Last weekend, I drove to Spokane to see my Dad. Rather than take the interstate the whole way, I drove a slightly longer, but more scenic route, that took me through the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. I was hoping that spring had brought wildflowers to the refuge, but I was too early in the season (I think the wildflowers in eastern Washington are late this year – does anyone have a wildflower report for the area?). No flowers, but wonderful dynamic skies, as I hope this shot shows. I didn’t have much time for photography, it is a five-hour drive without stops after all, but did get a few “keepers.” Enjoy this quick shot of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington.
A week ago, on a trip with Tanya and her mother, we stopped at Whitney Gardens and Nursery in Brinnon, Washington. This place is hidden gem for photography, especially in the spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas are blooming.
Whitney Garden covers 7 acres in the small town of Brinnon along the west shore of Hood Canal. They have a huge collection of azaleas (about 220 types) and both hybrid (about 700 varieties) and species (about 150 varieties) rhododendrons as well as camellias, magnolias, and many other plants. The rhodies start blooming in February and the color peaks in early May. When we were there last weekend, there was plenty of color to photography, though you could easily see the place will be a riot of blooms later next month. With many deciduous trees and bushes, it is probably also colorful in the fall, though I have only been there in spring time.
There is an admission fee of $1 per person. The garden is open year round, with garden viewing hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. February through October and until 4:30 p.m. in November through January.
I captured the photo above, and the first three below, last weekend. The remaining images below I took several years ago in mid-May. The garden will be in its prime soon; don’t miss it.
Earlier this week, Tanya and I spent two nights in the Palouse. I’ve posted about the Palouse before (see this post from last summer about the Palouse in its “brown phase”, and these two posts from three years ago – one about the Palouse in general, including Steptoe, and one concentrating on the church at Freeze, Idaho), so for now, I’ll just post a few images I took from Steptoe Butte. More from the trip later. Meanwhile, enjoy these images taken from Steptoe Butte last Monday evening.
Not only have I not posted in awhile, I haven’t had time to get the camera out either and it was starting to make me antsy. So yesterday evening, I grabbed the camera and drove down the hill to take a few shots of Mount Rainier and the sunset from Ruston Way here in Tacoma. These shots were taken from a spot about a mile from my house. I still want to get out for a full day with camera in hand, but for a short while, the hour I spent last night scratched my photography itch. Do you have a special, go-to spot when you just have to get out there an click a shutter button for awhile?
February is a time of two seasons in western Washington. Winter still rules in the mountains (see my last post) and spring arrives in the lowlands. One of the best places to see the meeting of the seasons is on Skagit River delta west of the town of Mount Vernon. Between the South and North Forks of the Skagit River, lies Fir Island – home to thousands of snow geese every winter. Just north of the North Fork lies thousands of fertile acres, many planted with spring flowers.
The snow geese generally arrive in November and are gone by April, with the peak number from mid-December through mid-January. At their peak, there are easily tens of thousands of geese present on Fir Island. Besides the geese, trumpeter swans and tundra swans also migrate to the area. Like bald eagles? Plenty of them as well.
The field north of the river have a few geese as well, but are mainly known for their spring daffodils and tulips. By the time the tulips arrive, the geese are gone, but if your timing it right, you can see the snow geese and blooming daffodil fields on the same trip.
Six years ago, during the first weekend of March, I went to the area and found a huge flock of geese and acres of blooming yellow daffodils. Last week, friend and I made the trip, hoping to duplicate my timing of 2010. And we saw thousands of geese, a few swans, and a dozen or so bald eagles. Unfortunately, we were a bit early for the daffodils – they were just starting to bloom. I would guess that this week and next may be prime blooming.
To see the geese and swans, head north from Seattle on Interstate 5 and take the Conway exit (exit #221). Turn west off the freeway, and at the roundabout in Conway, get on Fir Island Road. The geese can usually be found in the fields either north or south of Fir Island Road a mile or two after you cross the Skagit River. The geese spend the night on the water, and fly back inland during the morning. Last week, we arrived a little before sunrise, a bit early for the geese. But by the time we had finished taking a few sunrise shots, we heard honking on the air. We watched geese fly in in groups of 2 to 200, most landing at a field a few hundred meters off the road. Later in the morning, a few bigger flocks (maybe a 1,000 birds) flew in. It was an amazing sight.
