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Principles of Photographic Improvisation – Say Yes

I’m currently reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin. This book is full of nuggets of photographic wisdom, and I can highly recommend it to any photographer who wants to improve their game. You will not find much in the way of technical details about how to shoot great images. Instead, duChemin discusses the photographer’s mind and it relationship to picture-making.

There are easily dozens of blog post topics I could cover based on this book, but for now I’ll discuss his four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation; the first of which is to agree or to say “yes” and not “no.” That is, say yes to the scene in front of you even if it was not what you expected or intended. You could say this is to go with the flow (which duChemin also talks about earlier in the book). Say yes to photographing what the world gives you rather than turning your back on the scene and giving up because it isn’t what you wanted. Accept what’s there and make the most of it.

Not much of the moon could be seen behind Rainier earlier this month due to clouds

A couple weeks ago, I went over to Fox Island Bridge to take a photo of Mount Rainier with the full moon rising behind it right before sunset. This situation only happens on two days each year: the day before the full moon in both June and August. Last August I tried for the same shot with only limited success. I was disappointed from that shoot, and that probably set me up to ignore the principle of saying yes. The weather was not ideal, and the view of the moon was not very good. I snapped a few shots, including the shown here, and packed up and went home disappointed. I failed to look for what else nature might be offering up. It was a few days later that I read about duChemin’s first principle.

I should have known better even before reading the book. I had a similar idea earlier this year. Back in February, I wanted to photograph the full moon setting behind the Olympic Mountains at sunrise. On the appointed day, I got up early and drove across town to Brown’s Point in Northeast Tacoma. When I got there, the Olympics, let alone the moon, were obscured by clouds. I climbed back in the car and headed toward home, thinking that perhaps I still might get some decent sunrise shots from the Cliff House parking lot. Sure enough, Mount Rainier was visible and the rising sun painted it and the low hanging clouds, as shown on the featured shot above and the other images below. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I said yes to what was given, which wasn’t bad at all.


Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park

Last week, as part of the gradual easing of its stay-at-home order, Washington State opened up the majority of state parks for day-use only. Knowing that I was going into photography withdrawal, Tanya suggested we head out on a photo day. Even though the parks were open, it was suggested people stay local. Well, local is a relative term, and being a Westerner, I don’t mind driving several miles – in this case 200 miles one way. Is that local? It was still in the State of Washington and we didn’t need to stay overnight – that’s local to me.

So last Saturday we packed up a picnic and the camera gear and headed off to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park. Why there? One, it has the raw beauty of the channeled scablands. But perhaps more importantly, I thought there wouldn’t be as many people there as in closer state parks. The weather was sunny and warm, and there was bound to be more than a few people out enjoying the state parks on this first weekend since the pandemic started that they were open. And while there were a fair number of people at the park, the park’s parking lots was not crowded – unlike the several hiking trailheads we passed on the way over the mountains that were overflowing with cars. In fact, the parking for the trail we took in Sun Lakes State Park only had one other car (out of four parking spots – so with us, it was half full; is that crowded?).

Drone shot of Alkali Lake

Sun Lakes State Park is located in the Grand Coulee. The park itself contains at least four lakes, and there are a number of other lakes further down the coulee. That gave this trip the added bonus of having a place to stop before reaching the park for me to fly my drone (drones are not allowed in Washington State Parks without a permit) while Tanya took Benson, our 8-month old, 102-pound Newfoundland, on his first swim. We picked a spot along Alkali Lake, and while Tanya and Benson frolicked in the water, I checked out Alkali Lake and Lake Lenore from the air.

Then it was on to Sun Lakes. The state park has a developed camping (closed) and day-use area on Park Lake with nice green grass and large shade trees. Instead of stopping there, we took the road to Deep Lake, which is developed with a small picnic area with natural vegetation and a boat launch. There were about 10 cars there and several dozen people swimming or fishing in the lake. So instead of taking the lakeside trail, we decided to take the Caribou Trail with climbs the hillside above the lake (not sure why it is named the Caribou Trail, caribou are definitely not native to this desert terrain).

Though I’ve been to Sun Lakes perhaps a dozen times before, I had never been to Deep Lake or on the Caribou Trail, so this was new territory to me. I knew the trail climbed above up toward the top of the coulee, but I didn’t know if it had a view of Deep Lake from up there. It is a relatively short trail, and the official trail ends when reaching the top of the cliffs. No view from there. So we kept walking on a faint unofficial trail, and then, eventually, set off cross country to find a view. And sure enough, we found a view of Deep Lake far below. We sat on the rocks, pulled out our water bottles, and drank in both water and scenery.

After shooting for 15 or 20 minutes, we headed back down the car. We don’t quite have our car setup organized well with the new dog yet. Trying to fit the dog and all the camera gear in the car along with food and drink (which must be separated from the dog) is a challenge. I decided to pack the camera backpack in a different spot after the hike, to be loaded after the dog got in. Unfortunately, after loading the dog, I forgot about the bag and started to back out onto the road only to run over something. You guessed it, my camera backpack!

Luckily, my camera was not in the pack, and a quick check didn’t show anything broken. We drove back to Deep Lake for our picnic dinner. There were a few less people, and we got a picnic table isolated from others. While eating, I checked out the gear in more detail. All the lens seemed to be working okay. However, there are cracks on a portion of the barrel of the Tamron 150-600 mm zoom. Also, the split neutral-density filter is history. Hopefully the lens can be repaired (currently the Tamron repair shop, which is in New York, is closed due to the pandemic).

After dinner, we drove over to Dry Falls Lake, which, not surprisingly, is located at the base of Dry Falls. It was an hour or so before sunset and the light on the cliffs of Dry Falls was particularly nice. The featured shot above is a 4-shot panorama of Dry Falls and Dry Falls Lake.

If you plan on making the trip out to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park, be forewarned that the road to Dry Falls Lake is extremely rough. We did okay in our SUV, and I do think most regular passenger cars would make it, but some cars without much ground clearance could have difficulties. The road to Deep Lake is paved.

We left before sunset so we could get home before 11 pm. All in all, even with the the misadventure with my camera backpack, it was a good day. As always, I welcome your comments.

The view of Deep Lake from near the end of the Caribou Trail.

Telephoto shot of some of the cliffs along Deep Lake.

This is the west end of Deep Lake. The picnic area is in the cottonwood trees next to the boat launch.

Some of the cliffs near Dry Falls Lake.

Wide-angle shot of Dry Falls and Dry Falls Lake

 


Plan a Photo Trip with Photohound

Tired of having nothing to do while being cooped up during the pandemic? Try exploring the world and planning your next photo trip with PhotoHound. PhotoHound is dedicated to responsibly sharing the best places in the world to shoot travel photography. It was set up by three photographers, Luka Esenko in Slovenia, Jules Renahan in London, and Mathew Browne in Wales. PhotoHound is an outgrowth of the former Snapp Guides, which was started by Luka and Jules. As some you might remember, I did a Puget Sound area guide for Snapp Guides and had one in the works for the Palouse as well. Before I could publish the Palouse guide, Snapp Guides started its conversion to PhotoHound, so I’ve been working with PhotoHound from its very beginning. My Puget Sound and Palouse guides are now available on PhotoHound.

