the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for April, 2014

Beezley Hills – A Photo Guide

Beezly HillsI’ve lived in Washington nearly my whole life, yet only heard about the Beezley Hills Preserve this year. Beezley Hills Preserve is a 4,800-acre natural area protected by the Nature Conservancy. On the hills north of Quincy, Washington, the preserve has views south over the Columbia Basin and west to the Cascade Mountains. However, the views aren’t the reason to visit – the plant life is. Beezley Hills is part of one of the largest intact tracts of shrub-steppe ecosystem in the state and one of the best wildflower spots in eastern Washington. Spring time, from late April to mid-May, is prime time to visit when most of the wildflowers are blooming. It’s during these few weeks in spring when this sagebrush desert shows its best colors.

Tanya, Nahla and I visited last Friday, April 25, and the wildflowers were not quite yet at their peak bloom. We did see arrowleaf balsamroot, Hooker’s balsamroot, phlox, sagebrush violet, trumpet bluebells, and common spring gold all in full bloom. My favorite, the hedgehog cacti, were just starting to bloom. Cactus are not that common in Washington, and Beezley has one of the largest concentrations of hedgehog cactus in the state. The lupines and bitteroots, for the most part, were not yet blooming, though we did see one white sulphur lupine just starting to flower (white sulphur lupines are the only white lupine in Washington). Beezley doesn’t get much visitation. We only saw two other people while on our hike, and they were just leaving as we arrived.

To reach Beezley Hills Preserve, make your way to Quincy (take either exit 149 or 151 off Interstate 90) and head east on Highway 28. Near the eastern edge of town, turn north on Columbia Way, which curves into Road P NW, also known as Monument Hill Road. (Note: directions I found in one guidebook and on the internet for Beezley Hills say to turn onto Road P NW off Highway 28. However, you can only turn south on Road P from Highway 28, not north.) Drive 7.1 miles and park next to the access road for a communications tower at the top of the hill. On the south side of the road, there is a gate into the Beezley Hills Preserve, marked with a small sign reading “Nature Preserve – Foot Traffic Only.” There is no sign announcing the preserve.

From the gate, the trail is along an old jeep track, which becomes fainter with distance. After a short distance, we had trouble following the trail. However, it doesn’t matter much, hikers are free to roam at will through the preserve, taking care to not step on the fragile plants. The entire preserve is fenced. Just stay inside the fenced area. You cannot get lost, the communications tower is always visible. A loop around the property makes about a 3-mile hike.

We were there on a mostly cloudy day, which helps with wildflower close-up photos. On a sunny day, you may wish to bring a reflector and/or diffuser to help cut contrast. Consider bringing a macro lens for close-up shots. Alternatively, try a wide-angle lens and get in close to the flowers to show them in their natural setting. Sweeping vista shots will likely be best near sunrise and sunset, though I did okay with the cloudy skies in mid-afternoon. While spring is the best time to visit for wildflowers, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington, also suggests visiting in autumn.

After visiting Beezley Preserve, you might also consider a visit to nearby Moses Coulee for a totally different looking landscape. There are backroad routes into both the southern and northern portions of Moses Coulee from the Beezley Hills Preserve, but perhaps the easiest route, at least to the southern end of Moses Coulee, is to drive back to Quincy, head west on Highway 28 toward Wenatchee, and turn left onto Palisades Road where Moses Coulee where it intersects the Columbia River. The northern portion of the coulee, crossed by Highway 2,  is not easily reached from Quincy on paved roads without a fairly lengthy drive.

Hedgehog Cacti

Hedgehog Cacti

Pholx and Violet

Pholx and Sagebrush Violet

Hedgehog and Phlox

Hedgehog cactus and phlox

Moses Coulee

Moses Coulee near the small town of Palisades

 

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Choices, Choices

When photography is exercised as an art form rather than an attempt to purely replicate a scene without any interpretation (which, of course is impossible, photographs cannot replicate reality – they are in 2 dimensions instead of 3, they are cropped and reality is not, etc. – this could be a whole separate blog by itself, but I digress), the photographer has a myriad of choices to make. Many choices are made when capturing the image – what lens to use, what exposure settings to use, what to leave in the frame and what to crop out, whether to use a high viewpoint or a low viewpoint, etc. And post capture, there are also a myriad of choices concerning processing – there are global adjustments for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, the white point, the black point, clarity, saturation, vibrance; cropping; distortion corrections; adding gradients or brush stroke or radial filters; etc. etc. and that is just in Lightroom; go to Photoshop and the choices explode seemingly exponentially.

