setting wrong; so again, I printed another canvas. Still not the same. I found my profile for the canvas was actually for the Epson 3880 printer and I have an Epson 3800 printer. I downloaded the correct printer profile, and carefully printed one more time, making sure all the printer settings were correct. Yes, I had the correct settings, but it still looked different from the original. It was at that point I realized that I had printed the original canvas incorrectly and that I liked that incorrect version the best!

At this point, I was starting to run low on canvas. I had enough for perhaps three more attempts to re-create my printing mistake to get back to the result I liked. On the final attempt, I got it right and re-created the original canvas. It turns out, I told Photoshop to let the printer control the color management (mistake) and then told the printer to make no color adjustments (not a mistake if Photoshop controls the color management, but certainly a mistake if the printer is supposed to). Regardless, I had the version of the rose I liked.

However, when I got ready to varnish the canvas, I brushed some dust off it, and ended up with a couple of white spots! Turns out I didn’t blow the dust off the canvas before putting it in the printer and ended up printing on the dust instead of the canvas (another mistake). So, in the end, I used the one that was printed totally correct (with the correct profile and all the correct settings), made it into a gallery wrap, and submitted it to the show. Funny thing is, that if I had printed it correctly the first time, that is the same print I would have had in the beginning.

I always try to learn from my mistakes, but in this case I made so many mistakes on printing this canvas that I’m not even sure what the lesson is. Two things I did learn (or more correctly re-learned): 1) pay close attention when printing to make sure you get all the setting correct, and 2) there is always more than one interpretation of an image, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your processing (rather than leaving it up to printing mistakes to find something you like better).

Here are two versions of the image, which I’ve titled “Rose #3.” Which do you like better?

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

 


Thinking of Black and White

I love black and white photographs. I think black and white photographs may have been what really started my life-long passion for photography. In my pre-digital days, I had a wet darkroom in the back of the pantry of our kitchen. Though I did a little color processing, it was black and white processing that I truly enjoyed. I loved watching those pieces of photo paper magically transform and reveal an image when soaking in the developer bath. Those days are now long gone; I sold most of  my old darkroom equipment for pennies on the dollar and even just threw some of it away when I moved to Tacoma.

But I still love black and white, though I don’t do much of it. I want to change that. Recently I downloaded a copy of Silver Efex Pro. I was excited to give it a try, since so many photographers make great black and white photos with it. Today I tried it out. Today I failed. It causes Photoshop to crash on my computer. I think I may have a video card issue. Luckily, I am planning a computer upgrade in the near future, and that may solve the problem.

But I still had the urge to make at least one black and white image today before getting to my other pressing work – fun before work, right? So I tried using the black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop and was not happy with the results. It caused some of my brush strokes applied in Lightroom to show and pixelated the sky. So I resorted to Lightroom for my black and white conversion. Though it is powerful, it doesn’t allow the type of targeted black and white adjustments I was hoping for that one can make with Photoshop or Silver Effect Pro.

The image here is the result of my efforts today. It is of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse; a 30-second exposure taken after sunset. I like the color version; I really like the black and white version. And I think I could love the black and white version were I to go back and fix some of the defects that my earlier color processing caused that are only visible with the black and white conversion. It seems that black and white conversions, at least the way I like to make them, amplify mistakes in images. Sensor dust spots become more visible; halos from imprecise brush strokes are more obvious; etc. After my computer upgrade, I think I will come back to this image, start over fresh with the RAW file, fix those mistakes and process it specifically for black and white, and again try Silver Efex Pro. Until then I’ll enjoy this slightly flawed image and keep thinking of black and white.

