I haven’t had much time to post lately, so I thought I’d throw something quick out there. One of the classic views on the University of Washington campus is of the Rainier Vista. The Rainier Vista consists of a view down between several university buildings, over the Drumheller Fountain (also known as frosh pond in my long ago days as a student), to Mount Rainier. If you are ever on the campus, this is a shot not to miss.
Perhaps the best time to shoot the Rainier Vista is at sunset, particularly if you want to have some of the classic university buildings in your composition as they are usually lit up at night. If you hit it just right, you can get alpenglow on the mountain balancing nice light on the buildings. I’ve never been that lucky.
But you can also make nice images in the afternoon as well. These were taken in mid-afternoon several weeks ago. A polarizer helps a lot to cut the haze in front of the mountain. Pick a telephoto lens to really draw the mountain into the frame, or a wide-angle lens to de-emphasize the mountain.
While at the university, check out the Graduate Reading Room in the Suzzallo Library as well.
I took the accompanying photograph last Sunday in Seattle. It is for a revised, updated version of my Scenic Seattle book that will soon be published in a print edition (scheduled for spring 2016). This is a view of Lake Union, a portion of downtown Seattle, and Mount Rainier from the Aurora Avenue Bridge (officially named the George Washington Memorial Bridge, though I have never heard anyone call it that).
Great view, but … The sidewalk is fairly narrow and separated from the traffic lanes by a short wall. The other side of the sidewalk is separated from the great void below by vertical cabling (the cables are there to prevent people jumping off the bridge to commit suicide. The bridge is nearly 170 feet, or50 meters, above the water). This gives the sidewalk a kind sided cage-like feel – with the roaring traffic in the cage with you. The speed limit on the bridge is 40 miles per hour (64 kph), but in my experience, if you drive 40 mph on it, you will get rammed from behind. I’d guess the average traffic speed is above 50 mph (80 kph). And there are six, narrow lanes of traffic. Not a comfortable place to shoot.
And to make matters worse, whenever you photograph along busy roads, there always seems to be at least one jerk (I’m being kind here; I want to use a word my Mother would not be proud of) who honks their horn while you are studiously looking through the viewfinder. I was on the bridge about 10 to 15 minutes Sunday and was surprised only one person honked. But that honk did nearly scare the pants off me. (So maybe it was a good think the cables were there so I didn’t jump.)
Further, those cables don’t make it easy to take a photograph. Typical DSLR lenses are small enough to stick through the cables, but only when pointed 90 degrees off the axis of the bridge. To take the shot shown above, you need to angle your camera at 30 to 45 degrees off the axis of the bridge. With my camera, that means physically forcing pushing the cables aside with the lens barrel. In some spots, it wasn’t possible. The cables were too tight. But I did find a spot with the gap between cables slightly larger and the cables a bit looser than average. With a bit of strength, I was able to turn the camera and force the cable apart enough to take the shot. With the cables pushing back, I had to use a fast shutter speed – which was probably needed anyway because the whole bridge shakes with the traffic (forget about using a tripod here).
I possibly could have wedged my camera completely through the cables and used the live view function to compose a shot. But with the long drop, I didn’t feel particularly good about that option either. But for shooting with a phone or a small camera, reaching past the cables is viable if you trust yourself to hang on.
Still interested in getting the shot? The access is rather easy. Park on Troll Avenue N between N 35th and 36th Streets near the Troll (the Fremont Troll statue is underneath the Aurora Bridge at the intersection of Troll Avenue and 36th). Take the stairs on the right side of the Troll up to the bridge and walk south until you reach the view you want. Just don’t expect to be too comfortable.
The Palouse region of Washington State is famous for its verdant spring hills and red barns. Steptoe Butte is a must-visit destination for many travel and nature photographers. I have shot in the Palouse several times, and blogged about it several years ago (see here and here). But one of the highlights of the region I missed until earlier this week – Palouse Falls.
Palouse Falls perhaps gets a bit less traffic than Steptoe Butte and the rest of the Palouse because it is a bit out-of-the-way, more of an outlier to the Palouse region than being in it. It is an hour and 45 minute drive from the falls to Steptoe Butte, and just a bit less to the town of Colfax, where many photographers stay during their trips to the region. If you are staying in Colfax, do you really want to get up at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Palouse Falls for sunrise when you could sleep an hour later and still get sunrise shots at Steptoe Butte?
But Palouse Falls is worth a visit. Perhaps the best way to visit, at least for prime photography times, is to camp there. Palouse Falls State Park has 11 tent camping spots (no trailer hookups; trailers and RVs are sometimes allowed to park overnight in the parking lot during non-peak periods) that are within 100 meters of prime viewpoints for photography.
The Palouse River falls about 185 feet over the edge of a canyon of basalt. Unlike the verdant hills of the Palouse further east of the falls, the falls are in desert. But there is plenty of green in the canyon below the falls, making a wonderful contrast with the black basalt and brown hills (or in spring, brown and green hills). The canyon below the falls is scenic on its own accord and would be worth a visit even without the falls. The canyon curves to the south just downstream from the falls. The campground is perched on the western canyon rim, and it is easy to walk to viewpoints that either look eastward directly toward the falls, or southward down the canyon. These southerly looking viewpoints are north of the parking lot and provide the best view – encompassing the falls and the downstream canyon. Be warned though, they are right on the edge of vertical drop of at least 250 feet straight down to the canyon floor, beyond the fence on the canyon rim near the campground and parking lot, and are not for those who are faint of heart or afraid of heights. To get the falls and downstream canyon both in single composition will require a wide-angle lens of about 18 mm or less on a camera with a full-frame sensor. My 17-40mm zoom worked well, but if you want more sky in the frame, you may want an even wider angle (or stitch together more than one shot).
