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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
I’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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
I still haven’t had much chance to get out for some new photo adventures, so here’s one from five years ago this month (or close enough, the actual trip started in September but ended in October). I took these images on a raft trip through Stillwater and Cataract Canyons on the Green and Colorado Rivers in Canyonlands National Park . Tanya and I joined the trip about 1/3 of the way in, at Mineral Bottom; the trip actually started at Green River State Park and traveled through Labyrinth Canyon prior to reaching Mineral Bottom. My brother Rob joined us on the trip (though he came down earlier and made the entire trip). My good friend Rob Tubbs organized trip and served as trip leader.
As is typical with river trips, the trip starts (or ends) with a shuttle. In this case, we started with a shuttle. We drove most our gear and extra beer down to Mineral Bottom, then drove Hite (the take out site) on Lake Powell. From there, we few back in a small plane, dropping into the canyon to land on a weedy dirt runway at Mineral Bottom. Then it was time to load up, and off we went.
The Green River through Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons (120 miles) is all flat water, making it one of the classic canoe/sea kayak trips in the United States. We were in rafts, not canoes or kayaks. The advantage of floating it on a raft is that, unless you are rowing, you can kick back and enjoy the view without the effort. Plus you can carry a lot of gear, food, and beer. Much scenery was appreciated; much beer was drank.
Unlike the first portion of the float, the final leg of the journey, 45 miles on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, has loads of whitewater, most of it coming in a single day. One of our rafts flipped in Cataract (luckily, not the one Tanya and I were on – my brother wasn’t so lucky), providing even more excitement for the BRD (big rapids day).
I highly recommend this trip for anyone thinking of an American Southwest float trip. The trip can easily be customized to your own personal level of expertise, time and cost. You can do the whole thing with an outfitter, or on a private trip. The float through Labyrinth can be done completely on your own, taking out at Mineral Bottom. The float through Stillwater (without continuing through Cataract) requires a pickup by jet boat at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers (for a ride back up the Colorado to Moab). Several outfitters can provide this service at reasonable prices.
I’m considering going again someday by kayak, taking a little more time to photograph. Concerning this trip five years ago, I was happy with the photos I came away with, though none were out of this world. I think the black and white conversions I made from the trip worked the best. As always, your opinions are welcome.
Tanya, Carson and I attended our annual Becker family gathering last weekend. This year it was at Cannon Beach, Oregon. We camped, as did several of my brothers and sisters. Other family members slept in hotel rooms (I have four sisters and two brothers; all but one attended the weekend, as did my Dad, stepmom, and various nieces and nephews). However, most the visiting was in the campground. We arrived Friday evening, and I didn’t even make it to the beach until Saturday night. I considered not even taking the camera out for the whole weekend, instead just enjoying being with the family. However, I couldn’t resist the call of the camera, and I planned a shot for Saturday sunset. Using the Photographers Ephemeris, I planned a shot with the sun setting behind some small islands just off shore. Most images of Cannon Beach show Haystack Rock (don’t believe me, do a Google Image search of Cannon Beach). I wanted to do something a bit different; to show a different part of the beach, and this is the result. It wasn’t the best sunset in the world, but I was happy with the result.
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.
Last weekend Tanya presented a seminar at a chaplains’ conference in Orlando, Florida. So we made a quick flight down (well not so quick, it basically takes a full day to fly from Seattle to Orlando). Though we stayed at the Hilton at Disney World, I had no desire to visit any theme parks. Instead, Tanya and I drove out to the Orlando Wetlands Park.
The Orlando Wetlands Park was of particular interest to me because of my day job. The wetlands there are man-made using reclaimed water (that is, water from a waste-water treatment plant). Photographically, it’s a great location as well.
The place is amazing and well worth a visit. First, compared to the artificial environment of Disney World, filled with people and mouse ears, the Orlando Wetlands Park is a natural refuge. In the two hours we were there, we only saw one other person, but we saw plenty of wildlife – in particular birds and alligators, but also deer and a raccoon. Secondly, it is easily accessible, with wide trails on berms above the wetlands, making viewing the wildlife easy. We also lucked out in that the rain and thunderstorms rolling through the area left us alone while there.