Currently there are 52 guides available on PhotoHound from regions around the world such as the Peak District in England, Singapore, Venice, Patagonia, the Everest region of Nepal, Dubai, and Coastal Montenegro. Each guide is a curated list of photo spots, highlighting the best of each region. Photo spots are individual locations featuring what and how to shoot.

Besides the guides, there are many other photo spots on PhotoHound that are not in guides. In fact, PhotoHound offers over 4,200 photo-worthy spots around the world in 109 countries and territories with more than 14,000 sample images. More spots and images are being added daily.  Each spot gives exact locations and GPS coordinates, descriptions of what to shoot, sample images, suggestions for gear, current weather conditions, current sunrise and sunset times, and more.

While PhotoHound is currently only available for use on a PC or laptop, a smartphone app is slated to be available in a few months. The PhotoHound site is currently in beta testing, and all content is free to users. Eventually, the it will offer both free and paid premium memberships.

PhotoHound is looking for photographers to share their spots and images with the community. Everyone is invited to add new spots – add enough spots and you can become a PhotoHound Pro. Adding new spots easy. Once a spot is added, the PhotoHound team will review and verify the spot before it goes live. You can also add your images to spots that are currently on the site.

Staying at home because of the pandemic, I’ve been spending some time by going through my archives and adding new spots. In the past several weeks, I’ve added several spots in Monument Valley, such as the Totem Pole (the featured image above), as well as:

a couple spots for the Cirque of Towers in Wyoming;

several spots in Utah, such as the Great Gallery

the Arkadi Monastery in Crete;

the Cutty Sark in London;

and more. In total, to date, I’ve contributed 222 spots to PhotoHound. Most are from my Puget Sound and Palouse guides, but I’ve also added spots in Montreal, London, Norway, Spain, Iceland, and a Greece.

So if you are looking for something to do, check out PhotoHound and plan a trip, share your spots and photography, of just see some great images from around the world.


Rivers meet Sea

Now with a stay-at-home order effective for Washington State, I probably won’t be doing much photography away from home for a while. As I mentioned in my last post, Tanya, I and the dog took a hike last weekend. The hike was on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula, which has several rivers running off of the mountains and into Hood Canal. For those of you who don’t know Washington State geography, Hood Canal is a long thin extension of Puget Sound, essentially a fjord. Our trip home from the trailhead took us only the shore of Hood Canal for many miles, thus giving me the opportunity to stop and photograph were river meets sea with my drone.

I made two drone flights, one over the mouth of the Duckabush River and one over the mouth of the Hamma Hamma River (shot above is from the Hamma Hamma). I’m still learning how best to operate the drone and how to best shoot still photography and video with it (still using auto mode, which never do with my Canon 6D and almost never even do with my cellphone). But I think I got some interesting shots.

I was intrigued by the color changes in the water where distributary channels from the rivers had cut into the delta sediments (my geologist side is showing here, distributaries are the opposite of tributaries; they are streams that branch off and away from the main river channel; they typically form where a river discharges into a larger body of water). I mostly shot from an altitude of about 250 to 350 feet. In hindsight, I should have investigated shooting lower. For example, some oblong shapes I though were driftwood, when zooming in on my images, appear to be seals or sea lions.

I would also like to go back to these spots and shoot again later in the year. Most of the vegetation on the deltas had not yet greened up for spring. It will be interesting to compare shots taken in summer with these taken in mid-March. But that will obviously have to wait.

Hope you enjoy the images. Stay safe and healthy out there!

Small channels on the Duckabush delta

Small island on the Duckabush delta, note the seals congregating on the lower end

Curving distributary channel of the Duckabush, small white streaks on the upper mid-left are birds landing in the water

Colors on the Hamma Hamma delta

Channels of the Hamma Hamma

More from the Hamma Hamma delta


Murhut Falls

With a shelter-in-place order coming sooner rather than later, over the weekend, Tanya and I decided to get Benson out for his first hike before it was too late. Still a puppy, Benson sorely needs more and varied experiences, such as hiking. We decided a a short, easy hike to a Murhut Falls.

This hike is only 1.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 250 feet. Being in the Olympic National Forest, it is open for dogs as well (unlike in most national parks). The weather was great, and we were not the only ones with the idea to get outside while possible. We saw many families with small kids, as well as many other dogs on the trail. Luckily, the trail is fairly wide, and it was easy to step off to the side to maintain social distancing in this time of the Covid-19. In fact, out on the trail, you would have been hard press to know there was a pandemic going on (not so earlier in the morning when we went grocery shopping for Tanya’s mom so she could stay sheltered at home – the mood in the store was very somber, with bare shelves in several places, and several shoppers wearing masks and gloves).

The waterfall itself is very photogenic, with two drops falling a total of 153 feet. The falls face north, such that even though we were there at mid-day, the entire falls and surrounding forest were in the shade, perfect for waterfall photography. If you make this hike, you will definitely want to take a wide-angle lens. From the viewpoint, you need at least a 24mm lens to get the whole falls in. With a bit of scrambling, you can also get to the bottom of the falls, where again a wide-angle lens is needed.

So how did Benson do on his first hike? It seems he totally forgot what heel meant. He’s pretty good at it when walking around the neighborhood, but on the trail, he was choking himself most of the time trying to be the one to lead his “pack.” I do hope we can get him trained to heel better soon, at 6 months old he weighs in at almost 95 pounds! He’s getting difficult to hold back when he decides that heeling doesn’t mean anything!

The featured shot above is a two-shot vertical panorama from the viewpoint at the end of the trail. The shots below were taken near the base of the falls (except for the three of us at the bench at the viewpoint).


Photography in the Land of Covid-19

As you may know, the Seattle area is a hot spot for Covid-19 in the United States, though it is spreading fast elsewhere as well. Two days ago, our State’s Governor announced a moratorium on gatherings of more than 250 people the three counties forming the Seattle metropolitan area. Major League Baseball is postponing the start of the season – it’s just as well, the Mariners had already announced they were moving the home opener (which I attend every year) out of town. I got a call from the theater about a cancelled show Tanya and I have tickets to later this month.

On Tuesday, Tanya and I went up to Seattle to visit our daughter, Janelle, and her partner, Matt. We ate at a restaurant we have been to several times before. It has always been packed, and reservations are usually necessary, even on Tuesday nights. We walked in at 7 pm and besides two people at  the bar, we were the only customers in the place. That’s one of the “nice” things about this virus outbreak, it’s easy to find a table at a restaurant, at least until the restaurant’s close due to lack of business. Another bonus was the lack of traffic on the freeway.

In addition to the moratorium on crowds, the health department recommends keeping a separation of at least 4 to 6 feet from other people. Public life around here is pretty much at a standstill.

What is one to do? How about going out and shooting some photography? Luckily, photography is one activity that is easy to do while keeping that separation from other people. Besides, if you like to shoot the type of photography I do, crowds are a pain and something to avoid. So if Covid-19 has got you down, take your camera out and do some photography!

That’s exactly what I did a few days ago when I headed over to Dune Park.The official name for the park is Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park. I guess we could call it DPPDP, but it is easier to call it Dune Park.