Cape Disappointment Light


Cape Disappointment State Park – A Photo Guide

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse as seen from Waikiki Beach shortly after sunset

Last Friday, Tanya, Nahla, and I drove down to Cape Disappointment State Park for the day. We couldn’t have asked for a better early Spring day. Other than a brief rain shower on the way down, the day was sunny and warm (for early March anyway). We were extremely lucky weather-wise, Friday was the only day without significant rain in the week. Rainfall totals at Astoria, Oregon, the closest weather station to Cape Disappointment, over the past week were 0.33 inches on Monday March 3rd, 0.15 inches Tuesday, 1.43 inches Wednesday, 0.33 inches Thursday, 0.03 inches Friday, 1.38 inches Saturday, and 0.86 inches Sunday.

North Head Lighthouse

North Head Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment State Park, which is also part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, is one of Washington’s larger state parks covering 1,882 acres. It offers 2 miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses,  and old-growth forest. The park is located at the very southwestern tip of the state, at the mouth of the Columbia River. The park encompasses two rocky headlands, North Head and Cape Disappointment, both with their own lighthouses. Between the two is a broad, sandy ocean beach. An ocean coast with both headlands and sandy beaches is unique in this part of the state. The coastline to the north is mostly either low sandy beaches or shallow estuaries, without headlands, for the next 70 miles. I have nothing against broad sandy beaches, but for photography, headlands are generally much more photogenic.

The key photographic highlights of the park are the two lighthouses. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the United States west coast, guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. The lighthouse is reached via a 1/2 mile trail from the parking lot for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at the southern end of the park. (The interpretive center, by the way, is one of the better Lewis and Clark museums in the Northwest, if not the whole country.) The trail approaches the lighthouse from the east, and the lighthouse is not visible from the trail until near the end of the trail. Further, the approach is from below the lighthouse. These factors make the lighthouse backlit for most of the day from the approach, and the ocean is not visible beyond the lighthouse until reaching its base. Space is extremely limited on the northern and western sides of the lighthouse and non-existent on the southern side. Additionally, there is a more modern, small boxy building just to the west of lighthouse. All these restrictions make it difficult to photograph the lighthouse near its base. However, the walk out to it is worth it for the view – the wide, sweeping expanse of the Columbia River entering the Pacific Ocean, with the Oregon coastal mountain range to the south. The mouth of the Columbia contains some of the most hazardous waters on the west coast, and the Coast Guard keeps a close watch on ships and fishing and pleasure boats entering and leaving the river.

In fact, the small building is manned by the Coast Guard. When we were there, the seaman in the station invited us inside to look through his binoculars (I don’t know what size lenses these things had, but if I had to guess, there were at least 600 mm; ie. they were huge) and tell us about his job. We talked about the waves, how big they get, and what it’s like bust through them on a small boat while doing surf training or going on a rescue. If the Coast Guard is surf training when you’re there, with a long lens, you should be able to get some great shots of  boats busting through and over breaking waves from the lighthouse.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse 2

Mid-afternoon light on Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, again from Waikiki Beach

The best shots of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse itself, however, are not from near the base, but from beach level. The view from just to the west of Waikiki Beach ( a small beach, complete with big waves and surfers, just not the same climate as its more famous cousin) is particularly good. Because this is north of the lighthouse, the best light will be late in the afternoon and near sunset. You can try to capture waves crashing against the rock

s beneath the lighthouse or frame the lighthouse with driftwood. Another possible, and more elevated, shot is from the interpretive center, again with the best light in late afternoon or near sunset.

The North Head lighthouse, located near the northern end of the park, has a bit more room around the base, making photographs possible from more angles close to the base. The lighthouse is accessed from a 1/4 mile trail from the historic lightkeeper’s and assistant lightkeeper’s houses and nearby parking lot.  The North Head lighthouse sits a bit lower than the much of the land near it, so it is much easier to get a shot of the lighthouse with the ocean in the background than is possible at Cape Disappointment (okay, it’s probably impossible to get that type of shot at Cape Disappointment unless you have a plane or a drone). For example, you can easily walk up the hill behind the lighthouse and capture it with the setting sun over the Pacific.