If you are ever in the Orlando area and want to get away from the crowds, I recommend Orlando Wetlands Park. It’s free and open daily from dawn to dusk.
A couple of years ago I purchased an infrared filter, used it perhaps once, stuck it in the camera bag, and have been carrying it around ever since. Earlier this month, I thought it was high time I tried it out again. My subject was Riverfront Park. It seemed like a good time to try. It was the middle of the day, with bright sunshine, and I was somewhat unimpressed with my “normal” shots.
So I pulled out the infrared filter. Here are three samples of one scene from the park, one shot normally in color, a black and white conversion of the color image, and the infrared shot. All were processed in Lightroom.
While I like the infrared image the best of the three, I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with it. It certainly seems to be lacking a bit of the character I normally associate with infrared – namely very dark skies and very light foliage. It may be that my camera (Canon 6D) doesn’t transmit much infrared. Or perhaps there is an issue with the subject I picked. Any experienced infrared photographers out there want to give me some advice?
April in the Skagit Valley is one on the photographic highlights of Washington State. April is when the tulip and daffodil fields west of Mount Vernon are in bloom (actually, the daffodils typically start blooming in March). These fields, and the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, attract big crowds – and, therefore, I’ve avoided them for years (actually I did photograph some of the early daffodil fields a few years back, visiting at non-busy time). However, I did venture up to the fields last Friday – and wow, was I missing out by not going earlier. Actually, I picked a good day. It was rainy in Seattle and Tacoma, but not too bad up in Mount Vernon, and the weather may have kept the crowds down (being a weekday also helped). There still were plenty of people, just not the mobs the flowers attract like bees on sunny weekends.
Here’s a quick report:
- best time to go – go now! The tulips are at their peak. The early tulips have already been headed (the growers de-head the tulips to prevent disease and promote bulb growth, and the longer you wait, the more flowers will be de-headed), the mid-season tulips are in full bloom, and the late-season ones are just starting. Most the daffodil fields are long-past their prime, though a few still have decent flowers.
- best display garden – Roozengaarde. There are two major tulip growers in the valley, Roozengaarde (a division of Washington Bulb) and Tulip Town. Both have display gardens. Roozengaarde’s is larger and better developed. There is an entry fee of $5 – well worth it. This fee also gets you into their tulip field across the road. Roozengaarde’s other tulip fields, elsewhere in valley, are free to visit.
- best tulip field – Tulip Town. Behind the display garden at Tulip Town is relatively small tulip field, but one packed with lots of colors and varieties. Most the other tulip fields in the valley are very large, and though they may have several varieties of tulips, it’s difficult to get more than a couple of varieties into a single image. No such problem at Tulip Town. Another big advantage at Tulip Town is two red barns next to the field that make good backgrounds. Like Roozengaarde, there is a $5 entry fee.
- weather – it rains a lot in the area in April, you just have to work with it. Sunny days (like today) are great, but not very predictable unless you have a flexible schedule. You can make great photos on cloudy days, or even in the rain (as long it is not a downpour).
- footwear – the fields are muddy – extremely muddy if it has rained lately. Wear boots. I wore hiking boots; many people had rubber bo0ts.
- pets – of course, Tanya and I had Carson with us. Dogs are not allowed in the display garden at Roozengaarde or in Tulip Town, but are allowed in most the fields. Carson had a great time laying in mud puddles.
- parking – the entrance fee to Roozengaarde also pays for parking at their fields – assuming the parking lots are open (they close if it is too muddy). There is also a parking lot at Tulip Town. Otherwise, you will need to park on the road. Be warned: if any part of your car is across the marking the edge of the road, you will get ticketed. The local cops were out in force when we were there.
Here are some more details about the Paria Canyon hike along with some more photos.
