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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.

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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.


Panning for Hidden Gems (Christmas Edition)

One chore I accomplish each winter is to edit my photo library for all the photos I neglected to edit earlier in the year. Editing is a thankless task that some notable photographers even suggest is unnecessary due to disk drives being inexpensive. However, it is hard enough for me to find the photos I want when things are edited, let alone when I don’t edit.

Editing, at least for me, has one big added benefit. By going over those thousands of image I took that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to earlier, I always find some hidden gems that I missed earlier (along with lots of dogs – but more on that in a later blog). As my Christmas present to you, I offer a look at some of the hidden gems I’ve found thus far during my editing. Merry Christmas everyone!

Tulips

Tulip fields in the Skagit Valley last spring. I took so many shots on the day I was there, I was bound to miss a few good one when I first looked at the images. Here’s one I missed until my editing this December.

Seattle Moon

This moonrise over Seattle last January was another case of taking a lot of images on one day. Previously when looking at images from this shoot, I was concentrating on horizontal formats, so missed this vertical shot.

Seattle Abstract

I took this during a private workshop I held earlier in the year. Since the focus of the workshop was my student, I didn’t pay much attention to the images I took that day until my recent edit. BTW, I love the downtown Seattle Library for abstract shots such as this.

Hoodoo

On my trip to the Paria last spring, we took a short hike before setting off on the long one. When previously looking at images from the trip, I focused mainly on those from the long hike and didn’t bother to develop this one until much later.

Double Alcove

Another from the same trip, this is the Double Alcove in Zion National Park

Colorful Canoes and Kayaks

Somehow, when going over of images from a day trip to Bainbridge Island last February, I overlooked this image.

Tacoma at NIght

Last April I did a night shoot with friends in downtown Tacoma, the next three shots are images I didn’t process from the trip until recently. I love the colors in these shots.

Tacoma Tug

Another shot from the same shoot

Tacoma HDR

I almost threw away the series of images that this photo came from. I took them with HDR in mind, and when putting it together, didn’t like the result. But when editing this month, I thought I’d try a surrealistic look (which I normally don’t like). In this case, I do like the result.


Calendar Stories 2014 Edition

 

Dungeness Light and BakerAs I’ve written before, I work for a company called Robinson Noble, based in Tacoma, Washington. Each year, Robinson Noble produces a calendar for clients featuring photos I’ve taken. We limit the photos to scenes from the Pacific Northwest (where the majority of our business takes place). The calendar is always well received and appreciated. I recently wrote a post for the Robinson Noble blog that highlights the 12 images in the 2014 calendar and provides a back story to each image. Though I’ve shown many of the photos from the new calendar previously on this blog, there are several ones I have not shown. The photo above (of the Dungeness Light House with Mount Baker in the background) for example, is featured on the July page Robinson Noble’s 2014 calendar. If you get a chance, visit my Robinson Noble blog post about the 2014 calendar and tell me what you think.


Quick Shot – Port Townsend

Wooden Boat

I haven’t had much time to post lately, so here’s a quick shot from a trip Tanya and I made to Port Townsend  late last month with a couple of friends. Tanya kindly informed me that it was not a photo trip, so I didn’t get the camera out much. However, it is hard for me to keep the camera totally packed away. The image is of a wooden boat in the Port Townsend harbor that I sneaked off and took while Tanya and our friends were shopping. I love the look of wooden boats, and Port Townsend has a wooden boat festival every year. Some day, I’ll have to make it up there for that. Meanwhile, sneak shots like this will have to suffice.


Many Thanks

Wild turkeys

Turkeys in Capital Reef National Park – safe from Thanksgiving dinner

Today is the great American holiday Thanksgiving. Besides giving a day off from work to feast on vast quantities of food and watch football, it is a day for us that celebrate it to give thanks for the many blessings given us over the past year. Today, Tanya and I will have a quiet holiday by ourselves, declining the invitation to travel over the Cascade mountains to visit with my family in Spokane due to a lack of a good car for winter driving (our little SUV is having troubles and the other car needs new tires). This appears to be a good decision, since much snow is forecast for the mountain passes this coming weekend. Besides, without Carson here, who loved the turkey scraps that normally come with Thanksgiving, it seems good to have a quiet time at home.

