November is often a dreary month in the Pacific Northwest, and I find it hard to get excited about outdoor photography. The fall colors are mostly gone and it rains (a lot) west of the Cascade Mountains. The hope of winter photography is often yet not realized – if there is much snow in the mountains, it is often heavy, wet, and melting under dull gray skies. Okay, things aren’t quite that bad, but November is not my favorite time of year for photography.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised last week when I tagged along with Tanya to her work conference in Vancouver, Washington and found some good November photography. While Tanya was being educated, I decided to drive down into the Willamette Valley of Oregon to visit a few wineries and take some pictures. It was sunny on and off throughout the day mixed with light rain. Not perfect conditions, but better than the steady downpours we’ve been having lately.
The Willamette Valley south of Portland is chock full of wineries and vineyards, and it can be hard to figure out where to go for photography. So once again I relied on an excellent photography guidebook by Greg Vaughn, this one about Oregon. In his section on the Willamette Valley, he lists several wineries that are particularly photogenic, so I picked out a few of those and plotted a route through the area.
Unfortunately, most of the grape vines had already lost their leaves, but I was able to find enough to take a few colorful late fall photographs. Mid-November is a bit late for color here, and based on what I saw, I’d think late October would be much better. But between the photography and the wine tasting, it was one of my better days photographing in November.
On Christmas Day, Tanya received a phone call from a friend of ours. The friend and partner had been in a car accident on the Oregon coast and were in the hospital in Tillamook, though luckily the injuries appeared to be minor. Their car, on the other hand, was totaled. Was it possible for us to drive down and pick them up? Both Tanya and I love the Oregon coast, so it wasn’t too hard for us to agree to drive down.
We drove to Tillamook the day after Christmas. I hoped to get some sunset shots on the coast that day, but by the time we checked the friends out of the hospital, it was getting dark. Besides, it was raining. Maybe at sunrise the next morning? The friends wanted to sleep in, so perhaps I’d have time in the morning to run to the beach.
Tillamook itself is inland off the coast, but it is close to three capes and many beaches. The Three Capes Scenic Route leaves Tillamook and is extremely scenic. I’ve driven it several times, and I highly recommend it. However, last week I only had a limited amount of time, so I picked Cape Kiwanda, the southernmost of the three capes, to go to. Cape Kiwanda is quite unusual for the Oregon coast. It is formed by an yellow to orange sandstone, unlike the black volcanic capes common elsewhere on the coast. Plus it is more accessible and not totally tree covered like the other capes. I have been there once or twice before, but never had time to explore it beyond the adjoining beach. I also picked it because of an added bonus of high tide occurring in the morning – perfect for capturing images of waves crashing on the rocks.
I got up early and convinced Tanya to come with me. We drove down to Cape Kiwanda, about 25 miles south of Tillamook. We got there about 7:45 a.m., a little before sunrise. It was raining, but at least it wasn’t completely overcast like the previous evening. There were even a few patches of blue sky and pastel-colored clouds to the northwest. I bundled up against the wind and rain, walked down the beach to the cape.
Cape Kiwanda is formed by sandstone cliffs jutting out into the water and a large, tree-topped sand dune plastered against the mainland. It is not large as far as Oregon capes go, it only sticks out into the the ocean from the beach perhaps a 2,000 feet. Nor is it tall, with the sand dune rising to a bit over 100 feet in elevation and the sandstone cliffs being half that. It is quite easy to walk out onto the cape by traversing the side of the sand dune from the beach up to the top of the sandstone.
The first thing one notices when climbing up onto the cape is a fence with warning signs attempting to keep the public from getting near the cliff edges. The fence is very easy to cross (in some places, sand has piled up against it so you can easily step over without any effort). But don’t be mistaken, Cape Kiwanda is a dangerous place. IT is perhaps the deadliest place on the Oregon coast; six people have died deaths there in the past two years. The pounding waves of the Pacific easily erode the sandstone cliffs, which helps create their natural beauty, but also makes them unpredictable. The edges of the cliffs can collapse at any time. As a geologist, I agree getting near the edge of such cliffs, particular when waves are hitting them is foolish. Additionally, it contains an area known as the Punchbowl – an inviting rocky cove with a sea cave that becomes a cauldron of white water at high tide.
The waves aren’t the only factor in eroding the cape. It’s famous hoodoo, known as the Pedestal or Duckbill Rock, was destroyed by vandals in 2016. What a waste. (This is another example of photograph it while you can because you will never know if you will have another opportunity.) Prudence is definitely called for if you venture beyond the fence. However, I freely admit I did to get the shots shown here, though I was careful to stay away from the edge.