It is the newest park in Tacoma, opening last July. As its official name suggests, the park is located on a small peninsula. The peninsula is not a natural feature, but instead consists of a pile of slag from the old Asarco smelter that formerly existed near the park location. Apparently, they dumped the slag in Puget Sound to create a boat basin for the Tacoma Yacht Club, which also occupies a portion of the peninsula – the park on the outside of the peninsula facing Puget Sound and the yacht club on the inside, facing the boat basin. The park is a remediated portion of the Asarco superfund site. By the way, the park is named after Frank Herbert’s novel Dune; pretty cool in my opinion. Herbert was a Tacoma native. The shoreline trail through the park is named the Frank Herbert Trail.

I’ve made several trips to Dune Park over the past several months to shoot the view of Mount Rainer.The view of Rainier from the park is magnificent, perhaps the best in the City of Tacoma. With a telephoto lens, the Mountain towers over the city and Commencement Bay. But it also looks great with a wider view incorporating the curving shoreline. The view is good for sunset year round and for sunrise portions of the year – at least when the Mountain is out. The blue hour can also provide excellent images.

My trip to the park Monday evening was my third trip trying to capture a decent sunset. The alpenglow on the mountain has been good two of the three times I’ve gone, but I’ve yet to get some good sunset clouds. Monday there was a little cloud cap on the top of the mountain, but it was so small it is almost not visible in the images. Still better than nothing and no need to get within 6 feet of anyone else! The featured shot above is from Monday, as is the wider-angle shot below. The final shot is from December, in the blue hour after sunset.

The park is less than 2 miles from my house, so I’ll keep trying for the great sunset. In the meantime, enjoy these shots, wash your hands frequently, and stay healthy!

 


Drone 101

It’s been way too long since I posted. The winter has been busy with editing my 2019 photos as well as lots of other chores. But with some nice weather this President’s Day holiday, I was able to get out for the first flight of my new drone (other than just playing around in the yard). The drone is a Mavic Mini, which Tanya gave me for Christmas. It has a 12 megapixel camera, that only shoots jpg, but it seems to do a decent job based on the photos I took today.

I didn’t head very far for this flight. I went to Mason Gulch, about 5 blocks or so from my house. Mason Gulch is a steep ravine cut into the hillside populated with lots of deciduous trees, which are still barren of leaves. It’s a little bit of wilderness here in Tacoma.

So here are a few sample shots. What do you think?


Stave Churches of Norway

I’m not sure where November went, but it did leave without any posts on my blog. That lack of posts needs to change, so here is one more about Norway. Both Tanya and I enjoy visiting historic sites when traveling, and churches are often on our list of historic places to visit. In Norway, that means visiting stave churches. In the 12th and 13th centuries, while most of Europe was building stone churches, northern Europe, Norway in particular, was building stave churches. These wooden churches are named after the building style that uses thick wooden corner posts, or staves.  Their architectural style combines early Christianity with Viking and Nordic designs, and they were traditionally built without nails. Norway once had upwards of 2,000 stave churches. Today only 28 remain. Outside of Norway, there are less than a handful.

Many of Norway’s stave churches look like something out of Lord of the Rings. They are tall and dark (many being almost black), with multiple roofs, decorated with crosses and stylistic dragons. Inside there are no lights and few windows. Traditionally, only small windows were placed high up in the eaves.

While unusual and stunning visually, because they are so dark, both inside and out, they are a challenge to photograph. They are protected from the elements by tar. If the last tar application was recent, the church will be black fading to a dark brown with time. These dark exteriors can lead to bad contrast problems photographing the churches, particularly when including the sky in a composition. I found that for compositions without any sky, I could get away with a single exposure, but if I included the sky in my frame, I usually needed to use HDR to include details in both the church and the sky.

Of the four stave churches we visited, none allowed tripods or flash indoors (and I imagine that is true for all historic stave churches in Norway). The only recourse is to use high ISO settings. I found myself typically using settings of 6,400 or 12,800 while shooting at shutter speeds of 15th to 30th of a second using wide-open apertures.

Brief descriptions of the four stave churches we visited are below. The links lead to my Photohound entries for the churches, which give more details on how and what to shoot as well as directions and GPS coordinates.

Borgund Stave Church

The first stave church we visited was the Borgund Stave Church. It is one of the best preserved stave churches in the country, though the inside is less decorated than many of the others. It was built around 1180 and has wonderful carved portals with crosses and dragon heads decorating the many roof lines. Near the church is a sizable museum dedicated to stave churches. The graveyard around the church is still used for burials today.

A 2-shot pano of the Borgund Stave Church

An HDR, 2-shot vertical pano shot of the Borgund Stave Church

Carved portal into the Borgund Stave Church

Posts and cross beams in the Borgund Stave Church

The altar in the Borgund Stave Church

Urnes Stave Church

We visited our second stave church later on the same day as the Borgund church. The Urnes Stave Church (the featured image at the beginning of this post) is the oldest stave church in Norway, dating back to before 1130. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perched on a hillside overlooking a fjord and mountains, the setting for the Urnes church is stunning. Also, the inside is much more decorated than the Borgund Stave Church. We were the only visitors at the time of our visit, and the docent from the (very) small museum gave us a 20-minute talk about the church, its construction, and history while inside the church. The church is more isolated than the Borgund church, reachable only by a small ferry (perhaps a 10-car ferry) or via a long drive down a country road along the fjord which dead-ends a few kilometers past Urnes. The road was closed when we visited due to mudslides from the torrential rains we experienced that day (coming from the last vestiges of Hurricane Dorian).

View of the the Urnes Stave Church on the path to the entrance

Close-up of the altar in the Urnes Stave Church

Wooden post detail, Urnes Stave Church

Crucifix, cross beams, and posts in the Urnes Stave Church

Altar area, Urnes Stave Church

Lom Stave Church

Two days later we visited a third stave church, this one Fossbergom. The Lom Stave Church is one the largest stave churches still standing in Norway. The oldest part of the church dates back to 1160, but the church was remodeled and enlarged in the 1600’s, when the walls were extended to create a cross shape. Most of the decorations on the inside of the church date from the 1600 and 1700s. There are several carved panels, as well as the carved canopy above the pulpit,  within the church. These decorations from the 17th and 18th centuries give the interior a baroque feel.

HDR image of the Lom Stave Church

Roof details of the Lom Stave Church showing stylistic dragon heads

Carved portal on the Lom Stave Church

The ceiling above the altar in the Lom Stave Church (you are not allowed in the altar area; this image was shot from several feet in front of the altar and distortion corrected in Lightroom)

A 2-shot vertical panorama of the interior of the Lom Stave Church

Hopperstad Stave Church

On our final day in Norway, we made a quick stop at the Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik. The church was originally built around 1130, but much of it has been replaced over time. Eventually the the church fell into disrepair, and in the 1880s, the architect Peter Blix restored it. For the restoration, Blix used  in styles from other stave churches, mostly the Borgund church, as patterns. Like most stave churches, the interior of the Hopperstad Stave Church is extremely dark. However, it is richly decorated; particularly  the baldachin, which forms a ceremonially canopy over a side altar.

HDR image of the Hopperstad Stave Church

Another shot of the Hopperstad Stave Church (no HDR this time)

The baldachin inside the Hopperstad Stave Church

Caving detail on the baldachin

Details of the Baldachin ceiling

 


Waterfalls, Waterfalls

If you are a waterfall hunter, the fjord region of Norway is quite literally a smorgasbord for cascading delights. Where ever we drove, waterfalls were to be found. Waterfalls of every description (big and wide, skinny and tall, tall and wide, graceful, forceful, wistful) abound, cascading over the mountain sides. Waterfalls that, had they been in the United States would be the focus of a state or national park, were only causally mentioned on maps in Norway.