But life goes on. We brought a small kitten, named Tuck, home a couple of days ago to help keep our older cat, Patch, company. Patch, who is feeling the loss of Carson seemingly as much as Tanya and I, as well as the loss of his sister earlier in the year, has been acting up (as some of our leather dining room chairs can attest to), we presume because of loneliness. We hope getting a kitten was a good idea; we shall see after a few days of slowly introducing the two cats to each other.

Celebrating by ourselves, without turkey-loving company, we have decided against the big, traditional turkey dinner. Tanya, a vegetarian, doesn’t eat turkey (although she has been known to sneak a taste of crisp turkey skin); so it seems a waste to cook a big bird for only the two cats and me. A year ago today, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Madrid with Brooks, having a great meal of paella. So we decided to try paella again for Thanksgiving. We went grocery shopping last night for the requisite fixings. Do you know how hard it is to find fresh clams at 10:00 pm the night before Thanksgiving?

Anyway, I did not intend this post to be a discussion of our Thanksgiving menu, but rather a listing of some of the many things I am thankful for. Here are a few of the things I am thankful for:

  • for you, the many readers of my blog – I’m not sure why you care about my words and photos, but I am grateful that someone does. Many thanks!
  • for Tanya – she is the love of my life, my best friend, and the most wonderful partner anyone could ever ask for.
  • for my son and daughter, Brooks and Janelle, who have grown up to be fine young adults. I’m thankful that they both have good jobs that support them, and that they live close (but not at home with Tanya and I).
  • for pets – I’m thankful for the many years good years of companionship that Carson and Sugar gave us, the continuing years of companionship that Patch is giving us, and (hopefully) the future years of companionship that Tuck will give us.
  • for my many friends and family members who care for me no matter what stupid things I do or how many “help-me” chores I ask them to assist with.
  • for my day job at Robinson Noble – a job I enjoy doing, a job that provides enough to pay the bills as well as support my photography habit (which would have a hard time of supporting itself)
  • for my health – I’m thankful that at being over 50 years old I can still do 30-mile backpacking trips (like I did earlier this year)
  • for living in a part of the country that still have plenty of wilderness and places to do 30-mile backpacking trips; for being close to deserts, mountains, and coastlines
  • for hoodoos and arches and red rocks in general
  • for rainforests, giant trees, and hanging moss
  • for photography – a passion that gives me so much joy
  • for my church, United Church in University Place, a group of people who truly care about everyone no matter their race, sexual orientation, or financial status
  • for the word “thanks” being in Thanksgiving, otherwise many Americans would forget what the holiday is really about
  • for warm beds and frosty mornings and, in particular, warm beds on frosty mornings
  • for decaffeinated coffee for me and caffeinated coffee for everyone else in the Seattle area
  • for good bottles of wine, India pale ales, and scotch and rye whiskeys (not necessarily in that order)
  • for baseball – one of the best games ever invented, and (reluctantly) for my home team, the Seattle Mariners; for spring training, where every team dreams of the World Series (even the Mariners)
  • for working indoor plumbing, particularly after having the big dig in our front yard last summer essential for keeping that plumbing working
  • for day trips and weekends away with Tanya
  • for snow on weekends, and clear streets on work days
  • for the sun rising every morning and the color it brings to the world
  • for the stars at night, particularly when we are out of the city and can see them
  • for my hometown of Tacoma, a city I swore when I was young that I would never live in; I’m so glad I was wrong
  • for travel, in the United States and beyond, in particular our trips to Spain, Greece, Belize, Scotland, New Orleans, and our many trips to the American Southwest
  • for a rib-eye steak on the barbecue (and halloumi for Tanya)
  • for text messaging – otherwise we’d rarely hear from Brooks and Janelle
  • for good music, in particular music by Neko Case, Neil Young, the Shins and the Decemberists
  • for zoom lenses, split-neutral density filters, cable releases, and quick-release plates
  • for rivers, lakes, and oceans
  • for good light, good subjects, and a good sense for composition
  • for eagles and hawks, deer and elk, wolves and bears, and wildlife of all kinds
  • and for the very many other blessings in my life.
Frosty morning

I’m thankful for frosty mornings

Hodoo

I’m thankful for hodoos

Caribbean Bikes

I’m thankful for my trip to Belize

Rise and Shine

I’m thankful for the sunrise every morning

Forest

I’m thankful for rainforests

Young buck

I’m thankful for wildlife of all kinds

Thank you for letting me share my photography with you. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Hints for Photography in the Rain

Cedar Creek Grist MillLast Friday, I took the day off from the day job to do some photography. It was a day Carson would have loved, rainy and cold. With Carson gone, Tanya and I decided to take our cat, Patch, along instead. He wasn’t so sure about the whole thing, and stayed in the car until our last stop (Rainbow Falls State Park), where he did explore a bit.

