Last Friday, Tanya, Nahla, and I drove down to Cape Disappointment State Park for the day. We couldn’t have asked for a better early Spring day. Other than a brief rain shower on the way down, the day was sunny and warm (for early March anyway). We were extremely lucky weather-wise, Friday was the only day without significant rain in the week. Rainfall totals at Astoria, Oregon, the closest weather station to Cape Disappointment, over the past week were 0.33 inches on Monday March 3rd, 0.15 inches Tuesday, 1.43 inches Wednesday, 0.33 inches Thursday, 0.03 inches Friday, 1.38 inches Saturday, and 0.86 inches Sunday.
Cape Disappointment State Park, which is also part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, is one of Washington’s larger state parks covering 1,882 acres. It offers 2 miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses, and old-growth forest. The park is located at the very southwestern tip of the state, at the mouth of the Columbia River. The park encompasses two rocky headlands, North Head and Cape Disappointment, both with their own lighthouses. Between the two is a broad, sandy ocean beach. An ocean coast with both headlands and sandy beaches is unique in this part of the state. The coastline to the north is mostly either low sandy beaches or shallow estuaries, without headlands, for the next 70 miles. I have nothing against broad sandy beaches, but for photography, headlands are generally much more photogenic.
The key photographic highlights of the park are the two lighthouses. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the United States west coast, guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. The lighthouse is reached via a 1/2 mile trail from the parking lot for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at the southern end of the park. (The interpretive center, by the way, is one of the better Lewis and Clark museums in the Northwest, if not the whole country.) The trail approaches the lighthouse from the east, and the lighthouse is not visible from the trail until near the end of the trail. Further, the approach is from below the lighthouse. These factors make the lighthouse backlit for most of the day from the approach, and the ocean is not visible beyond the lighthouse until reaching its base. Space is extremely limited on the northern and western sides of the lighthouse and non-existent on the southern side. Additionally, there is a more modern, small boxy building just to the west of lighthouse. All these restrictions make it difficult to photograph the lighthouse near its base. However, the walk out to it is worth it for the view – the wide, sweeping expanse of the Columbia River entering the Pacific Ocean, with the Oregon coastal mountain range to the south. The mouth of the Columbia contains some of the most hazardous waters on the west coast, and the Coast Guard keeps a close watch on ships and fishing and pleasure boats entering and leaving the river.
In fact, the small building is manned by the Coast Guard. When we were there, the seaman in the station invited us inside to look through his binoculars (I don’t know what size lenses these things had, but if I had to guess, there were at least 600 mm; ie. they were huge) and tell us about his job. We talked about the waves, how big they get, and what it’s like bust through them on a small boat while doing surf training or going on a rescue. If the Coast Guard is surf training when you’re there, with a long lens, you should be able to get some great shots of boats busting through and over breaking waves from the lighthouse.
The best shots of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse itself, however, are not from near the base, but from beach level. The view from just to the west of Waikiki Beach ( a small beach, complete with big waves and surfers, just not the same climate as its more famous cousin) is particularly good. Because this is north of the lighthouse, the best light will be late in the afternoon and near sunset. You can try to capture waves crashing against the rock
s beneath the lighthouse or frame the lighthouse with driftwood. Another possible, and more elevated, shot is from the interpretive center, again with the best light in late afternoon or near sunset.
The North Head lighthouse, located near the northern end of the park, has a bit more room around the base, making photographs possible from more angles close to the base. The lighthouse is accessed from a 1/4 mile trail from the historic lightkeeper’s and assistant lightkeeper’s houses and nearby parking lot. The North Head lighthouse sits a bit lower than the much of the land near it, so it is much easier to get a shot of the lighthouse with the ocean in the background than is possible at Cape Disappointment (okay, it’s probably impossible to get that type of shot at Cape Disappointment unless you have a plane or a drone). For example, you can easily walk up the hill behind the lighthouse and capture it with the setting sun over the Pacific.
Other good shots of the North Head Lighthouse can be taken from the beach south of the lighthouse and from an extension of the headland north of the lighthouse. To access this northern area, take the paved trail from the lighthouse parking lot to Bell’s View. Near the wooden view platform, wander off the trail to the west and pick up the informal trail which ends at a small cement pillbox (left over from WWII). But be careful, you’ll be near the edge of a cliff, and it’s a long way down to pounding surf below. While there, it’s also worth taking a peak at Bell’s View, which is northward to the seemingly endless beach and surf on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Other opportunities for photography include the beach between the two headlands, views of Deadman’s Cove along the trail to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse (beach access is not allowed), old growth forest (probably best on the North Head trail), historic artillery bunkers (the park was home to Fort Canby, active from 1852 through the end of World War II), and potentially wildlife. And if you like small fishing towns, visit the harbor at Ilwaco, which is located just outside the park.
For some reason I have a hard time getting out and doing photography in February. I’m not much of a winter fan to begin with, and by February I just want it to be over. After a fairly dry winter so far this season, the rains returned with a vengeance the past several weeks. I had two planned snowshoe trips cancelled. So without anything new to show, it’s time to dig through the archives.
Five years ago this month Tanya and I were on a wine-tasting trip to Walla Walla, Washington. (Non sequitur – I love saying Walla Walla, Washington. I think it stems from my youth when I use to watch a lot of Loony Tunes on television, and the cartoon characters there were always ordering fun stuff from Ace Novelty Company in Walla Walla, Washington. Anyone else out there like me, or am I just weird?) We stayed with friends at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, a grand old place in the heart of the downtown. I really liked the look of the lobby of this old hotel, and before we left, I got out the camera and tripod to photograph it.
The dynamic range in the lobby was extreme. Inside, the lobby was dark, lit by antique light fixtures. However, the windows were bright, lit by outside daylight. This was scene made for digital photography and the use of HDR (high dynamic range) processing. At the time, I hadn’t done much HDR, in fact, now thinking back, this could have been my first attempt. I’m happy with the results, though if I ever decide to reprocess these shots, I think I might cut back on the effect a bit – the colors, particularly the blues, are a bit over saturated. However, both images show the old grandeur of the place, which was my intent for the photographs. Hotels like this are just not made anymore.
