Last 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?
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).
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).
Washington, 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.
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.
I went with a friend and my trusty dog Carson (just over two weeks ago) to Heather Meadows at the end of the Mount Baker Highway (in a earlier post, I gave a Quick Shot from the trip). The fall colors were fantastic, as I hope these images show. Want to go for the colors? You may be too late. The fall color season was short at Heather Meadows this year (though it’s probably short most years). A trail report on the Washington Trails Association websitedidn’t mention fall colors on September 30th, nor did the accompanying photos show much. And as of October 22nd, according to the US Forest Service website, all the Heather Meadows trails are now snow-covered, the lakes have started freezing over, and the road is gated at the ski area’s upper parking lot – a good distance below Artist Point were about half of these photos were taken. Winter has come to Heather Meadows. Fall lasted about 3 weeks.
Though on the Mount Baker Highway, the real star of the Heather Meadows area is Mount Shuksan. The view of Mt. Shuksan from Picture Lake (the featured image above) is one of the most photographed scenes in Washington State. Unfortunately, when we were there, there was a breeze, ruining the reflection in Picture Lake, but it still made a great scene.
Besides Picture Lake, we drove up to the end of the highway at Artist Point and did the short hike along Artist Ridge. Again, Shuksan is the star here – though the view of Mount Baker is good too. We were there in the afternoon (and later, at sunset), and the light was much better on Shuksan than Baker. I venture that Baker looks better in morning light (but with a 5+ hour drive from Tacoma, I wasn’t about to get there early).
Unlike the northeastern United States, the Northwest is not know for its autumn colors. This is not surprising, considering the primary tree cover in the Pacific Northwest is composed of firs, pines, and other evergreens. But, there are some spots where fall color can be found. The Heather Meadows area is one – you just have to be quick to see it.
I wanted to label this post “Weather Forecasts Suck” but thought that was too self-evident. I’ve been trying to take a day off from my day job for the past 2 week to go out and do some photography. Unfortunately, I keep making the mistake of looking at the weather forecast.
Yesterday was the perfect example, the forecast called for 50% chance of rain, thunderstorms likely. So instead of taking the day off, I went to work. Sure enough, it did rain a bit in the morning, but then it stopped and the sun came out. Most of the day was partly cloudy, and it didn’t rain again until after the sun set. All in all, not much rain, no thunderstorms, and not too bad of conditions for photography (though the sunset was totally lacking). The spring weather foiled me again!
I keep reminding myself, that western Washingtonians need forget about the rain, or they will never go outside. So tomorrow, I’m taking the day off, rain or shine. In case you are curious, the forecast for tomorrow from the Weather Channel’s webpage: “Clouds and limited sunshine with the possibility of some scattered showers during the afternoon. High 53F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%. “
Just so I could post a photo or two, I did take the camera out in the yard yesterday evening to get a few spring flower shots. These were all taken with my Canon 100mm macro lens.
Saturday, I went on a church retreat. Normally, Tanya has to talk me into these things, but this retreat included a session for photography! Talk about a progressive church! (We also had drumming and Tai Chi sessions.) The retreat was held at Pilgrim Firs, a UCC-sponsored camp and retreat center on the forested shores of Lake Flora in Kitsap County, Washington.
While spring has apparently sprung in the city (blooming trees and daffodils, etc.), it hasn’t quite hit the forests of Kitsap County. Though the forest is mostly evergreens, it has a kind of half-bare look. A lot of the undergrowth and the trees by the lake were still bare. No green leaf buds to be found! I’m not a fan of the typical western Washington winter forest look, so most of my images were macros of moss, leaves, bark, and such, though I did have some fun with the camp cat – a very impressive one-eyed orange tabby. – who, according to signs in the lodge, likes to get into visitors’ cars if the windows are open. Apparently, this cat rules the place.
Now that spring is here, I’ve tried to take a day off to go do some “real” photography, but have been thwarted by the weather. I might just have to suck it up and go in the rain (like I did for my coastal trip in February). I actually planned to take today off, but the weather report sent me to work instead. Maybe later this week. Meanwhile, I hope you like these images from the land of the one-eyed cat.
Bad weather can often make for good photographs, or so I’ve often read. However, sometimes bad weather is just bad. Such was the case last Wednesday. I scheduled the day off from my day job to do some photography. Wednesday morning didn’t look too bad when I got up, but by the time Tanya and I had the dog and cameras packed up in the car it was raining. Remembering that bad weather sometimes makes for good photography, I wasn’t too worried about coming home skunked.