As I enjoy photographing waterfalls, so I was in waterfall heaven. And waterfalls, unlike many landscape subjects, often look best under gloomy skies, which is what we had for much of the trip. Normally, the best time of year for waterfall hunting in Norway would be in mid-summer, as the snowpack melts and fills the riverbeds, not mid-September when we went. Yet as luck would have it, the remains of two tropical storms went through Norway when we were there, causing heavy rain and cascading waters everywhere ( I guess all that rain was one of those if life gives you lemons, make lemonade type things).

The featured image above is of the famous Seven Sisters, also know as Die Sju Systre and Knivsflåfossen. Below are more of the many waterfalls I photographed during our two weeks in Norway. You can find directions and photo hints for most of these on Photohound – a internet photographic guide site I’m partnering with. If you are interested in these waterfalls and more, also check out the European waterfall website, which catalogs waterfalls throughout Norway and the rest of Europe.

By the way, Photohound is beta-testing its website right now and is looking for photographers to help out. Check their site out, it really is outstanding.

Steinsdalsfossen

Latefossen

The Suitor (accross from the Seven Sisters), also called Friaren or Skågeflafossen

Unnamed waterfall on the river Gaula

Hellesyltfossen

Rjoandefossen also known as Roandefossen

Kjosfossen

Tvindefossen

Vøringsfossen and Tyssvikjofossen


Tacoma Studio Tour this Weekend

Once again I’m in the Tacoma Open Studio Tour. The tour will be this Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. The tour invites you inside the working studios of 96 local artists to learn about the artistic process, ask questions, and purchase one-of-a-kind creations. All studios will feature demonstrations or will have hands-on activities for visitors. I will be offering visitors a chance to make a photographic masterpiece using scanography – photography with a flat-bed scanner. I will also have more than 50 prints on display, including the five featured on the this post, many new images from this year, and some of my “classic” images.

Please come by if you have the chance! You can get more information about the tour at the studio tour website. Or you can check out this map with all the studio locations to plan your tour (I’m studio #51).

Palouse Dusk

Into the Blizzard

Winter, Palouse Falls


Sognefjellet

Norway has 18 national scenic highway routes; and Tanya and I drove several of these as we traveled around the western Norway. I previously posted images from one such route, Hardangervidda. On one of our longer travel days during our trip, I planned a route along three national scenic highways. The first of the day was Sognefjellet. The National Scenic Route Sognefjellet runs 108 kilometers, from Gaupne on Lustrafjorden (a branch of the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord) up and over the mountains, past Galdhøpiggen (the tallest mountain in northern Europe), and down to the town of Lom.

This is truly a magnificent and scenic road. And we luckily were able to drive it on a mostly sunny morning. We drove from west to east, starting at sea level along the fjord and climbing through a series of hairpin curves up into the mountains above the treeline. The fjord was like a mirror and the mountains were covered with fresh snow – totally incredible. There were almost no cars on the road, which was a good thing considering how slick the road was in the shady sections while coming down off the pass (driving as slow as possible to keep on the road in our rental car with non-winter tires). Our journey over Sognefjellet ended in Lom, with its famous stave church. By the time we reached Lom, the fine sunny morning had given way to a cloudy mid-day.

After visiting the church, we took a different highway and drove back over the mountains to Geiranger, planning to take a detour along our second national scenic road of the day. However, the road was closed due to snow. So we drove straight to Geiranger, traveling on the third national scenic route. But by now, the fine sunny morning had turned to a snowy afternoon with near whiteout conditions, so there wasn’t much scenery to see. As it turned out, that road was closed due to snow not more than an hour after we drove it.

So my day  photographing along three scenic roads was disrupted by weather. But even so, that first road, Sognefjellet, made the day one I won’t easily forget.

Fjord Mirror

Lustrafjorden at the town of Skjolden

View as we climbed in the mountains above the treeline

Another shot from the same spot as the photo above

Mountain Lakes

High in the mountains near the top of the pass

At the Mefjellet rest area, at the top of the pass, 1,434 meters above sea level, has this unusual sculpture by Knut Wold

A mountain lake on the far side of the pass.

One view from the Vegaskjelet viewpoint partway down the pass

The Lom Stave Church

 


Austdalbreen

Tanya and I have left Norway and are now spending several days in London before heading home. However, I still want to put out a few more posts about Norway. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Austdalbreen, a tongue of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier. Jostedalbreen is the largest glacier in mainland Europe. There are several places to visit the glacier, but one of the best is at Austdalbreen.

Most the glacial hiking tour companies had closed for the season, but we found Icetroll was still open, so we booked a glacial hike on Austdalbreen. To reach Autdalbreen, you need to cross a glacial lake in front of the glacier, Icetroll offers trips crossing the lake by kayak and by Zodiac. We choose the zodiac approach. This worked very well as the weather was good in the morning, but deteriorated later in the day. In fact, the weather in morning and early to mid-afteroon was about perfect. The rainstorms from the day before brought fresh snow to the mountains and glacier, and partly sunny skies provided beautiful light on the glacier as we approached on the lake and later on our hike. However, by the end of our hike, about the time those touring by kayak arrived, the weather turned and it started snowing again.

On the trip across the lake, as we approached the glacier, the guide took us by several small icebergs, and stopped so that each of us could stand on an iceberg (there where four others in our group besides Tanya and I). Then we tied up to shore and hike a short distance to some gear boxes, where we roped up and put on crampons. From there, our guide took us up onto the glacier. We hiked on the glacier for about an hour and a half, stopping for photos and for some hot chocolate. The view was magnificent. As we left the glacier, we stopped at a spot where we could get down underneath the ice (see my Instagram post of glacial ice). Then it was a zodiac trip back across the lake in falling snow to return to the van and a trip down the mountain.

The featured image, above, is a 3-shot panorama I took while up on the glacier. Below are several other images from the trip.

Scene from where we parked our car to take the tour van up to the glacial lake

Small iceberg in the lake in front of the glacier

Another iceberg shot

The face of Austdalbreen at the lake

Scene I captured in the valley below the glacier after our hike.

 


Hardangervidda

Our trip has been challenged by wild weather, including the remnants of Tropical Storm Gabriella and Hurricane Dorian. The day we drove up to the Hardangervidda Plateau was no exception. We spent the night in Eidfjord (at sea level) and awoke to overcast skies. At least the constant rain from the night before was over. It rained on and off throughout the morning as we toured a couple local sights before heading up toward the Hardangervidda Plateau. When we reached Voringsfossen (about 700 meters above sea level), the weather started to break.

Voringfossen is an amazing set of waterfalls; reportedly the best known waterfall in Norway. The falls are about halfway up to the mountain plateau. Here water tumbles over 180 meters from several sides down into a narrow canyon. The view is amazing. The photo above does not do the scdne justice (even with capturing a bit of rainbow).