Other good shots of the North Head Lighthouse can be taken from the beach south of the lighthouse and from an extension of the headland north of the lighthouse. To access this northern area, take the paved trail from the lighthouse parking lot to Bell’s View. Near the wooden view platform, wander off the trail to the west and pick up the informal trail which ends at a small cement pillbox (left over from WWII). But be careful, you’ll be near the edge of a cliff, and it’s a long way down to pounding surf below. While there, it’s also worth taking a peak at Bell’s View, which is northward to the seemingly endless beach and surf on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Other opportunities for photography include the beach between the two headlands, views of Deadman’s Cove along the trail to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse (beach access is not allowed), old growth forest (probably best on the North Head trail), historic artillery bunkers (the park was home to Fort Canby, active from 1852 through the end of World War II), and potentially wildlife. And if you like small fishing towns, visit the harbor at Ilwaco, which is located just outside the park.

North Head Lighthouse 2

North Head Lighthouse viewed from the north.

On the Beach

Tanya and Nahla playing on the beach.

Ilwaco

Fishing boats in the harbor at Ilwaco


5 Years Ago – HDR in Walla Walla, Washington

Marcus WhitmanFor some reason I have a hard time getting out and doing photography in February. I’m not much of a winter fan to begin with, and by February I just want it to be over. After a fairly dry winter so far this season, the rains returned with a vengeance the past several weeks. I had two planned snowshoe trips cancelled. So without anything new to show, it’s time to dig through the archives.

Five years ago this month Tanya and I were on a wine-tasting trip to Walla Walla, Washington. (Non sequitur – I love saying Walla Walla, Washington. I think it stems from my youth when I use to watch a lot of Loony Tunes on television, and the cartoon characters there were always ordering fun stuff from Ace Novelty Company in Walla Walla, Washington. Anyone else out there like me, or am I just weird?) We stayed with friends at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, a grand old place in the heart of the downtown. I really liked the look of the lobby of this old hotel, and before we left, I got out the camera and tripod to photograph it.

The dynamic range in the lobby was extreme. Inside, the lobby was dark, lit by antique light fixtures. However, the windows were bright, lit by outside daylight. This was scene made for digital photography and the use of HDR (high dynamic range) processing. At the time, I hadn’t done much HDR, in fact, now thinking back, this could have been my first attempt. I’m happy with the results, though if I ever decide to reprocess these shots, I think I might cut back on the effect a bit – the colors, particularly the blues, are a bit over saturated. However, both images show the old grandeur  of the place, which was my intent for the photographs.  Hotels like this are just not made anymore.

Each of these two images is a combination of six shots, processed first by Lightroom, then combined into a single image via HDR processing in Photomatix, then back to Lightroom, and finally Photoshop. At the time, I didn’t like Photoshop’s HDR processing, which has since been updated. Photomatix has been updated as well, and I still prefer it to Photoshop for HDR processing.

If you ever plan on a visit to Walla Walla, this is a great place to stay. Their off-season rates are very reasonable (at least they were five years ago), and there are more winery tasting rooms within walking distance than any person can visit in a day. (When we visited, our group rented a limo and rode around the countryside outside the city to a number of wineries. When we returned in the afternoon, Tanya and I and another couple than walked to tasting rooms near the hotel. I can honestly tell you, all those tiny little tastes of wine add up. Needless to say, these images were taken the next morning when I was capable of focusing my camera as well as my eyes.)

Macus Whitman


Free Photography Ebook by David duChemin

Ten-More-Free-500x645He’s done it again. In an earlier post I told you about a free ebook being given away by David duChemin titled  TEN, Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear. This week David announced he is giving away the companion ebook TEN MORE, Ten More Ways to Improve your Craft Without Buying Gear.

As with his first book, this one didn’t present anything new to me personally (while I’d like to think that is because I’m such an experienced and accomplished photographer, in reality, it is probably because I have read all of David duChemin’s print books which cover these topics in more detail). However, for relatively new photographers, it does present good information and techniques they may not have thought about. For experienced photographers, it is always worth reviewing and remembering these relatively simple, yet effective techniques. Also like the first book, this one contains suggested, fun exercises to help learn or reinforce the techniques. Topics covered include: embracing constraints, digital darkroom, shooting in manual mode, honoring the frame, shooting in monochrome, and more.