We drove south and west to go the beach at Westport and Grayland. Though the sun started peeking through the clouds early in the drive, by the time we reached Aberdeen, there was a constant mist falling and the sky was a blank, gray sheet. We stopped at the Johns River Wildlife Area to let the dog out. Luckily, the mist had stopped falling, and I was able to take a few photos. After an hour or so, we continued on to Westport. We drove down to the marina, and the mist started up again, now accompanied by wind. I walked a bit on the docks, but took few pictures – it was pretty miserable out.
We then drove over to the beach by the jetty, and the mist let up again. However, the sky was still a blank slate and the wind was strong. We walked on the beach some, and I took a few more photos. Normally in situations like this, where the sky is so lifeless in photos, I try to concentrate more on taking detail shots – like of beach rocks, patterns in the sand, etc. However, the wind was causing me problems, shaking the tripod. And the clouds were so thick, it was dark, requiring long shutter speeds.
Later we drove down to Tokeland and then back up to Grayland for another walk on the beach, this time back in the mist. We ended the day having a picnic dinner, with a bottle of red from the Westport Winery, in the car facing the waves of the Pacific. There was no sunset, just a slow fading of what little light there was.
Overall, it was a great day. How can being on the beach with wife and dog not be? Just not a good day for photography.
I admit feeling a little embarrassed, being snowbound at home by only 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow when I’m an eastern Washington native who learned to drive on snow and ice. Earlier this week, western Washington experienced a winter storm that brought havoc to the Puget Sound region. On Wednesday, snow fell; Thursday brought freezing rain, coating everything with ice. I stayed home and telecommuted to my day job. Can you blame me for not wanting to put tire chains on the car when work was as close as my studio computer? (Does this mean I’m getting lazy or wise in my old age?)
I accomplished a lot without the distractions of the office. However, being home brings its own distractions, not the least of them being the snow and ice in the yard. So I couldn’t help but slip out in the yard to do a bit of photography, especially after the freezing rain ended. Outside, the coating of ice seemed to make everything old new again in our yard. I was amazed how bit of snow and freezing rain changed everything and made my creative imagination flow. I wish I had more time to do photography, but by the time I got enough work done to justify picking up the camera, it was already late in the afternoon and the light was fading.
The experience did remind me once again how a change, sometimes a small change, can provide inspiration. Sometimes, the change need not be more than a change of attitude. If you’re having trouble getting the creative juices to flow, or have a case of photographer’s block, grab your camera and make the old new again. If you’re lucky, you might have an ice storm available to help.
PS – a big thanks to Tanya for braving the cold to hold a piece of black mat board for backgrounds on some of these shots!
Sometimes it seems like the new year has addled my brain. I wanted to put out a new blog post, but my brain fog wouldn’t let me think of a topic. So what does a photographer do when they have nothing new to show, pull something out of the archives of course. Thus, this post, complete with photos from January 2007.
Five years ago I lived in Gig Harbor. Gig Harbor, like much of western Washington, doesn’t get much snow. In the typical winter, we might get snow two or three times a winter. In January 2007, we had a rather large snow storm hit the harbor. It was cold enough to freeze some of the water in the harbor. I drove down to the harbor before going to work that day and took these shots.
Back then was rather different from conditions today here in 2012. Today it feels almost like spring here; some trees in the neighborhood are starting to bloom, as are Tanya’s geraniums on the front porch. Of course, it still is winter, and it could get cold again any day. We might even have snow, like that day in January five years ago.
Paradise, in Mount Rainier National Park, is the highest point you can drive in Washington State Cascades in winter. It would be the highest point drivable in the state, except for Sherman Pass (between Republic and Kettle Falls) in northeastern Washington which is about 200 feet higher. Paradise is an amazing place in winter. The National Park Service claims Paradise is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is regularly measured. The maximum annual snowfall observed there was in the winter of 1971-72, when 93.5 feet (28.5 meters) of snow fell. When I was there in mid-December, it was not quite that snowy, I think there was about 58 inches (1.5 meters) at the time. However, since Christmas, some storms have blown through and the accumulation as of the start of 2012 was 77 inches (2 meters). (You can check on the current snowpack at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.)
With all that snow, it is amazing the road is kept open, particularly in today’s climate of budget cutting (please don’t tell the Park Service how much money they could save by closing the road in winter!). The road to Paradise is open most days (there’s a gate at Longmire, which opens each morning after the road is cleared and closes currently at 5:00 p.m. uphill and 6 p.m. downhill). During storms, the road remains closed during the day. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains.
