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?
Last 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.
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.
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.
For 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.)
My 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.
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.
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.
In my last post, I focused on the forest burned in a 2003 wildfire near Harts Pass. Today I’d like to show more shots from the Harts Pass area, focusing on images taken near sunset. These shots were captured near the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead on the western slope of Slate Peak, about 1.5 miles from Harts Pass. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a spectacular area. It is well worth a stop if visiting north-central Washington.
The featured image (above) was actually the last image I took, taken approximately 40 minutes after sunset. I really like the color the sky takes during the “blue hour” (the twilight period following sunset, or before sunrise, before complete darkness. I discussed photography during this period in my recent post “After Sunset? Don’t be Blue, Keep Shooting.”) As was the case with many sunset, some of the best color comes long after the sun goes down.
Most of these images were shot with a split neutral density filter. All are RAW images processed in Lightroom.
Sitting on a stump, hot cup of coffee in my hand, warm sunshine on my back in the still crisp morning air, looking out on nearby mountain tops and a forest of bare trees, silver from a 2003 wildfire, Tanya and Carson nearby at our campsite, I felt truly at peace. I reflected on how lucky I am to live in place where such a spot is a short drive from home (well, kind of short, about 5 1/2 hours). Later that day we would drive back to the city, encountering miles of stop-and-go traffic on the way, and life would return to “normal.” But for those five minutes on that stump with that cup of coffee, life was very good.
We had spent two nights at the Meadows Campground, near Harts Pass at the uppermost end of the Methow Valley in the Okanogan National Forest. The Harts Pass area is the highest point you can drive in the State of Washington. The pass itself is over 6,200 feet; the road continues to the trailhead for Slate Peak, at about 7,200 feet. We didn’t actually find the time to climb Slate Peak (a short 1/2 mile hike) because Carson is ailing, instead we stopped at the 6,800-foot high trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked several miles north along a flat trail that hangs along the mountainside. That was enough for Carson for the weekend, and we spent the rest of our time in the campground, except for two short outings by myself to do some photography.
Driving to Harts Pass is half the adventure. Considered by some to be the most treacherous road in Washington, I didn’t think it was that bad (many Seattle intersections are probably more hazardous), but you do need to pay attention. Most of the road is typical Forest Service gravel, but there is one short section known by locals as Dead Horse Point that running off the road would result in a drop of several thousand feet. Harts Pass is up Forest Road 5400, about 16 miles from Mazama, Washington. There are two campgrounds at the pass area, Harts Pass campground with five sites and the Meadows Campground with 14 sites. While the Harts Pass campground was full when we pulled in Friday evening, we were only the fourth campers at Meadows (which eventually was about half full). Meadows sits on the edge of the 2003 wildfire area (and was completely destroyed by the fire, but was since re-built).
Earlier in our camping trip, especially after having our hiking cut short by our sore dog (he has been on limited activity for about two months due to a neck injury, and us taking him hiking was too much, too fast), I had felt some self-generated pressure to create some good images. But then, on Sunday morning before we were breaking camp to leave, I just enjoyed the morning without much thought of photography. I remembered why we were there, to relax and enjoy the mountains; and even though the trip was planned as a photography trip, photography was really second to enjoying the time away. I didn’t have a paying client on the line, I didn’t have any time constraints.
It’s funny, but the Harts Pass area is known for its fantastic views of the North Cascades. Being near the tree line, you don’t have to travel far to see endless mountain views. And I did take some such shots on the weekend. But, it was after my peaceful realization that I created my favorite images of the trip, several shots in the silver forest not a 1/2 mile from our campsite and some fun shots of Tanya and I playing around on the very stump where I had my peaceful moment. None of these favorite shots have the vast mountain views the area is famous for. That’s often the way it is with photography, let the pressure and expectations go, forget about any grand plans for images and just be with the moment, and let the images find you.
Enjoy these images from the silver forest.