Each of these two images is a combination of six shots, processed first by Lightroom, then combined into a single image via HDR processing in Photomatix, then back to Lightroom, and finally Photoshop. At the time, I didn’t like Photoshop’s HDR processing, which has since been updated. Photomatix has been updated as well, and I still prefer it to Photoshop for HDR processing.
If you ever plan on a visit to Walla Walla, this is a great place to stay. Their off-season rates are very reasonable (at least they were five years ago), and there are more winery tasting rooms within walking distance than any person can visit in a day. (When we visited, our group rented a limo and rode around the countryside outside the city to a number of wineries. When we returned in the afternoon, Tanya and I and another couple than walked to tasting rooms near the hotel. I can honestly tell you, all those tiny little tastes of wine add up. Needless to say, these images were taken the next morning when I was capable of focusing my camera as well as my eyes.)
If you are in the Seattle-Tacoma area, please join me at a reception for my Colors of Washington exhibit. I’d love to talk with you about how I captured these images and about photography in general. The reception will be held Tuesday, February 18th from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Auburn City Hall gallery located at 25 W Main Street, Auburn, Washington. Refreshments will be served. Hope to see you there!
For those that cannot attend, here are three more images from the exhibition. Enjoy!
My first solo exhibition is now showing at the Auburn City Hall Gallery in Auburn, Washington. Although Washington is known as the Evergreen State, there is much more to Washington than green! Come by and see the 26 images in this exhibition that celebrate all the colors of Washington.
The gallery is in the lobby of Auburn City Hall at 25 W Main Street, Auburn and is open from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. The exhibition runs through February 27th. We are planning an artist’s reception sometime next month, date and time to be announced.
I’ve been super busy lately getting ready for my first solo show. I need to drop off 26 pieces a week from today and just finished the printing yesterday. Now to finish matting and framing… I’ll post more on this show later.
Even though busy, I wanted to post a quick shot from a trip I made last Friday with Tanya and our new Newfoundland, Nahla (more on Nahla later as well) to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Western Washington has been experiencing a temperature inversion lately, which causes lots of fog in the lowlands, but sunny and warm skies at elevation. This trip was a perfect example. Hurricane Ridge is about 17 miles by road from the City of Port Angeles and perhaps only 10 miles straight-line distance. Port Angeles is at sea level; Hurricane Ridge is at 5,242 feet above sea level. We drove into Port Angeles at noon. It was foggy and the temperature was about 38º F (3º C). A half hour later, we arrived at Hurricane Ridge, the sky was mostly sunny and the temperature was 60º F (16º C).
There isn’t much snow at Hurricane Ridge this year. Last Friday, there was about 28 inches of snow on the ground – a year ago it was around 90 inches in mid-January. However, the snow that was there was enough to go out snowshoeing and enjoy the view. And with the warm weather, it was great being out with only a light coat.
After our short snowshoe, we hung out for sunset, where I captured the above photo. All in all, a great trip. If you decide to go, be aware that the road to Hurricane Ridge is only open Friday-Sunday (and holiday Mondays) during winter (December through the end of March). It normally opens at 9 a.m. and closes around sunset (they chase everyone out of the parking lot each night). Before you go, be sure to check road conditions at http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hurricane-ridge-current-conditions.htm as the road is only open if conditions permit.
A week ago today was the 3-year anniversary of my first blog post, which had the unimaginative, default title of “Hello World.” The stats section of my blog dashboard says it has been viewed 4 times (though it was likely viewed a few more times solely as part of my blog home page). It was a single line of text and a photograph from a snowshoeing trip.
Today, now 3 years from the start, the blog has had over 40,000 hits and has over 4,500 followers. I’d like to thank all of you that follow, read, and interact with me and my blog. You have made the past three years worth while.
However, the beginning of my blog was pretty bleak. My first post with more than a single line of text is titled It’s About Sharing Art, posted on January 19, 2011. My stats indicate this post has been viewed only 9 times. By the end of January 2011, I had made six posts. None have been “liked” although the post on January 29, 2011, about the death of my friend Bert Daniels, did garner my first comment. In total, the blog received 71 views in the first month of its existence.
Finally, with my second post in February 2011 (and my eighth post overall) I earned a “like.” That post, titled “Fun in the Dark,” was about light painting. The next several months provided gradually more views (192 views in February, 183 in March, 475 in April, 629 in May, 403 in June, and 255 in July), but very few comments and likes (4 likes, 1 comment in March; no likes, 2 comments in April; 1 like, 1 comment in May and the same again in June; 8 likes, 5 comments in July).
At the time, I remember thinking that it may not be worth doing. Views per month had peaked and were starting to fall. August 2011 appeared to be more of the same, with only 364 views. Then I was blessed by the WordPress gods, and my August 30, 2011 post, titled Mountain Blues, was picked as a Freshly Pressed feature. And with that, the number of view in September jumped to over 7,000. Suddenly I was getting lots of likes, many more comments, and a lot of subscribers. Since that time, the number of view my blog gets per month varies, but averages around 1,000. Hopefully those of you that do view my blog get something worthwhile out of it. That is my true goal, to help my readers with their photography.
In celebration of three years of blogging, I am giving away a 10×15-inch signed print of the one of the images below to one lucky person. Leave a comment about indicating which print you would like, and I will pick one person by random drawing for their selected print. The three images are 1) “Gig Harbor’s Mountain” an image I took in 2005 that is still one of the most popular images I’ve taken; 2) “Low Tide, Beach #4″ of a tide pool in Olympic National Park, a favorite of mine that won 1st place in the scenic print competition at the 2012 meeting of the Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest; it was also the subject of a blog post where I described going from previsualization to the print itself; and 3) “Seattle Moon”, one of my favorite shots from my Scenic Seattle ebook. Good luck and thanks for 3 great years!
You will find many “best of 2013″ posts and news articles this time of year. Today, I’m going the opposite direction and posting my worst of 2013. Actually, these aren’t truly the worst, just some bad images that didn’t get deleted immediately.