With luck, the flocks will land close to the road and you can get good shots with a 70-200mm zoom lens (as was the case when saw them in 2010). That was not the case last week for me, and I found myself wanting something in the 400 to 600 mm range (which I do not own). I shot with my 70-200mm with a 1.4x teleconvertor.
Want the best of winter and spring in the Puget Sound lowlands – take my advice and try the geese and daffodils of the Skagit River delta in late February and early March.
For various reasons I haven’t picked up my camera in about six weeks and it is driving me crazy. David duChemin recently wrote a blog post about tending the fire that really spoke to me and I promised myself I’d get out this weekend. But life got in the way. My son Brooks, and otherwise healthy 26-year old, had his lung partially collapse without an apparent reason on Thursday and is now in the hospital. He may get out tomorrow (we hope). With this, Tanya and I have been spending a lot of time driving back and forth to Seattle to visit Brooks in the hospital. So, no photography this weekend.
So instead, since it has also been a few weeks since I posted, I give you some shots from five years ago this month, when Tanya and I drove to San Diego to see daughter Janelle when she was going to university. Along the way we stopped for a couple of hours at Pinnacles National Monument, which in 2013 became a National Park. I don’t imagine much changed when it gained park status, except perhaps more visitors. When we were there in 2010, it was rather out-of-the-way and quiet. I hope it still is. I’d like to get back some day and spend more time exploring. When we were there in 2010, the wildflowers were blooming. Spring is such a wonderful time of year. Enjoy these shots from Pinnacles National
I’ve lived in Washington nearly my whole life, yet only heard about the Beezley Hills Preserve this year. Beezley Hills Preserve is a 4,800-acre natural area protected by the Nature Conservancy. On the hills north of Quincy, Washington, the preserve has views south over the Columbia Basin and west to the Cascade Mountains. However, the views aren’t the reason to visit – the plant life is. Beezley Hills is part of one of the largest intact tracts of shrub-steppe ecosystem in the state and one of the best wildflower spots in eastern Washington. Spring time, from late April to mid-May, is prime time to visit when most of the wildflowers are blooming. It’s during these few weeks in spring when this sagebrush desert shows its best colors.
Tanya, Nahla and I visited last Friday, April 25, and the wildflowers were not quite yet at their peak bloom. We did see arrowleaf balsamroot, Hooker’s balsamroot, phlox, sagebrush violet, trumpet bluebells, and common spring gold all in full bloom. My favorite, the hedgehog cacti, were just starting to bloom. Cactus are not that common in Washington, and Beezley has one of the largest concentrations of hedgehog cactus in the state. The lupines and bitteroots, for the most part, were not yet blooming, though we did see one white sulphur lupine just starting to flower (white sulphur lupines are the only white lupine in Washington). Beezley doesn’t get much visitation. We only saw two other people while on our hike, and they were just leaving as we arrived.
To reach Beezley Hills Preserve, make your way to Quincy (take either exit 149 or 151 off Interstate 90) and head east on Highway 28. Near the eastern edge of town, turn north on Columbia Way, which curves into Road P NW, also known as Monument Hill Road. (Note: directions I found in one guidebook and on the internet for Beezley Hills say to turn onto Road P NW off Highway 28. However, you can only turn south on Road P from Highway 28, not north.) Drive 7.1 miles and park next to the access road for a communications tower at the top of the hill. On the south side of the road, there is a gate into the Beezley Hills Preserve, marked with a small sign reading “Nature Preserve – Foot Traffic Only.” There is no sign announcing the preserve.
From the gate, the trail is along an old jeep track, which becomes fainter with distance. After a short distance, we had trouble following the trail. However, it doesn’t matter much, hikers are free to roam at will through the preserve, taking care to not step on the fragile plants. The entire preserve is fenced. Just stay inside the fenced area. You cannot get lost, the communications tower is always visible. A loop around the property makes about a 3-mile hike.
We were there on a mostly cloudy day, which helps with wildflower close-up photos. On a sunny day, you may wish to bring a reflector and/or diffuser to help cut contrast. Consider bringing a macro lens for close-up shots. Alternatively, try a wide-angle lens and get in close to the flowers to show them in their natural setting. Sweeping vista shots will likely be best near sunrise and sunset, though I did okay with the cloudy skies in mid-afternoon. While spring is the best time to visit for wildflowers, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington, also suggests visiting in autumn.