But this post isn’t about Patch, it’s about photographing in the rain. If you live on the wet side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, you best get use to photographing in the rain if you want to shoot in fall and winter. That said, I try to avoid it as much as I can. Last Friday, I was not excited about going out. The weather forecast called for 100% chance of rain, and it was not wrong. Shooting in adverse weather can have its benefits, but often it is just miserable. However, Tanya convinced me that we should go (easy for her to say, I was the one to be out in the rain; she took papers to grade).

As it turned out, I was happy we went. As you can see by the attached photos, I think I came away with some good shots. Here’s a few hints for photographing in the rain (not listed in any particular order).

1. Take good rain gear for your camera – unless you have a waterproof camera, you’ll want some sort of protection to keep your camera dry. Currently, I use a Rainsleeve by Op/Tech. These are inexpensive plastic sleeves with openings on both ends. One has a drawstring to tighten around the camera lens hood. The other end allows you to hand hold the camera or attach it to a tripod. A small hole is also provided for the viewfinder. I find these sleeves work well when on a tripod, and allow you to control most the camera functions through the plastic. I like them less for hand holding the camera because sticking your wet hand up into the sleeve defeats the purpose, plus it is a bit tight. There are many other options also available.

You might also consider making an umbrella holder for you tripod. I have a friend who has a similar setup and really likes it. I, personally, have not tried something like this out yet, but as long as it is not windy, an umbrella seems like it should work well.

2. Take good rain gear for yourself – be sure to keep yourself dry as well. I like to take rain pants as well as a raincoat. When photographing, I often kneel on one knee (all my jeans wear out on the left knee knew sooner than the right). With rain pants, there is no worry about kneeling in water and mud.

3. Use a tripod – while using a tripod is always a good practice, in the rain it is especially needed. The skies are much darker than on typical non-rainy days, leading to longer exposure times. Also, it is easier to keep the camera dry if it is on a tripod.

4. Use a lens with a long lens hood - when using the Rainsleeve, the lens hood is outside the plastic. It is the hood that protects the lens from falling rain drops. This works best if the lens hood is long and the glass sits back inside it. This is why I tend to avoid using a wide-angle lens in the rain if at all possible. Lens hoods for wide-angle lenses provide almost no protection from rain. All the shots shown here were taken with a 24-70mm lens. When extended to the 24mm setting, the lens is close to the open end of the lens hood, so I had to take more care when using that setting.

5. When not shooting, keep your lens pointed down – don’t invite rain onto your lens, try to keep the camera pointed downward.

6. Use a cable release - anything you can do to keep a wet hand from touching the camera will help keep it dry. I use a cable release which hangs down out of the Rainsleeve. Alternatively, I could trip the shutter button through the Rainsleeve, but with long exposures, it is good practice to use a cable release anyway.

7. Have a lintless cloth handy – just in case you need to wipe stray water off your lens. Take a look at the lens occasionally to look for water drops (which are sometimes hard to see  through the viewfinder).

8. Avoid the sky in your compositions - at least if the sky is uniformly gray (as it is often is around here when it rains). For most of the subjects I photograph, the sky (even if not uniformly gray) is very much lighter than the subject, creating huge contrast problems. Expose correctly for your subject, and the sky becomes a overexposed white blanket. Expose for the sky, the subject is a dark mess. HDR is a possible solution, but if there is no contrast within the sky itself, that doesn’t help much. It’s best to just keep the amount of sky in the frame minimized.

9. Pick subjects that can be photographed without much sky -  it is easier to keep the sky out of your compositions if the subject can be photographed without the sky being prominent. If you’ve never been to where you are going, and don’t have an idea whether the sky will be prominent or not, many subjects can be researched on Flickr to give you an idea. (For example, look at this Flickr search for the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, my main destination last Friday.)

10. Use a polarizer - using a polarizer can make a big difference in your images. When everything is wet, everything has reflections. With that big gray sky above, there are a lot of annoying reflections in any composition. Of course, using a polarizer cuts down on the light entering the camera, making the use of tripod (#3 above) even more important.