Every photographer posting on the internet is posting images they are proud of, and it is the same with me. I get a lot of comments on how great my images are, but that is only because I don’t show anyone the bad stuff (at least until now). Ask any professional photographer whose work you admire if they take any bad shots, and if they say “no”, they are lying to you.
However, taking bad shots is not, in fact, a bad thing to do. Taking a lot of shots, trying a lot of different compositions, and experimenting in different techniques is a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t work, even if many of your images do turn out bad. Take a lot of differing shots and you are bound to come up with at least a few good ones. Learn from you mistakes, and the percentage of good shots will grow. If you don’t have any bad ones, in my opinion, you are either totally stale or not shooting enough. There’s no reason with digital cameras not to go out on a limb and try something different. Be brave, experiment! Try different exposures, try moving the camera while shooting, try a different perspective. Just remember to try to learn from both what works and what doesn’t.
Here are some of my worst images of 2013, one for each month except for July. July is excluded not because I didn’t take any bad shots in July, but because I only used my camera at weddings in July and I’m not about to put any bad wedding shots out on the internet. For the other months, I’m showing a bad shot both straight out of the camera and after trying to improve it in Lightroom (this is only fair, since I shoot RAW and process all the shots shown on my blog), plus a few comments on what makes it bad and the lessons I’ve learned once again.
One chore I accomplish each winter is to edit my photo library for all the photos I neglected to edit earlier in the year. Editing is a thankless task that some notable photographers even suggest is unnecessary due to disk drives being inexpensive. However, it is hard enough for me to find the photos I want when things are edited, let alone when I don’t edit.
Editing, at least for me, has one big added benefit. By going over those thousands of image I took that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to earlier, I always find some hidden gems that I missed earlier (along with lots of dogs – but more on that in a later blog). As my Christmas present to you, I offer a look at some of the hidden gems I’ve found thus far during my editing. Merry Christmas everyone!
As I’ve written before, I work for a company called Robinson Noble, based in Tacoma, Washington. Each year, Robinson Noble produces a calendar for clients featuring photos I’ve taken. We limit the photos to scenes from the Pacific Northwest (where the majority of our business takes place). The calendar is always well received and appreciated. I recently wrote a post for the Robinson Noble blog that highlights the 12 images in the 2014 calendar and provides a back story to each image. Though I’ve shown many of the photos from the new calendar previously on this blog, there are several ones I have not shown. The photo above (of the Dungeness Light House with Mount Baker in the background) for example, is featured on the July page Robinson Noble’s 2014 calendar. If you get a chance, visit my Robinson Noble blog post about the 2014 calendar and tell me what you think.
I haven’t had much time to post lately, so here’s a quick shot from a trip Tanya and I made to Port Townsend late last month with a couple of friends. Tanya kindly informed me that it was not a photo trip, so I didn’t get the camera out much. However, it is hard for me to keep the camera totally packed away. The image is of a wooden boat in the Port Townsend harbor that I sneaked off and took while Tanya and our friends were shopping. I love the look of wooden boats, and Port Townsend has a wooden boat festival every year. Some day, I’ll have to make it up there for that. Meanwhile, sneak shots like this will have to suffice.
Last Friday, I took the day off from the day job to do some photography. It was a day Carson would have loved, rainy and cold. With Carson gone, Tanya and I decided to take our cat, Patch, along instead. He wasn’t so sure about the whole thing, and stayed in the car until our last stop (Rainbow Falls State Park), where he did explore a bit.
But this post isn’t about Patch, it’s about photographing in the rain. If you live on the wet side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, you best get use to photographing in the rain if you want to shoot in fall and winter. That said, I try to avoid it as much as I can. Last Friday, I was not excited about going out. The weather forecast called for 100% chance of rain, and it was not wrong. Shooting in adverse weather can have its benefits, but often it is just miserable. However, Tanya convinced me that we should go (easy for her to say, I was the one to be out in the rain; she took papers to grade).
As it turned out, I was happy we went. As you can see by the attached photos, I think I came away with some good shots. Here’s a few hints for photographing in the rain (not listed in any particular order).
1. Take good rain gear for your camera – unless you have a waterproof camera, you’ll want some sort of protection to keep your camera dry. Currently, I use a Rainsleeve by Op/Tech. These are inexpensive plastic sleeves with openings on both ends. One has a drawstring to tighten around the camera lens hood. The other end allows you to hand hold the camera or attach it to a tripod. A small hole is also provided for the viewfinder. I find these sleeves work well when on a tripod, and allow you to control most the camera functions through the plastic. I like them less for hand holding the camera because sticking your wet hand up into the sleeve defeats the purpose, plus it is a bit tight. There are many other options also available.
You might also consider making an umbrella holder for you tripod. I have a friend who has a similar setup and really likes it. I, personally, have not tried something like this out yet, but as long as it is not windy, an umbrella seems like it should work well.
2. Take good rain gear for yourself – be sure to keep yourself dry as well. I like to take rain pants as well as a raincoat. When photographing, I often kneel on one knee (all my jeans wear out on the left knee knew sooner than the right). With rain pants, there is no worry about kneeling in water and mud.
3. Use a tripod – while using a tripod is always a good practice, in the rain it is especially needed. The skies are much darker than on typical non-rainy days, leading to longer exposure times. Also, it is easier to keep the camera dry if it is on a tripod.
4. Use a lens with a long lens hood - when using the Rainsleeve, the lens hood is outside the plastic. It is the hood that protects the lens from falling rain drops. This works best if the lens hood is long and the glass sits back inside it. This is why I tend to avoid using a wide-angle lens in the rain if at all possible. Lens hoods for wide-angle lenses provide almost no protection from rain. All the shots shown here were taken with a 24-70mm lens. When extended to the 24mm setting, the lens is close to the open end of the lens hood, so I had to take more care when using that setting.
5. When not shooting, keep your lens pointed down – don’t invite rain onto your lens, try to keep the camera pointed downward.
6. Use a cable release - anything you can do to keep a wet hand from touching the camera will help keep it dry. I use a cable release which hangs down out of the Rainsleeve. Alternatively, I could trip the shutter button through the Rainsleeve, but with long exposures, it is good practice to use a cable release anyway.