For the capture side of photography, I’m a big advocate of trying out lots of different options when photographing a subject to really explore its possibilities (see this old post on the subject). Much is said about per-visualizing an image when photographing. And doing so makes a lot of sense and can make for a great image. However, don’t let that per-visualization get in the way of looking at a subject from different, non-per-visualized vantage points.

Okay, I have a confession to make here, I did not follow my own advice when capturing the images accompanying this post. I had one viewpoint in mind, went out, took the shots, and left. Call me bad. These images were taken earlier in the week at Union Station in downtown Tacoma. Union Station is no longer a train station but is now the US courthouse here in the city. Union Station is an iconic shot of Tacoma which I haven’t explored much before (so iconic in fact that I saw another photographer’s image of it hanging on a wall earlier the same evening I took this shot). And the fact that it is an iconic shot maybe why I neglected to cover it from other angles. So here’s so more unsolicited advice – when shooting icons, get the iconic shot out of the way, then try to cover it from other angles and get your own take on the subject (yes, I hear you, I should follow my own advice).

But even when you only get one shot, even the iconic shot, with your post-capture processing you can put your own spin on a subject by the choices you make. Here are four different interpretations of the same subject. Three are HDR images, processed initially in Lightroom, exported to Photomatrix, then re-imported and finished in Lightroom. The other is not an HDR image and was processed solely in Lightroom. If I decide to work on one or more of the images in the future, I may take it to Photoshop to make additional adjustments. The HDR images are made from a set of five images taken one f-stop apart.

The images represent choices for a single exposure of HDR, more realistic HDR and more “grungy” HDR, and distortion correction and cropping versus no distortion correction and cropping. No one image is correct, and no one image is wrong. None represent the reality of the scene as viewed by my eye (this scene, taken at night, is mostly lit from ugly yellow sodium-vapor street lamps for example). All are interpretations; all are artwork; all represent different choices. With these shots, I believe, at least to a small extent, I put my own spin on an icon. I think I favor the cropped, distortion-corrected version the best; but do like the other ones as well. Do you have a favorite?

Union Station - single exposure

Union Station – single exposure

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR version

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR version

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station - grungy HDR look

Union Station – grungy HDR look

 


Steamboat Rock

Steamboat RockLast week Tanya, Nahla and I decided to ditch the on-again, off-again rain of western Washington and drive to someplace dry. We chose to visit Steamboat Rock State Park in eastern Washington. In particular, we wanted to take the hike up Northrup Canyon, and I wanted to get some shots of Steamboat Rock and Banks Lake. We also made a stop at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park to take in the view of Dry Falls.

Steamboat Rock is a massive basalt monolithic butte that stands 800-feet tall in the middle of Banks Lake. Banks Lake is a 27-mile long artificial lake created as part of the Columbia River Basin Project created in the Grand Coulee, a 60-mile long, mostly dry (except for Banks Lake) desert canyon carved in the Ice Ages by the Columbia River and massive glacial floods. Near the southern end of Banks Lake stands Dry Falls. Though now dry (big surprise there), Dry Falls is the site of the greatest known waterfall ever to exist on Earth.

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

The whole area is geologically fascinating (especially for a geologist like myself). One of the better, short histories of Steamboat Rock and Grand Coulee can be found on the HistoryLink website. Even without caring about the area’s geologic history, it is a fun place to photograph – especially because it is so different from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest and indeed the world as a whole. (The area is part of the Channeled Scablands; the nearest equivalent landscape is on Mars).

Yet, being in a desert, and with the rocks being black, it can be a tough place to photograph, especially in the middle of the day. Contrast is extreme. It is typically windy, which can make it dusty as well. Morning is perhaps the best time of day to photograph, before the sun is too high in the sky. Additionally, the wind is usually calm in the morning. Late afternoon and evening also makes for good photographs.

Season wise, in the summer, it is very hot, and in the winter, quite cold. The best time of year to photograph the Steamboat Rock area is spring, especially during the fairly short wildflower blooming season. Some portions of the area can also be colorful in the fall when the cottonwoods and aspens turn color – however, there aren’t too many trees unless you know where to look.

One of those places is Northrup Canyon. Northrup Canyon is within Steamboat Rock State Park and is a fine, short spring hike. Unfortunately, when Tanya, Nahla and I took the hike last week, we were a bit early for the wildflowers and the aspens in the canyon where just starting to leaf out. So we missed some of the color that will be present later this month (mid-April through early May are probably the best times). However, I find the canyon walls fascinating, and the hike leads to an old homestead, so I had plenty to photograph.