11. Watch out for wind – wind complicates matters considerably. With a stiff wind, rain no longer fall vertically. Wind demands even more care to keep things dry.

12. Use a memory card with enough storage - start your photo shoot with a fresh memory card and one with enough storage for the entire shoot. You don’t want to open up the camera to change cards and get water inside.

13. Consider your lens choice carefully and change lenses out of the weather - you don’t want to change lenses in the rain; there is too much chance of getting water inside the camera. Before you leave you car, put on the lens that will give the most shots. Consider using an all-purpose, travel zoom, like an 18-200 mm or similar (of course, such lenses typically have less light gathering power than other lens with less zoom range, making tripod use even more important). If you do have to change lenses, do so in shelter or with much care if still outside. (BTW, I do not own travel zoom. I try to restrict my compositions to those requiring a single lens. In last Friday’s case, I only used my 24-70 mm lens).

That’s it for now. Do have any other hints for photographing in the rain?

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill

Mill Dog

With Carson now gone, I have to get my dog fix wherever I find one. Here’s one of the two mill dogs at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill.

Rainbow Falls

Not the largest or most scenic waterfall in Washington, but a nice place to stop in the rain – Rainbow Falls.


All Dogs Go to Heaven – Carson Rest in Peace

CarsonThis is an extremely hard and bittersweet post to write. It has been a rough year for animals in the Becker household. As many of you know, earlier this year one of our cats, Sugar, passed away. Now death has struck again. This time, our beloved dog Carson suddenly passed away. Though 10 years old, Carson was generally in good health and had no life-threatening illness that Tanya or I knew about. Early last Sunday morning, he was sleeping when he suddenly yelped. Tanya and I both thought he was having a bad dream and yelled his name (which usually wakes him), but calling him had no effect. The yelps were obviously from pain, and we both ran to his side as they continued. Less than half a minute later, he was dead. We have been in shock since then, and it is only now several days later, that I can write about without tears coming to my eyes.

Carson should be familiar to regular readers of my blog. He accompanied me on many photo excursions and was featured in many of the images I’ve posted. I believe he loved these excursions even more than I did. When out on photo excursions, or out to take a hike, Carson would start whimpering with anticipation whenever we turned off a paved road to a dirt or gravel road. For Carson, gravel roads meant we were almost there.

He loved riding in the car, even if all he got to do was look out the window. Even on trips where he had to stay in the car, he’d rather wait in the car for hours than be left at home. I can still see him hanging his head over the backseat of our SUV, just happy to be along. Or, if in our small car, I can still see that big black head suddenly appear between Tanya and I, gazing contently out the front windshield. He’d get excited when Tanya or I would get out “to-go” coffee cups or when I’d bring my camera bag and tripod into the house because he knew travel was at hand.

We brought Carson home 10 years ago this month. At the time, Tanya needed a companion, and Carson was the perfect dog for it.  He took his job of keeping Tanya company very seriously. Tanya was the head of the pack (and I a distant second), and he needed to know where she was all the time. Once, when we lived in Gig Harbor, Tanya went out a second story window to clear some debris off the roof. Carson tried to jump through the window after her, and if we hadn’t shut the window in time, he would have sailed though the window and down to the driveway. In that house, ever after, he didn’t trust that Tanya would stay in the house if she was upstairs, and kept a close eye on her when she did go upstairs. Another time, in the same house, Carson jumped through (and destroyed in the process), not one, but two window screens looking for Tanya.

Carson slept in the bedroom with us (no keeping him out with Tanya in the room). Almost every night he would go over to his blanket, stand on it, and with his front paws work for 3 or 4 minutes on trying to get it fluffed up just right. Of course, since he was standing on it, he could never get it in the right position. Eventually, he’d give up and lay down on it anyway (usually with a content look on his face, ready for bed with his people). Inevitably though, he’d get up after just five minutes, too hot to be on the blanket. He’d spend the night, moving from one place to the next, looking for a cool spot to sleep. Between his moving around at night, his heavy breathing and snores, and habit of chewing bones at night, it is way to quiet in our bedroom now.

For a Newfoundland – dogs breed for water rescue – he was a strange dog when it came to water. Though he could swim very well, Carson didn’t like to go in deeper than he could touch bottom. And while most Newfoundlands are hard to keep out of water, Carson was often content to stay on the beach, or only go in for a drink. Ask him to fetch a stick on land, and he would look at you funny. Ask him to fetch a stick thrown in the water however, he’d go right after it.