7. Have a lintless cloth handy – just in case you need to wipe stray water off your lens. Take a look at the lens occasionally to look for water drops (which are sometimes hard to see through the viewfinder).
8. Avoid the sky in your compositions - at least if the sky is uniformly gray (as it is often is around here when it rains). For most of the subjects I photograph, the sky (even if not uniformly gray) is very much lighter than the subject, creating huge contrast problems. Expose correctly for your subject, and the sky becomes a overexposed white blanket. Expose for the sky, the subject is a dark mess. HDR is a possible solution, but if there is no contrast within the sky itself, that doesn’t help much. It’s best to just keep the amount of sky in the frame minimized.
9. Pick subjects that can be photographed without much sky - it is easier to keep the sky out of your compositions if the subject can be photographed without the sky being prominent. If you’ve never been to where you are going, and don’t have an idea whether the sky will be prominent or not, many subjects can be researched on Flickr to give you an idea. (For example, look at this Flickr search for the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, my main destination last Friday.)
10. Use a polarizer - using a polarizer can make a big difference in your images. When everything is wet, everything has reflections. With that big gray sky above, there are a lot of annoying reflections in any composition. Of course, using a polarizer cuts down on the light entering the camera, making the use of tripod (#3 above) even more important.
11. Watch out for wind – wind complicates matters considerably. With a stiff wind, rain no longer fall vertically. Wind demands even more care to keep things dry.
12. Use a memory card with enough storage - start your photo shoot with a fresh memory card and one with enough storage for the entire shoot. You don’t want to open up the camera to change cards and get water inside.
13. Consider your lens choice carefully and change lenses out of the weather - you don’t want to change lenses in the rain; there is too much chance of getting water inside the camera. Before you leave you car, put on the lens that will give the most shots. Consider using an all-purpose, travel zoom, like an 18-200 mm or similar (of course, such lenses typically have less light gathering power than other lens with less zoom range, making tripod use even more important). If you do have to change lenses, do so in shelter or with much care if still outside. (BTW, I do not own travel zoom. I try to restrict my compositions to those requiring a single lens. In last Friday’s case, I only used my 24-70 mm lens).
That’s it for now. Do have any other hints for photographing in the rain?
Recently I wrote a post about how to capture time in your photographs. Not mentioned in that post was to visit locations at different times of year (as well as different years), as I’m sure many of you already do. That is a great way to show the effect of time and seasons in your photography.
I’ve had a personal project in the back of my mind for some time that fits perfectly with the concept of changing times and seasons. I want to photograph the exact same scene from the exact same spot at the exact same time once a month for a year. However, I have yet to find the right spot. If I ever do this project, I’ll be sure to post the results (but don’t hold your breath, if I start it tomorrow, it will be a year before its done!).
One spot that would be great to do that is Kubota Garden in Seattle. In late October, Tanya and I stopped at Kubota Garden for an hour while on the way home from an event in Seattle. I had never been there in autumn, and it was a wonderfully different place than it is in the spring. Just compare this shot of the Moon Bridge taken a week ago last Saturday with a similar image taken from the same spot in May (of 2012).
Here are some additional shots from Kubota Garden taken last month. To see two more photos taken in spring time, see my previous blog from May 2012 (which also includes a few photos from Washington Park Arboretum and also describes an amusing encounter with a naked man).
Irene is from Vancouver, British Columbia and is learning photography a little later in life than most. It’s too bad she didn’t take it up earlier, she has a great eye for composition. Earlier this month I taught Irene during a personal, one-day workshop for in Seattle. I also taught her during a workshop earlier in the year, and on this return visit she wanted to see a few spots she read about in my ebook, Scenic Seattle. Specifically, she wanted to visit Union Station, Pier 65, and the Seattle Great Wheel. Based on the weather conditions during our workshop and her personal interests, I also took her up to the University of Washington. At several of the spots, we worked on long exposures for a separate class on the subject she taking up in Canada. A few photos I took during the day are presented here to illustrate this post.
If you plan on visiting Washington State and would like personalized instruction and/or guidance, I offer personalized workshops for $325 per day in the Puget Sound area and $375 per day elsewhere in the state. I also offer workshop for small groups. Each workshop is tailored directly to your interests.
Still visiting, but not quite up to a workshop? Then consider purchasing my Seattle ebook, which sells for a mere $5.99. I’ve added a page to my blog which shows some sample pages from the book and allows direct ordering through PayPal.
Over the past couple weekends, I’ve led two photo scavenger hunts. Participants in the hunts had 3 hours to photograph a list of 20 topics, such as: color, contrast, bark, soft, old, action, life, and ugly. The area I chose for the hunts was the Old Town portion of the Tacoma waterfront because of the wide range of possible photographic subjects (and, quite frankly, the nearness to my house). I think all the participants would agree, it was a fun time. Because there were two hunts, for two different clubs, and a few people members of both clubs, I made two separate lists with only a couple topics repeated on both lists.
Doing a scavenger hunt is a great way to push your photographic vision, to force yourself to think outside your normal “box.” Want to give it a try? Here’s a list of my favorite topics compiled from the two different lists I used over the past two weekends (minus topics specific to the place). Go someplace you think might have good photographic opportunities, give yourself 3 hours, and try to get a good image of everything on the list. Try for something different from your normal routine shot, be creative and push the envelope!
I’d love to see some of your results or hear your thoughts on whether this is a worthy exercise. Send me some of your results, and I’ll post them in my blog.
Here’s the list:
- time (many people in the hunts I led photographed a watch or clock; try to think a bit more creatively and make a photograph that shows time itself)
- person/people (try to make it someone you don’t know)
- contrast (many options here, contrast between objects, contrast between light and dark, etc.)
- negative space
- autumn (if in the southern hemisphere, substitute spring)
- photographer’s choice (photograph anything you want)
To give a bit of inspiration, here are a few of my shots for the above topics. (Disclaimer: for the actual scavenger hunts, participants are required to take jpegs, so the images submitted have no post-processing. The images below have undergone post-processing with Lightroom 5).