If you read my last post, you know I have been frustrated by not having time to go out and shoot. I’m still pretty busy with other stuff, but did find a few hours last Thursday to sneak out with the camera. The evening sky was partially overcast with light clouds, which provided a nice diffuse, low-contrast light. The air as still. A perfect evening for macro flower shots. Luckily, I live less than two miles from one of the nicest dahlia and rose gardens in the Puget Sound region. I grabbed the gear and headed over to Point Defiance Park.
As I was entering the gate to the garden (the garden is surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence to keep the deer out), a gardener was coming out. She told me they had just dead-headed the whole garden and it was in prime condition. I couldn’t have picked a better time. The dahlia blooms did look like they were in their prime, as were most the roses. I set up the tripod, slapped on a 100-mm macro lens and some extension tubes and lost myself in the work. Perfect!
I wasn’t the only photographer there that night, there were three portrait photographers in the garden, two doing senior-high photos and one was shooting two young children (I don’t envy that poor photog). They were making money, and may or may not being enjoying their work. I was not making money, it is highly unlikely I will ever sell any of the images I made that night, instead I was enjoying my craft and saving my sanity.
Occasionally, there was the slightest breath of a breeze, slightly moving the blossoms. I turned up the ISO a couple stops to keep the shutter speed less than a second, and kept on shooting. I ended up shooting for about two hours until the light started fading and the exposure times became increasing long. It was the perfect antidote to my pent-up need to create.
I’d like to announce the launch of my new ebook, Scenic Seattle The Best Spots – Best Shots Guide to Photographing the Emerald City. The book started a personal project on travel photography in Seattle (as described in this earlier post) early last year. The project is now finished and Scenic Seattle is the result.
Scenic Seattle is a photographic guidebook designed to help photographers and others easily find all the special Seattle views. The book contains descriptions and directions to over 80 places to photograph in the city and provides specific advice on how to capture the best shots. Areas covered include Pike Place Market, Seattle Center, the waterfront, Chinatown, West Seattle, and many more. It has over 60 example images, as well as maps and directions to the image locations. The book is currently available on Amazon and Smashwords. Just today it was accepted into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, which means it will also soon be available at the iBookstore, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Sony. It is also available directly from me (if you order from me, I don’t have to pay the commission, which ranges from about 18 to 60% depending on the retailer; so if you want a copy, please send me an email).
If you are a regular follower of my blog, you’ve already seen most the images from the book as I’ve posted them over the past year. I’ve put a few more in this current post that I don’t think I’ve blogged before. With the book, in addition to the photos, you get directions where to go to take these photos and advice on how to take them. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about how I go about taking my images, or if you have an interest in visiting Seattle, this book is for you. Previews of the book are available at both Amazon and Smashwords.
While rain was falling over much of western Washington yesterday, Tanya, Carson and I took a hike in eastern Washington up Umtanum Canyon. It took two hours to drive there from Tacoma, but it was worth it to stretch our legs in a desert canyon. Here’s some quick shots from the trip.
Yesterday, Tanya and I decided to take Carson on a day trip to Bainbridge Island. Rather than driving up, we drove to Seattle and took the ferry across. Carson was a huge hit on the ferry – they don’t often see dogs that big. During the day, both on the Island and the two ferry crossings, he had his photo numerous times by people we met (having a huge dog is a great way to meet people, though they only remember the dog). I imagine, Carson has his picture on Facebook more than I do.
The day was cloudy and a bit cold, and so was the ferry since we had to stay outside on the “sun” deck (no dogs allowed inside). When we arrived at Bainbridge Island, we took the Waterfront Trail, and after a light rain for 10 minutes or so, the sun came out. We had a pleasant walk, and while Carson received pets from many strangers, I took photographs. We spent several hours on the walk, and eventually made it back to the ferry, just one minute before it left for Seattle. Of course, they stop loading walk-on passengers two minutes before departure. So we had to wait an hour for the next one – such is life on an island. But even so, it was a fun day – no place special to be and no special time to be there.