Carson had the most expressive eyes, and he spoke with them much more than his voice. He rarely barked, so little in fact that many of our friends were startled when he did bark because they had never heard him do so before. But how he could communicate with those eyes. And if the eyes didn’t work right away, he’d start backing up while staring at you. I’ve never seen a dog that could back up as well as Carson. Without looking, he could back up around furniture and corners.

Carson was also the friendliest dog I’ve ever seen. He loved everyone, people and other dogs alike. One time,  we were walking in the neighborhood when two small French bulldogs escaped from a house and ran directly at Carson. They both were jumping at his neck, trying to bite him through his thick fur. He couldn’t figure out why they didn’t want to play. He wanted to play with every dog he came across. But funny dog that he was, he’d usually get tired of playing after about a minute and lay down. Yet, the next dog he saw, he’d want to play again. He was also very much a beta dog around other dogs. He had no idea how much bigger he was than they were, even the smallest dogs could boss him around.

With people, he was a gentle giant, and gladly submitted to small kids pulling his hair or ears. He loved being petted, and would often wedge his head between your legs so he was in the optimum position for you to pet his whole body. I was always worried he was going to knock someone over by doing that, as he’d press into your legs with most his weight. When out and about, he was very quick to notice when someone wanted to pet him, often before Tanya or I did. And of course, being that big, a lot of people noticed him. He brought smiles to many strangers, happy to see such a friendly dog. When going to the hardware store, we usually took Carson with us as all the local hardware stores allowed dogs on leashes in. It always took twice as long to buy things because so many people wanted to say hello to Carson, and he loved every minute of it. In fact, last Saturday we made two trips to the hardware store with Carson and he was his normal self – soaking up pets and a treat from the store employees.

I could write about Carson all day long. He was an amazing dog, truly part of the family, well-loved by everyone who met him. Tanya and I hugely miss him; and though we will likely get another dog someday, that dog will never be replaced. Carson, please rest in peace.

Enjoy these images of one great dog. You can see more images of Carson from some of our photo adventures together from last month, April 2013, March 2013(1), March 2013(2), October 2012, May 2012, and April 2012.

A young Carson, about a year old, in the wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge.

A young Carson, about a year old, in the wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge.

Another shot of the young Carson. We got Carson when he was 9 months old, so we don't have any true puppy pictures.

Another shot of the young Carson. We got Carson when he was 9 months old, so we don’t have any true puppy pictures.

Happy Carson

Carson was always happy to be hiking.  Carson had a natural mohawk-like feature in his hair, which is well seen here.

Carson, happy on another hike in 2006.

Carson, happy on another hike in 2006.

Carson in the water

Throw a stick in water, and he was all after it. Throw it on land, he ignore you. What a dog!

Classic Newfie

Here is Carson in the classic newfie pose, head down between his front paws. I swear he spend half his life in this position.

Carson and Patch

Here’s Carson with Patch (Sugar’s brother). Carson and Patch were best buddies and would often lay together like this. Carson loved riding in the car. Open the back of our SUV, and if he thought a trip was at hand, he’d lay in there for hours waiting to go.


Tale of Two Seasons

Kubota Scene

Recently I wrote a post about how to capture time in your photographs. Not mentioned in that post was to visit locations at different times of year (as well as different years), as I’m sure many of you already do. That is a great way to show the effect of time and seasons in your photography.

I’ve had a personal project in the back of my mind for some time that fits perfectly with the concept of changing times and seasons. I want to photograph the exact same scene from the exact same spot at the exact same time once a month for a year. However, I have yet to find the right spot. If I ever do this project, I’ll be sure to post the results (but don’t hold your breath, if I start it tomorrow, it will be a year before its done!).

One spot that would be great to do that is Kubota Garden in Seattle. In late October, Tanya and I stopped at Kubota Garden for an hour while on the way home from an event in Seattle. I had never been there in autumn, and it was a wonderfully different place than it is in the spring. Just compare this shot of the Moon Bridge taken a week ago last Saturday with a similar image taken from the same spot in May (of 2012).

Moon Bridge in October

Moon Bridge, taken in late October 2013

Moon Bridge

Moon Bridge in May 2012

Here are some additional shots from Kubota Garden taken last month. To see two more photos taken in spring time, see my previous blog from May 2012  (which also includes a few photos from Washington Park Arboretum and also describes an amusing encounter with a naked man).