Northrup Canyon

Aspens, Northrup Canyon

There is also a hike to the top of Steamboat Rock, which we left for another day. Not surprisingly, I’ve heard the views of are excellent on the top of the rock. Reportedly, it also has a good wildflower display in the spring. Rather than hiking to the top of Steamboat rock, I concentrated on taking some sunset photos and early morning photos of the Rock from pullouts along the highway. Because of the direction the rock is situated, the portion of the rock facing the highway is in shadow late in the day, making the best time to shot the rock in early morning unless you have a good sunset directly over it (when I was there, the sun set directly over the rock; later in the summer, it will set further north).

We could have easily spent another day or two exploring the area, but we had to drive on to Spokane to see my Dad. If you visit, there is a very nice campground at the state park and motels in the nearby towns of Electric City, Grand Coulee, and Coulee Dam. These towns are less than 10 miles from the park. Dry Falls is another 25 miles past Steamboat Rock. And, in case you couldn’t guess from the names of the nearby towns, Grand Coulee Dam – a true engineering wonder of the world – is also in the area (between the towns of Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam). Good views of the dam can be found at the visitor center and at nearby Crown Point Park.

Homestead, Northrup Canyon

Homestead, Northrup Canyon

Homestead, Northrup Canyon2

Another view of the old homestead, Northrup Canyon

Banks Lake

Banks Lake, south of Steamboat Rock

Steamboat Rock Sunset

Steamboat Rock Sunset

Banks Lake Sunrise

Sunrise at Banks Lake


A Rose by Any Other Name

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare might be right about roses, but I’m not so sure about the came can be said about photos of roses. I have the accompanying image of a rose currently in the Ocean Shores 2014 Juried Photography Show.  In preparing for the show, I printed it last week on canvas and really liked the result. However, when I turned the canvas into a gallery wrap, I stupidly ruined it, scratching off some of the ink and making white spots on the canvas. Easy enough fix – just print it again. Wrong!

First, an aside about printing. Printing photos seems like it should be easy. But, if you want to get the color right, it is not. Everything needs to be calibrated. You need a calibrated monitor so that the color you see on your monitor is the same color sent to the printer. You need a printing profile, so that the printer knows the correct way to print the color. Add in a less-than-intuitive printing menu in Photoshop and a similarly unintuitive printer setup menu and you have a recipe for printing problems. Well I have a calibrated monitor, and a profile for the canvas I was using. Plus, I am familiar with the menus, at least enough that I should know what I’m doing.

So, I printed another canvas, and it looked totally different. So, I thought, I had some setting wrong; so again, I printed another canvas. Still not the same. I found my profile for the canvas was actually for the Epson 3880 printer and I have an Epson 3800 printer. I downloaded the correct printer profile, and carefully printed one more time, making sure all the printer settings were correct. Yes, I had the correct settings, but it still looked different from the original. It was at that point I realized that I had printed the original canvas incorrectly and that I liked that incorrect version the best!

At this point, I was starting to run low on canvas. I had enough for perhaps three more attempts to re-create my printing mistake to get back to the result I liked. On the final attempt, I got it right and re-created the original canvas. It turns out, I told Photoshop to let the printer control the color management (mistake) and then told the printer to make no color adjustments (not a mistake if Photoshop controls the color management, but certainly a mistake if the printer is supposed to). Regardless, I had the version of the rose I liked.

However, when I got ready to varnish the canvas, I brushed some dust off it, and ended up with a couple of white spots! Turns out I didn’t blow the dust off the canvas before putting it in the printer and ended up printing on the dust instead of the canvas (another mistake). So, in the end, I used the one that was printed totally correct (with the correct profile and all the correct settings), made it into a gallery wrap, and submitted it to the show. Funny thing is, that if I had printed it correctly the first time, that is the same print I would have had in the beginning.

I always try to learn from my mistakes, but in this case I made so many mistakes on printing this canvas that I’m not even sure what the lesson is. Two things I did learn (or more correctly re-learned): 1) pay close attention when printing to make sure you get all the setting correct, and 2) there is always more than one interpretation of an image, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your processing (rather than leaving it up to printing mistakes to find something you like better).

Here are two versions of the image, which I’ve titled “Rose #3.” Which do you like better?

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.