the blog of Seldom Seen Photography


Puget Sound Icons

Nothing is probably more iconic of Puget Sound than a Washington State ferry. And nothing is probably more iconic of Washington State than Mount Rainier. So how would you rate a shot with a ferryboat and Mount Rainier – iconic squared?

There are only a couple of spots not on private property to photograph ferries with Mount Rainier in the background. By far the best spot I’ve found is on NE South Beach Drive on Bainbridge Island, where the Seattle-Bremerton ferry sails in front of the mountain about a 15 times a day (of course, depending on the season, many of those crossings may be in darkness).

The ferries (one sailing each way) will normally pass by this spot at about the same time – roughly a half hour after they leave their respective ports. Check the current ferry schedule for sailing times and be sure to get here a few minutes early. One ferry will be closer to shore, and one further out. A telephoto zoom lens works best here with the setting based on how close the ferry is. For a close ferry, 100 to 200 mm may work well. If it is further off shore, 200 to 300 mm may work better. Ferries move faster than they appear to; be sure to use a shutter speed of at least 1/125th of a second to keep the boat from blurring. If you are shooting near sunrise or sunset, you may need to boost your ISO setting. Consequently, the light will be best in the late afternoon to sunset all year-long or at sunrise to early morning from March through early October.

South Beach Drive is a narrow road with no parking available, at least where it is next to the water. If you come via Toe Jam Hill Road (you have to love that name), there are one or two parking spots on the hill 50 to 100 yards above South Beach Drive (the approach on Toe Jam Hill Road is a steep downhill decline). Alternatively, there are a few parking spots on South Beach Drive west of the viewpoints along the water. Either way, you will need to walk at least a short distance to capture the shot.

I took the above shot a couple weeks ago for inclusion in my latest project – a photography guide to Puget Sound for Snapp Guides. The guide should be ready in a few months, and I’ll post more about it soon.


A Good Man

Today we buried my father. Ernest John Becker was an amazing, yet humble man. He was a leader in the Spokane community, serving on many civic, Gonzaga University, and church boards. He was the managing partner at the biggest accounting firm in the city. Yet, at least with his kids, he didn’t talk about these things. To us kids, he was just Dad.

Dad grew up in Colton, Washington, a small farming community near Pullman. Actually, he grew up on a farm several miles outside Colton. He was one of 14 children. The farm was at the base of Bald Butte, a rounded chunk of bedrock sticking several hundred feet above the rolling hills of the Palouse. Several years ago, I talked with Dad about his life, and he said that Bald Butte was his favorite place. It held great memories for him of growing up on the farm, and he still liked to visit the Palouse and Bald Butte when he got the chance.

He eventually left the farm, joining the Army and serving in the Korean War. He didn’t talk much about those days, at least to me or my siblings. After three years in the Army, he returned to Washington and attended Gonzaga University, earning a degree in accounting. About that time, he married my mother, and together they started their own large family. I am one of seven children; the oldest boy, third oldest overall.

Over the past week, all of us shared photos of Dad. I have all the old slides that Mom and Dad shot from the late 1950s through the 1980s. I went through several hundred, and scanned quite a few to share with my brothers and sisters. One brother made photo collages for the reception after the service; I made a slide show of Dad’s life. There were several shots of Dad proudly holding his first baby son back in 1959 and 60, and I couldn’t help but think today, that now I was carrying him as one of the pall bearers.

I suppose I got my love of photography from him. While growing up, whenever we took a trip, Dad had his camera out, taking photos of the family and the scenery. I don’t know when he got his first camera, I never had the chance to ask, but I did scan one photo of Dad as a young man, perhaps 20 years old, camera in hand. My mother also took a lot of photos, so perhaps I came to photography from both sides.

Dad also bestowed his love of nature on me (and my siblings). Every year he’d load up the station wagon and hitch up the tent trailer, and off the nine of us would go to explore the American west. I remember trips to Glacier National Park, the Oregon coast, Arches National Park, Yellowstone, the west coast of Vancouver Island, and southern California.

He loved to travel. A few years after my mother died, Dad met and fell in love with my stepmom, Anita. There  eight years ago, when Dad was 81 years old. Together they discovered the wonders of Europe and Hawaii during multiple trips. In between the trips, they enjoyed life in Spokane. It was wonderful to see him so happy in his later years.

