Though clear now, the skies of Washington State, and indeed most of the Pacific Northwest, have been very smokey almost the entire month of August. The smoke is from wildfires, both in the United States and Canada. I fear, with climate changes, this may be our new “normal” for August, as smokey skies have been prevalent in August the past several years.
As long as the smoke is not too thick, smokey skies can have some advantages to landscape and travel photography. Though I tend not to, some people like the sunsets provided by smokey conditions. I do, however, appreciate that smokey conditions can soften light and can extend golden hour conditions by changing the color of sunlight. On the other hand, they can also dim sunlight so that the light during the actual golden hours is weak.
In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh any advantages gained. I am fond on blue skies and wide vistas. Smoke can suck the blue out of the sky and obscure views with haze. I also like to use telephoto lenses to pull in distance subjects. Obviously, this does not work so well if there is a lot of smoke.
On my trip to the Palouse last month, the skies were quite smokey. Not smokey enough to totally ruin the trip, but I certainly did not have ideal conditions. The Palouse is known for its blue skies with great clouds. On my last trip, the sky, though clear, was more of a dusky gray. It was also cloud free on except for one day. So much for the wide sky shots I often favor, such as this one I posted on instagram. I found myself following several techniques to minimize the effects of the smoke.
1. Limiting distance in my compositions – instead of including distant hills and vistas in my compositions, I selected relatively close subjects, or chose compositions where the distant background was less important. For example, on my August visit to the Palouse, I did shoot one evening from Steptoe Butte. However, with the smokey haze, I chose one of the lower viewpoint instead of going to the top, and I mostly shot compositions with subjects relatively close to the butte rather than subjects thousands of meters away.
2. Eliminating or limiting the amount of sky in my compositions – with the sky not the blue color one expects, in many cases, I tried to either totally eliminate the sky from my composition or at least limit the amount of sky in the shot.
3. Processing using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom – I often use the dehaze slider in lightroom, and not just to remove haze; I like the microconstrast it adds to images. However, smokey conditions are what the dehaze slider was made for. While processing images from the August Palouse trip in Lightroom, I found myself adding more dehaze than I normally would.
4. Adding blue back into the sky in Lightroom – I typically do not do selective color corrections in Lightroom. Typically I’ll set the color balance for the entire photo and let well enough alone (saving selective color adjustments for Photoshop if I want to do them at all). But with new masking tools for the gradient and brush tools, I found it relatively easy to add some blue back into the sky in Lightroom. Typically, I’d make a fairly tight gradient (or perhaps the brush too) and apply it to the area of the photo containing the sky. Then, using the range mask tool in color mode, I select a wide portion of the sky. This usually masks most of the non-sky areas, but to be sure, I’ll check the Show Selected Mask Overlay checkbox (which uses a red tone to indicate where the gradient is effective). Depending on the image, I may or may not need to do some cleanup of the mask with the eraser brush). To correct the sky, I’ll move the temperature slider toward blue, typically move the exposure slider down about 1/2 to 1/2 a stop, and move the clarity slider down as well. Depending on the image, I may also increase the dehaze slightly. Sounds complicated, but it is fairly easy with a bit of practice. This technique does a nice job on restoring sky color (see the examples below).
My recent posts of the Palouse featured images captured in June when the landscape is green. However, mid to late summer in the Palouse looks totally different. June is green; August is golden. Most photographers prefer the green season – on a Tuesday night back in June, my photographer buddy Don and I shared the top of Steptoe Butte with at least 50 other photographers. Last week I returned to Steptoe Butte, and I had the only tripod in sight. Is one season better than the other? In my opinion, at least photographically, they are both great. You can visit the same locations and get two totally different images.
There are non-photographic differences. The weather is hotter in August than June. The average high temperature in June is 84 degrees F in Colfax and 72 degrees in Pullman. In August, those average highs jump to 91 and 83 degrees. Plus, the air quality is typically better in June. In recent years, late summer has brought many wildfires to the Pacific Northwest, which cause smoky conditions in the Palouse. This August was no exception, and the distant views were limited. On the other hand, a photographer wandering around in the tall grass in June is likely to find ticks looking for a meal; while in August, the ticks are mostly gone (though they can return in the fall). Plus it is much easier to find a motel room in August than in June (unless you come on the weekend of a WSU football game (which can sometimes start in late August).
Though the some of the comparison images below were shot from slightly different vantage points and/or different times of day, you can see the difference between the green and golden seasons. Green or golden, which is better? You be the judge.
Last Sunday I returned from another trip to the Palouse. My photographer buddy Don Thompson accompanied me for four days, while Tanya kept me company for two more days. I have to admit I’m a bit tired of getting up for 4:55 am sunrises and staying up to 10:00 pm to catch the blue hour after sunset, but it was worth it to capture a few great shots. Above is a quick shot of one of my favorites from the trip. Don and I shot at this spot early in the trip, but I went back when there was better light (sorry Don) and am pleased I did. I’ll post a few more from the trip soon. Want to know where to take this shot? I’ll tell you in my upcoming Snapp Guides guide to the Palouse due out in 2019 (okay, if you want to know before then, just let me know).
Religion is a big thing in Greece. Every town has at least one Greek Orthodox Church, and usually several. There are random churches out in the countryside not near any towns. Besides churches, there are also many monasteries, as well as a few convents. While on Crete, we visited two monasteries, and when in the Delphi area, we visited another monastery (which by itself had three churches) and a convent.
