the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Eastern Washington

Photo Guide to the Bowl and Pitcher

While in Spokane for my Dad’s funeral, I had some free time, so I went out to Riverside State Park to do some photography. It was therapeutic spending some time in nature, walking around in the snow, and shooting the river. Riverside State Park is a large park with several different units. I spent most my time at the Bowl and Pitcher, which is perhaps the most scenic place in the park.

The Bowl and Pitcher are contains large basalt rock formations surrounding a turbulent Spokane River. Supposedly, several of the rock formations look like a bowl and a pitcher. However, I’ve been to the Bowl and Pitcher dozens of times in my life (having grown up in Spokane), and I’m still not sure which ones are the namesake rocks. None of them look like a bowl and pitcher to me. I looked on-line to find how the formations gained their name. The only reference I found was to a geology class project from Spokane Community College which claim there is a small “cave” under the rocks that the river churns through and around that looks like a bowl and that one of  the formations further downstream looks like a pitcher. With this explanation, I think I can “see” the pitcher, but I’m still stumped on the bowl.

Regardless, this is a great location to do some photography if you have some free time in Spokane. Perhaps the best view of the formations and river are from an elevated viewpoint on top of one of the formations on the east side of the river. You can access the viewpoint from a small parking area along the right side of the access road to the Bowl and Pitcher area just after you turn off the main road through the park. Alternatively, you can hike up to the viewpoint from the day-use parking area along the river (a Washington State Parks Discover Pass is required for either spot).

Other than this elevated viewpoint, you can get some good compositions by crossing the suspension foot bridge across the river at the day-use area and scrambling around the formations on the west side of the river. The featured photo above was shot on the west side of the river.

About a mile downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher is the Devil’s Toe Nail, a smaller rock formation in the river which is also worth stopping at. You can reach this area by hiking down the hillside on the east side of the river from a small parking area along the main road, or by hiking along a trail which follows the west bank of the river from the suspension bridge.

Photography  in winter at the Bowl and Pitcher can be difficult because of the extreme contrast between the snow and the nearly black basaltic rock formations. I didn’t try any HDR here, but it may be worth attempting. The dark rocks will present a similar challenge in the summer when lit with direct sunlight.

The flow in the Spokane River drastically changes throughout the year making radically different shots available in the winter and spring versus the summer and fall. The flow in the river when I was there this month for about 16,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). Peak flows in spring can exceed 40,000 cfs, while typical flows in August and September fall below 1,500 cfs.

This is the Devil’s Toe Nail, about a mile downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher.

Here is part of the view from the viewpoint. Could the rocks here hold the bowl?

View of the suspension bridge from the viewpoint

Another view from the west side of the river. The big formation in the center of the photo is capped by the viewpoint.

One more shot from the west side of the river.

Perhaps one of these is the pitcher?

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A Bridge not too Far

Several years ago I saw a photograph of this bridge in the Palouse, but there was no location information with it. When I saw the image, I knew I wanted to photograph it as well. However, after several attempts to find it using internet searches, I could not find its location.

As you may or may not know, in my day job, I’m a groundwater geologist. I’m the president of a consulting firm called Robinson Noble. We work with a lot of different civil engineers who work with water systems. One such engineering firm we work with is based on Port Orchard, Washington – which for those of you not familiar with Washington State, is about 20 miles northwest of Tacoma. A year or so ago, one of the engineers with that firm, Todd, moved to the Palouse region and now telecommutes and serves his company in eastern Washington. A while back, I was talking with Todd about this bridge. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but he knows I do photography and was suggesting he knew some good locations in the Palouse. Anyway, I mentioned I was looking for this bridge, and Todd told me he owned it! He said I was welcome to drop by anytime to photograph it.

I finally had the chance last week. I accompanied Tanya to Walla Walla so she could interview for a vice president’s job at Walla Walla Community College (she was one of three finalists, but unfortunately didn’t get the position). While she was off interviewing, I drove up to the Palouse to meet with Todd. He gave me directions to his house (something like, turn at the second mailbox, drive through the farmer’s field, go over the bridge, and uphill past the barn), and indeed, the bridge in the directions was the bridge I was looking for.

I had a nice time visiting with Todd and his family, and they told me the story of the bridge. They bought their 200-acres of land along the Palouse River northwest of Colfax about a year ago. The land includes an old railroad grade which crosses the river. When the railroad was abandoned, a former owner of the property turned the bridge into part of his driveway. Todd also described an old train tunnel on his property, further down the grade.

Apparently the bridge is well known to at least a few photographers, as Todd and his wife told me of photography workshops that stop and take pictures of the bridge. There is a viewpoint on the county road across the river from their house, which is where I took the above photo.