I’m like him in so many ways – the photography, love of nature and travel, quiet by nature – and I must have been told 20 times today at the funeral that I look just like him. Which is good, I guess, since I think he was a handsome man. Perhaps you agree? The photo above is one I took about two years ago, at Bald Butte in fact. It was probably the last time he was there. The one below is his high-school portrait – then the year he left the farm and Bald Butte behind to make his way in the world.

He died about two weeks ago, and I still have a hard time believing he is gone. He was the very definition of a good man – humble, loyal, steadfast, smart, and generous. And while, perhaps, a little bit of him lives on in me, in my memories and my genes; I will miss him. Rest in peace Dad.

Tacoma Open Studio Tour – Come on By

Once a year, the artists in Tacoma open their studios to the public in the Tacoma Studio Tour. This free event is held annually as part of Tacoma Arts Month, where the city celebrates the arts and its artists. This year, the studio tour includes 70 artists at 42 locations. I am one of seven photographers participating. I’d like to personally invite any of my blog readers in the local area to come on by, see my studio, meet Tanya and Nahla in person, and talk about the art of photography.

The studio tour this Saturday and Sunday, October 14 and 17, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. I am stop number 4 on the tour. You can learn more about the tour using the link above or by going to the Tacoma Arts blog, which has run a 9-part series on the event (I’m part of part 1).

As part of the tour, many artists are offering hands on activities. I am no exception. I’ve done some work with scanography – the art of making photographs using a flat-bed scanner. I will have the scanner set up so my guests can try their own hand at scanography and take home a print of their masterpiece. This is a fun activity, which I previously blogged about. In addition, I”ll have about 40 prints on display.

Hope to see you this weekend!


I’ve lived in Washington a long time and driven by Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park seemingly countless times (okay, perhaps several dozen), but I’ve never taken the short trail to Marymere Falls. Last week I cured this default. I left Tacoma before sunrise (and boy is that early this time of year), hoping to catch the rising sun on the Olympics from the shores of Hood Canal, but the sky was overcast and the sun rose without apparent effect. But overcast skies are great for waterfall photography, so I drove on and reached the Marymere Falls trailhead, reaching the parking lot a little after 7 a.m.

I was the first  one there, which is always a plus when photographing popular spots. And this hike is popular, and deservingly so. It travels through moss-covered old growth forest along a pretty creek to a beautiful waterfall. It is short, only 1.5 miles roundtrip, and is flat until the end, where it climbs several hundred feet to the falls.

Though it is an out-and-back trail, end of the trail near the falls has a small loop. As the trail nears the falls, it crosses over Barnes Creek (on a relatively new steel bridge) and then quickly over Falls Creek (on a classic one-person-wide wooden log bridge. From there, the trail climbs uphill and forms a small loop, leading to two viewpoints of the falls, one directly at the base, and one higher up nearly level with the top of the falls. I found the views at the lower level, and part way up from there, to be better for photography than at the upper viewpoint.

I mostly had the falls to myself, only interrupted by two sets of people who came quickly through, and I spent about 20 to 30 minutes photographing (leaving shortly before about a dozen people arrived). I spent another 20 to 30 minutes photographing in the forest on the way out. All in all, it was worth the stop, and I wondered why it took me so long to give it a try.

Detail shot of Marymere Falls.

Barnes Creek along the Marymere Falls trail.

Scene in the forest along the trail.

Devils club growing along the trail.

Large old growth tree adjacent to the trail. It’s hard to tell how big this tree is by this photo, but I estimate it is at least 6 to 8 feet in diameter.

Speaking Tomorrow Night

Scenic Seattle Front CoverI just wanted to let you know that I will be speaking tomorrow night (February 7th) at 7 p.m. at the University Place library about my book, Scenic Seattle. I’ll be discussing how I turned my personal project into a published book, showing photographs of Seattle (including some that did not make it in the book), and answering any questions about photography. Here’s a flyer from the library about the talk. So if you are in the area, come by and say hello.

The library is located at: 3609 Market Place W, Suite 100, University Place, Washington. There is parking available both in front of the library and also in the parking garage underneath the library off of Drexler Drive behind the library building.

UPDATE: the talk tonight was just cancelled because of the weather. I’ll let you know when it is rescheduled.