By the time I hiked up onto the cape, the rain had stopped, though the wind was still blowing hard. I set up my tripod and shot the Punchbowl from a couple different angles, trying to capture the fury of the waves. Though I shot a few images with slow shutter speeds to create water blurs, I was worried about the wind causing camera shake, even with the tripod, so I increased my shutter speed and ISO setting (with the sun covered by clouds, it was a bit dark). I moved around a bit and found a nice view of a sea arch being pummeled by crashing waves. Unfortunately, the rain returned with a vengeance, and I packed up the camera for awhile. But just as quickly as it came, the rain let up, and I continued shooting. The sun even came out for about five minutes, lighting up the tops of the cliffs.
I was running short on time (we needed to get back to Tillamook to pick up our friends), so I huffed up to the top of the sand dune for a quick overview and then headed back to the car. I easily could have spent several more hours there. Tanya and I headed back to town, picked up our friends, made a visit to the cheese factory (a seemingly mandatory stop in Tillamook), and drove back to Tacoma. It was a quick trip, the result of an unfortunate accident that, based on the shots I later pulled up on my computer, had real Kiwanda benefits.
On my trip several weeks ago, besides visiting Silver Falls State Park, I drove through some of the Oregon Cascades. It was, perhaps, not the height of autumn color in the Cascade Mountains, but it was close. Prime time may have been last week, or maybe this one. Regardless, now is the time to be out there; the mountains in Oregon, and here in Washington, only surrender some of their green for a short time each year.
I hoped I’d have more time to write a post about the Oregon Cascades, but unfortunately I don’t. I will say they do seem more accessible than the Washington Cascades, with more and better access roads. After just a couple of days there this fall, I know I’d like to go back for at least a week, if not longer. So with that, I’ll just post a few images I captured in the mountains (and one in the Columbia Gorge, as well), and let the images speak for themselves about autumn in the Oregon Cascades.
Tanya and I spent three days in Oregon last week. We stayed in Silverton, and I made several trips to Silver Falls State Park as well as a couple drives up into the Cascades looking for autumn color. Due to the drought we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest, there wasn’t much water in the falls at Silver Falls State Park, but the color was nice. It was a great time to be out enjoying the outdoors. I’ll post a few more shots from the trip later, but for now, I give you this early morning shot of North Falls in Silver Falls State Park. Enjoy.
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.
Last weekend my niece Michele got married in Mosier, Oregon. For those of you who don’t know where Mosier is, it is in the Columbia Gorge between Hood River and The Dalles. The Columbia Gorge, also known around here just as the “Gorge”, where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountains on its way to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a special place, best known for windsurfing and waterfalls. Despite a 100 degree F (38 degrees C) day, it was a “gorgeous” wedding.
It was a quick trip for us, down on Saturday, back on Sunday, and I didn’t get my camera out very much. But here’s a few shots from the trip, nothing too special. One is from the wedding reception of my niece dancing with her new husband, one is of a cloudless sunset over the Gorge, and one is of Mount Adams that I took on the way home (driving US Forest Service roads instead of the highway). Enjoy.
The second half of our long weekend on the Oregon coast started with Mother’s Day. Since it was also the first great weather weekend of the spring, the beaches were crowded. We stopped at Hug Point State Park and barely found a parking spot. People were everywhere, and I didn’t take any photos there. We then went to Ecola State Park at the northern end of Cannon Beach. It was also crowded (we had to wait for a parking spot at Indian Beach, and the Ecola parking lot was only had a few spots available), and I mainly scouted for views I’d come back for later. After scouting, we drove back to our camp for an early dinner.
I drove back to Ecola about 2 hours before sunset, going first to Indian Beach, than up to Ecola Point; it was much less crowded. While shooting at Ecola Point (taking the classic shot south to Cannon Beach), a couple named Sean and Lisa shared the viewpoint with me. After a short while, Sean got down on his knee and proposed to Lisa. Very romantic (except for the photographer trying his best to to interfere). They asked if I took “people pictures” (which I do) and asked if I’d take a few photos of them during this special moment. I shot off a few dozen shots and we traded contact information. A bit later, we both enjoyed the sunset, Sean and Lisa holding each other, me shooting away at the sun sinking into the Pacific.
The featured image above is a 3-shot panorama of the classic shot of Cannon Beach from Ecola Point. All the images below were taken in Ecola State Park, except the one of Carson, which I took on the beach near our campground in Nehalem Bay State Park.