The ride back to Seattle was uneventful, but then again not so. The sun had set, and with the gray skies, it was not particularly pretty out. I put the camera away and sat with Tanya on the sheltered part of the sun deck. Yet even as the gray dusk darkened and as we sailed closer to the city, without the camera in my hand, it gave me the chance to truly appreciate the Seattle skyline as the city lights came on. Even on this unspectacular evening, it was beautiful. Sometimes it’s better to just put the camera away and enjoy the now. (There’s a Jimmy Buffett song I particularly like, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On, with lyrics about a watch that doesn’t have numbers, but just says now. And even though the song is about Hurricane Katrina, it just shows that that man really knows something about island time.) We talked to a couple visiting from New Orleans – they took a photo of Carson of course, several actually – and enjoyed the view and our sailing across Puget Sound, safe in knowing we had no schedule to meet and no particular place to go.
Enjoy these photos from Bainbridge Island; there’s nothing to special here, but then again, they were taken on island time.
I haven’t been out shooting lately. I’m planning to go out tomorrow, but with a forecast of rain, I’m not sure how much photography I’ll be doing. While it is rainy here now, that wasn’t the case six years ago, when we had a big snow storm here in the Puget Sound region. I was still living in Gig Harbor then, and risked life and limb to drive down a big icy hill to get to the city waterfront to take get some shots of a rare case of snow on the harbor. These images are from that snowy January day in 2007. If you lived around here at the time, I’m sure it’s a day you remember.
Since coming back from Spain, I’ve been catching up on things, so I haven’t had much time to blog. Last Saturday, I did have a chance to do some photography – a wedding. This wedding reminded me of why I am not fond of doing weddings.
Though asking for a couple weeks, I didn’t learn any details of the ceremony or reception until two days before. The wedding was scheduled to start at 3:00 p.m., and I arrived at the church about 70 minutes beforehand. I was introduced to the pastor, who laid out the rules, number one of which was no flash allowed during the ceremony.
I had been told that I could have the couple for pictures for only 15 minutes – between 2:15 and 2:30. Yet when the couple arrived (right at 2:15), the pastor immediately gathered wedding party and ran through the ceremony. Finally, I was allowed to work with the couple and the wedding party at about 2:35. I rushed, and got about 15 minutes of photos in. Of course, people were filing in this whole time, and the couple spent more time looking at their friends than at the camera.
The ceremony ended up started on time and I started snapping. Of course, the pastor didn’t allow me in the center aisle, or anywhere up front. Plus the crowd was big, further limiting my vantage points. To make matters worse, my auto focus had real problems in the dim light, particularly against the couple’s dark clothes. You guessed it, thanks to a high ISO setting, slow shutter speed, and large aperture, most of the shots are bad. real bad. Yes, as far as I was concerned, the whole thing was a photographer’s nightmare.
Yet I was happy I was there. You see, it was a bit of a historic wedding. See the couple has been together for 54 years, waiting the whole time to get married. It wasn’t until the election last month, when Washington State approved gay marriage, that the couple was able to be married. They weren’t the first gay couple in Tacoma to get married (the first marriage was several days before), but they certainly had been waiting the longest time. The mayor actually performed the ceremony (the pastor assisted), and half the city council and several state politicians attended. And the local newspaper covered the event. I volunteered my services for the event (as did everyone else involved), and everyone attending had a great time.
And though the photos aren’t my best, I think the couple – John and Rudy – will be happy with results. After all, their sight isn’t so good anymore.
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.
The image above is another from my trip to the beach last month. It is my favorite of the whole trip, and I recently made a print of it. I thought I’d tell you how this particular image went from just an idea to a final print. However, if you want to skip all the details, and just see what the original RAW image looked like, you can just compare the final processed version above with the unprocessed RAW image below.