There are four trailheads: three starting trailheads (assuming hiking downstream), all in Utah: Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and Whitehouse campground; and one ending trailhead, at Lee’s Ferry, AZ. My hiking buddies (Rob Tubbs, an friend from grad school; his wife, Deanna; and daughter, Abby; and my brother Rob) and I choose to start at the Whitehouse trailhead because there were better camping options on this route (there are no places to camp in Wire Pass and very few in Buckskin Gulch). The Whitehouse trailhead is on the Paria River, two miles south of the Paria Contact Station on US Highway 89, roughly mid-way between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT. The Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass trailheads are south of US 89 on House Rock Road. Roads to all the trailheads, at the time of this writing, were passable by passenger car.
Buckskin Gulch is a tributary to the Paria River, and hits the Paria 7 miles from the Whitehouse trailhead. Wire Pass is a tributary to Buckskin Gulch, and is relatively short. Hiking Wire Pass cuts off a portion of Buckskin Gulch.In addition to the hike to Lee’s Ferry, it is also a popular hike to start at Wire Pass or Buckskin, hike to the Paria, then upstream to the Whitehouse trailhead.
Permits: a permit is needed to hike from any of the trailheads, and there is a limit of 20 overnight permits per day. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of people on the 6 days we were in the canyon. Permits are also needed for day use, but there is no limit on the number of permits issues. Dogs are allowed, but also need a permit. Permit information can be obtained here.
Shuttle: Unless you want to backtrack back up the canyon, this is a one-way hike. There’s no quick way to drive from the starting trailhead to the end. Unfortunately, the quickest paved route is not currently an option because the highway between Page, AZ and Lee’s Ferry is out for the foreseeable future due to a landslide which took out a portion of the road on February 20th. Now the quickest route involves driving the length of the unpaved House Rock Road. In our case, I followed Rob Tubbs’ Ford F350 truck in my little Hyundai Elantra. Now, while I’m a proponent of the drive-fast-over-washboards-on-dirt-roads method, I’m a piker compared to Rob Tubbs, whom I swear is a teacher at the Drive-As-Fast-As-You-Can-on-Desert-Roads School. There was no way to keep up with him, but we did eventually make the drive. In total, the shuttle took 3.75 hours, with about half the mileage over dirt roads. (Google Maps suggests the round trip over the same roads should take approximately 5.5 hours). It is also possible to leave your cars at one end and hire a shuttle company to do the driving.
Best season: This is definitely not a place to go hiking when it’s raining. The flash flood danger is serious. Plus, as the Paria River drains a large area north of the hike, a thunderstorm miles away can cause a flood in the canyon. August is typically the rainest month of the year here, with May having the least rain; though floods have been recorded in every month of the year. The peak visitation is during April and May – but with the permit system, the canyon is never crowded.
Trail conditions: there is no official trail. Much of the trip is in water. On our hike, I estimate 20% of the trip was walking in the river – mostly in the narrows section. The water was typically ankle-deep, but occasionally knee-deep. Of course, water depths depend on the weather – flash floods occur every year and can be dangerous. It’s best to plan the hike during the dry season (spring). In the lower portion of the canyon, where the canyon opens up, there is an unmaintained overland trail (with many river crossings) which is much easier than walking along the river – which contains many large boulders in this portion of the canyon; these create deeper pools.
A large portion of the hike, when not actually in the water, is on muddy river bank. Quicksand is fairly common, both on the muddy riverbank and in the water itself. It’s not dangerous, but you can sink quickly up to your knees (this happened to me once), and it is difficult to get out of without help. You can avoid quicksand by testing suspect locations with a light foot before putting all your weight on it. Also, when crossing the river, favor rocky spots rather than slow water spots.
Buckskin Gulch is known for having large pools of standing water that sometimes must be waded or swum, as well as one point where boulders block the route. In previous years, these boulders present a problem where some climbing might be necessary. Currently, we found the boulder section, several miles upstream from the confluence with the Paria, was easily passable without scrambling. Report from other hikers who had done the complete length of Buckskin reported no large pools of water either. Of course, this could change with the next rainstorm.