Washington, being the Evergreen State, doesn’t have a lot to show when it comes to fall colors. Roughly speaking, evergreen trees cover more than half the state; sagebrush covers the rest. Further, many of the deciduous trees that do grow in the state don’t have particularly colorful leaves in the fall (such as alders). However, there are some good spots for autumn color if you know where to look. Most are high in the mountains, such as Heather Meadows up by Mount Baker (which I blogged about last year). Unfortunately for color seekers this year, it snowed in the high country a couple of weeks ago. While some spots are still accessible (often with snowshoes), others are probably snowed in until next spring. With sunny weather forecast for this week, we may get a second chance, but I wouldn’t bet on it. To make matters worse, the US government shutdown has closed the national parks, making access to fall color even worse.
With the high country covered in snow, the options are few for good fall color. However, I did find a hidden autumn jewel last Friday – a small desert canyon full of beautiful aspen trees starting to turn yellow. Black Canyon, located in eastern Washington, is about midway between Ellensburg and Naches (west of Yakima). At first glance, this seems like an odd area to find fall color. The hills between Ellensburg and Yakima are mostly treeless. Even in the Yakima River canyon, which runs through the area, there aren’t that many trees. But if you drive some of the back roads through the region, you will find hidden groves of trees in valleys and canyons and along some of the water courses. Even more surprising is that some of these trees are aspens – not exactly the tree I think of when I think of the Evergreen State.
Black Canyon is one grove, hidden in the mostly barren eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is hidden in several aspects. First, it is not a well known spot. I had never heard of it before about two weeks ago (and I know about a great many places in Washington). Second, from the start of the trail into the canyon, it doesn’t look like much. The mouth of the canyon (actually more of a valley than a canyon), where the trail starts, is rather plan and dry. But as you hike up the valley, the underbrush in the canyon bottom gets thicker and more colorful, until about a half mile from the start, you start seeing aspens. While the aspens are confined to the center of the valley, near a tiny stream, the grove gets thicker and taller as you continue up the valley. At about one mile from the trail head, there is an old wooden cabin nestled in the aspen grove. The trail continues another couple of miles, and the aspens eventually give way to pine trees as the trail climbs to the top of the ridge (reportedly with views of Mount Rainier). More about the hike can be found here.
When Tanya, Carson and I made the hike last week, the color was truly amazing, particularly in stark contrast to dry, sagebrush covered valley walls above. Besides the aspens, much of the underbrush was also various shades of yellow, orange and red. This is the perfect time of year to go.
What is nice about Black Canyon, besides its obvious beauty, it is on accessible public land. A Washington State Discovery Pass is required to park at the trail head (or anywhere along the road to the trail head). The trail head (46°51’1.07″N, 120°42’5.05″W) is at the end of 1.2 miles of very rough unpaved road. We were glad to in 4-wheel drive; I doubt our passenger car could have made it. Other hikers (we saw two other couples) parked at the start of the road, and had an couple miles (roundtrip) to hike. If you go, also be aware that the area is shared by hunters this time of year (though we did not see or hear any).
Black Canyon is definitely a jewel worth visiting. When we were there, the aspens were not yet at their peak, so you may still have time to visit for the color. Do you know any other hidden jewels of autumn color? If so, please feel free to share yours by leaving a comment.
“What’s in your wallet?” So goes the tagline from a Capital One credit card commercial that most of you (at least in the United States) probably know well. With that tagline, Capital One would have you believe that their credit card is better than others and should be the one in you wallet.
For photographers, the comparable question is “what type of camera do you use?” or “what gear do you carry in you camera bag?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked these questions, I could buy a new camera.
I believe good photography has more to do with the gray matter between your ears than your camera equipment. However, that said, it is true you cannot do photography without equipment. When two photographers meet for the first time, the inevitable question always arises: “What camera do you shoot with?” My question to you is, does it really matter?
I think one reason this question gets asked is that the two photographers in question are trying to find common ground as they create a social relationship. Personally, I don’t take any comment seriously that claims one camera is better than any other, it is just that some cameras are better at creating certain types of images than other cameras. For example, my DSLR beats my Android phone without question at shooting landscapes, but the phone does a better job at spontaneous photos among friends (not that the DSLR wouldn’t do a fine job in that instance, but by the time I dig it out of the bag, put on the correct lens, and get the exposure set correctly, the moment of spontaneity will be gone).
There seems to be a particularly big “conversation” about Nikon vs Canon among many photographers. There are loyalists on both sides, and while often good-natured, sometime the conversations seem more like battles. Personally I shoot with Canon equipment, but this is not because I think Canon equipment is better. The only reason I shoot with Canon equipment is that when I switched from film to digital, Canon had a newer camera model than Nikon. If I made the switch a few months later, I could well be shooting with Nikon equipment today. (My film camera is an Olympus OM4T. So, if at the time of my switching to digital, Olympus had made a digital camera with a full-frame or APS sensor instead of a 4/3s sensor, which uses a different lens mount so with their camera I couldn’t use my existing film lenses, I’d be shooting with Olympus equipment.)
So, even with my mini-rant above about such questions, inquiring minds want to know what’s in my camera bag. Therefore, I present what is in my camera bag (or should I say bags, as I have more than one and carry different items based on the type of outing).