Prevision: It was near sunset and the tide was low. I had wanted a sunset shot with tide pools in the foreground, but that idea was out because of the fog bank I described in my earlier post . Instead I thought about an image with tide pools and the incoming waves mist-like on the shore. Because it was so gray out, for color I needed starfish (which are naturally purple and orange on this part of the coast) and green sea anemones. I wanted the starfish and selected tide pool to be the focus, with the rest of the image dark and misty (from the waves).
Camera Work: I found a several promising tide pools, some of which I showed in the earlier post. I spent a lot of time at this one, I thought the composition looked good, with the tide pool opening to the right rear and the big cluster of starfish. To blur the incoming waves into a mist, I knew I needed a long exposure, which forced me into using a small aperture. The final image was taken at ISO 100 and f/22 for 8 seconds. Obviously I used a tripod. I needed to be close to the tide pool, requiring a wide-angle lens to capture the entire scene. I put on my 10-22mm zoom and set it to 22mm. Finally, I wanted the center of interest to be the starfish on the far side of the pool. This was actually close to the darkest part of the scene. To help I used a flash to light up the far side of the tide pool. The original RAW capture, with just Lightroom defaults, is shown below.
Lightroom Processing: As you can see, even with the fill flash, the rock with the starfish was very dark. I knew it would take some dodging and burning work to bring it out to my original vision for the image. However, first things first. I always do global adjustments (those affecting the whole image) first before targeted ones. Usually my first step is to level the horizon and use LR’s lens correction feature. I typically use a bubble level on my hot shoe to help keep the horizon level when I shoot, but with the flash, that wasn’t possible. With the wide-angle zoom, there is a lot of distortion and chromatic aberration, both easily fixed in LR.
Next I adjusted the white balance. I slid LR’s blue-yellow slider to the right (yellow) to add warmth to the image.
The image needed a bit more contrast, so I then set the white and black points by using the Whites and Blacks sliders. In this case, I moved the sliders to broaden the histogram and add just a little clipping of both blacks and whites.
I knew I wanted to essentially invert the luminosity of the image, making most of the image darker and lightening up the back wall (which is dark in the original capture). To most effectively do this, I darkened the whole image by significantly moving the Exposure slider to the left (about 3/4 a stop), then recovered that much in the dark areas with the Shadows slider, moving it to the right.
This was generally it for global adjustments, at least initially. Now it was time to work on problem areas to bring out my vision. First, the sky and water was still too light. So I added a Graduated Filter in LR. I used a relatively soft edge, and set the center of the gradient about 1/4 the way down from the top, reducing the exposure by another 1/3 stop. Then to add a bit more contrast to the background rocks and water, I adjusted the Contrast slider on the filter to the right.
Next I knew I needed a lot of painting with the Adjustment Brush. First I needed to lighten up the main area of interest – the tide pool and nearby rocks. The following shows where I added the brush and the effect. I added about 1/2 stop with the Exposure slider and even more with the Highlights slider to bring out the highlights.
It was still to dark in my primary subject area, so I painted a second time in the area shown below. This time I added another 1/2 stop in exposure, with lighted up the shadows more, added some “crispness” with the Clarity slider, and bumped up the color with the Saturation slider. (Normally, I do not use the Saturation sliders much in LR. I more typically use the Vibrance slider as a global adjustment. Here, to really emphasis the back wall of the tide pool, I didn’t use the Vibrance slider at all, and only used the Saturation slider with targeted adjustments).
Now it was time to work on the water in the tide pool. I wanted the highlights in the water to show better, and for there to be more contrast between the light and dark portions of the water. So I added a little exposure and bumped up the Highlights and Contrast sliders. I also upped the saturation slightly.
That helped with the water, but I wanted the white areas of the water in the tide pool to be more pronounced, so I painted those areas with another adjustment brush to lighten them up.
I wanted to add a bit more color and lightness to the starfish and anemones (on the rock and in the water) in the foreground. So I added another adjustment brush, upping the exposure slightly and adding some saturation.
At this point, I liked the luminosity of the areas I had used the adjustment brushes on, but thought the rest of the image was too bright for my original vision. So I decreased the exposure slider by another 1/2 stop to darken the whole image.