Guidebook: there is a guidebook with maps of all three canyons (Paria, Buckskin, and Wire Pass) available at the Paria Contact Station for $9. This is well worth the money, particularly as it shows the locations of springs. My one complaint about the maps is that they lack north arrows, which can sometimes make it difficult to orient the maps properly (every map is oriented differently, with the river/canyon running lengthwise on the page).
Shoes and clothing: I wore hiking boots with gore tex socks over wool socks. Don’t bother with the gore tex socks – they just filled with water. Most people hike in sandals or tennis/running shoes. I chose hiking boots for the ankle support – but the boots never completely dried out the whole trip. Your feet will get cold. You might consider neoprene socks to help keep them warm.
Even in warm weather, it can be cool in the narrows section of the canyon where there is plenty of shade. This is even more true in Buckskin Gulch where it is rather dark. Take warmer clothes than you would think are necessary based on the weather.
Water: the river water is very silty and will quickly clog a water filter. Luckily there are a number of springs in the canyon where fresh water can be obtain. We drank from these springs without using filtration (do take some care how you fill your bottles if not using a filter). The springs are well marked on the guide maps, but still may be hard to find. We had a particularly hard time finding one called Shower Spring. The boy scout leader we met told us his scout group planned to camp there, yet when we arrived, we saw them hiking off down the canyon. But then, we couldn’t see the spring. We just about gave up looking for it, but as we were running low on water, I gave one last look. I crossed the river and found a hidden trail through tall, thick pampas-type grass, and behold, a big spring with lots of water! The last spring, aptly named Last Reliable Spring, was easier to find, but has a low flow rate so it took time to fill our bottles. The final 12 miles of the hike do not have any reliable water sources. If you plan well, you can minimize the water you have to carry by planning your daily mileage around the spring or by camping near by the springs. Do remember to carry enough water – you’ll need it, even in April or May.
Campsites: there are campsites marked on the map, but many other campsites are available – just be sure to camp high enough above the river in case the water comes up overnight. Within the narrows section of the canyon, campsites are much harder to find. And in the full 18 miles of Buckskin Gulch, there are only a couple, including the one we stayed at our second night, shortly up canyon from Buckskin’s confluence with the Paria.
The Scoop on Poop: When you check in at the Paria Contact Station, you will be given human-waste disposal bags. These consist of one or two silver bags with some dry chemicals in them. These bags open up to rear-end size. And a yellow mesh bag to carry the used silver bags. The ranger writes your permit number on the silver bags, so if perchance you leave one in the canyon, they will make you come and get it (okay, they’d probably give you a fine; she said they started putting numbers on the bags after some hikers started leaving the used bags in the canyon thinking the rangers came through and picked them up). Luckily, you are only required to use these bags within the narrows section of the canyon. Elsewhere, you can dig “cat holes” away from the river and campsites. In our case, we were only in the narrows for about a day and a half. It’s amazing how your body can react when forced with the possibility of using one of these bags. Four of the five of us were able to “hold it” and carried out empty bags. Concerning toilet paper, that comes out with you, even if using cat holes.
Historical sites: portions of the canyon were historically used by Ancient Pueblo people (Anasizi). There are no ruins, at least that we saw, but there are several petroglyph sites (only one of which is marked on the guide map). If you go, the best petroglyph site we saw is between mile 24 and 25. There are several more recent sites as well. These include the remains of an irrigation pump from an ill-fated attempt to pump water out of the canyon in the 1949 at mile 17.5 and a historical ranch property right at the end of the trail in Lee’s Ferry.
Critters: We saw few animals on our hike other than birds, bats, lizards and mice (luckily only at our final campsite), but I did find a scorpion behind my backpack the night we camped in Buckskin Gulch. You should also be aware that rattlesnakes are occasionally seen. Reportedly there are also beavers (we did see some logs they had worked on), coyotes, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, deer and bighorn sheep.
Overall, this is one hike I can highly recommend. The scenery is outstanding. The country is remote, but easily accessible. I waited about 30 years to take this hike – in hind sight, I should have gone a long time ago. It’s one fantastic hike.