Kubota SceneRed, Yellow and GreenLeave and Trunk


Seattle Workshops and Photo Excursions

Irene is from Vancouver, British Columbia and is learning photography a little later in life than most. It’s too bad she didn’t take it up earlier, she has a great eye for composition. Earlier this month I taught Irene during a personal, one-day workshop for in Seattle. I also taught her during a workshop earlier in the year, and on this return visit she wanted to see a few spots she read about in my ebook, Scenic Seattle. Specifically, she wanted to visit Union Station, Pier 65, and the Seattle Great Wheel. Based on the weather conditions during our workshop and her personal interests, I also took her up to the University of Washington. At several of the spots, we worked on long exposures for a separate class on the subject she taking up in Canada. A few photos I took during the day are presented here to illustrate this post.

If you plan on visiting Washington State and would like personalized instruction and/or guidance, I offer personalized workshops for $325 per day in the Puget Sound area and $375 per day elsewhere in the state. I also offer workshop for small groups. Each workshop is tailored directly to your interests.

Still visiting, but not quite up to a workshop? Then consider purchasing my Seattle ebook, which sells for a mere $5.99. I’ve added a page to my blog which shows some sample pages from the book and allows direct ordering through PayPal.

Irene at Union Station

During her workshop in Seattle, Irene wanted to visit Union Station. Here she is lining up a composition.

Suzzllo Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase inside Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington

Seattle Great Wheel

Seattle’s Great Wheel and reflections in Elliot Bay


How do You Photograph Ugly, how do You Photograph Time?

Over the past couple weekends, I’ve led two photo scavenger hunts. Participants in the hunts had 3 hours to photograph a list of 20 topics, such as: color, contrast, bark, soft, old, action, life, and ugly. The area I chose for the hunts was the Old Town portion of the Tacoma waterfront because of the wide range of possible photographic subjects (and, quite frankly, the nearness to my house). I think all the participants would agree, it was a fun time. Because there were two hunts, for two different clubs, and a few people members of both clubs, I made two separate lists with only a couple topics repeated on both lists.

Doing a scavenger hunt is a great way to push your photographic vision, to force yourself to think outside your normal “box.” Want to give it a try? Here’s a list of my favorite topics compiled from the two different lists I used over the past two weekends (minus topics specific to the place). Go someplace you think might have good photographic opportunities, give yourself 3 hours, and try to get a good image of everything on the list. Try for something different from your normal routine shot, be creative and push the envelope!

I’d love to see some of your results or hear your thoughts on whether this is a worthy exercise. Send me some of your results, and I’ll post them in my blog.

Here’s the list:

  1. ugly
  2. time (many people in the hunts I led photographed a watch or clock; try to think a bit more creatively and make a photograph that shows time itself)
  3. soft
  4. person/people (try to make it someone you don’t know)
  5. shadow
  6. light
  7. layers
  8. contrast (many options here, contrast between objects, contrast between light and dark, etc.)
  9. curve
  10. lines
  11. life
  12. action
  13. negative space
  14. color
  15. symmetry
  16. autumn (if in the southern hemisphere, substitute spring)
  17. old
  18. macro/closeup
  19. photographer’s choice (photograph anything you want)
  20. self-portrait

To give a bit of inspiration, here are a few of my shots for the above topics. (Disclaimer: for the actual scavenger hunts, participants are required to take jpegs, so the images submitted have no post-processing. The images below have undergone post-processing with Lightroom 5).

Ugly

Ugly – I found this old bottle nipple stuffed with something green and shot it with a macro lens. It would have worked for the macro category as well.

Autumn

Autumn – colorful leaves fallen onto an evergreen bush. I borrowed a fellow photographer’s black coat, which I laid on the ground, to make the black background.

Negative Space

Negative Space – it’s been foggy recently in the Puget Sound region, making it easy to find an image with lots of negative space

Old

Old – these old foundations from a historic mill on the Tacoma waterfront made an interesting subject and had good light as well.

Photographers Choice

Photographers Choice – the pagoda in Chinese Reconciliation Park looked great with the fog and the fall colors

People

People – this couple (and son) asked me to take their photo with their phone, I took one with my camera as well.