This is a great little book, especially for the price (free!). It is certainly worth the time to download it. For a link to the book, visit David deChemin’s blog.


Reception for Colors of Washington

If you are in the Seattle-Tacoma area, please join me at a reception for my Colors of Washington exhibit. I’d love to talk with you about how I captured these images and about photography in general.  The reception will be held Tuesday, February 18th from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Auburn City Hall gallery located at 25 W Main Street, Auburn, Washington. Refreshments will be served. Hope to see you there!

For those that cannot attend, here are three more images from the exhibition. Enjoy!

Adams SunsteLenore SpringBronze Wave #2


New Friends

Tuck Followers of my blog will know that last year the Becker household lost one cat and one dog. And while Carson and Sugar will never be replaced, we now have two new members of the family, well actually, we’ve had them for a while now.

In the last week of November last year, Tanya and I adopted a kitten from the local Humane Society. The idea was to get a playmate for our other cat, Patch, who was quite lonely after losing both his sister, Sugar, and his best buddy, Carson. The kitten’s name is Tuck. Well it didn’t get exactly as planned, Patch was not too welcoming of a new male kitten in his house. Things are much better now, at least Patch puts up with Tuck, shaking off Tuck’s flying kamikaze attacks from the top of the  furniture rather than clawing and biting the kitten. Sometimes Patch even starts the play. Tuck, now five months old, is much bigger than shown in the photo here (taken about 5 weeks ago) and still as wild as ever. We refer to him as Tuck the Terrible or Tuck the Terror.

And last month, we brought a new Newfoundland home. Her name is Nahla, which means drink of water in Arabic (her paper name is Nakiska’s Drinks Are On Me). Nahla is four years old and a rather large girl. In fact, she is bigger than Carson was, both in weight and height (she can rest her chin on the dining room table without lifting her head). She definitely loves her people, and follows Tanya or I around constantly. She reportedly loves water (like most Newfoundlands, Carson being the exception), but we haven’t taken her to the beach yet to see. She did like being in the snow when we took her up to Hurricane Ridge a couple of weeks ago, where I took the photograph below of her and Tanya. I’m looking forward to many new adventures with Nahla. Interestingly, Patch seems much happier now that there is a dog in the house again, even though he mostly ignores Nahla.

Tanya and Nahla


Colors of Washington

Ice Lakes in the RainMy first solo exhibition is now showing at the Auburn City Hall Gallery in Auburn, Washington. Although Washington is known as the Evergreen State, there is much more to Washington than green! Come by and see the 26 images in this exhibition that celebrate all the colors of Washington.

The gallery is in the lobby of Auburn City Hall at 25 W Main Street, Auburn and is open from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. The exhibition runs through February 27th. We are planning an artist’s reception sometime next month, date and time to be announced.

 


Quick Shot – Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge sunsetI’ve been super busy lately getting ready for my first solo show. I need to drop off 26 pieces a week from today and just finished the printing yesterday. Now to finish matting and framing… I’ll post more on this show later.

Even though busy, I wanted to post a quick shot from a trip I made last Friday with Tanya and our new Newfoundland, Nahla (more on Nahla later as well) to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Western Washington has been experiencing a temperature inversion lately, which causes lots of fog in the lowlands, but sunny and warm skies at elevation. This trip was a perfect example. Hurricane Ridge is about 17 miles by road from the City of Port Angeles and perhaps only 10 miles straight-line distance. Port Angeles is at sea level; Hurricane Ridge is at 5,242 feet above sea level. We drove into Port Angeles at noon. It was foggy and the temperature was about 38º F (3º C). A half hour later, we arrived at Hurricane Ridge, the sky was mostly sunny and the temperature was 60º F (16º C).

