I’m currently reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin. This book is full of nuggets of photographic wisdom, and I can highly recommend it to any photographer who wants to improve their game. You will not find much in the way of technical details about how to shoot great images. Instead, duChemin discusses the photographer’s mind and it relationship to picture-making.
There are easily dozens of blog post topics I could cover based on this book, but for now I’ll discuss his four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation; the first of which is to agree or to say “yes” and not “no.” That is, say yes to the scene in front of you even if it was not what you expected or intended. You could say this is to go with the flow (which duChemin also talks about earlier in the book). Say yes to photographing what the world gives you rather than turning your back on the scene and giving up because it isn’t what you wanted. Accept what’s there and make the most of it.
A couple weeks ago, I went over to Fox Island Bridge to take a photo of Mount Rainier with the full moon rising behind it right before sunset. This situation only happens on two days each year: the day before the full moon in both June and August. Last August I tried for the same shot with only limited success. I was disappointed from that shoot, and that probably set me up to ignore the principle of saying yes. The weather was not ideal, and the view of the moon was not very good. I snapped a few shots, including the shown here, and packed up and went home disappointed. I failed to look for what else nature might be offering up. It was a few days later that I read about duChemin’s first principle.
I should have known better even before reading the book. I had a similar idea earlier this year. Back in February, I wanted to photograph the full moon setting behind the Olympic Mountains at sunrise. On the appointed day, I got up early and drove across town to Brown’s Point in Northeast Tacoma. When I got there, the Olympics, let alone the moon, were obscured by clouds. I climbed back in the car and headed toward home, thinking that perhaps I still might get some decent sunrise shots from the Cliff House parking lot. Sure enough, Mount Rainier was visible and the rising sun painted it and the low hanging clouds, as shown on the featured shot above and the other images below. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I said yes to what was given, which wasn’t bad at all.
Tanya and I just returned from a second honeymoon in Greece. As a second honeymoon, I tried to keep photography as a lower priority, so I didn’t shoot as much as I would have normally (though Tanya says that any trip is a photography trip). But that doesn’t mean I didn’t take a few good shots. We spent a week on Crete, several days in the Delphi region, and four days in Athens. One morning while in Chania, also known as Hania, in northwestern Crete, I got up early for sunrise and went to the old Venetian Harbor. The light was magical, and the place was empty of the thousands of tourists that haunt the harbor area during the day and evening. This is a shot of the harbor entrance, showing the Venetian lighthouse, built in the 16th century.
I took the shot using a 10-stop neutral density filter to smooth the water. This is a 25-second exposure at f/8. I’ll be posting more from the trip over the next several weeks.
As I mentioned in my last post, Tanya and I recently spent several days camping east of Chinook Pass, during which I drove up to the pass for sunrise each morning. Chinook Pass is a great sunrise location, as it sits almost directly east of Mount Rainier and the view of the mountain is fantastic there with two alpine lakes – Tipsoo and Upper Tipsoo. Because of how the two lakes are situated, it is easy to get a reflection of Mount Rainier in upper Tipsoo Lake right from the shoreline, so it is the preferred lake for most photographers who know about it (Upper Tipsoo is not visible from the road, so unless you have prior knowledge or a map, you may not know it is there).
This is a great sunrise location because the rising sun imparts a beautiful alpenglow on the mountain when it is visible. That’s the tricky part, when it is visible. I tried three consecutive mornings for the shot. The first morning was cloudy; the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere). It wasn’t until the third morning (the day we packed up camp), I was able to capture the sunrise in all its glory.
Another feature of Mount Rainier favored by photographers is that the mountain often forms lenticular clouds. Such clouds can dramatically add to a sunrise (or sunset) shot, particularly if there are no other clouds around to break up a totally blue sky. Such was the case that third morning. In fact, there were two separate lenitcular clouds over Rainier that morning, delighting myself and the, perhaps, 10 or 12 other photographers there.
As you can attest by the photo above and below, I think it was worth getting up a 5 am to drive to the pass by sunrise at 5:30 am to capture this scene.
Sunset shots at Chinook Pass are a more iffy proposition. Because the mountain is west of the pass, you are not guaranteed a good showing of alpenglow. Instead, much depends on the clouds and how they light up. I did try for one sunset shot at Chinook Pass on the trip; the result is below. This shot was taken from above Tipsoo Lake, right next to the highway. Though the sunset was lackluster, luckily there was a lenticular cloud present that gave a bit of color. I captured this image the evening before the sunrise shots above.
Last Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States. I’m thankful to live in such a place that can give sunrises like the one I found on Thanksgiving morning. Normally, you need clouds in the sky for good sunrise or sunset shots, but in this case, I thought I might have something even without the clouds because I knew the sunrise was going to be close to Mount Rainier. Using the Photographer’s Ephemeris, I saw the sun would rise along the flank of the mountain as viewed from the Fox Island bridge, about 14 miles from my home.
The morning was crisp and cold, just about freezing, which made for a few low-level clouds and a scattered mist on the water. As the sun was rising, the moon was setting in the west, near the Olympic Mountains. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful morning. The official sunrise was at about 7:40 a.m., but because it rose in line with the mountain, it didn’t crest the mountain until almost 8:00 a.m. And crest it did, over the very top of the mountain. Being out there on the bridge, photographing the sun and the moon in a beautiful setting, I was very thankful on Thanksgiving morning.
Earlier this week, Tanya,, Carson and I went camping for three days at La Wis Wis near White Pass. I took the opportunity to drive up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park for one sunset and one sunrise. Though it looked like they were slightly past their prime, the wildflowers were incredible at Paradise. If you want to see them this year, you best get up there fast.
For my sunset shots, I hiked from the visitor center eastward on the Skyline Trail then partly up the Golden Gate Trail. The flowers were great on the Golden Gate Trail, but the view of Rainier is partially obstructed by a ridge. Luckily for me, the view of the Tatoosh Range to the south put on a good alpenglow show.
The next morning, after arriving at Paradise at 5:45 a.m. (no trouble finding parking at that time!), I headed north on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista, then back to the visitor center via the Deadhorse Creek and Waterfall Trails. Again, great flowers, but also more unobstructed views of Rainier (the featured photo above is of Rainier from the Deadhorse Creek Trail). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much color in the sunrise. However, low-lying clouds below Paradise made for some good shots.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip to show you why they call it Paradise!
Mountain blues? Well, lots blue sky maybe. In fact, the only thing to be blue about was the lack of clouds (ever notice how photographers are never happy with the weather – believe me, Tanya has noticed [and has told me so]). So I saw lots of blue. But how about purples, yellows and reds? I saw them too during the three days I spent on Blue Mountain in Olympic National Park over last weekend.
The trip was an official Mountaineers photography outing, lead by my friend and most excellent photographer John Woods. We camped at campground at Deer Park and had great views of the Olympic Mountains without leaving our picnic table. But we did leave the picnic table, to travel the short distance the rest the way up Blue Mountain for sunset and sunrise shots.
Blue Mountain is 6,007 feet high, which may not sound like much, but because its summit is only less than 12 miles from sea level, it seems like it is way up there. It is one of the highest places you can drive to in Washington State (the parking lot is about 170 feet below the summit). The view is incredible – look to the north and see the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Cascades, Port Angeles, Sequim, and Victoria, British Columbia; look to the east and see Whidbey Island, Puget Sound, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and the North Cascades; and look to the south and west see the Olympic Mountains.
But there was much more to photograph than the view from Blue Mountain. There were lots of wildflowers and animal life (they don’t call it Deer Park for nothing). And there were hikes to take. It was a great weekend – definitely nothing to be blue about.
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.