Then I restored the exposure values to each of the previous adjustment brushes, adding back the 1/2 stop of exposure only in the brushed areas.
Then to further focus the eye to the center of the image, I added a vignette with the Post-Crop Vignette slider.
With that done, some of the rocks on the left still seemed a bit too bright. So with another adjustment brush, I made them slightly darker.
And, the white water at the mouth of the tide pool still looked a bit dark to me, so I added a seventh adjustment brush to brighten up this area a bit.
At this point, I was close to the final, pre-Photoshop image. However, with all the adjustment brush work, the image had lost contrast (mainly by darkening the highlights). I needed to re-establish the white clipping point to gain back the lost contrast. So I adjusted the whites slider upward and also fine-tuned the color temperature (cooling the image slightly).
But with that adjustment, some of the white water at the mouth of the tide pool was too bright, so I deleted part of the seventh adjustment brush.
Now it was time for some touch-up work with the spot removal tool to remove sensor dust spots (I’m bad, I don’t clean my sensor nearly often enough). The dust spots were very visible because of the small aperture used on the image. I was able to fix all of them except one straddling the surf line near the upper center of the image; I knew I’d need the cloning tool from Photoshop to fix that one.
At this point, I was done processing the RAW image in Lightroom. Though it looks close to my vision, I thought I could improve it a bit further in Photoshop (in addition to fixing the final dust spot). Before sending it to Photoshop, I applied some noise reduction.
Photoshop Processing: The first step in Photoshop was to adjust the global contrast again, this time using Curves, giving it a slight “S” adjustment, and giving the image some more pop.
I occasionally use a luminosity masking technique, known as the Triple Play, created by Tony Kuyper to improve the shadows and highlights when in Photoshop. I tried it out, and in this case, the Triple Play lead to a slight improvement in both the shadows and highlights.
I cloned out the final dust spot that I couldn’t fix in Lightroom. And then refined my previous Lightroom brushwork painting on a dodging/burning layer.
The final step was to apply a bit of sharpening and the image was complete. I use an adjustable sharpening action based on the book Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2 by Bruce Fraser. The sharpening applied here is intended to sharpen to remove the slight blur caused by the camera. With that, the image was complete and my vision was realized. Easy right?
After the processing was done, the only thing left to do was make a print (I do additional sharpening prior to printing after resizing the image). I made 10×15-inch print, matted it, and it is now hanging at the gallery in Gig Harbor where one of my photo clubs (Sound Exposure) hangs their work.
You might be asking, “how long did all this processing take?” Though I didn’t time myself, it took much less time to do than to write this blog post. I’d guess the complete processing, from RAW to the final photo below (not including printing) took about 30 to 40 minutes. I don’t spend that much time on every shot; but in this case, I think it was well worth it.
At last the rain hit today, ending perhaps the longest dry spell in western Washington history. Luckily, I spent the last day of the dry weather (yesterday) up at Mount Baker in the Heather Meadows area. The fall colors were fantastic. Tomorrow, in the morning, I’m heading off to eastern Washington for the weekend to go to a football game. I wanted to leave you with a blog post before I go, so here’s a quick shot I took yesterday. This is Mount Baker, as seen from Artist Point. More from my trip up to Heather Meadows later.
By working on my Seattle ebook project, I’ve visited a few sites in Seattle that I’ve never been before. Though I’ve been to Lake Union Park and the Center for Wooden Boats several times in the past, somehow I have always missed the Historic Ships Wharf, that is until last week. If you like maritime history, this is fun little place to visit. It is located in Lake Union Park, at the north end of the Naval armory (soon to be the new home of the Museum of History and Industry).
There are five or six boats berthed at the Historic Ships Wharf. Northwest Seaport owns two of the ships – the tugboat Arthur Foss and the lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure”, both of which are National Historic Landmarks. The Arthur Foss was built in 1889 and has a long history of working from Alaska to Hawaii, including starring in the 1934 movie Tugboat Annie. She was decommissioned in 1970. Lightship No. 83 was built in 1904 and has served on both the east and west coasts. She retired in 1961 and is currently undergoing restoration by the Northwest Seaport.
