the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for September, 2012

Out of the Smoke and into the Fog

Ruby Beach FogSeattle, widely known for its rain, has had 0.03 inches of rain so far this September. Combined with no measurable rain in August, we’ve had one of the driest periods on record. Nor is rain falling much elsewhere in Washington State. All month-long there have been forest fires burning in the mountains and eastern Washington, and the smoke is really messing up the air quality. So when I took a day off to go do some photography earlier this month, I decided against going to the mountains which are full of smoke and instead Tanya, Carson and I headed for the beach. We decided to head for Kalaloch and Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, a 3-hour drive from Tacoma. It’s 156 miles from my house to Kalaloch, and only the last 5 miles is along the ocean. And when making the drive over, it was sunny and the closer to the coast we got, the less smokey the air was. Then, at approximately mile 151 from my house, we entered a fog bank. That’s right, all this sun all over the whole state, and the beaches along the Olympic coast were fogged in. The good news for photography – no boring totally blue skies. The bad news for photography – no great sunset shots either.

We spent the first part of our trip at Ruby Beach, which has some nice sea stacks and a creek on the beach. The fog made for some interesting compositions, and several other photographers also had their tripods out. We walked north on the beach. The fog closed in around us, and it was if we were alone in the world, just the ocean on one side and a wilderness forest on the other. No sounds but the crashing waves. Hunger eventually drove us back to the car and we headed back down the highway to find a viewpoint where we could eat a picnic dinner with a view, or as much of one as the fog would allow.

It was nearing sunset, and the fog bank started to roll off shore such that it wasn’t actually fogging on the beach, but the fog still blocked the sun. Ever optimistic and still hoping for a good sunset, we stopped in at Beach 4 (which is between Kalaloch and Ruby Beach). No luck on the sunset, but as it was shortly after low time, there were tide pools to explore and starfish to photograph.

All in all, it was a good day, and I didn’t have to worry about forest fire smoke ruining my photographs. Given the choice of smoke or fog, I was happy to have the fog.

Foggy Beach

The view where the trail from the parking lot comes out at Ruby Beach. The whole state of Washington is sunny except within a couple hundred meters of the Pacific Ocean.

Forest above Ruby

View of the forest above Ruby Beach

Cedar Creek at Ruby Beach

Mouth of Cedar Creek at Ruby Beach

Beach Cliffs

Fog, cliffs, trees and driftwood at Ruby Beach

Low tide at Beach 4

Low tide at Beach 4 as the fog bank rolls off shore near sunset

Beach 4 Starfish

Beach 4 starfish

Incoming Tide

Incoming tide at Beach 4


Tacoma Mountaineers Photography Exhibition Now Open

Door and Window

Colorful door and window in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. I took this image last fall on my trip to New Mexico and Utah. It won 1st place in the “World of Man” category at this year’s exhibition.

The 10th Annual Tacoma Mountaineers Photography Exhibition is ongoing at the Tahoma Center Gallery here in Tacoma. The exhibition features 40 jury-selected images from eight photographers, including eight of my images. The exhibition runs through October 31st. The gallery is located at the Catholic Community Service building at 1323 S Yakima Avenue and is open Monday – Wednesday and Friday from 8:00 am to 5 pm, and until 8 pm on Thursday. The exhibition was featured today in the Tacoma News Tribune, including one of my images. You can read that story here.

This Thursday, September 27th, is our photographers reception from 6 – 7:30 pm. Come see some great photography and meet the photographers. Hope to see you there.


What Goes Down, Must Go Up

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.


Spokane, Riverfront City

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.

Lobby of the Davenport Hotel

Lobby of the Davenport Hotel, which opened in 1914.

Riverfront Park

Spokane River in Riverfront Park, looking at the former US Pavilion (from Expo 74) and the Great Northern Railway Clock Tower

Looff Carrousel

Looff Carrousel in Riverfront Park (built 1909) with downtown Spokane in background

Dancer and Dog

Hula dancer and dog at the Gaiser Conservatory, Manito Park

Bungalow with Cat

I took a lot of pictures of bungalows. This was one of my favorites because of the cat that posed for me in the driveway.

St. John the Evangelist

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist


How to Stop the Wind

Tatoosh Range and Wildflowers

Tatoosh Range and WildflowersWind is often the bane of nature photographers. We are often photographing in fairly low light conditions at sunrise or sunset, and often want a wide depth of field, so end up using small f-stops. Most of us know that using high ISOs leads to objectionable digital noise. These conditions all combine to require a slow shutter speed. So what do you do if there is a breeze moving your foreground around. Not a problem with rocks as a foreground, but what about wildflowers?

The above photo of the Tatoosh Range was taken at Paradise on the Golden Gate trail last month shortly before sunset. To get both the flowers and the mountains in acceptable focus, I took one shot with the aperture at set f/16 and the ISO at 100. This resulted in a shutter speedĀ  of 4 seconds (I also used a split neutral density filter). There was a breeze andĀ  it was impossible to get a frame without some movement in the flowers.

I then shot another image with the aperture at f/11 and the ISO set to 1250. This allowed the shutter speed to be 1/8 seconds. This was enough to stop most of the flower movement; but as you might imagine, the noise was unacceptable.

To get the above image, I processed both photos in Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. I used the low ISO image as the background layer, then added the high ISO image in a new layer and added a layer mask filled with black (making none of the high ISO image visible). Then, using a soft brush, I painted white on the mask wherever the flowers were soft due to movement from the breeze. The end result is the image above. Below are close two closeups that show the before and after effects of painting the high ISO image onto the low ISO one.

This technique to stop the wind doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can save a shot.

Low ISO

Closeup of the flowers in the low ISO image taken with a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Note the movement captured for some of the flowers.

Blended image

Closeup on the final combined image, where flower movement was covered up by painting out the movement with a image taken with a high ISO and a shutter speed of 1/8 seconds.