After visiting Beezley Preserve, you might also consider a visit to nearby Moses Coulee for a totally different looking landscape. There are backroad routes into both the southern and northern portions of Moses Coulee from the Beezley Hills Preserve, but perhaps the easiest route, at least to the southern end of Moses Coulee, is to drive back to Quincy, head west on Highway 28 toward Wenatchee, and turn left onto Palisades Road where Moses Coulee where it intersects the Columbia River. The northern portion of the coulee, crossed by Highway 2, is not easily reached from Quincy on paved roads without a fairly lengthy drive.
Last week Tanya, Carson and I traveled to the Palouse region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho on a photo trip. I had originally planned on spending three nights in the area, but was only able to spend one due to receiving an assignment from American Bungalow magazine to photograph sites in Spokane (look for my photos in the August edition of the magazine). Luckily, the day I spent in the Palouse area was very productive.
The highlight of the trip, for me at least, was a pair of visits to Steptoe Butte, once at sunset and again during the following sunrise (which, I might mention, comes damn early in mid-June; in fact, the sun rose at 4:53 a.m., the earliest time all year for that location). Upon when driving up Steptoe Butte before sunset, we were lucky enough to run into my good friend and fellow photographer Jack Graham, who was leading a photo workshop in the Palouse. We hung out with Jack’s group and witnessed an excellent sunset. The sunrise (a mere 8 hours later), in contrast, was very plain (no clouds), but the early light did wonders with the rolling hills of the Palouse. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the wind, which shook my camera and softened up many of my images. I’ll have to go back next year with a bigger tripod.
Following sunrise, I drove some of the many back roads in the area looking for photo opportunities with the eventual goal of photographing the Freeze Community Church outside of Potlatch, Idaho. I shot a lot of pixels at the church and will show some of them in a follow-up blog post soon.
Eventually, I drove back to Colfax, Washington, where we were staying, and picked up Tanya and Carson (both of whom didn’t want to get up at 4:00 a.m. to go photograph the sunrise, imagine that!). Our afternoon goals were to visit Pullman (home of Washington State University, where Tanya went to school) and see Colton, a small town co-founded by my great-grandfather and great great uncle. The afternoon light didn’t offer many good photos, but we had a good time exploring the country side. Perhaps the most surrealistic moment was when we stopped at St. Gall’s Cemetery in Colton and seeing a headstone with my name on it, which belong to some long-lost relative of mine, as well as a headstone with my parents names – actually belonging to by great-grandparents (considering my Dad is still alive and my Mom is buried in Spokane).
While my highlight was Steptoe, Carson’s highlight of the trip was when we stopped to photograph the street sign for Becker Road (which is north of Colton and surrounded by wheat fields). Carson, being a dog of course, didn’t care about the sign, but did find something dead at the edge of a field which he promptly rolled upon. We remembered a pet grooming shop in Colfax, but when we drove by, it was closed with a sign stated “please call for an appointment.” Not very convenient when you have 140 pounds of stinky dog in your car. We called, but there was no answer, so we kept going on our drive to Spokane, where we were to spend the night at my Dad’s house, Carson (I’m sure) enjoying the smell much more than we did. In Spokane, we stopped at PetCo and found a waterless dog shampoo, which worked wonders and left us with a clean smelling end to our quick trip to the Palouse.
Monday, Tanya, Carson and I returned from a 4-day weekend on the Oregon coast. I’ll post some photos of that trip soon, as I haven’t had a chance to download them all yet. Meanwhile, I wanted to post about another day trip to Seattle last week. Since we are in the prime spring blooming season for azaleas and rhododendrons, I wanted to photograph Kubota Garden and the Washington Park Arboretum.
It was my first visit to Kubota Gardens, though I had heard many good things about it. It is a wonderful little park, about 20 acres (8 hectares) filled with a blend of Japanese and Pacific Northwest gardening styles. Fujitaro Kubota, an early 20-century immigrant from Japan, developed the garden for his personal pleasure and to serve his landscaping business. In 1972 Kubota received the Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese Government for his efforts introducing Japanese gardening to the United States. Kubota died a year later. When the garden was later threatened with development, the garden was declared a Historical Seattle Landmark and the City eventually purchased the property from the Kubotafamily. This place is definitely worth a visit.
I had been to Washington Park Arboretum before, but it has been about 30 years (back in my college days). The arboretum is jointly administered by the University of Washington and the City of Seattle. The arboretum is also home the Seattle Japanese Garden, which because of photography restrictions (no tripods except by becoming a “photographic member” and then only on 8 special days per year), I did not visit on this trip. Regardless, there was plenty to see in the rest of the arboretum. Azalea Way is the main path through the arboretum, and indeed it does have lots of few azaleas and rhodies along it. I spent most the visit along this path taking photos of the blooms.