Standard (or default) equipment:
- Canon 6D camera with Canon battery grip and Acratech quick release plate
- Canon EF 17-40mm 1:4 L USM zoom lens
- Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
- Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens with Acratech quick release plate
- Canon EF 100mm 1:2.8 USM macro lens
- Canon EF 1.4x II extender
- Lowepro Vertex 100AW camera bag
- set of three Kenko extension tubes
- Vello wireless Shutterboss
- Canon RS-80N3 remote switch
- Canon 550EX Speedlight with Yongnuo compact battery pack SF-18
- Yongnuo off-camera shoe cord OC-E3
- ThinkTank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket (digital card holder) with 4 to 6 SDHC cards (8, 16, or 32 mb, various brands)
- 2 spare Canon batteries
- lint-free cleaning cloth
- Lenspen lens cleaning pen
- allen wrench (for removing quick release plates)
- hot-shoe double bubble level
- set of 15 colored filters for use on the flash
- 2 B+W 77mm circular polarizing filters (one is dented and very hard to rotate)
- B+W 77mm 110 ND 3.0-10BL 1000x filter (10 stop neutral-density filter)
- B+W 77mm 092 IR 20-40x (infrared filter)
- Tiffen(?) 2-stop, soft-gradient, split neutral-density filter
- six AAA batteries
- Op/Tech Rainsleeve
- user manuals for the 6D, the 550EX and the Shutterboss
- spare contact lens case
- business cards
- Manfrotto 190 carbon fiber 4-section tripod with an Acratech Ultimate Ballhead (I often carry the tripod along, but not always)
Extra equipment (in addition to the standard) for event-shooting
- Canon 50D with Canon battery grip
- a second Canon 550EX speedlight with battery pack
- Demb Flip-it (variable angle flash reflector)
- Demb flash bracket
- Demn flash diffuser
- Lowepro Nova 180AW camera bag
Minimal kit (when I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff)
- Canon 6D camera with (optional) Canon battery grip
- Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
- (optional) Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens
- a small Lowepro bag (either the Nova 180 or a yet smaller one that I’m not sure of the model number)
- lint-free cleaning cloth
- Lenspen lens cleaning pen
- a couple spare SDHC cards
Optional equipment that I sometime carry
- Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 42-inch reflector
- Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 22-inch reflector
- Wimberley plamp
- Visual Echos Flash X-tender
- Thinktank Photo belt, harness and modular bag system
- Bogen 3021 tripod with Bogen ballhead
So, what is in your camera bag?
I’ve heard photography described as the art of capturing light, and perhaps I’ve been guilty of describing it that way as well. Photographic tips often talk about looking for dynamic light, chasing the good light, etc. Yet photography is more than light, it is also time. Consider your camera. Leaving ISO aside, there are two ways to control exposure: changing the aperture and changing the shutter speed.
Time is an essential part of photography. Too little time, and your image will be black; too much time, and it will be white. Every photograph captures a slice of time. Sometimes a very small slice, a small fraction of a second; sometimes a long slice of minutes or even hours.
The human eye is better at capturing light than a camera. The human eye can see detail through a very large dynamic range compared to the best DSLRs out there. This is why HDR is popular, why there camera accessories like split-neutral density filters. But, at least in my opinion, the camera is better than the human eye at capturing time. My camera can capture the action of a running gazelle much better than my eye can. Similarly, it is much better at capturing the movement of the stars across the night sky.
Time makes every photograph unique. Each image captures a different piece of time, and each piece of time is different. I use to tell my kids when they were young, that if they wanted to see something no one in the world had ever seen before, pop open a peanut shell. No one in the world ever saw that particular peanut before (and no one would see it again after they ate it). The same is true for photography, want to capture something no one has every photographed before, take a picture, any picture – you’ve just captured a bit of time that will never be captured again. Okay, I hear you. If you take two photographs one second apart, you have two nearly identical photographs (the extreme example, I guess, being two studio-lit shots of a still life taken seconds apart). I didn’t say your capture would be exciting, only different (and perhaps not even on a visible scale). Making that capture of a small slice of time exciting, making the image worthy to look at, is where the art comes in.
The act of capturing time with a camera is not art. Instead making that capture an experience (both for the photographer and the viewer) is the art of photography. Just like composition makes a big difference in photography, selecting the correct small portion of time to record also makes all the difference. Look at the four examples below of the Colorado River taken from Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, taken minutes apart and all processed the approximately the same way in Lightroom and Photoshop. I took the first two before sunrise, four minutes apart. The third was taken seven minutes later and the fourth seven minutes after that. Depending on your tastes, the second or the third ones are clearly superior than the first or the fourth (my favorite is the second one). A few minutes made all the difference here.
Selecting the correct time to press the shutter button is not limited to the quality of the light at the time, it also is dependent upon the subject. The best people shots come with when the subjects are showing their emotions to the camera, something that is difficult to capture because it is often so fleeting. And this timing aspect is not limited to people. When shooting scenes with flags flapping in the breeze, for example, I will usually take many shots, just to capture one where the flag looks good. Here’s a couple more examples. The first image, taken on Caye Caulker in Belize, is a little girl fishing with her father. I snapped of a dozen shots, but this is clearly the best, with the girl lightly touching her father. As you might imagine, a girl of this age didn’t hold that pose long, but was quickly looking this way and that, and interacting with a brother just out of the frame. The second shot is of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, I wanted an image with the swans in the pond, and was lucky enough to capture them in a good , with one looking directly at the camera. The birds were only in this position for a quick moment, and all the other shots I took don’t come close to the quality of this one.
The length of time captured in your image also makes a difference and, as I mentioned above, can reveal things not readily apparent to the naked eye. This is true both for short exposures and for long ones. For example, in the following image of snow geese in the Skagit River delta area of Washington State, the very short shutter speed was able to capture some unique looking wing angles and positions. In the second example, of the ferry dock at Steilacoom, Washington, a long shutter speed created beautiful patterns in the water. If you are a regular viewer of my photography, you likely know that I love using long shutter speeds for the effects of it creates – the effect of compressing many seconds of time into a single image.
Sometimes two different sets of time can both be important to an image. In this example, taken from my trip up to Harts Pass several weekends ago, a long exposure was necessary to capture the stars. For images such as this, too short a shutter speed will not show many stars; too long a shutter speed will result in star trails instead of points of light. The shutter speed for this image was 20 seconds. (Generally, for star shots without trails, you will need to shoot at 30 seconds or less). However, in this image, I wanted to add some foreground interest, and I chose to do light painting on the tree. I painted the tree for just a couple of seconds, running the light from the flashlight briefly up and down the tree. More than a few seconds would have made the tree too bright; less, too dark.
Here’s one last example of the importance of time to photography. The image below is of a tree with colorful leaves taken while moving the camera vertically downward. I used a shutter speed of 1/8 second. A longer shutter speeds would have resulted in too much blurring; a shorter shutter speed, too little. The proper shutter speed for this type of shot will vary greatly depending on the subject and the amount of camera movement.