Leaving Voringfossen the road continues to up to the Hardangervidda (at an average elevation of 1,100 meters above sea level). This broad mountain plateau is above the tree line and is a land of high tundra hills and studded with lakes of all sizes. It is the highest plateau in Europe and home to a large wild reindeer herd (which we did not see). The drive across the plateau and back was spectacular, with the landscape changing with the changing weather conditions of overcast, light rain, snow storms, and sun breaks. I could have spent the whole day there with my camera, but the near freezing temperature and strong wind (plus a need to get to our hotel in Flam, several hours away) had us only staying on the plateau for a few hours. Here are few shots from Hardangervidda; enjoy!

Small lake on the Hardangervidda

Wild Skies

Another lake on the Hardangervidda

Typical scene on the Hardangervidda

Old stone bridge on the Hardangervidda


Bryggen in Bergen

Bryggen

BryggenTwo weeks ago, Tanya’s mother fell down in our house while trying to keep the cat from running an open door. She broke her kneecap. So, instead of going home, she is staying with us until she heals enough to walk. Well not quite. She is staying at our house, Tanya and I are in Norway (and my brother and sister-in-law are taking care of our Tanya’s mom at our house). A broken knee wouldn’t keep us from our planned trip!

After a brief stop in London, we flew into Bergen earlier this week. This is a wonderful little city! One of the highlights of the city is Bryggen, the old wharf district of the city. The city of Bergen, during the Middle Ages, was the capital of Norway and an major seaport. It was a member of the Hanseatic League – a trading league of mostly German city states that in the 14th century was northern Europe’s most powerful economic entity. And at the City’s center was Bryggen. What remains of Bryggen is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Bryggen was destroyed by fire at least seven time. A fire in 1702 destroyed all Bryggen’s medieval buildings, which were replaced by wooden warehouses. More recently, a significant fire in 1955 burned down one third of the district, while many other buildings were replaced by more “modern” brick-and-stone structures. Following the 1955 fire, there were calls to tear the rest of the area down, as it was run-down and in disrepair. However, an archaeological dig following the fire revealed Bryggen’s rich history and a foundation was formed to protect and restore the district. Today, one of the biggest challenges to preserving the historic area is that Bryggen is slowing sinking, as evidenced by the fact that many of the historic buildings are leaning.

Bryggen contains about 60 buildings dating back to the 1700’s. The most photographed views are of the gabled buildings along the water, but it is also interesting to explore the wooden alleyways between and behind the main buildings. At the northeastern corner of Bryggen is Mariakirken (St Mary’s Church), which dates back to the 12th century. At the northern end is Rosenkrantzarnet (Rosenkrantz Tower), which was covered by scaffolding at the time of my visit, Bergenhus Festning (Bergen Fortress), and the Hakonshallen, a reconstruction of a Gothic ceremonial hall built for King of Norway in the 13th century.

Photographing in Bryggen is fun. However, it is very popular with the tourists, so I suggest visiting during off peak times. In addition to photographing in and around Bryggen, be sure to shoot it from across the harbor. In addition to being a great viewpoint, the distance helps minimize the impact of tourists milling about in your composition.

Unicorn

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Mariakirken

Mariakirken

Bryggen Night

Bryggen at night shot from across the harbor

Leaning

One of the leaning warehouses

Reindeer

Close up on golden reindeer on the warehouse above

Gravestone

Gravestone in Mariakirken church yard


Rainier Moon

It has been a while since I posted. I wish I could tell you that it is because I’ve been so busy going out doing photography, but that is not the case. House projects seem to be taking up my whole summer. But I did get out last Tuesday night with some friends to photograph the full moon rising over Mount Rainier. After seeing on the Photographer’s Ephemeris that the full moon would rise behind Rainier as seen from the Fox Island Bridge, I’d planned this shot for a month. As the day progressed, I occasionally checked the weather, and it looked good. That is, until close to sunset, when high clouds started coming in. And unfortunately, just as the sun was setting and the moon rising, there were high clouds immediately above the mountain.  The moon was obscured almost as soon as it rose.

The photo above is about as good as it got, and this image took some Photoshop work to bring out the top of the moon. Not bad, but not what I had imagined I would get. No matter how long you plan, Mother Nature’s plans sometimes trumps yours.


Undiscovered Palouse

Last month I made my 6th trip to the Palouse in the past 12 months. Over the five trips, I had photographed at over 100 spots in the region. I had visited perhaps another dozen or so that I’d been to and but didn’t photograph because the light was bad. And finally, there were another 10 spots I knew of but hadn’t scouted yet.

On my sixth trip, my goal was to make images at some of these spots that I knew of, but hadn’t done so previously. With that goal, I made the almost sacrilegious decision not to photograph from Steptoe Butte. In fact, even though it was the prime photograph season in the Palouse, I only saw five other photographers over the three days I was there (one group of four and another solo photographer).

I also decided to do some random driving around, looking for roads I hadn’t driven before, to see what I could find. One of the pleasures of the Palouse, if you have the time, is to just drive without a plan and see what you can find. Having literally spent 100s of hours in the Palouse, I wondered if I could still find anything new.

I wasn’t disappointed; and I came back with some decent images of places I hadn’t been to before. These may be familiar to others, but they were new to me. All the images featured in this post are of places I hadn’t previously known of. I did most of my “random” driving in the late morning or early afternoon before or after going to spots where I wanted golden hour (or near golden hour) light. (The driving wasn’t actually totally random; I picked areas where I knew I hadn’t been to before). Therefore, most of these images were taken in late morning or early to mid-afternoon.  Even so, I’m happy with what I captured.

Barn, windmill, horses – classic Palouse along Conrad Road. The featured photo above was also shot on Conrad Road.
I also found this grain elevator along Conrad Road.
On Steiger Road, I found a farm with a sizable old tractor collection
Another shot from the tractor collection
This big white barn is along Elberton Road. Actually I had driven by this barn once before (in winter) and didn’t stop. So I guess it wasn’t totally undiscovered.
Another old grain elevator, this one near Hangman Creek Road in Idaho
Panorama I shot along B Howard Road. Note the lone tree and windmill in the middle distance.
Close up of the windmill along B Howard Road
The lone pine tree along B Howard Road
A lone tree and tri-colored green fields along Pat O’Neil Road

Quick Shot – Palouse Moon

I recently returned from spending a few more days in the Palouse. June is prime season for photography in the Palouse, with green hills everywhere. My goal was to get a few shots I’ve missed in my trips last year. In that regard, I did not go to Steptoe Butte, but rather hit the few spots on my list that I missed last year and did some exploring on roads I had not previously driven.

For now, I wanted to offer up one quick shot from the trip. I shot this last Sunday evening just after sunset with the soon to be full moon rising over the hills. I’m not sure I like the sunset lit clouds on the edge of the image, but I can’t really complain being able to witness and capture such a scene. I’ll post some more from the trip in the next week or so.


Dosewallips, a Photography Guide

I finally had a chance to go out and do some photography recently. Together with my good friend and talented photographer, Mark Cole, I spent a Saturday hiking and shooting along the Dosewallips River in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park. The weather was nearly perfect for photography in a forest – bright overcast without too many sun breaks.

The trail along the Dosewallips River is actually an old road. The road was built to the Dosewallips Campground and Ranger Station in Olympic National Park, but a washout 5.5 miles from the campground permanently closed the road to vehicles. More recently a new washout closed another mile of road, so now the hike to the campground is about 6.5 miles one way. For most of the route along the road, the trail is wide, smooth, and gentle, making it ideal for looking round for images while walking.