There isn’t much snow at Hurricane Ridge this year. Last Friday, there was about 28 inches of snow on the ground – a year ago it was around 90 inches in mid-January. However, the snow that was there was enough to go out snowshoeing and enjoy the view. And with the warm weather, it was great being out with only a light coat.

After our short snowshoe, we hung out for sunset, where I captured the above photo. All in all, a great trip. If you decide to go, be aware that the road to Hurricane Ridge is only open Friday-Sunday (and holiday Mondays) during winter (December through the end of March). It normally opens at 9 a.m. and closes around sunset (they chase everyone out of the parking lot each night). Before you go, be sure to check road conditions at http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hurricane-ridge-current-conditions.htm as the road is only open if conditions permit.


Celebrating 3 Years and Counting (Print Giveaway!)

A week ago today was the 3-year anniversary of my first blog post, which had the unimaginative, default title of “Hello World.” The stats section of my blog dashboard says it has been viewed 4 times (though it was likely viewed a few more times solely as part of my blog home page). It was a single line of text and a photograph from a snowshoeing trip.

Today, now 3 years from the start, the blog has had over 40,000 hits and has over 4,500 followers. I’d like to thank all of you that follow, read, and interact with me and my blog. You have made the past three years worth while.

However, the beginning of my blog was pretty bleak. My first post with more than a single line of text is titled It’s About Sharing Art, posted on January 19, 2011. My stats indicate this post has been viewed only 9 times. By the end of January 2011, I had made six posts.  None have been “liked” although the post on January 29, 2011, about the death of my friend Bert Daniels, did garner my first comment. In total, the blog received 71 views in the first month of its existence.

Finally, with my second post in February 2011 (and my eighth post overall) I earned a “like.”  That post, titled “Fun in the Dark,” was about light painting. The next several months provided gradually more views (192 views in February, 183 in March, 475 in April, 629 in May, 403 in June, and 255 in July), but very few comments and likes (4 likes, 1 comment in March; no likes, 2 comments in April; 1 like, 1 comment in May and the same again in June; 8 likes, 5 comments in July).

At the time, I remember thinking that it may not be worth doing. Views per month had peaked and were starting to fall. August 2011 appeared to be more of the same, with only 364 views. Then I was blessed by the WordPress gods, and my August 30, 2011 post, titled Mountain Blues, was picked as a Freshly Pressed feature. And with that, the number of view in September jumped to over 7,000. Suddenly I was getting lots of likes, many more comments, and a lot of subscribers. Since that time, the number of view my blog gets per month varies, but averages around 1,000. Hopefully those of you that do view my blog get something worthwhile out of it. That is my true goal, to help my readers with their photography.

In celebration of three years of blogging, I am giving away a 10×15-inch signed print of the one of the images below to one lucky person. Leave a comment about indicating which print you would like, and I will pick one person by random drawing for their selected print. The three images are  1) “Gig Harbor’s Mountain” an image I took in 2005 that is still one of the most popular images I’ve taken; 2) “Low Tide, Beach #4″ of a tide pool in Olympic National Park, a favorite of mine that won 1st place in the scenic print competition at  the 2012 meeting of the Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest; it was also the subject of a blog post where I described going from previsualization to the print itself; and 3) “Seattle Moon”, one of my favorite shots from my Scenic Seattle ebook. Good luck and thanks for 3 great years!

Gig Harbor's MountainLow Tide, Beach #4Moon over Seattle


The Worst of 2013 and Lessons Learned

You will find many “best of 2013″ posts and news articles this time of year. Today, I’m going the opposite direction and posting my worst of 2013. Actually, these aren’t truly the worst, just some bad images that didn’t get deleted immediately.

Every photographer posting on the internet is posting images they are proud of, and it is the same with me. I get a lot of comments on how great my images are, but that is only because I don’t show anyone the bad stuff (at least until now). Ask any professional photographer whose work you admire if they take any bad shots, and  if they say “no”, they are lying to you.

