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.
April in the Skagit Valley is one on the photographic highlights of Washington State. April is when the tulip and daffodil fields west of Mount Vernon are in bloom (actually, the daffodils typically start blooming in March). These fields, and the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, attract big crowds – and, therefore, I’ve avoided them for years (actually I did photograph some of the early daffodil fields a few years back, visiting at non-busy time). However, I did venture up to the fields last Friday – and wow, was I missing out by not going earlier. Actually, I picked a good day. It was rainy in Seattle and Tacoma, but not too bad up in Mount Vernon, and the weather may have kept the crowds down (being a weekday also helped). There still were plenty of people, just not the mobs the flowers attract like bees on sunny weekends.
Here’s a quick report:
- best time to go – go now! The tulips are at their peak. The early tulips have already been headed (the growers de-head the tulips to prevent disease and promote bulb growth, and the longer you wait, the more flowers will be de-headed), the mid-season tulips are in full bloom, and the late-season ones are just starting. Most the daffodil fields are long-past their prime, though a few still have decent flowers.
- best display garden – Roozengaarde. There are two major tulip growers in the valley, Roozengaarde (a division of Washington Bulb) and Tulip Town. Both have display gardens. Roozengaarde’s is larger and better developed. There is an entry fee of $5 – well worth it. This fee also gets you into their tulip field across the road. Roozengaarde’s other tulip fields, elsewhere in valley, are free to visit.
- best tulip field – Tulip Town. Behind the display garden at Tulip Town is relatively small tulip field, but one packed with lots of colors and varieties. Most the other tulip fields in the valley are very large, and though they may have several varieties of tulips, it’s difficult to get more than a couple of varieties into a single image. No such problem at Tulip Town. Another big advantage at Tulip Town is two red barns next to the field that make good backgrounds. Like Roozengaarde, there is a $5 entry fee.
- weather – it rains a lot in the area in April, you just have to work with it. Sunny days (like today) are great, but not very predictable unless you have a flexible schedule. You can make great photos on cloudy days, or even in the rain (as long it is not a downpour).
- footwear – the fields are muddy – extremely muddy if it has rained lately. Wear boots. I wore hiking boots; many people had rubber bo0ts.
- pets – of course, Tanya and I had Carson with us. Dogs are not allowed in the display garden at Roozengaarde or in Tulip Town, but are allowed in most the fields. Carson had a great time laying in mud puddles.
- parking – the entrance fee to Roozengaarde also pays for parking at their fields – assuming the parking lots are open (they close if it is too muddy). There is also a parking lot at Tulip Town. Otherwise, you will need to park on the road. Be warned: if any part of your car is across the marking the edge of the road, you will get ticketed. The local cops were out in force when we were there.
Last week Tanya, Carson (our Newfoundland), and I circumnavigated Hood Canal. (For those not familiar with Washington State geography, Hood Canal is not a canal. It is a natural saltwater channel, essentially a fiord – long and narrow- that runs along the east side of the Olympic Mountains.) I was hunting for good photographs. Tanya and Carson went along for the ride. We first stopped at Shine Tidelands State Park, on the west side of the Hood Canal Bridge. The tide was very low, and we saw some interesting sea life. Carson took a swim, or more like a wade (he seems to be the only Newfoundland in the world that doesn’t like going in water deeper than where he can touch the bottom). Not much photographically, but fun nonetheless.
We continued west and then south, through Quilcene to Mount Walker. I was hoping to get some forest shots of wild rhododendrons. The road to the top of Mount Walker is lined with them. Unfortunately, we only saw one bud just starting to open. That’s it. We probably saw 2,500 rhodies, but no blooms. To make matters worse, it was raining on the top of Mount Walker. There are two viewpoints up there. At the northern viewpoint, we could only see a couple dozen yards. At the southern one, there was a hole in the clouds, so I did trip the shutter a few times (in the rain) looking down on a sunny Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Nothing too special, but it gave me a chance to use my rain sleeve.