I’ve been back several days now from my backpacking trip down the Paria River canyon (Paria is pronounced like Maria). We hiked out of the canyon on Thursday. I had hoped to post about the trip earlier, but after driving 900 miles on Friday, going to by sister’s surprise 50th birthday party on Saturday, Easter on Sunday, and with Monday being opening day for the Seattle Mariners (I’m a baseball nut and went to watch the game at Safeco Field on the big screen even though the game was in Oakland), I haven’t had a chance until now.
When people ask about where I went, I say the Paria River – which usually brings a confused look as they have never heard of it. They ask where it is, and I say mostly in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – which continues the confused look because they have never heard of it. So then I say, the 38-mile hike ends at where rafting trips through the Grand Canyon start (at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona) and most people then have a general idea.
The Paria River hike is one of the classic hikes in the American Southwest, and I have wanted to do it for over 30 years. Let me tell you, the hike did not disappoint. Much of the hike is through narrows, where the canyon walls are only 5 to 30 meters wide. The hike is considered as a rival to the much more famous Virgin River Narrows hike in Zion National Park.
The first day we got a late start (after having to drive the shuttle, placing a car at Lee’s Ferry to drive back at the end of the hike) only hiked about 3.5 miles, camping before the narrows begins. The narrows begin at about mile 4 and were spectacular. At mile 7, still in the narrows, we turned and went up Buckskin Gulch (a tributary to the Paria). We dropped our packs at one of the only campsites in Buckskin, about 1/4 mile from the confluence with the Paria, and day hiked several miles up Buckskin. That night, we camped where we had left the packs. The following day, we hiked 10 miles down the Paria, leaving the narrows. Though not in the narrows, this section of the canyon was still not wide and still very beautiful. Much of the hiking these three days was in the river itself. The following three days, more and more of the hiking was out of the river, as the canyon widened up. Besides the day hike up Buckskin, we also made the day hike to Wrather Arch – reportedly the largest natural arch in the world outside the state of Utah.
Here’s a few images from the trip. I’ll try to do a more complete blog post on the hike, with more photos, as time allows.
A week ago last Saturday, Tanya, Carson and I took another hike. This one to Ebey’s Landing up on Whidbey Island. This hike covers a bit less than 6 miles roundtrip and involves walking across a classic, island prairie, along the tallest coastal bluff in Washington State, and along a driftwood-strewn Puget Sound beach.
Though this is a great hike anytime of the year, it is especially good in the winter when snow prevents hiking in the mountains. It is also in the Olympic Mountain’s rain shadow, so it rains less there than in Seattle (the average annual precipitation is about 24 inches compared to 34 inches in Seattle).
Almost every step of this hike has a great view of the Olympics (though they were mostly cloud covered on our trip). There is also an awesome view of Mount Baker, and even a view of Mount Rainier far to the south. The hike even has a bit of history; the hike being inside Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. The area was first settled in the 1850s, and a few of the original homestead buildings are still standing today.
And after the hike, don’t forget to drop into the nearby, historic town of Coupeville for some of the famous Penn Cove mussels. We stopped at Toby’s Tavern for a quick bite and a cold beer. The tavern sits on the water of Penn Cove and offers affordable seafood and other bar foods (though if stuffed animal heads make you nervous, you might want to try someplace else).
PS – Kickstarter update: my project has been online a little over a week and has already been fully funded. However, the project will still be active on Kickstarter another few weeks. You still have a chance to pledge. For a $5 pledge, you will receive a copy of the ebook – that’s a discount on what the ebook will cost after it’s published. Check out my Seattle ebook project here.
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.
First, before the story, a mini-rant – I hate the weather. I, like most photographers who shoot outdoors, am obsessed with the weather. The weather is never perfect – it’s either too cloudy, or not enough clouds, or too sunny, or too gray, etc. etc. For my Friday trip, I wasn’t looking for perfect weather. Rather if I was taking a day off from work to go take photos, I didn’t want to waste my time if the weather wasn’t going to be good enough to offer at least a few decent shots. Rant’s over, now on to the story.