The first mile to the older washout is almost completely flat and straight, running by large evergreens and moss-covered maple trees. You can hear the river nearby, but it is not visible. The first view of the river is at the washout. Here  hikers can scamper along the river edge to get back to the road if the water is low enough (as it was last weekend) or you can take the  short up and down trail around the washout. Through the next section of trail, the river is nearer, and shots of the incredibly blue (and white) water can be captured in places through the trees.

At about 2.6 miles from the trailhead, another old road heads cuts off toward the river. A short distance down this road is a concrete bridge across the river, where you can capture a view of the river up the valley. I remember driving into this bridge and photographing there a number of years ago before the washouts when the road was still open to cars. It had to be prior to 2005, because I was still using a film camera at the time.

Trail in the Elkhorn Campground

After photographing from the bridge, we walked back to the main trail/road. A short distance further brought us to the old US Forest Service Elkhorn  Campground. We walked in and around the old campground loop, shooting various forest scenes. The forest is more open in the old campgrounds (both Elkhorn and the Dosewallips campgrounds), providing better opportunities for forest photography than elsewhere where the forest is more dense. The campground makes a good place for lunch, as there are abundant picnic tables about.

Past the Elkhorn campground the road winds its way uphill and away from the river. Eventually, the road enters an area burned by the 2009 Constance Fire. Here there are views of the forested ridges beyond the Dosewallips canyon among blacken trees. At about 4.9 miles from the trailhead, the road crosses into Olympic National Park, marked  by an open orange gate. From the Elkhorn campground to the park boundary, being away from the river, we found few subject to photograph save wildflowers.

A short distance past the park entrance, a bridge crosses the roaring and tumbling Constance Creek. Unfortunately, downed logs from the fire have chocked the creek making it less appealing photographically. Just past the creek is the very steep side trail to climbs up to Constance Lake. We left that for another day and continued up the road.

Soon we re-entered unburnt forest and could hear the roar of Dosewallips Falls. I was looking forward to seeing Dosewallips Falls. Before our hike, I checked it out on the Northwest Waterfall Survey, but there was very little information and no photographs, which is unusual for large waterfall near a road (or in this case, former road). The falls didn’t disappoint. The river drops over a steep cascade of car (and bigger) sized boulders, with a total drop of more than 100 feet. There was one viewpoint through the trees as you approach the falls (where you can capture about 2/3s of the drop), before the trail/road climbs the canyon wall along the side of the falls, leading to great views of the cascade at the top.

After wandering away from the river again, the trail/road finally reaches the Dosewallips Campground at about 6.5 miles from the trailhead. The campground is a broad, flat, grassy area under spreading moss-covered maple trees and occasional cedar and other evergreens. The riverbank is adjacent to the campground, and the rushing waters of the Dosewallips take on a wonderful cerulean tint under the overhanging trees. When photographing the river, be sure to use a polarizer to remove glare and make the blue colored water pop.

The ranger station is in a state of disrepair, with the roof and wooden deck damaged by a falling tree. A sign on the door states that “everything of value has been stolen already” and warns people not to break in because the building is mice infested and intruders risk getting hantavirus. In addition to the ranger station, I found some of the old, moss-covered and broken picnic tables in the campground made interesting photogrpahic subjects.

I easily could have spent all day photographing in the campground, but after about an hour, we decided to head on back as it was already late afternoon. The trip deserved more time, and perhaps I’ll go back someday to backpack in to the old campgrounds for a weekend.

Hike details: round trip length, 13 miles; elevation gain, 1,200 feet; parking at end of road requires a Northwest Forest Pass

Dosewallips River at the old washout, 1 mile from trailhead

Mossy river rocks a short distance upstream from the washout

Top of Dosewallips Falls

Boulder at the top of the falls

Scene in the Dosewallips Campground

The abandoned and damaged ranger station

Mark photographing the river

Rock in the river at the campground

Close up on the base of a cedar tree

Dosewallips River adjacent to the campground

Maple trees by the river


Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

Basalt formation at Columbia National Wildlife RefugeA couple weeks ago, Tanya and I visited the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington. While obviously it is a good place for bird photography (in season at least), it is also a good place for landscape photography. The refuge is full of small lakes and wetlands set among basalt cliffs. Add in blue skies and interesting clouds, and the area is ripe with landscape photo opportunities.

The best time to visit for photography is the golden hours. However, if you are driving over from Tacoma (like I have the two times I’ve visited), it’s difficult to be there at sunrise or sunset. But even mid-day offers some possibilities if you can control the contrast or find a composition where the contrast doesn’t ruin the image (such as the photo above; well at least I don’t think it does).

On our recent visit, I was hoping to catch some of the spring wildflowers, but we were a little early. If you are thinking of visiting, I bet the flowers are in full bloom right now.

The refuge is traversed by gravel roads, some of which are closed during parts of the year to protect wildlife. There are also several short trails. During my visit last month, I took the 4-mile round trip Chukar and Blythe Lakes hike. The hike traverses the shoreline of Blythe Lake before climbing to a viewpoint above Chukar Lake. If you do take a hike or wander around in the brush taking photos, be sure to do a tick check when returning to the car.

Reeds along the shore of Blythe Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Reeds along the shore of Blythe Lake

Clouds and basalt cliffs, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Clouds and basalt cliffs near Blythe Lake

Wetlands along the trail to Chukar Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Wetlands along the trail to Chukar Lake,

Hawk, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Can’t have a post about a wildlife refuge without showing some wildlife. There were quite a few raptors about. Also saw several great egrets and lots of Canada geese. We talked to someone who had seen sandhill cranes, be we did not see any.

Rocks, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

I liked the shape and color of these rocks near Chukar Lake.

Soda Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Black and white conversion shot of Soda Lake.

Drumheller Channels, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

These are part of the Drumheller Channels, which is a National Natural Landmark, are a classic portion of the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. They were formed by glacial outburst floods (and are very cool for me as a geologist). The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge is set within the Drumheller Channels.


Photo Talk Radio NW Interview

It’s been a busy week, but without a doubt, the highlight was being the featured guest on Photo Talk Radio Northwest. My interview will air today, May 4th, between 4 and 5 pm local time (that’s Pacific Daylight Savings Time for my friends not in this time zone). If you are local, you can listen live to the show on the air at KKNW 1150am at that time or by clicking the ‘listen online’ link from the KKNW 1150am website at http://1150kknw.com .

It was fun spending and hour in the studio talking photography with Bruce Hudson, the founder of the show; his son Josh; their Photoshop expert (or as they call her, the Photoshop Goddess), Amy McGann; and the show’s producer, Carla Conrad. I was surprised they contacted me for an interview, but they told me their show was for the photo enthusiast, and liked having guests that were not necessarily full-time professionals. Apparently, they came across my blog, and liked what the saw enough to get in touch.

I’ll let you tune in to hear what we talked about, but if you miss it, I’ll be posting a recording of the interview later.

You may ask yourself why I’m showing am illustrating this post with garden photos. Good question. The interview was between 3 and 4 pm last Thursday. By the time I left the building, it was after 4:30 pm. The studio is in Bellevue, and leaving Bellevue for Tacoma at that time is a recipe for a 2-hour commute. So instead of running straight home, I went up the Bellevue Botanical Garden to take a few shots. The rhododendron and Japanese gardens are in their prime right now, so it was a good time to go.