After driving back down to the highway, and a quick-lunch stop, we continued on to Brinnon. There we stopped at Whitney Gardens and Nursery. Whitney Gardens includes over 7 acres of rhododendrons and azaleas, seemingly in peak bloom, as well as other plants and trees. It was not crowded, most people were staying in the nursery portion of the grounds. I had the garden to myself. With the sun in and out of the clouds, I was watching out for too much contrast. So I looked for compositions mostly in the shade or when the sun was behind the clouds. After about an hour and a half, I’d had my fill of rhodies.
We then drove up the Dosewallips River Road to look for river and forest scenes. We pasted a herd of elk on the way out of Brinnon, as I didn’t have the big glass (big for me anyway) on the camera. I decided to shoot the elk on the way back. We stopped a Rocky Brook Falls and it had a good flow. The sun was fully out now, and the contrast was too much for any decent waterfall shots. But back at the car, we found it wouldn’t start! We had the starter replaced about a week earlier, but since it was “fixed”, it sometimes wouldn’t start when the engine is hot. So we had to wait, but that just gave me more time at Rocky Brook. By now the clouds had come back some and the contrast had dropped considerably. I was able to capture a decent shot of the creek and a better one of the falls.
On the next try, the car started right up, and we drove to the end of the road. On the way back, I took a few shots of the Dosewallips River and put on the 70-200mm lens with a teleconvertor to shoot the elk when we got back toward town. The elk were still there, now on both sides of the road. They apparently didn’t like the looks of me, because they sure turned their backsides toward the camera whenever I stuck it out the window!
Back on the highway, we continued south. At the Hamma Hamma River, we again drove in toward the Olympic Mountains. I took a few shots of the river, but not much else caught my eye, so it was back to the highway. But a short ways down the highway, at the mouth of the Hamma Hamma, there was a good view over Hood Canal. The tide was now high, and the Hamma Hamma delta was flooded. I liked the flooded grasses in the delta with big towering clouds on the other side of the canal.
We skipped the drive up to Staircase and stopped at the Tacoma Power park at Potlatch for a picnic dinner, though it was a bit cold to eat outside the car. After dinner, Carson took another “swim” off the boat ramp. Then it was on to the far side of Hood Canal near Union to find a good spot for sunset shots. Earlier in the day I would have bet we would not have seen a sunset, it was that cloudy. But now, there was the chance for a colorful one. We drove up and down the highway south of Union, and I finally decided on a spot overlooking the Skokomish delta, with Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains in the background. The mountains were mostly covered with clouds, but the sunset wasn’t bad. Based on the featured photo on this blog, you be the judge.
I spent about an hour at the spot, first waiting for the sun to set, than shooting about 180 frames. I had used most of an 8 GB card earlier in the day, so for these sunset shots, I put in a new 4 GB card. I was pretty happy with the results and we headed home.
By this time, you might be wondering why this blog entry is titled “The Lost Sunset.” Well, the next day I downloaded the 8 GB card with no problem. I was using an external hard drive with a card reader attached with a USB cable to my computer, downloading directly to Lightroom and backing up at the same time. When I stuck the card in with the sunset shots, it went in a little funny. Lightroom showed the first two shots and the very last shot, all the rest were nothing but white frames with lots of color noise. I pulled the card out and saw one of the pins on the card reader bent flat. I put the card back into the camera, and the camera failed to recognize it. The card was corrupt and my sunset shots were lost. I felt slightly sick.
At the time I didn’t own any file recovery software. The following day I did some research on the internet, and downloaded a couple of free programs. Both these succeeded in pulling some old photographs off the corrupt memory card – photos left over from an old shoot, shots that had been erased when I reformatted the card prior to the card at Hood Canal. Neither was able to same the sunset shots. I had heard that PhotoRescue was good program, so I downloaded it. Though it costs about $30, it allows you to try before you buy by showing thumbnail images of the files it can recovery. It seemed to work, and $30 later, I had my lost sunset shots.
I guess the morale of the story is don’t force your compact flash memory cards into a card reader. If they don’t go in smoothly, try lining it up again. And if all else fails, try PhotoRescue. It rescued me.