On Thursday night, I checked the weather forecast to see what was in store. The forecast for Seattle was cloudy with a 70% chance of rain both in morning and afternoon – yuck! I thought about going to eastern Washington (which often has better weather), and the forecast for Yakima was cloudy with a 30% chance of freezing rain – not much better. I decided to stay home, work on the computer, and if it looked like the clouds might break, to run up to Seattle.
When I got up Friday morning, it was cloudy, but not rainy. As the morning wore on, there were breaks in the clouds, and I could see a bit of blue sky. So at noon, Tanya, Carson and I headed to Seattle. We went to the Great Wheel, Elliot Bay Park, and West Seattle. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived in Seattle, but as the afternoon wore on it got sunny and warm. By late afternoon, there were scattered clouds both to the east and west of the city, the city itself was under blue skies. It was near perfect weather for photography!
One of the shots I wanted was the moonrise over the city. This was the day before the full moon, and using the Photographers Emphemeris I knew the moon would rise about an hour before sunset directly over the city as viewed from West Seattle. This situation only happens a couple of times each year and those are always in winter. We drove to West Seattle, getting there about 1.5 hours before sunset. However, the few clouds that were left east of Seattle looked like they would block the rising moon.
I was able to get some nice, colorful late afternoon shots of the city skyline. Time for the moonrise came and went, and we couldn’t see the moon. Then Tanya helped me shoot a short video for my Kickstarter project (concerning my Seattle ebook I’ve talked about previously). We took a couple takes, when Tanya said “wow, look at that moon!” (my back was toward the city view). I turned around, and wow was right. I quickly grabbed the camera, switch to still photo mode, put on the 70-200 lens and shot away. I think you’ll agree, the results (featured above) were good.
So what I had thought was going to be a bad weather day for photography, turned out being perfect. Goes to show, you can never trust those weather reports.
Since I always shoot in RAW, I almost always have the camera set on auto white balance (since I can change it during Lightroom processing). My Canon 50D does a fair job with the white balance, though I usually have to bump the purple a bit (the images are a bit green). I’ve just picked up a Canon 6D (more on this in a later post), and the auto white balance seems to do even a better job. However, in certain situations, the auto white balance setting is totally fooled. Such was the case when I shot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Reina Sofia Art Museum in Madrid on my recent trip. It seems that my camera, if not most cameras, have a hard time with artificial light – often because there are multiple light sources (with different color characteristics) plus colored reflections off painted walls.
I suppose a quick primer on the color of light and white balance is needed (if you know about this stuff, skip this paragraph). All light has color. Daylight is naturally a bit yellow and warm. However, the same daylight in the shade is often blue because of the light coming from a blue sky. Light from tungsten bulbs is very warm and orange-yellow; light from fluorescent bulbs is green. The human eye does see these colors, but the human mind overrides what we see because the mind “knows” what color things are supposed to be and corrects for the “wrong” colors produced by the light. For example, snow is white, right. So when we look at a snow field in the shade on a sunny day, we see white snow; but in reality, the snow is blue in color. Same for a white piece of paper being lit by a tungsten lamp, it looks white, but in reality, it is colored orange -yellow. (Want proof? Try this experiment. Take a plain white piece of paper. Set it upright against the base of a table lamp with a tungsten bulb by a window. The paper should look white. Now, go outside [preferably at dusk, while there is still light in the sky] a ways off from the house and look back in the window at the paper. It should look orange or yellow tinted. This is because your mind is now “correcting” for the outside light, not the inside light.) While our minds can do this nifty little trick, cameras cannot. This is why digital cameras have white balance settings (and film cameras have different types of film for different light conditions). The white balance setting attempts to correct for the color of the light to make white white, black black, and grey grey. If you shoot JPEGs (instead of RAW), it is important to get the right white balance setting, or you may end up with color tints you don’t want (for example, using a daylight setting in the snow example above will result in blue snow in your image).