Near the end of my visit, I was walking back to the car along Azalea Way hoping to get a shot of the path lined with colorful flowers. Even though there were lots of flowers, finding the right spot for this shot wasn’t as easy as I hoped (I wanted a shot with flowers on both side and the path curving – there weren’t too many spots like this). Finally I found a spot I thought might work. I stepped off to the side to take a shot. At this point I noticed a shirtless man sitting on a park bench about 25 to 30 yards (23 – 27 meters) away a short distance off the path. I really didn’t want him in the photo, but figured it added a bit of human interest and he would not be prominently visible in the frame (as I was using a wide-angle lens).
As I put the camera to my eye to line up a composition, the man on the bench stood up. I lowered the camera, not wanting him standing in the shot. He then proceeded to pull on some black shorts; he was not only topless, he was bottomless as well! (I had previously noticed his bare legs, but I had thought he was wearing shorts.) After pulling his shorts on, he quickly jogged straight at me, stopping about 5 feet (1.5 meters) away.
Though he was taller than me and probably outweighed me by 30 or 40 pounds (14-18 kilograms), he puffed himself up threateningly and sternly asked what the hell I was doing. I answered that I had not taken a picture. He said, “I made eye contact with you and you ignored it!” to which I thought “probably because I wasn’t looking at you and didn’t even want you in my photo in the first place.” Again I said I had not taken his photo, and again he ignored my response. He called me an obscene name, and again asked why I was taking his photo, and again I said I did not. He made a few other choice comments, and we sort of stared at each other a while longer. He finally said not to take any more photos. I said I wouldn’t and we both walked off. However, I couldn’t help but think, if he’s sunbathing in the nude next to a popular walking trail in a city of 600,000 people, why does he care if someone takes his picture? I still want the shot, but thought better of it and moved on down the path.
A short distance further, I actually found a better spot for the photo I wanted (with the added bonus of no naked men). Here’s a few photos from the trip, minus any naked men; the featured photo above is of the Moon Bridge in Kubota Gardens.
I wanted to label this post “Weather Forecasts Suck” but thought that was too self-evident. I’ve been trying to take a day off from my day job for the past 2 week to go out and do some photography. Unfortunately, I keep making the mistake of looking at the weather forecast.
Yesterday was the perfect example, the forecast called for 50% chance of rain, thunderstorms likely. So instead of taking the day off, I went to work. Sure enough, it did rain a bit in the morning, but then it stopped and the sun came out. Most of the day was partly cloudy, and it didn’t rain again until after the sun set. All in all, not much rain, no thunderstorms, and not too bad of conditions for photography (though the sunset was totally lacking). The spring weather foiled me again!
I keep reminding myself, that western Washingtonians need forget about the rain, or they will never go outside. So tomorrow, I’m taking the day off, rain or shine. In case you are curious, the forecast for tomorrow from the Weather Channel’s webpage: “Clouds and limited sunshine with the possibility of some scattered showers during the afternoon. High 53F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%. ”
Just so I could post a photo or two, I did take the camera out in the yard yesterday evening to get a few spring flower shots. These were all taken with my Canon 100mm macro lens.
Saturday, I went on a church retreat. Normally, Tanya has to talk me into these things, but this retreat included a session for photography! Talk about a progressive church! (We also had drumming and Tai Chi sessions.) The retreat was held at Pilgrim Firs, a UCC-sponsored camp and retreat center on the forested shores of Lake Flora in Kitsap County, Washington.
While spring has apparently sprung in the city (blooming trees and daffodils, etc.), it hasn’t quite hit the forests of Kitsap County. Though the forest is mostly evergreens, it has a kind of half-bare look. A lot of the undergrowth and the trees by the lake were still bare. No green leaf buds to be found! I’m not a fan of the typical western Washington winter forest look, so most of my images were macros of moss, leaves, bark, and such, though I did have some fun with the camp cat – a very impressive one-eyed orange tabby. – who, according to signs in the lodge, likes to get into visitors’ cars if the windows are open. Apparently, this cat rules the place.
Now that spring is here, I’ve tried to take a day off to go do some “real” photography, but have been thwarted by the weather. I might just have to suck it up and go in the rain (like I did for my coastal trip in February). I actually planned to take today off, but the weather report sent me to work instead. Maybe later this week. Meanwhile, I hope you like these images from the land of the one-eyed cat.