Time

Time – for me, this 4-minute exposure of some old pilings is an image of time, both for the calming effect the long exposure has on the water, but also the mystery of what the pilings were part of in the past


A Hidden Autumn Jewel

Color in Black CanyonWashington, being the Evergreen State, doesn’t have a lot to show when it comes to fall colors. Roughly speaking, evergreen trees cover more than half the state; sagebrush covers the rest. Further, many of the deciduous trees that do grow in the state don’t have particularly colorful leaves in the fall (such as alders). However, there are some good spots for autumn color if you know where to look. Most are high in the mountains, such as Heather Meadows up by Mount Baker (which I blogged about last year). Unfortunately for color seekers this year, it snowed in the high country a couple of weeks ago. While some spots are still accessible (often with snowshoes), others are probably snowed in until next spring. With sunny weather forecast for this week, we may get a second chance, but I wouldn’t bet on it. To make matters worse, the US government shutdown has closed the national parks, making access to fall color even worse.

With the high country covered in snow, the options are few for good fall color. However, I did find a hidden autumn jewel last Friday – a small desert canyon full of beautiful aspen trees starting to turn yellow. Black Canyon, located in eastern Washington, is about midway between Ellensburg and Naches (west of Yakima). At first glance, this seems like an odd area to find fall color. The hills between Ellensburg and Yakima are mostly treeless. Even in the Yakima River canyon, which runs through the area, there aren’t that many trees. But if you drive some of the back roads through the region, you will find hidden groves of trees in valleys and canyons and along some of the water courses. Even more surprising is that some of these trees are aspens – not exactly the tree I think of when I think of the Evergreen State.

Black Canyon is one grove, hidden in the mostly barren eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is hidden in several aspects. First, it is not a well known spot. I had never heard of it before about two weeks ago (and I know about a great many places in Washington). Second, from the start of the trail into the canyon, it doesn’t look like much. The mouth of the canyon (actually more of a valley than a canyon), where the trail starts,  is rather plan and dry. But as you hike up the valley, the underbrush in the canyon bottom gets thicker and more colorful, until about a half mile from the start, you start seeing aspens. While the aspens are confined to the center of the valley, near a tiny stream, the grove gets thicker and taller as you continue up the valley. At about one mile from the trail head, there is an old wooden cabin nestled in the aspen grove. The trail continues another couple of miles, and the aspens eventually give way to pine trees as the trail climbs to the top of the ridge (reportedly with views of Mount Rainier). More about the hike can be found here.

Black Canyon Wall

Looking up one of the valley walls near the mouth of the canyon.

When Tanya, Carson and I made the hike last week, the color was truly amazing, particularly in stark contrast to dry, sagebrush covered valley walls above. Besides the aspens, much of the underbrush was also various shades of yellow, orange and red. This is the perfect time of year to go.

What is nice about Black Canyon, besides its obvious beauty, it is on accessible public land. A Washington State Discovery Pass is required to park at the trail head (or anywhere along the road to the trail head). The trail head (46°51’1.07″N, 120°42’5.05″W) is at the end of 1.2 miles of very rough unpaved road. We were glad to in 4-wheel drive; I doubt our passenger car could have made it. Other hikers (we saw two other couples) parked at the start of the road, and had an couple miles (roundtrip) to hike.  If you go, also be aware that the area is shared by hunters this time of year (though we did not see or hear any).

Black Canyon is definitely a jewel worth visiting. When we were there, the aspens were not yet at their peak, so you may still have time to visit for the color. Do you know any other hidden jewels of autumn color? If so, please feel free to share yours by leaving a comment.

Tanya and Carson

Tanya and Carson enjoying a break along the trail below the aspen grove.

Black Canyon Aspens 1

Near the lower end of the aspen grove in Black Canyon.

Tall and Short Aspens

Some of the taller aspens in the grove.

Cabin in the Aspens

An old cabin is hidden in the aspen grove.

Black Canyon Aspens 2

The aspen grove near the cabin looking down canyon.

Black Canyon Aspens 3

More of the grove near the cabin.

White and Yellow

Much of the undergrowth is colorful as well.


What’s in your Wallet, oh I mean Camera Bag?

Calm Harbor

Image of Gig Harbor taken last week while carrying my standard equipment kit (sans tripod)

“What’s in your wallet?” So goes the tagline from a Capital One credit card commercial that most of you (at least in the United States) probably know well. With that tagline, Capital One would have you believe that their credit card is better than others and should be the one in you wallet.