Other vessels at the wharf include the 1922 steamship Virginia V (also a National Historic Landmark) and the 1910 fireboat Duwamish. The Virginia V is the last remaining steamer of Seattle’s famous Mosquito Fleet. It currently hosts the Farmboat Floating Market (a farmers market, for information go to www.farmboat.org) every Thursday.
The wharf is also home to schooner Lavengro – the last original Biloxi “White Winged Queen” schooner in the world. When photographing the Lavengro, I had the good fortune to meet her captain – Kim Carver. She told me a little history about her ship and suggested that owners of most the boats at the wharf would welcome a photographer on board by just asking. Captain Carver also said that she gives free rides on the Lavengro most Sundays as part of a program sponsored by the Center for Wooden Boats.
There are few places where you can see several historic ships like these all on one pier. If you like old boats, I suggest checking it out.
I previously mentioned that I am working on several personal photo projects. One of those has reached its conclusion. As a member of the Mountaineers, I decided to document the “remodel” of the Tacoma branch’s clubhouse. The remodel involved tearing down the old building, except for a portion of one wall, and then building a whole new structure. Approximately weekly from January through August, I took shots of the clubhouse as it went down and back up again. I’ve made a couple of videos with those shots. The club will be showing them at the Grand Opening of the new facility this coming Thursday. However, I’ve posted them on Vimeo with links here.
Obviously to do a series of shots like this, you want to shoot from exactly the same spot with exactly the same setting every time. I found this is easier said than done. When I shot the images, I took two sets of shots from each vantage point. Using my 24-70mm lens, I shot one set at 24 mm and another set at 28 mm. Additionally, I always used aperture-priority mode with the f-stop at f/11 and ISO at 100. I had the camera on my tripod, and I always set the tripod feet in the same spots.
After taking shots for several weeks, I found I was more successful with the zoom set at 24 mm instead of 28 mm. I found that when I set it at 28 mm, it was difficult to set the lens consistently at 28 mm – sometimes it would up being at 27 mm, sometimes at 29 mm. I suggest if you try the same thing, and use a zoom lens, always set the lens at one end or the other of its zoom range for more consistent results.
Another difficulty resulted from my tripod, which has a ball head. With this tripod head, it was difficult to always get the camera pointed exactly the same direction and angle. I used a bubble level on the hot shoe to help and tried to line the edges of the frame at a consistent spot on the neighboring building. Even so, I found considerable variation between shots taken in different weeks. Consequently, I rotated and cropped each image in Lightroom, attempting to get the orientation exactly the same for each image. I was somewhat successful, the building does “wander” a bit back and forth between images, but it isn’t too objectionable in my opinion. Overall I’m happy with the result.
Earlier this summer I visited my old hometown of Spokane, Washington. I previously have only shown one image from that trip in my blog because I was there on assignment with American Bungalow Magazine, and they had first publication rights to the images. The current issue (August-November 2012) of American Bungalow came out late last month with a 8-page article on Spokane featuring 12 of my images. You can go to your local bookstore or library to see those images, but here are several that didn’t make the magazine. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
Earlier this week, Tanya,, Carson and I went camping for three days at La Wis Wis near White Pass. I took the opportunity to drive up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park for one sunset and one sunrise. Though it looked like they were slightly past their prime, the wildflowers were incredible at Paradise. If you want to see them this year, you best get up there fast.
For my sunset shots, I hiked from the visitor center eastward on the Skyline Trail then partly up the Golden Gate Trail. The flowers were great on the Golden Gate Trail, but the view of Rainier is partially obstructed by a ridge. Luckily for me, the view of the Tatoosh Range to the south put on a good alpenglow show.