As for the rest of the week, last Saturday I attended the Airbnb Experience Summit in Seattle – shooting the event for Airbnb in the morning and attending as a host in the afternoon. It was fun meeting and shooting the Airbnb staff and other experience hosts from the local area. Sunday I hosted a guest on my Seattle Airbnb experience, and yesterday I hosted a couple on a private workshop in Seattle.

Enjoy the shots of the Bellevue Botanical Garden and be sure to tune in this afternoon for Photo Talk Radio Northwest!


Photo Reception Tonight

Into the Blizzard

Sorry for the late notice, but if you are in the local area, we are having a reception tonight from 5:30 to 7 pm for the Tacoma Mountaineers Photography Exhibition at the Catholic Community Services Tahoma Gallery (1323 S. Yakima Ave. Tacoma). Come see some wonderful photography and share some refreshments with myself and the other photographers. You can also enter a drawing to win a free print of your choice from the exhibited works.

Don Thompson, the chair of our photo committee, sent out a list of the judging results along with the the judges notes. The judges this year were two photographers from the local newspaper, the Tacoma News Tribune. My photographers did well. Below are images of mine that won awards along with the judges notes.

Into the Blizzard

1st place – Hand of Man Division — “Into the Blizzard” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: We love the humor and stark simplicity. Cleary the “Hand of Man” is at play here but the architect needs to go back to the drawing board.

Best of Show “Into the Blizzard” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: There are many fine photos in this exhibit but we kept being drawn to Becker’s shot. It’s such an amusing blend of whimsy and cold-blooded nature. We kept waiting for the house to fall down. Any second now.

Winter, Palouse Falls

1st place – Nature Division — “Winter, Palouse Falls” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: Lovely, ethereal image that made the thundering falls look like a fairy kingdom. Well-composed and opting for B&W was an effective choice. It made the scene chillier and brought out layers of detail that may not have registered in color.

Palouse Dusk

Honorable mention – Nature Division — “Palouse Dusk” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: Gorgeous, subtle color palette. Nice minimalist composition. Light is well-captured. Very dreamy photo.


Four Seasons on the Palouse

Over the past 15 months, I’ve made 6 trips to the Palouse: two in winter (one without snow), two in June, one in August, and one in October. There are no locations that I photographed on every trip, and only a couple I photographed in each season. I thought it would be fun to do a seasonal comparison for one spot. I visited the former Heidenreich Dairy Barn in all four seasons. This former dairy barn (now a wedding/event venue) is one of the iconic images in the Palouse, visited by hundreds or more photographers every year. It is close to Colfax and best photographed early in the morning. That makes it a prime spot to photograph at sunrise without having to drive too far from your motel room. And when the sun rises at 5 a.m. in late spring and early summer, getting a few extra minutes of sleep really matters.

What makes it such a great shot, besides being an amazing barn, is the adjoining silo and the old orange truck that is always parked in front of the barn. The barn was built in 1910 and was refurbished in 2009. It is a Washington State Heritage Barn, and in 2011, it won the Heritage Barn Rehabilitation award from the Washington State Department of Archeology and Preservation. You can learn more about the rehabilitation of the barn at https://wadahp.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/2011-shpo-award-winners/heidenreich.

Here are four images of the barn, taken in the four seasons from the same approximate viewpoint.

This was shot on June 20, 2018, still technically spring. Spring brings wonderfully green fields of wheat and other crops to the Palouse. May and June are definitely the favorite time for photographers to visit the region. Most workshops in the Palouse run in these two months. And if you visit this barn at sunrise in June, there will be a good chance you will not be the only photographer there.

By August, the wheat (and most the other crops) will have turned golden. Before harvest (which starts in August), the fields have the soft texture visible here. I shot this image on August 8, 2018. Unfortunately, when I was there, though not cloudy, the sky was very smokey due to forest fires elsewhere in the state. The filtered sunlight was nice, but the sky was rather bland. August is probably the second most favorite time for photographers in the region. However, I fear smokey skies in late summer will become more common, which may make the season less popular.

Autumn seems to be the forgotten season in the Palouse. The fields have been harvested and many have been plowed under. Luckily when I visited the Heidenreich barn on October 20, 2018, the fields behind the barn still had golden stubble (instead of plowed dirt). The field in front of the truck had not been plowed yet, but the stubble had been mowed for straw and the ground not very appealing photographically (thus I minimized it in this shot). Overall though, other than the pumpkins by the truck,and the lack of leaves on the small trees in front of the barn, and a bit of color on the trees in back, it scene isn’t too dissimilar than the scene in August.

I’ve wanted to photograph in the Palouse when it was snowy for some time now. When I visited in December 2017, there was no snow. So this winter, I kept an eye on the weather forecasts, but this has been a warm winter in the Pacific Northwest, at least until February. When lasting snow did reach the Palouse, I jumped at the opportunity to get over there and had quite the adventure getting home (see my previous post). As it turns out, the region got much more snow since I took this image on February 8th and is still snow-covered.

There is truly no bad time to photograph in the Palouse, each season brings it own rewards and challenges. As you can see, you can visit the same spot multiple times throughout the year and come away with wonderfully different shots.


A Winter Story

I’ve photographed in the Palouse in spring, summer and fall, but to finish up my soon-to-be release Palouse photography guide, I needed to photograph there in the winter. To be honest, I have shot in the Palouse in winter before, but not when there was snow. So all winter long, I’ve been waiting for snow to coat the Palouse hills (and for some free time for me to make the journey). When I did go last week, I found the Palouse is incredibly beautiful when covered by snow.

This is the lone tree along JW Baylor Road east of Steptoe Butee

Winter in the Washington State has been very mild (that is up until about eight days ago), and snow has been rare in eastern Washington. Finally, several weeks ago, the weather forecasts were looking favorable, so I made plans to do a quick trip over. My plan was to drive over the evening of Thursday, February 8th, shoot on Friday and Saturday, then after a quick visit to my Step-mom in Spokane, drive back to Tacoma on Sunday. It was a good plan, except it didn’t account for the largest snow storm to hit the state in decades. The photography part of the trip went great (though I didn’t get to as many spots as I would have liked), but the driving home on Sunday part was not so good.

The snow coverage in the Palouse was uneven. Down near Uniontown, there was less snow (and in some places, almost none – though earlier this week, I’m sure this changed), while up near Tekoa, the snow cover was much thicker. My journeys on Friday were hampered at times by falling snow, which greatly cut visibility and made scenes look foggy. Saturday provided much better light, but brought its own special challenges – high winds and drifting snow.

Many of the back roads in the Palouse are “all-weather” gravel roads. I found many of these barely passable because of the drifting snow. In my mid-sized, all-wheel drive SUV, I plowed through many snow drifts as long as they weren’t too tall – it was fun. While this allowed me to get to some good shots, it later came back to haunt me. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the light was wonderful, but the wind had really picked up, and even the paved highways were being drifted over.