The falls face west-southwest and receive direct sunlight in late morning through most of the afternoon during the spring (reportedly in summer they may be in partial shadow into the early afternoon). In the evening, the shadow of the canyon wall climbs up the falls, and before sunset, they are completely in shade. Similarly, the falls are completed shaded at sunrise. And, once the sun is up, it shines through and lights up the mist created by the falling water, making early morning shots of the falls more difficult.
However, if the clouds to the south light up during either sunset or sunrise, excellent photo opportunities await. You may want to use a split-neutral density filter to help control the contrast between the sky and the dark canyon below. Similarly, you may consider using HDR.
The falls are also a great location for Milky Way nightscape shots like I’ve discuss recently, and in fact that was the prime reason for my recent visit. In spring, the best viewpoint is again north of the parking lot, on the canyon rim (just be extra careful in the dark, it’s a long fall down). The falls will be completely dark, so light painting is recommended. When I was there, for the image above, I worked with a photo partner. One of us tripped the shutters on the cameras while the other used a spotlight to light paint the falls and canyon from the fenced viewpoint area near the parking lot.
It is possible to hike to the top of or bottom of the falls, though the trails are not maintained by the park. These unofficial trails are steep, so if you do take them, be extra careful. The one in from the south steeply drops off the canyon rim and circles midway along the canyon wall to the the top of the falls. At one point, almost directly below the main viewpoint by the parking lot, it is possible to get down to the river in the bottom of the canyon by dropping down a steep scree slope. The trail from the north, drops into the upper canyon from the railroad tracks that run west of the park. This is reportedly the easier way in, though you must hop a fence along the tracks to reach the trail and the descent is still steep. You should also be careful along the tracks because it is an active rail line. If you do take the northern route into the canyon, you will pass by a nice stretch of white water above the falls. There is certainly no need to take these trails into the canyon to get good photographs, the views from the top are spectacular (and indeed, during my recent trip, we did not hike into the canyon). Reportedly the trail continues several miles up canyon to Upper Palouse Falls, a fall of less than 20 feet, and during the spring, when the flow in the river is greatest and the area has plenty of blooming wildflowers, this may be a good day hike option.
Marmots are active around the main falls viewpoints, and with a bit of patience, you can get rather close to take portraits of these groundhog relatives. The park is also home to many types of birds. When there recently, I saw several varieties I had not seen before.
Overall, Palouse Falls is a great place for photography. It is worth a quick stop on your way to or from the Palouse; or better yet, spend the night there to experience the falls at sunrise and sunset. You won’t be disappointed.
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
On my recent trip to Baltimore, I spent an afternoon at the National Mall in Washington, DC. It seemed to me, with cold weather and snow, as well as being on a Tuesday, there were very many people there. It may have been because the snow closed down the government, so a lot of people had the day off, and that it was sunny and not really that cold. Or it could be there is just always a lot of people there. It is a popular tourist attraction after all. Regardless, with all the people, it made it a challenge to photograph the monuments without a lot of people in my shots.
A great method to remove people from your shots is to use a really long exposure (typically several seconds to minutes). With a long exposure, people moving through the frame are not recorded. To get really long exposures, use a neutral density filter. As I was carrying my tripod and a neutral density filter, I was tempted to use this method to get a shot of the Lincoln Memorial during the afternoon, as it seemed to be the place with the most people gathered. However, even an exposure of several minutes (which I don’t think I could have gotten due to bright light) was probably not good enough in this case because a lot of people were standing in place for minutes at a time. A ten-minute exposure might have work, but I didn’t have the equipment with me for that.
Instead, I came by later, after sunset, when there were many fewer people about. Then using an 8-second exposure, I was able to capture the monument without people (actually, there is the “ghost” of two people in the shot, but I can remove them later with cloning if I want).
Actually, waiting for evening is a great method for controlling crowds. Typically there are many fewer people about and the light is often better than in the middle of the day. In the shot of the Washington Monument from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I planned the shot during the afternoon when many people where in front of the war memorial wall, but came back after sunset to make the shot. I shot from this location for about 15 minutes, during which time, only one group of people passed.
Another method is to frame the people out of the picture, as worked for the image here of the Jefferson Memorial. Look for pleasing compositions above the heads of your fellow visitors. A corollary to this method is to shoot details, rather than the big picture, thereby cutting people out of your compositions.
Of course, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes you want the entire building or you want foregrounds that shooting high above people’s heads cannot give. In that case you can try to go with a wide-angle shot. With a wide-angle perspective, you can make the people visible in the shot look much smaller and less of an obstruction, at least if they are not close to the camera. This method worked well for the shot of the Washington Monument with the flags.
Or you can just go to areas that are not as popular. By visiting less popular sites, you don’t only get the advantage of fewer people in the frame, you can capture shots that are more unique (rather than the same shot of the popular attraction that has been shot a million times). Very few people were visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which is where I took the shot below of the Jefferson Memorial with the snowy tree in the foreground.
Travel photography presents many opportunities, including shooting interesting people and cultures. But sometimes, you views without the people in them. Using some of the methods described above can often allow you to capture shots people-free.