The next morning, after arriving at Paradise at 5:45 a.m. (no trouble finding parking at that time!), I headed north on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista, then back to the visitor center via the Deadhorse Creek and Waterfall Trails. Again, great flowers, but also more unobstructed views of Rainier (the featured photo above is of Rainier from the Deadhorse Creek Trail). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much color in the sunrise. However, low-lying clouds below Paradise made for some good shots.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip to show you why they call it Paradise!
Last week Tanya, Carson and I traveled to the Palouse region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho on a photo trip. I had originally planned on spending three nights in the area, but was only able to spend one due to receiving an assignment from American Bungalow magazine to photograph sites in Spokane (look for my photos in the August edition of the magazine). Luckily, the day I spent in the Palouse area was very productive.
The highlight of the trip, for me at least, was a pair of visits to Steptoe Butte, once at sunset and again during the following sunrise (which, I might mention, comes damn early in mid-June; in fact, the sun rose at 4:53 a.m., the earliest time all year for that location). Upon when driving up Steptoe Butte before sunset, we were lucky enough to run into my good friend and fellow photographer Jack Graham, who was leading a photo workshop in the Palouse. We hung out with Jack’s group and witnessed an excellent sunset. The sunrise (a mere 8 hours later), in contrast, was very plain (no clouds), but the early light did wonders with the rolling hills of the Palouse. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the wind, which shook my camera and softened up many of my images. I’ll have to go back next year with a bigger tripod.
Following sunrise, I drove some of the many back roads in the area looking for photo opportunities with the eventual goal of photographing the Freeze Community Church outside of Potlatch, Idaho. I shot a lot of pixels at the church and will show some of them in a follow-up blog post soon.
Eventually, I drove back to Colfax, Washington, where we were staying, and picked up Tanya and Carson (both of whom didn’t want to get up at 4:00 a.m. to go photograph the sunrise, imagine that!). Our afternoon goals were to visit Pullman (home of Washington State University, where Tanya went to school) and see Colton, a small town co-founded by my great-grandfather and great great uncle. The afternoon light didn’t offer many good photos, but we had a good time exploring the country side. Perhaps the most surrealistic moment was when we stopped at St. Gall’s Cemetery in Colton and seeing a headstone with my name on it, which belong to some long-lost relative of mine, as well as a headstone with my parents names – actually belonging to by great-grandparents (considering my Dad is still alive and my Mom is buried in Spokane).
While my highlight was Steptoe, Carson’s highlight of the trip was when we stopped to photograph the street sign for Becker Road (which is north of Colton and surrounded by wheat fields). Carson, being a dog of course, didn’t care about the sign, but did find something dead at the edge of a field which he promptly rolled upon. We remembered a pet grooming shop in Colfax, but when we drove by, it was closed with a sign stated “please call for an appointment.” Not very convenient when you have 140 pounds of stinky dog in your car. We called, but there was no answer, so we kept going on our drive to Spokane, where we were to spend the night at my Dad’s house, Carson (I’m sure) enjoying the smell much more than we did. In Spokane, we stopped at PetCo and found a waterless dog shampoo, which worked wonders and left us with a clean smelling end to our quick trip to the Palouse.
Monday, Tanya, Carson and I returned from a 4-day weekend on the Oregon coast. I’ll post some photos of that trip soon, as I haven’t had a chance to download them all yet. Meanwhile, I wanted to post about another day trip to Seattle last week. Since we are in the prime spring blooming season for azaleas and rhododendrons, I wanted to photograph Kubota Garden and the Washington Park Arboretum.
It was my first visit to Kubota Gardens, though I had heard many good things about it. It is a wonderful little park, about 20 acres (8 hectares) filled with a blend of Japanese and Pacific Northwest gardening styles. Fujitaro Kubota, an early 20-century immigrant from Japan, developed the garden for his personal pleasure and to serve his landscaping business. In 1972 Kubota received the Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese Government for his efforts introducing Japanese gardening to the United States. Kubota died a year later. When the garden was later threatened with development, the garden was declared a Historical Seattle Landmark and the City eventually purchased the property from the Kubotafamily. This place is definitely worth a visit.