White balance settings in cameras are far from perfect. Often a scene is lit by more than one type of light (a scene with significant areas of both sunlit and shaded subjects for example). This is why I like auto white balance and shooting in RAW – the camera makes a guess, but if it is wrong, I can easily fix it.
However, sometimes I have no idea what the color of the light and no idea what the true color of the subject is. In these cases, it is difficult to get the color right. In these situations, following best photographic practices, you should set a custom white balance for your camera (many digital cameras have this option, it typically involves taking a photo of a white or 18% gray piece of paper. Alternatively, you can take your image of the paper with any white balance setting, then in Lightroom, correct the white balance by using the white balance eyedropper tool [also known as the white balance selector tool] on the paper). While it doesn’t take very long to set a custom white balance, it is only good for those exact light conditions. If you go to a different room, say in an art museum, you need a new custom white balance. Needless to say, I’m typically not that dedicated. So when in the art museums on my trip, I just used auto white balance and thought I’d try to correct later.
When I looked at the art museum photos after the trip ended, they typically had orange color casts, as in the examples here (Girl in the Window by Dali from the Reina Sofia Art Museum, and By the Seashore by Renoir and The Dance Class by Degas both in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). In Lightroom, I played with the white balance, but couldn’t seem to find a setting I liked.If I only had a neutral color (black, white, or grey) in the images, I could use the Lightroom’s custom white balance eyedropper tool and correct the color cast. My frustration was made only worse by the realization I had no idea what color Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Dali, or Van Gogh, etc. intended in their paintings, even for those areas that looked white, black or grey.
However, I soon figured out how to restore the correct color to the art masterpieces. It is my habit, when taking photos in a museum, to also photograph the explanation for the exhibit I’m photographing so I can remember exactly what it is. So in this case, when I took a photo of a painting, I also took a photo of the explanatory card next to it listing the painter, name of the painting, etc. Whether on purpose or not, it turns out, at least in these two art museums, the explanatory cards are printed on neutral-colored papers, and being next to the paintings, they are lit by the same light source.
With this realization, in Lightroom I opened the card photo for a particular painting in the Develop module and used the eyedropper tool on the card paper. Then copying the white balance settings, applied the same settings to the photo with the painting. It was as if magic, suddenly the colors popped and the paintings looked even better than I remembered them in the museums. Masterpieces restored by the magic of custom white balance.
Winter officially started here in the northern hemisphere a week ago yesterday. Winter in western Washington is typically pretty grey and wet. But now and then, winter serves up a great day. December 21st, the first day of winter, was one such day in Seattle, and I was lucky enough to be there photographing along with Tanya and Carson.
We spent several hours in West Seattle, visiting Lincoln Park and making two visits to the Belvedere Viewpoint (better light the second time around). Lincoln Park is the largest park in West Seattle and has great views of the Olympic Mountains and the ferry to Vashon Island. It also has wonderful madrona trees, with their peeling red bark, which I love to photograph. The Belevedere Viewpoint has an excellent view of downtown Seattle, which is across Elliot Bay from West Seattle. However, it is a bit far, so if you ever go shooting there, be sure to take a telephoto lens so you can zoom in on the buildings and ferries. Luckily for us, one of the fireboats was practicing spraying water int he bay and the snow covered Cascade Mountains were shining in the background.
From there, we drove up to north Seattle and went to Carkeek Park. I had hoped to find some salmon running in the creek in the park, but the run was apparently over. I understand it is best from mid-November to mid-December. I was just too late. Instead, I photographed on the beach and was rewarded with a great sunset.
From there, we headed to the East Portal Viewpoint on the west shore of Lake Washington (in the eastern part of the city). I hoped to get there with some light left in the sky, but traffic held us up. Still, it was fun to photograph the car headlight and tail light trails on the floating bridge (Interstate 90) over the lake and the lights from the city of Bellevue reflecting in the lake.
What a great start to winter in Seattle! Of course, the weather didn’t last, and the next day was grey and rainy, as was the next, and the next, and the…