Mount Rainier is a great place to travel to in the winter. There are plenty of sights to see from the road. Strap on some snowshoes or skis and there’s even more. On our day trip up there in mid-December, I took snowshoes; Tanya took skis. It helps to have some way to wander off the road and parking lots a bit. For most the shots here (and the one in my previous post), I wandered off the road. It is possible to get some good shots without venturing out into the snow, but without snowshoes or skis, you might have trouble getting around the snowbanks along the roads left from the snowplows. This is hard sometimes even with snowshoes or skis. Another problem is just finding a place to pull over. Many of the pullouts there in the summer are not plowed. However, there is a lot of parking at Longmire, Narada Falls, and Paradise (though the parking at Paradise, in particular, can fill up on weekends).
Remember if you do go up in the mountains this winter for photography, at Rainier or anywhere else, here are some reminders:
- Check the conditions before you go and dress appropriately
- Don’t wander out in the snow if you aren’t prepared
- And if you do wander out there, be aware of potential avalanche danger
- Remember that camera batteries don’t like the cold. Take extra batteries and keep them warm.
- Don’t trust your camera meter, or all that snow will be gray instead of white. Open up your exposure by one to two stops, or use your camera’s auto-bracketing feature (if it has one).
- Try adding a bit of color to all that snow in your compositions (blue skies, green trees, colorful clothes of your companions, sunrise/sunset colors, etc.)
- Remember to have fun!
I wore a light jacket to work the other morning, spider season has started, and the teachers are on strike – summer is not officially over, but you sure can feel fall in the air. Autumn is a favorite time for many photographers, me included. However, fall in the Washington State is typically not very colorful, at least compared to large portions of the United States. It isn’t nicknamed the Evergreen State for nothing. We have a wet side and a dry side, but both sides are full of evergreens – fir and cedar in the west and pine and sagebrush in the east. To find fall colors here, you have to hunt a little bit harder. However, you can find some if you look around. I hope to find a bit of fall color on the upcoming trip. And when I return to Washington in early October, perhaps we will start having a little here too.
Oh, you may be wondering what I mean by spider season. We have a lot of orb weaver spiders around here. Most the year, you don’t see them; but in late summer, the young spiders start spreading around making small webs seemingly everywhere. On my early morning walks this time of year, I typically walk through several webs strung across the sidewalks around town. Later in the fall, these young spiders grow up and make large, beautiful orb shaped webs.
I’m not sure when my next posting will be. I hope to post once or twice during the trip, but am not sure if I will be able to. Meanwhile, here’s a couple of images from the past couple years to whet your appetite for fall.
Last week I discussed why I like the start of daylight savings time. One reason, the subject of last week’s blog – the time change. The second reason – the start of spring. As of yesterday, spring is finally here. I am not much of a winter person. And while summer is good, spring is great. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, but best of all, the photo opportunities are fantastic at this time of year.
As you may know, I live in the southern Puget Sound region of Washington, in Tacoma. Spring is the south sound is the best time of year for photographers. Don’t take my word for it. Check out Rod Barbee’s book, The Photographer’s Guide to Puget Sound & Northwest Washington. In his chapter on the South Sound, Rod lists the best time of year to photograph both the Tacoma and Olympia areas as spring. I don’t know what criteria Rod uses, but I’ll give you mine – flowers and unsettled weather. You can count on both to give you great images. And there is no better combination of both than in spring.
I captured all the images accompanying this blog in March. You never know what is in store in spring – one day it snows on your tulips, the next it’s a brilliant blue sky over a daffodil field, and in-between it’s cloudy and sunny and dark and light all at once. Dramatic weather makes for great photography. Flowers make great photography. That’s why I love spring.
I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Whatever time that alarm goes off, I still want just five more minutes. Please, just five more! So it may be a surprise to learn that I love it when Daylight Savings Time begins.
How’s that, you might ask; isn’t it “spring forward, fall back?” By adding an hour, don’t we lose and hour and won’t you have to get out of bed an hour earlier? True. When I need to get up to go to my day job, and that alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., my body will be still thinking it’s 5:30 a.m. Ouch, that will hurt. But, when I get up to do some sunrise photography, oh yeah, an extra hour of sleep. You see, the sun doesn’t care about Daylight Savings Time. Yesterday the sun rose on Tacoma at 6:29 a.m. Today (assuming one could see it behind the clouds), the sun rose at 7:27 a.m.
Photographers love the “golden hours,” those hours immediately before and after sunrise and sunset. The light is beautiful during those times and doesn’t have the harsh contrast sunlight takes on during mid-day. And now, the morning golden hours are an hour later! So later this week, if I want to get up for a sunrise shoot, I don’t have to get up at 5:30 a.m. anymore. And once my body adjusts to the new clock time, that’s something I can sleep on.
The photo accompanying this blog is an example of the golden hours – a Tacoma sunrise taken in March 2010 (disclaimer: this particular photograph was taken early in the month, prior to Daylight Savings Time).
There’s another reason I love the beginning of Daylight Savings Time – it means spring is here. More on this in my next blog.