I had been to Washington Park Arboretum before, but it has been about 30 years (back in my college days). The arboretum is jointly administered by the University of Washington and the City of Seattle. The arboretum is also home the Seattle Japanese Garden, which because of photography restrictions (no tripods except by becoming a “photographic member” and then only on 8 special days per year), I did not visit on this trip. Regardless, there was plenty to see in the rest of the arboretum. Azalea Way is the main path through the arboretum, and indeed it does have lots of few azaleas and rhodies along it. I spent most the visit along this path taking photos of the blooms.
Near the end of my visit, I was walking back to the car along Azalea Way hoping to get a shot of the path lined with colorful flowers. Even though there were lots of flowers, finding the right spot for this shot wasn’t as easy as I hoped (I wanted a shot with flowers on both side and the path curving – there weren’t too many spots like this). Finally I found a spot I thought might work. I stepped off to the side to take a shot. At this point I noticed a shirtless man sitting on a park bench about 25 to 30 yards (23 – 27 meters) away a short distance off the path. I really didn’t want him in the photo, but figured it added a bit of human interest and he would not be prominently visible in the frame (as I was using a wide-angle lens).
As I put the camera to my eye to line up a composition, the man on the bench stood up. I lowered the camera, not wanting him standing in the shot. He then proceeded to pull on some black shorts; he was not only topless, he was bottomless as well! (I had previously noticed his bare legs, but I had thought he was wearing shorts.) After pulling his shorts on, he quickly jogged straight at me, stopping about 5 feet (1.5 meters) away.
Though he was taller than me and probably outweighed me by 30 or 40 pounds (14-18 kilograms), he puffed himself up threateningly and sternly asked what the hell I was doing. I answered that I had not taken a picture. He said, “I made eye contact with you and you ignored it!” to which I thought “probably because I wasn’t looking at you and didn’t even want you in my photo in the first place.” Again I said I had not taken his photo, and again he ignored my response. He called me an obscene name, and again asked why I was taking his photo, and again I said I did not. He made a few other choice comments, and we sort of stared at each other a while longer. He finally said not to take any more photos. I said I wouldn’t and we both walked off. However, I couldn’t help but think, if he’s sunbathing in the nude next to a popular walking trail in a city of 600,000 people, why does he care if someone takes his picture? I still want the shot, but thought better of it and moved on down the path.
A short distance further, I actually found a better spot for the photo I wanted (with the added bonus of no naked men). Here’s a few photos from the trip, minus any naked men; the featured photo above is of the Moon Bridge in Kubota Gardens.
I’m fascinated by airplanes. It may be because I love to travel, to fly away to someplace special, or it may be because it’s amazing how something so big and heavy can get off the ground. I don’t get to fly away very often, but I can visit the Boeing Museum of Flight by just driving to south Seattle, like Tanya and I went did week.
I hadn’t been in years, and it is bigger than I remember. The museum has five main exhibition areas:
- the Great Gallery, a 6-story exhibition hall which contains 39 full-size aircraft
- the Red Barn, the original Boeing building which features the Boeing story from 1916 to 1958
- the Personal Courage Wing, which present the story of fighter aviation in World War I and II
- the Space Gallery, which will soon house one of NASA’s space shuttle trainers, and
- the Airpark, an outside area with 6 large planes, including the Kennedy/Johnson Air Force One, the very first 747, and a Concorde
It’s a bit of challenge to photograph there. The contrast can be extreme, especially in the Great Gallery with it glass walls. But tripods are allowed, so I made use of HDR to handle the contrast on many shots (such as the featured image above, which shows the world’s sole remaining Boeing 80A-1 in the foreground and a DC3 above it – back in my college days, I rode several times in DC3s in Alaska). It’s a fun spot, well worth visiting. The museum does charge an admission fee, but is free on the first Thursday evening of each month.