I first thought of this photograph 3 years ago. When driving through Olympia one spring day in 2009, I saw cherry trees losing their blossoms and thought, “A shot of the Capital with the cherry trees in bloom would sure look nice.” But, it was too late for that spring.
A year later, I remembered the idea, but never seemed to find the time during the short cherry blooming season. “Next year,” I vowed, ” I will make time to get to Olympia and get the shot.”
Well, next year came, and it was do it now or wait yet another year. I’ve been watching some cherry trees near my house in Tacoma, waiting for the peak bloom. I was also waiting for the skies to be anything other than blah gray. For those of you that live in western Washington, you know how gray the skies have been this spring. I put the extra restriction that I wanted to do the shoot on a weekend, because the State legislature is in session and the Capital has a lot of people running around it during the week.
Finally, after waiting several weeks, on April 9th, the skies looked like they may cooperate – at least it wasn’t raining! (In hindsight, maybe I should have waited a week, the weather was much better this weekend; but then, maybe not as the cherry trees are starting to drop their pedals). So I hightailed it down to Olympia the early morning. The skies were marginal, and there were still quite a few people around. I set up this shot and had to wait for pedestrians to vacant the walkway. But with a bit of patience, I was able to snap a few frames. The sky was very light, at least compare to the grassy area below the trees. So I planned on doing a high dynamic range image (HDR). So I shot sequences of three shots, 2 f-stops apart. Still I worried I wouldn’t get much definition and interest in the sky.
This week I was finally able to process the images. The one here is one of the results. The HDR worked well, and I was (with a little processing in Photoshop) able to get the sky looking pretty good. Overall, the image still needs some work; I probably need to go back and play with the HDR processing, and I will do so sometime soon. But for now, it looks pretty good. What do you think? Was it worth waiting 3 years for the shot?
Last week I discussed why I like the start of daylight savings time. One reason, the subject of last week’s blog – the time change. The second reason – the start of spring. As of yesterday, spring is finally here. I am not much of a winter person. And while summer is good, spring is great. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, but best of all, the photo opportunities are fantastic at this time of year.
As you may know, I live in the southern Puget Sound region of Washington, in Tacoma. Spring is the south sound is the best time of year for photographers. Don’t take my word for it. Check out Rod Barbee’s book, The Photographer’s Guide to Puget Sound & Northwest Washington. In his chapter on the South Sound, Rod lists the best time of year to photograph both the Tacoma and Olympia areas as spring. I don’t know what criteria Rod uses, but I’ll give you mine – flowers and unsettled weather. You can count on both to give you great images. And there is no better combination of both than in spring.
I captured all the images accompanying this blog in March. You never know what is in store in spring – one day it snows on your tulips, the next it’s a brilliant blue sky over a daffodil field, and in-between it’s cloudy and sunny and dark and light all at once. Dramatic weather makes for great photography. Flowers make great photography. That’s why I love spring.
I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Whatever time that alarm goes off, I still want just five more minutes. Please, just five more! So it may be a surprise to learn that I love it when Daylight Savings Time begins.
How’s that, you might ask; isn’t it “spring forward, fall back?” By adding an hour, don’t we lose and hour and won’t you have to get out of bed an hour earlier? True. When I need to get up to go to my day job, and that alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., my body will be still thinking it’s 5:30 a.m. Ouch, that will hurt. But, when I get up to do some sunrise photography, oh yeah, an extra hour of sleep. You see, the sun doesn’t care about Daylight Savings Time. Yesterday the sun rose on Tacoma at 6:29 a.m. Today (assuming one could see it behind the clouds), the sun rose at 7:27 a.m.
Photographers love the “golden hours,” those hours immediately before and after sunrise and sunset. The light is beautiful during those times and doesn’t have the harsh contrast sunlight takes on during mid-day. And now, the morning golden hours are an hour later! So later this week, if I want to get up for a sunrise shoot, I don’t have to get up at 5:30 a.m. anymore. And once my body adjusts to the new clock time, that’s something I can sleep on.
The photo accompanying this blog is an example of the golden hours – a Tacoma sunrise taken in March 2010 (disclaimer: this particular photograph was taken early in the month, prior to Daylight Savings Time).
There’s another reason I love the beginning of Daylight Savings Time – it means spring is here. More on this in my next blog.