For photographers, the comparable question is “what type of camera do you use?” or “what gear do you carry in you camera bag?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked these questions, I could buy a new camera.

I believe good photography has more to do with the gray matter between your ears than your camera equipment. However, that said, it is true you cannot do photography without equipment. When two photographers meet for the first time, the inevitable question always arises: “What camera do you shoot with?” My question to you is, does it really matter?

I think one reason this question gets asked is that the two photographers in question are trying to find common ground as they create a social relationship. Personally, I don’t take any comment seriously that claims one camera is better than any other, it is just that some cameras are better at creating certain types of images than other cameras. For example, my DSLR beats my Android phone without question at shooting landscapes, but the phone does a better job at spontaneous photos among friends (not that the DSLR wouldn’t do a fine job in that instance, but by the time I dig it out of the bag, put on the correct lens, and get the exposure set correctly, the moment of spontaneity  will be gone).

There seems to be a particularly big “conversation” about Nikon vs Canon among many photographers. There are loyalists on both sides, and while often good-natured, sometime the conversations seem more like battles. Personally I shoot with Canon equipment, but this is not because I think Canon equipment is better. The only reason I shoot with Canon equipment is that when I switched from film to digital, Canon had a newer camera model than Nikon. If I made the switch a few months later, I could well be shooting with Nikon equipment today. (My film camera is an Olympus OM4T. So, if at the time of my switching to digital, Olympus had made a digital camera with a full-frame or APS sensor instead of a 4/3s sensor, which uses a different lens mount so with their camera I couldn’t use my existing film lenses, I’d be shooting with Olympus equipment.)

So, even with my mini-rant above about such questions, inquiring minds want to know what’s in my camera bag. Therefore, I present what is in my camera bag (or should I say bags, as I have more than one and carry different items based on the type of outing).

Standard (or default) equipment:

  • Canon 6D camera with Canon battery grip and Acratech quick release plate
  • Canon EF 17-40mm 1:4 L USM zoom lens
  • Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
  • Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens with Acratech quick release plate
  • Canon EF 100mm 1:2.8 USM macro lens
  • Canon EF 1.4x II extender
  • Lowepro Vertex 100AW camera bag
  • set of three Kenko extension tubes
  • Vello wireless Shutterboss
  • Canon RS-80N3 remote switch
  • Canon 550EX Speedlight with Yongnuo compact battery pack SF-18
  • Yongnuo off-camera shoe cord OC-E3
  • ThinkTank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket (digital card holder) with 4 to 6 SDHC cards (8, 16, or 32 mb, various brands)
  • 2 spare Canon batteries
  • lint-free cleaning cloth
  • Lenspen lens cleaning pen
  • allen wrench (for removing quick release plates)
  • hot-shoe double bubble level
  • set of 15 colored filters for use on the flash
  • 2 B+W 77mm circular polarizing filters (one is dented and very hard to rotate)
  • B+W 77mm 110 ND 3.0-10BL 1000x filter (10 stop neutral-density filter)
  • B+W 77mm 092 IR 20-40x (infrared filter)
  • Tiffen(?) 2-stop, soft-gradient, split neutral-density filter
  • six AAA batteries
  • Op/Tech Rainsleeve
  • user manuals for the 6D, the 550EX and the Shutterboss
  • spare contact lens case
  • pen
  • business cards
  • Manfrotto 190 carbon fiber 4-section tripod with an Acratech Ultimate Ballhead (I often carry the tripod along, but not always)

Extra equipment (in addition to the standard) for event-shooting

  • Canon 50D with Canon battery grip
  • a second Canon 550EX speedlight with battery pack
  • Demb Flip-it (variable angle flash reflector)
  • Demb flash bracket
  • Demn flash diffuser
  • Lowepro Nova 180AW camera bag

Minimal kit (when I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff)

  • Canon 6D camera with (optional) Canon battery grip
  • Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
  • (optional) Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens
  • a small Lowepro bag (either the Nova 180 or a yet smaller one that I’m not sure of the model number)
  • lint-free cleaning cloth
  • Lenspen lens cleaning pen
  • a couple spare SDHC cards

Optional equipment that I sometime carry

  • Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 42-inch reflector
  • Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 22-inch reflector
  • Wimberley plamp
  • Visual Echos Flash X-tender
  • Thinktank Photo belt, harness and modular bag system
  • Bogen 3021 tripod with Bogen ballhead

So, what is in your camera bag?


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