But Todd said individual photographers, and sometimes even workshops, have come onto their land without permission to photograph at the bridge.  The Palouse is very popular with photographers, especially in late spring. Todd said he has talked with several of his neighbors and others from Colfax, and they report the number of photographers in the area seems to grow each year. Several of his neighbors are getting fed up with photographers blocking roadways and trespassing on private land. It’s these type of photographers that give all of us a bad name (but I digress).

Todd has given me standing permission to come by and photograph his bridge (and tunnel) anytime I want. He and his wife suggested other potential viewpoints and the best times of day. Next time I’m in the Palouse, it think I’ll take them up on their offer.


October Colors

It seems that every autumn, I comment on the lack of fall color in the Pacific Northwest and the need to know where to look for it (for example, see this post from last year, or this one from 2014). Last month I spent a long weekend in northeastern Washington looking for autumn colors, and I came away very impressed with how beautiful fall is there. Northeastern Washington does not get a lot of attention from nature photographers in the state. With Mount Rainier, the Olympics, the Pacific coast, the Columbia Gorge, and the Palouse, who has time for northeastern Washington? Well, if you want some great autumn scenery, make time. And as a bonus, you won’t have to fight for a spot for your tripod; in the 2 1/2 days I spent photographing there, I didn’t see anyone else with a camera.

Crystal Falls

I booked a room for a Friday night in Colville, Washington. Despite an early start from home, the drive (in the rain the whole way, except for at the top of Snoqualmie Pass, where it was snowing) took most the day. Though I only made a few stops on the way for photos, I got to the Colville region with less than an hour’s daylight left, which didn’t leave much time for scouting photo locations. So I headed to the one spot I knew I could get a good shot – Crystal Falls. This pretty little waterfall is 14 miles east of Colville on the Little Pend Oreille River. Though there wasn’t a lot of color at the waterfall, it made a pleasant stop before heading to town for the night.

The next day, I decided to explore the region between Colville and the Pend Oreille River, an area recommended by my photographer friend, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington. I headed back east on Highway 20, continuing past Crystal Falls, to a series of small lakes along the upper reaches of the Little Pend Oreille River (the featured photo above is at one of these small lakes, Frater Lake). The previous day’s rain was gone, leaving a wonderful blue sky with scattered clouds and a dusting of snow on the ground in places. The forest around the lakes are thick with western larch, which made the forest a patchwork of bright yellow and dark green. Larch, one of the few deciduous conifers, turn bright yellow in fall and are fairly rare elsewhere in the state, but plentiful here. They are best photographed with back or side lighting.

A boat traveling the Pend Oreille River

Continuing past the lakes, the highway goes by Tiger Meadow, which has several aspen groves along its edges. I spent several hours there roaming the meadow, photographing the aspens and larch, and enjoying the crisp air and solitude (the image in my previous post is from Tiger Meadow). From there, I drove along the Pend Oreille River for a while where I found some colorful cottonwoods. Then I headed back to Colville via South Fork Mill Creek Road, with some beautiful aspen groves along it as well as larch on the hillsides.

I needed to get to the town of Republic where I planned on spending the night. This took me over Sherman Pass in the late afternoon. The larch are thick along Sherman Pass, and the late afternoon sun lit up the forests.

The following morning, I spent a short while photographing cottonwoods along the highway south of Republic (again recommended by Greg Vaughn), but the went off on my own without advice from Greg’s book. I headed west, then north, looking for the ghost town of Bodie, Washington. Along the way, I found more aspens and larch begging to be photographed. At Bodie, the aspens had already nearly lost all their leaves, but it was still fun to photograph the old buildings. From there, I decided to explore another ghost town, Molson, which is up near the Canadian border. The route took plenty of back roads, past some secluded scenery. Unlike Bodie, which is just falling apart with age, the Molson ghost town is actually an outdoors museum, with buildings and equipment moved to the current site and maintained by a historical society. There was plenty to explore there, and I could have easily spent more time doing so. However, I had promised my son, who lives in Yakima, I’d visit him and his girlfriend for dinner, so I put away the camera and headed south.

I’m happy with the shots I brought home with me, and the area is on my list as a place to visit again in the future when October colors come again to Washington.

Red barn near the Pend Oreille River with larch trees dotting the mountain side above

Aspens along South Fork Mill Creek Road

Larch on the mountains near Sherman Pass

Larch along Highway 20 near Sherman Pass

Cottonwood in the San Poil Valley south of Republic

Grove of bare aspens west of Republic

Log cabin in the ghost town, Bodie, Washington

Reflections in a beaver pond on Chesaw Road, Okanogan County

Old house along Chesaw Road, Okanogan County

Old tractor and wind mill at the Old Molson Ghost Town


New Lightroom CC and Range Masking

Adobe recently updated Lightroom, in the process creating a new version of the program. They renamed the old version Lightroom Classic CC, while the new version took the previous name of the old version: Lightroom CC. Confused yet?