However, taking bad shots is not, in fact, a bad thing to do. Taking a lot of shots, trying a lot of different compositions, and experimenting in different techniques is a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t work, even if many of your images do turn out bad. Take a lot of differing shots and you are bound to come up with at least a few good ones. Learn from you mistakes, and the percentage of good shots will grow. If you don’t have any bad ones, in my opinion, you are either totally stale or not shooting enough. There’s no reason with digital cameras not to go out on a limb and try something different. Be brave, experiment! Try different exposures, try moving the camera while shooting, try a different perspective. Just remember to try to learn from both what works and what doesn’t.

Here are some of my worst images of 2013, one for each month except for July. July is excluded not because I didn’t take any bad shots in July, but because I only used my camera at weddings in July and I’m not about to put any bad wedding shots out on the internet. For the other months, I’m showing a bad shot both straight out of the camera and after trying to improve it in Lightroom (this is only fair, since I shoot RAW and process all the shots shown on my blog), plus a few comments on what makes it bad and the lessons I’ve learned once again.

January - a bad bird shot

January (out of the camera) – a bad bird shot.

Cropping helped make the bird a better subject, but more than half the image was thrown out doing so. Further, I was so far from the bird in the first place, only by this drastic crop could I tell the bird was actually looking away from the camera!

Even with a telephoto lens, the bird is just too small in the frame to make a good subject. Lesson learned (again) – make the subject prominent in the frame! Cropping helped make the bird a better subject, but more than half the image was thrown out doing so. Further, I was so far from the bird in the first place, only by this drastic crop could I tell the bird was actually looking away from the camera!

130217_Seattle_Bainbridge_001309-2

February (out of the camera) – what’s the subject?

Processing in Lightroom, as shown here, was no help. There is no computer software out there to add an interesting subject when there isn't one to begin with!

Trying to show what it is like sailing into Bainbridge Island on a ferry, I took this shot. But where’s the subject? All I see is a lot of featureless water. Plus the lighting was horrible – gray and flat. Processing in Lightroom was no help. There is no computer software known to humankind to add an interesting subject when there isn’t one to begin with!

March (out of the camera) - it's just like being there, NOT!

March (out of the camera) – it’s just like being there, NOT!

Where do I begin with this one. It is majestic standing below the Double Alcove in Zion National Park, and I wanted to capture that feeling. So looking straight up, I took this image. What a waste of pixels! First, without context, a viewer has no idea what this is or what the scale is (it's huge by the way). Plus there the contrast was huge. The sky was dark blue when the image was taken, and even processing in Lightroom couldn't fix the contrast problem.

This has so much wrong with it, where do I begin. It is majestic standing below the Double Alcove in Zion National Park, and I wanted to capture that feeling. So looking straight up, I took this image. What a waste of pixels! First, without context, a viewer has no idea what this is or what the scale is (it’s huge by the way). Plus there the contrast was huge. The sky was dark blue when the image was taken, and even processing in Lightroom couldn’t fix the contrast problem.

April (out of the camera) - it was a dark day, but not this dark!

April (out of the camera) – dark and slanting.

This shot was so underexposed that "fixing" in in Lightroom comes with unacceptable noise. It was shot trying to keep some detail in the sky.

This was shot trying to keep some detail in the sky, but I failed horribly. Though hard to tell from the image size shown here, it was so underexposed that “fixing” in in Lightroom came with unacceptable noise. I didn’t even bother fixing the horizon slant. Lesson learned (again) – check the exposure settings!

May (out of the camera) - artistic blur failure

May (out of the camera) – artistic blur failure.

The processed version does nothing to help. The idea was to get a blurred person walking by the river in Spokane. But this just doesn't work. The shutter speed was wrong and I pressed the shutter button at the wrong time, framing the subject at the wrong spot. However, this is actually a case where I applied a lesson previously learned - I took many shots from the same spot with different people walking by, using several different shutter speeds and did get a few acceptable results.