These are just a few examples of the importance of time to photography. I’m sure you can think of more. Photography is nothing without light, but it is also nothing without time.
In my last post, I focused on the forest burned in a 2003 wildfire near Harts Pass. Today I’d like to show more shots from the Harts Pass area, focusing on images taken near sunset. These shots were captured near the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead on the western slope of Slate Peak, about 1.5 miles from Harts Pass. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a spectacular area. It is well worth a stop if visiting north-central Washington.
The featured image (above) was actually the last image I took, taken approximately 40 minutes after sunset. I really like the color the sky takes during the “blue hour” (the twilight period following sunset, or before sunrise, before complete darkness. I discussed photography during this period in my recent post “After Sunset? Don’t be Blue, Keep Shooting.”) As was the case with many sunset, some of the best color comes long after the sun goes down.
Most of these images were shot with a split neutral density filter. All are RAW images processed in Lightroom.
Sitting on a stump, hot cup of coffee in my hand, warm sunshine on my back in the still crisp morning air, looking out on nearby mountain tops and a forest of bare trees, silver from a 2003 wildfire, Tanya and Carson nearby at our campsite, I felt truly at peace. I reflected on how lucky I am to live in place where such a spot is a short drive from home (well, kind of short, about 5 1/2 hours). Later that day we would drive back to the city, encountering miles of stop-and-go traffic on the way, and life would return to “normal.” But for those five minutes on that stump with that cup of coffee, life was very good.
We had spent two nights at the Meadows Campground, near Harts Pass at the uppermost end of the Methow Valley in the Okanogan National Forest. The Harts Pass area is the highest point you can drive in the State of Washington. The pass itself is over 6,200 feet; the road continues to the trailhead for Slate Peak, at about 7,200 feet. We didn’t actually find the time to climb Slate Peak (a short 1/2 mile hike) because Carson is ailing, instead we stopped at the 6,800-foot high trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked several miles north along a flat trail that hangs along the mountainside. That was enough for Carson for the weekend, and we spent the rest of our time in the campground, except for two short outings by myself to do some photography.
Driving to Harts Pass is half the adventure. Considered by some to be the most treacherous road in Washington, I didn’t think it was that bad (many Seattle intersections are probably more hazardous), but you do need to pay attention. Most of the road is typical Forest Service gravel, but there is one short section known by locals as Dead Horse Point that running off the road would result in a drop of several thousand feet. Harts Pass is up Forest Road 5400, about 16 miles from Mazama, Washington. There are two campgrounds at the pass area, Harts Pass campground with five sites and the Meadows Campground with 14 sites. While the Harts Pass campground was full when we pulled in Friday evening, we were only the fourth campers at Meadows (which eventually was about half full). Meadows sits on the edge of the 2003 wildfire area (and was completely destroyed by the fire, but was since re-built).
Earlier in our camping trip, especially after having our hiking cut short by our sore dog (he has been on limited activity for about two months due to a neck injury, and us taking him hiking was too much, too fast), I had felt some self-generated pressure to create some good images. But then, on Sunday morning before we were breaking camp to leave, I just enjoyed the morning without much thought of photography. I remembered why we were there, to relax and enjoy the mountains; and even though the trip was planned as a photography trip, photography was really second to enjoying the time away. I didn’t have a paying client on the line, I didn’t have any time constraints.
It’s funny, but the Harts Pass area is known for its fantastic views of the North Cascades. Being near the tree line, you don’t have to travel far to see endless mountain views. And I did take some such shots on the weekend. But, it was after my peaceful realization that I created my favorite images of the trip, several shots in the silver forest not a 1/2 mile from our campsite and some fun shots of Tanya and I playing around on the very stump where I had my peaceful moment. None of these favorite shots have the vast mountain views the area is famous for. That’s often the way it is with photography, let the pressure and expectations go, forget about any grand plans for images and just be with the moment, and let the images find you.
Enjoy these images from the silver forest.
I still haven’t had much chance to get out for some new photo adventures, so here’s one from five years ago this month (or close enough, the actual trip started in September but ended in October). I took these images on a raft trip through Stillwater and Cataract Canyons on the Green and Colorado Rivers in Canyonlands National Park . Tanya and I joined the trip about 1/3 of the way in, at Mineral Bottom; the trip actually started at Green River State Park and traveled through Labyrinth Canyon prior to reaching Mineral Bottom. My brother Rob joined us on the trip (though he came down earlier and made the entire trip). My good friend Rob Tubbs organized trip and served as trip leader.
As is typical with river trips, the trip starts (or ends) with a shuttle. In this case, we started with a shuttle. We drove most our gear and extra beer down to Mineral Bottom, then drove Hite (the take out site) on Lake Powell. From there, we few back in a small plane, dropping into the canyon to land on a weedy dirt runway at Mineral Bottom. Then it was time to load up, and off we went.
The Green River through Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons (120 miles) is all flat water, making it one of the classic canoe/sea kayak trips in the United States. We were in rafts, not canoes or kayaks. The advantage of floating it on a raft is that, unless you are rowing, you can kick back and enjoy the view without the effort. Plus you can carry a lot of gear, food, and beer. Much scenery was appreciated; much beer was drank.
Unlike the first portion of the float, the final leg of the journey, 45 miles on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, has loads of whitewater, most of it coming in a single day. One of our rafts flipped in Cataract (luckily, not the one Tanya and I were on – my brother wasn’t so lucky), providing even more excitement for the BRD (big rapids day).
I highly recommend this trip for anyone thinking of an American Southwest float trip. The trip can easily be customized to your own personal level of expertise, time and cost. You can do the whole thing with an outfitter, or on a private trip. The float through Labyrinth can be done completely on your own, taking out at Mineral Bottom. The float through Stillwater (without continuing through Cataract) requires a pickup by jet boat at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers (for a ride back up the Colorado to Moab). Several outfitters can provide this service at reasonable prices.