If you have the photography CC subscription service (currently at $10/month), either version is available to download – but you can only have both if you fork out an extra $10 per month. The new Lightroom CC is the wave of the future. It’s main feature is that your Lightroom catalog and all your photos are saved to the Adobe cloud so that you can work on them in Lightroom from anywhere with a internet connection. Sounds like a great idea. The service comes with 1 TB of storage on the cloud. Unfortunately, I would need about 4 times as much space to upload all my photo files. And while I’m sure I could rent extra cloud space, I’m not sure I ready to give Adobe more money yet.

I have my own somewhat convoluted way of working in Lightroom on multiple computers. I export selected portions of my Lightroom catalog with smart previews to the 20GB of cloud storage that comes with the old Lightroom (and the Lightroom Classic), then work with that catalog when away from my main desktop computer. When finished, I import the catalog back into my main catalog. So, for now, I’m sticking with Lightroom Classic.

Plus, Lightroom Classic received a nice upgrade. Reportedly its speed performance has improved, but what I really like is the addition of range masking. Now, any mask made by the adjustment brush, gradient filter, or radial filter can be modified by color or luminance. Simply first create a rough mask using one of the three tools.  Then, at the bottom of the Mask dialog, there’s a new setting labeled “Range Mask” with the default setting of off. Change the setting to color, and you get an amount slider and a color picker tool. Only want your blue sky to be selected, use your mouse to select the color picker, move it to the blue sky and click – the other colors are deleted from the rough mask. You can shift and click to select multiple colors and click and drag to define a “box” of colors. It helps to have the Mask Overlay selected to see how your mask changes.

The luminance setting for the Range Mask works similarly, but with brightness instead of color. It does not including a picking tool, but has a “two-handled” slider for defining a brightness range and a smoothness slider. With your mask overlay on, it is easy to play around with these two sliders to see the effect.

The photo above, that I took in mid-October in northeastern Washington, provides an example of the usefulness of the new range masking. I actually first tried developing the image without the new range masking tools. And while the result was nice, it did have problems. Specifically there was some haloing around the aspen trees, I couldn’t get the brightness of the leaves and tree trunks to what I wanted, and the sky color was not totally natural. I probably could have corrected these issues with Photoshop, but thought I’d try the range masking tools in Lightroom to see if they could help.

Below is a progression of how I developed the image in Lightroom Classic starting with the original image with default Lightroom settings.

Undeveloped image of Tiger Meadows, Colville National Forest

Here is the image in Lightroom following all “global” adjustments. The adjustments applied include setting white and black points, highlight and shadow adjustments, adding clarity and vibrance, lens corrections, a vertical transformation to straighten the tree trunks, and a small amount of dehaze and vignetting. I wanted to add more dehaze, but its effect on the sky was too harsh.

I want to darken the sky, so I’ve added a gradient filter. But obviously, there is a lot more than sky selected. Previously, I’d use the eraser brush to get the right selection – that was a lot of work.

Now with the range masking, instead set the range mask to color and used the color picker to pick blue and used the adjustment slider to give me the correct selection. I then darkened the sky by lowering the exposure and black point, with just a small amount of extra dehaze.

I wanted to give the rest of the image more dehaze, so I made another gradient filter covering almost the entire photograph.

To get rid of the blue sky from the selection, I again set the range mask to color and used the color picker to pick multiple colors except the blue. adjusting as needed with the amount slider. From the resulting selection, I increased the dehaze my desired amount (this amount of dehaze in the sky would cause unacceptable haloing around the trees and would make the sky color less realistic).

Next, it was time to work on the backlit leaves. To select theses, I used the adjustment brush and made a rough selection in the trees.

To get the correct adjustment, I set the range mask to color once again and used the color picker to pick yellow, using the amount slider to get the selection I want. Once I had it, I increased the exposure slightly and gave the shadows a boost.

Next, I wanted to brighten the trunks of the aspens. So again I made a rough selection with the adjustment brush.

To get the correct selection, I set the range mask to Luminance and used the range sliders to get the approximate range for the tree trunks. Once I had a good selection, I increased the exposure and the white point.

Once again, here is the final image with separate adjustments for the sky, the land, the backlit leaves, and the aspen tree trunks thanks to the new range masking tools.

 

 

 


Quick Shot – Upper Spokane Falls

Another quick shot for you. I spent most of last week in Spokane, but was not able to slip out and do much photography. However, one night I did get manage to escape and shoot some late evening shots in Riverfront Park. Though water levels were down a little bit from several weeks ago, the falls were still spectacular. This shot is of Upper Spokane Falls, taken from the Post Street Bridge. Enjoy!