Throughout Friday and Saturday morning, I had visited spots I thought might look good with snow (as well as a couple new spots). My plan by mid-afternoon on Saturday was to go shoot the Lone Pine grain elevator then try to get up on Steptoe Butte. Lone Pine road was heavily drifted, but we made it in. The vantage point I wanted was a short distance from Lone Pine Road, on Chase Road (another all-season road). Tanya and I turned onto Chase Road and almost immediately stopped because the snow was so thick. But then, a tractor plowing the road crested the hill. It went by us and back up the hill. I figured we could now make it, with the road being plowed. I was wrong. We got about 100 meters or less up the road and got stuck. We were stuck for at least half an hour, even with the farmer, Donovan Chase, helping us out. He finally was able to get us out of there, and I didn’t even get the shot I was looking for (the 30+ mph wind was blowing snow straight at us from the direction of the grain elevator – the shot was not possible).

After freeing us from the snow, he asked us to check in at C&D’s Bar & Grill (which he is an owner) to let them know we made it out okay since the conditions on Lone Pine Road were sketchy. We made it out to Tekoa and stopped at C&D’s to have a drink. We decided it was probably best stop the photography for the day and head to Spokane (we probably couldn’t have gotten very far up Steptoe anyway). However, not a mile outside of town on the highway to Spokane, the road was restricted to one lane by snow drifts and that lane was blocked by a tow truck pulling a car out of a drift. Right then, a Department of Transportation truck appeared and told us the highway was closed. We eventually did make it to Spokane by heading east out of Tekoa into Idaho first before heading north. The normally 50-minute drive to Spokane took about 1.5 hours. On the drive, our car was running rough and making unusual noises.

A view of Steptoe Butte with the Palouse River in the foreground. By the way, I cheated on this shot. Steptoe and the foreground with sunlit at different times, so I composited two shots together here.

But we made it to Spokane and checked into our hotel. After dinner with my Step-mom, we decided our SUV should probably go to the auto shop before we drove back across the state to Tacoma. You know how many auto shops are open in Spokane on Sundays in winter? Maybe two. We still hoped to drive to Tacoma Sunday, so I got the car to the Firestone shop when it opened at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. However, with the storm, their power had been out all day Saturday, and they were very backed up. They’d get to my SUV when they could.

About 3 hours later, I got a call from Firestone. They had the car up on the lift and the mechanic saw something he had never seen before. Apparently, the total undercarriage of my SUV was coated with over 1 foot of ice. They said they’d need to thaw the car before determining what was wrong. Needless to say, we did not drive to Tacoma that day. Around 5 p.m. Firestone called back and said they had finally melted enough of the ice to check the car out. They thought their might be a problem with the transmission and suggested I take it to a transmission shop in the morning.

So Monday morning, I picked the car up at Firestone and drove it to the transmission shop. It took them a couple of hours to determine nothing was wrong with the transmission. Though they did call me into the shop and under the lift to show me ice still packed into the nooks and crannies under my car and asked where I had been driving. They thawed more ice and sent me on my way. We hit Interstate 90 toward Seattle at around 10:30 a.m.

However, the car was not totally fine. I had a dead headlight (obtained while plowing through snow banks on Saturday morning) and the wiper fluid was frozen. Driving on the interstate freeway in winter without wiper fluid does not work very well. So, we stopped in Ritzville (about an hour west of Spokane) to get the headlight replaced and the wiper fluid unfrozen. It took about 2 hours – they had to thaw a block of ice in the wiper fluid reservoir, the wiper fluid lines, and the wiper fluid motor. But finally we were back on the road.

All went fine until we were about half way up and over the Cascade Mountains on Snoqualmie Pass. It was around 5:30 p.m., was snowing heavily, and very dark with almost no visibility (I was glad I got the headlight fixed). Not surprisingly, the State Patrol closed the road. Unfortunately for us, they closed it about 10 cars in front of us. If we had left Spokane 5 minutes earlier, we could have got over the pass. Instead, we found a hotel room for the night in Cle Elum.

Tuesday morning, we packed up and learned that the pass was still closed and Interstate 90 was closed both ways. We decided to try for White Pass (good thing, Snoqulamie Pass didn’t open until a day later). He had to first take back road east to Ellensburgh because the freeway was closed. But once at Ellensburg, we got back on the freeway and drove east and south to Yakima. There we got on the US Highway 12 to White Pass. The pass was open, but conditions were not good. However, we finally made it over the Cascades. Unfortunately, the highway to Tacoma from Highway 12 was closed due to snow and downed trees, and we had to take the long way around. We finally got home around 5:30 p.m. – a full two days later than we had planned. It had snowed about 13 inches at our house and we needed to shovel the berm created by the snowplow in front of our house to park.

So, was all this worth it for some winter shots of the Palouse? You be the judge and let me know what you think of these shots.

This is the old Skeen School near Kamiak Butte. It’s amazing how it is still standing.

An old abandoned house near Farmington, Washington.

A red barn along Borgen Road in Idaho, east of Uniontown.

Two barns along Banner Road north of Pullman during a snowy period on Friday morning.

These horses didn’t seem to mind the blowing snow on Saturday morning.

Snow at Dave’s Old Truck yard in Sprague

Palouse Falls on Friday afternoon. The water was a dirty brown color, as was much of the ice. Black and white to the rescue!

 


150 Pounds of Love

Once again I need to write a fond remembrance of one of our pets. Nahla the Newfoundland passed last week. She was a truly wonderful dog and worthy companion who accompanied me on my photo trips. For Nahla, I was her person and she was my dog. Of the several Newfounlands that Tanya and I have had (and the Newfoundlands that Tanya had before we were married), Nahla was the first one not to treat Tanya as their number one. If Tanya asked her to do something, she would often look at me to see if it was okay. I don’t know how I became her favorite, but I was honored. That said, she did love Tanya as well. When I’d go upstairs to go to bed first, Nahla would always wait to come up until Tanya did as well, making sure that Tanya was not alone downstairs.

She had the Newfie temperament: laid back, devoted, sweet, patient and stoic to a fault. She spent many a work day laying under desk, quiet as a mouse, until she’d start snoring, occasionally startling any visitors sitting in my office that didn’t realize she was there. But unlike many Newfoundlands, she knew she was big and used it to her advantage. And big she was. She weighed a little over 150 pounds, quite big for a female (the AKC says female Newfies are generally 100 to 120 pounds). Instead of walking around furniture, she would move it out of her way. Which lead us to one of the nicknames we gave her: Brutessa.

We had other nicknames for her as well, such as Panda Butt (after we heard maids at a hotel one time describe Nahla that way) and Turnip Thief (a recent nickname she earned by stealing and eating turnips left on the dining room table while ignoring a parsnip that was on the floor [and if you are asking why a parsnip was on the floor, it was a small one being used by the cats as a toy – they loved flipping it in the air and watching the funny way it rolled).

We got Nahla when she was 4 years old, and she died at 9 1/2. That is way to short a time for 150 pounds of loving. She was a very special dog, and I truly miss her.

Here Nahla and Tanya are taking a little wade into the Pacific Ocean.

Nahla wading in Ingalls Creek in the Cascade Mountains. She had her own little pool here to wade in, but that wasn’t good enough. After this picture was shot, she made her way out into the main current and was swept downstream. We ran along the trail and finally got her to wade to shore before being going over anything to too dangerous. She of course, wanted to do it again.

Here are Nahla and Tanya, both smiling, at Ginko State Park in Vantage, Washington.

I’m a baseball fan, and so was Nahla. Here we are at Bark in the Park at Safeco Field after a Mariners game last year.