It seems each church and monastery has its own particular rules. Very often, photography is not permitted inside the churches. This is such a common rule that I was surprised when photography was allowed. And even when it is allowed, it is consider rude to photograph the main altar. At many of the cultural sites in Greece, tripod use is prohibited without special permission/fees. I assumed this was true of the many churches we visited, and did all my photography in the churches and monasteries hand-held and without a flash. The churches are typically very dark, requiring the use of high ISOs. On the other hand, outside the buildings, it was sunny most of the time we were there, and I don’t know how many times my camera complained (okay, it just had a flashing warning in the viewfinder) about not having a fast enough shutter speed available when I forgot to change the ISO off of 6400.
Here are a few of my thoughts and shots from our visits to three monasteries and a convent.
Moní Arkadhíou, or the Arkadi Monastery, is located in central Crete southeast of Rethymnon. The monastery was apparently founded in the 5th century, but the present church was built 1587. This monastery is most famous for an incident in the Creten revolt of Ottoman rule in 1866. Over 900 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. With the monastery under attack by the Ottomans and the Creten fighters defeated, the abbot gathered the remaining people in the powder room in the monastery, and when the Ottomans arrived at the door, he set the barrels of powder on fire, choosing sacrifice rather than surrender. Today, you can visit the remains of the power room ans well view some of the skulls of the sacrificed victims in an ossuary in a former windmill outside the monastery walls.
The monastery is inside a walled compound, with the Venetian church centered in the large courtyard. Several gardens are located behind the church. The interior of the church is beautiful, but photography is prohibited. There is a small museum with nice icons. Several interior rooms are open with old artifacts.
Moní Prevelí sits on the southern coast of Crete overlooking the Libyan Sea. It was also played a historic role in Creten history, when during World War II, the monks hid trapped Allied soldiers from the Nazis, helping them escape by submarine. Most of the monastery is off limits to visitors, at least when we visited. There is a small museum with some very impressive icons and a small church (again, no photography allowed inside). Other than that, access was limited to a portion of the courtyard. The view over the sea is fantastic. Frankly, with the limited access at the monastery, I wasn’t sure the drive out there was worth it. However, nearby the monastery is a short but steep trail to the beautiful Prevelí Beach, also known as Palm Beach. Combining a visit to the monastery with the beach made a good day trip.
Okay, this view isn’t actually at the monastery, but is from the trail down to the nearby Palm Beach.
Of all the places Tanya and I visited in Greece on this trip, the Monastery of Hosios Loukas was perhaps my favorite. The monastery was founded by the hermit of Helicon – the Venerable Saint Luke the Stiriote (not to be confused the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke) – in the 10th century. The site contains two co-joined churches within the monastery walls (and a newer church outside the walls). The relics (physical remains) of Saint Luke are in a small chamber between the two churches. The relics are said to produce healing miracles.
The monastery is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply, the interior of the larger church, the Katholikon, is amazing. The mosaics, frescoes and other decorations are impossible to describe, and my photographs do not truly capture the ancient beauty of the place. Tanya and I just stood in wonder beneath the magnificent mosaic on the domed ceiling (the featured image above). There are more frescoes in the burial crypt beneath the Katholikon.
The monastery grounds are widely open to visitors and include a small museum and several exhibits. Surprisingly, photography is allowed in the churches.
A short distance west of Delphi is the convent of Moni Profiti Ilia. It is relatively “new” compared to the other monasteries we visited, being built in the 19th century. It is famously where Essaeas, the bishop of Salona, raised the flag to officially start the Greek revolution March 24, 1821.
We drove up the convent, which sits high on a mountainside overlooking the Sea of Corinth, and found the door to the walled compound closed. There was a small sign, but being in Greek, we could not read it. No one was around, so I took a few photos, and we prepared to leave. About that time, two men drove up and parked near the door. They went to the door and apparently rang a buzzer/intercom and opened the door and went in.
Tanya and I went back and buzzed the intercom. A young nun answered in English and told us to come inside. However, we couldn’t open the door (we couldn’t figure out the latch). We buzzed again and she came and let us in. Once inside, she made Tanya put on a dress over her pants (we knew that one shouldn’t wear shorts, but didn’t know about the dress dress code for women).
There wasn’t that much to see here. You can walk around the courtyard, which has lovely gardens. And they do have a beautiful church – no photos inside and you should not cross your legs when sitting (both feet on the floor please) – in which the young nun kept watch over us. An elderly nun (no English) into their dining hall for homemade candy and a cold glass of water. One of the two men who entered before us interpreted as the nun was very curious about Americans visiting. It turns out there are only about a dozen nuns there, while the place looked like it could house one hundred.
On our recent trip, Tanya and I spent several days in Chania (also spelled Hania) and loved it. The Venetian quarter is a maze of small streets and alleys with remnants of Venetian and Turkish architecture. The old quarter is centered around the beautiful and historic Venetian Harbor with its iconic lighthouse (see this recent Quick Shot post and my Instagram feed). We spent hours walking around the old streets seeping in the history of the place, as well spending time sipping drinks (and drinking in the scenery) at a harbor-front café. The Venetian quarter was busy with tourists, and I imagine it get mobbed in summer, but it was well worth visiting. However, when I went to the harbor early one morning for sunrise, there was almost no one around.
We didn’t stay in the old quarter. Instead, we stayed at an Airbnb with a nice sea view in the Tabakaria District, about a half hour walk from the Venetian Harbor. This waterfront district was home to about 80 19th-century leather tanneries (only a few survive today). Most of the old tannery factory buildings are still there, providing me a great photo opportunity literally right outside my door. To make it even better, the best restaurant we ate at in Crete (Thalassino Ageri) was just a 2-minute walk from our room. We ate at a table on the beach, a couple of meters from the waves, enjoying great seafood and a magnificent view – one direction toward the old tanneries, the other to the Sea of Crete and the far shoreline of northwestern Crete.
For travel photograph, for great food, for drinking in history, I highly recommend visiting Chania.