The processed version does nothing to help. The idea was to get a blurred person walking by the river in Spokane. But this just doesn’t work. The shutter speed was wrong and I pressed the shutter button at the wrong time, framing the subject at the wrong spot. However, this is actually a case where I applied a lesson previously learned – I took many shots from the same spot with different people walking by, using several different shutter speeds and did get a few acceptable results. This is just not one of them.

130611_Titlow_008572-2

June (out of the camera) – great light star, bad everything else.

Attracted by the sun peeking through the pilings, I wanted to capture a light star and did succeed. Unfortunately, I forgot about getting a level horizon, and fixing that in Lightroom causes the piling on the left to be too close to the frame edge. Trying to bring detail in the dark part of the image just brings unacceptable digital noise.

Attracted by the sun peeking through the pilings, I wanted to capture a light star and did succeed. I thought, at the time, I needed to work fast before the sun set. Unfortunately, I forgot about getting a level horizon, and fixing that in Lightroom causes the piling on the left to be too close to the frame edge. Trying to bring detail in the dark part of the image just brings unacceptable digital noise. Lesson learned (again) – take time to consider things like proper exposure and level horizons.

August (out of the camera) - bad bug shot

August (out of the camera) – bad bug shot.

Again, Lightroom has no magic "unsuck" filter and the processed images is no better than the original. Here I've focused on the wrong spot and cut off the tip of the wing with the frame. Yuck!

Again, Lightroom has no magic “unsuck” filter and the processed images is no better than the original. Here I’ve focused on the wrong spot and cut off the tip of the wing with the frame. Yuck!

September (out of the camera) - how not to expose for the highlights

September (out of the camera) – how not to expose for the highlights.

The original shot was so overexposed that Lightroom adjustments can only turn a horrible image into a extremely bad image.

The original shot was so overexposed that Lightroom adjustments can only turn a horrible image into an extremely bad image.

October (out of the camera) - failed artistic tilt

October (out of the camera) – failed artistic tilt.

Trying to capture the beauty of this stairway at the University of Washington, I experimented with a tilted perspective. It didn't work.  Fixing the tilt in Lightroom cropped off way too much. Though the experiment didn't work, I did take other shots using more "normal" view angles and did come away with a few good shots.

Trying to capture the beauty of this stairway at the University of Washington, I experimented with a tilted perspective. It didn’t work. Fixing the tilt in Lightroom cropped off way too much. Though the experiment didn’t work, I did take other shots using more “normal” view angles and did come away with a few good shots.

November (out of the camera) - great sunset, bad (very bad) focus

November (out of the camera) – great sunset, bad (very bad) focus.

There is absolutely nothing in focus in this image, and no magic software exists to fix it. I took probably 30 or more shots of this building and sunset, and all have bad focus. Lesson learned (again) - don't let your excitement for a good scene make you forget the fundamentals, like checking the focus. Auto focus is not perfect, especially in low light situations (as I proved to myself once again).

Though perhaps difficult to tell here, there is absolutely nothing in focus in this image, and no magic software exists to fix it. I took probably 30 or more shots of this building and sunset, and all have bad focus. Lesson learned (again) – don’t let your excitement for a good scene make you forget the fundamentals, like checking the focus. Auto focus is not perfect, especially in low light situations (as I proved to myself once again).

December (out of the camera) - whiteout!

December (out of the camera) – whiteout!

While snowshoeing at Mount Rainier, I wanted to show the near whiteout conditions. I guess the image did succeed, because there isn't much visible here. Lesson learned (again) - when there is nothing much in the background, put something visible in the foreground.

While snowshoeing at Mount Rainier, I wanted to show the near whiteout conditions. I guess the image did succeed, because there isn’t much visible here. The processed version doesn’t do anything to help. Lesson learned (again) – when there is nothing much in the background, put something visible in the foreground.


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