I’m considering going again someday by kayak, taking a little more time to photograph. Concerning this trip five years ago, I was happy with the photos I came away with, though none were out of this world. I think the black and white conversions I made from the trip worked the best. As always, your opinions are welcome.
Recently I’ve decided to upgrade my website to include more photo galleries. In that regard, this weekend I added two new galleries featuring the two largest cities in the State of Washington: Seattle and Spokane. I’ve displayed many of the images in the new galleries previously here on the blog, but there’s a few new images thrown in as well. Please take a look and let me know what you think.
To illustrate this post, I’m posting two shots of conservatories, one in each city. The Gaiser Conservatory in Spokane sits above the beautiful Duncan Garden in Manito Park. The Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle is missing the beautiful outside garden, but the building itself is very photogenic. Shooting inside conservatories is a lot of fun, particularly on rainy fall days (which will be coming sooner rather than later). I’ve shot inside both these conservatories, as well as the small conservatory here in Tacoma, and made some great shots. I typically use a tripod and a macro lens when photographing in conservatories. If you plan to photograph at your local conservatory, and plan on using a tripod, it’s best to go on weekdays when there are fewer visitors. Also, be kind and move your tripod when others need to walk by. In fact, at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, tripods are only allowed on weekdays. When the weather turns bad, consider your local conservatory to keep your creative photographic juices flowing.
If you read my last post, you know I have been frustrated by not having time to go out and shoot. I’m still pretty busy with other stuff, but did find a few hours last Thursday to sneak out with the camera. The evening sky was partially overcast with light clouds, which provided a nice diffuse, low-contrast light. The air as still. A perfect evening for macro flower shots. Luckily, I live less than two miles from one of the nicest dahlia and rose gardens in the Puget Sound region. I grabbed the gear and headed over to Point Defiance Park.
As I was entering the gate to the garden (the garden is surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence to keep the deer out), a gardener was coming out. She told me they had just dead-headed the whole garden and it was in prime condition. I couldn’t have picked a better time. The dahlia blooms did look like they were in their prime, as were most the roses. I set up the tripod, slapped on a 100-mm macro lens and some extension tubes and lost myself in the work. Perfect!
I wasn’t the only photographer there that night, there were three portrait photographers in the garden, two doing senior-high photos and one was shooting two young children (I don’t envy that poor photog). They were making money, and may or may not being enjoying their work. I was not making money, it is highly unlikely I will ever sell any of the images I made that night, instead I was enjoying my craft and saving my sanity.
Occasionally, there was the slightest breath of a breeze, slightly moving the blossoms. I turned up the ISO a couple stops to keep the shutter speed less than a second, and kept on shooting. I ended up shooting for about two hours until the light started fading and the exposure times became increasing long. It was the perfect antidote to my pent-up need to create.
In the past two months, I have barely touched my camera. I shot a wedding in July, a few family shots last weekend, and did took a few quick shots while in Cannon Beach at the beginning of August. That’s it. Now wedding and family photos are fine, but they really don’t wet my creative juices like travel or landscape photography does. The time in Cannon Beach was fun, but it really wasn’t a photography trip. However, if I had known at the time that I wouldn’t have a chance to do any serious work later in the month, I would have taken many more images there. But I didn’t, and now I have huge pent-up desire to do some photography.
There are many reasons and obligations as to why I haven’t been out making images, but that is not really the point. The point is I have this craving, this deep-seated need to have the camera in my hand and spend a day creating. It is as if my soul has a hole in it right now.
And while this desire is very deep and is truly uncomfortable, I am actually glad I have it. Why? Because it confirms for me that I am an artist and not just a documentarian (I hold nothing against those who make documentaries as their artistic outlet, but I think you understand what I’m saying). I’m also glad for this need because while I consider myself a professional, it confirms for me that I’m not just in it for the money (not that there’s a lot of that). I am an artist. I have the need to create and the camera is just my paintbrush, the computer screen and photographic paper are my mediums.
These thoughts come not only because my lack of creative photography recently, but also due to a blog post by Dan Baumbach, a very talented photographer. In his blog, Dan questions whether he is an artist. I think many photographers have had these thoughts. I know I have had such doubts in the past.
Perhaps it is easier for others to see the art in a photographer’s work than the photographer themselves. Looking at Dan’s images, it is easy (at least for me) to see he is an artist. In comment I left to his post, I mentioned how I recently gave a short talk on using Lightroom to a group of photographers and someone asked how I was allowed to change the white balance to make the image look different (than what they thought it should look like in the real world). And the answer is that I’m an artist, I’m not trying to replicate the real world, I’m trying to create my own personal vision of it.
Sometimes my vision looks like how others see a scene. Sometimes it doesn’t. It is always amazing to me how several different photographers can photograph the same scene and come up with totally different photographs. That’s because we photographers are artists.
It is said that art is in the eye of the beholder. Excuse my language, but that is bullshit. Art is in the eye of the artist, the creator. When you put that camera to your eye and decide, consciously or not, what to put in the frame and what to leave out. You are making artistic and creative decisions. The same is true for every tweak you make in Lightroom or Photoshop. (See this earlier post on how we, as photographers, make creative decisions in processing images.) You are an artist. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Okay, enough with the ranting. Presently, I just need get out there and feed my craving to create. Now, where did I put that camera?
Tanya, Carson and I attended our annual Becker family gathering last weekend. This year it was at Cannon Beach, Oregon. We camped, as did several of my brothers and sisters. Other family members slept in hotel rooms (I have four sisters and two brothers; all but one attended the weekend, as did my Dad, stepmom, and various nieces and nephews). However, most the visiting was in the campground. We arrived Friday evening, and I didn’t even make it to the beach until Saturday night. I considered not even taking the camera out for the whole weekend, instead just enjoying being with the family. However, I couldn’t resist the call of the camera, and I planned a shot for Saturday sunset. Using the Photographers Ephemeris, I planned a shot with the sun setting behind some small islands just off shore. Most images of Cannon Beach show Haystack Rock (don’t believe me, do a Google Image search of Cannon Beach). I wanted to do something a bit different; to show a different part of the beach, and this is the result. It wasn’t the best sunset in the world, but I was happy with the result.