Earlier this month, Tanya and I packed up Carson and the camping gear and headed south to the Oregon coast for a 4-day weekend. Being a Washington native, I suppose it is sacrilegious to admit I like the Oregon coast better than the Washington coast. Most of the easily accessible ocean beach in Washington consists of broad sandy beaches like those at Ocean Shores, which I posted about recently. I prefer a few rocky headlands to provide variety, tide pools, and wave action, like is found along much of the Oregon coast. Additionally, because of longshore drift bringing sediment north from the Columbia River, the water in Washington is silty and usually has a brown tint. Without any large rivers flowing into Oregon’s coast (south of the Columbia), the water is much cleaner.
Not wanting to drive too long, we chose to camp at Nehalem Bay State Park, about a 3 to 4 hour drive from Tacoma. This site gave me fairly quick access to the Cannon Beach and Three Capes areas. The weather couldn’t have been better (well, that’s not true, a photographer is never satisfied with the weather, there could have been a few more clouds to help create interest in the sky). The main problem was that the trip was over Mother’s Day weekend, which when combined with the nice weather, really brought out the crowds to the beach. As a result, most of the images I took were in the golden hours of early morning and late evenings, which not only had less people about, but better light than mid-day.
The photos featured here are from the Friday and Saturday portions of the trip. I’ll show images from the 2nd half of the trip in my next post.
It is finally acting like summer around the Pacific Northwest. The high temperatures in Tacoma so far in July have all been over 70 degrees (though only one day was over 80). This might not see like summer temperatures for a lot of places; but it is for here, especially after the cold wet spring we had.
I’ve always thought that with summer comes traveling. I have always enjoyed traveling in the summer – both on long vacation trips and on short day trips – much more than traveling in the winter. This may stem from my childhood, when every summer my parents packed up the station wagon with us seven kids, attached the tent trailer, and headed off of a family vacation. I don’t have any extended travel plans for this summer, but do hope to make a number of short trips (starting tomorrow with a trip up to Sequim to see if the lavender fields are blooming).
In celebration of July travel, I’m posting a series of photos taken in the month of July from 2004 through 2010.
Occasionally friends ask me how to take better photographs. Often the question centers around whether to buy a new camera. Will buying the newest DSLR or point-and-shoot give them better pictures? The answer is generally no. For novices, the simplest way to get better pictures is to use good composition when taking photos. Better equipment will only help if you have the basics of composition down to begin with. Without good compositional skills, a better camera will just give you higher resolution bad images. You might be able to make a 20×30-inch print without sacrificing detail, but the detail will still be boring to look at. To a professional, nothing screams “amateurish” more than placing the subject dead center in the frame. (Of course, like all rules, this one occasional can sometimes be broken with good effect, but trust me, until you know better, don’t break this compositional rule!)
While whole books have been written on composition, the easiest compositional trick to better looking photos is to avoid the “bull’s eye syndrome.” A corollary is to use the “rule of thirds.”
What do I mean by the bull’s eye syndrome? As you might know (especially if you are a dart player like I am – hard tips only please) the bull’s eye is the center of the dart board. A photo with bull’s eye syndrome has the subject of the photograph dead center in the frame. Nothing could be more boring! Imagine you are taking a picture of your sweetie. If you place her (or him) dead center in the frame, making a bull’s eye of them, you leave a lot of dead space above their head. If you are trying for a full body shot, by placing their face in the middle, they are twice as small in the frame as they would be their face was placed at the top of the frame. If you remember one compositional rule, make it this – do not place your subject in the center of the frame!
So, if not in the center, where do you place a photographic subject, you ask? That’s were the rule of thirds comes in. Imagine your frame divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically, making a grid. Some point-and-shoot cameras even come with an option to show these lines on the LCD screen when photographing. If your camera has this option, be sure to use it! Now, whether you can see the lines or just have to imagine them, place your subject on the intersection point of two of these lines.
You can also use the lines instead of just the intersection points. If a horizon is in the scene, place it on one of the horizontal lines. If there is a tall vertical object in the scene, a tree or tall building perhaps, place it on one of the vertical lines.
The photo above illustrates this principle. It is a photograph of my wife, Tanya, that I took down on the beach in Oregon a couple of years ago. Note how she is about one-third of the way into the photo, and the waterline is roughly one-third of the way down from the top. I’ve also included a smaller image that shows these one-third lines. Imagine how poor image would look if Tanya’s face was dead center in the frame. There would be a ton of boring, featureless sky above her head, and she would be a lot smaller to keep her whole body in the picture.
Another thing to note is that you don’t have to hit the one-third lines and intersection points exactly to have an effective composition. In the example with Tanya, the waterline is a bit above the one-third line, but it still works well.
That’s basically it. Avoid bulls eyes and use the rule of thirds, and your photos will look a lot better than the average snapshot.