the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Posts tagged “Winter

A Winter Story

I’ve photographed in the Palouse in spring, summer and fall, but to finish up my soon-to-be release Palouse photography guide, I needed to photograph there in the winter. To be honest, I have shot in the Palouse in winter before, but not when there was snow. So all winter long, I’ve been waiting for snow to coat the Palouse hills (and for some free time for me to make the journey). When I did go last week, I found the Palouse is incredibly beautiful when covered by snow.

This is the lone tree along JW Baylor Road east of Steptoe Butee

Winter in the Washington State has been very mild (that is up until about eight days ago), and snow has been rare in eastern Washington. Finally, several weeks ago, the weather forecasts were looking favorable, so I made plans to do a quick trip over. My plan was to drive over the evening of Thursday, February 8th, shoot on Friday and Saturday, then after a quick visit to my Step-mom in Spokane, drive back to Tacoma on Sunday. It was a good plan, except it didn’t account for the largest snow storm to hit the state in decades. The photography part of the trip went great (though I didn’t get to as many spots as I would have liked), but the driving home on Sunday part was not so good.

The snow coverage in the Palouse was uneven. Down near Uniontown, there was less snow (and in some places, almost none – though earlier this week, I’m sure this changed), while up near Tekoa, the snow cover was much thicker. My journeys on Friday were hampered at times by falling snow, which greatly cut visibility and made scenes look foggy. Saturday provided much better light, but brought its own special challenges – high winds and drifting snow.

Many of the back roads in the Palouse are “all-weather” gravel roads. I found many of these barely passable because of the drifting snow. In my mid-sized, all-wheel drive SUV, I plowed through many snow drifts as long as they weren’t too tall – it was fun. While this allowed me to get to some good shots, it later came back to haunt me. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the light was wonderful, but the wind had really picked up, and even the paved highways were being drifted over.

Throughout Friday and Saturday morning, I had visited spots I thought might look good with snow (as well as a couple new spots). My plan by mid-afternoon on Saturday was to go shoot the Lone Pine grain elevator then try to get up on Steptoe Butte. Lone Pine road was heavily drifted, but we made it in. The vantage point I wanted was a short distance from Lone Pine Road, on Chase Road (another all-season road). Tanya and I turned onto Chase Road and almost immediately stopped because the snow was so thick. But then, a tractor plowing the road crested the hill. It went by us and back up the hill. I figured we could now make it, with the road being plowed. I was wrong. We got about 100 meters or less up the road and got stuck. We were stuck for at least half an hour, even with the farmer, Donovan Chase, helping us out. He finally was able to get us out of there, and I didn’t even get the shot I was looking for (the 30+ mph wind was blowing snow straight at us from the direction of the grain elevator – the shot was not possible).

After freeing us from the snow, he asked us to check in at C&D’s Bar & Grill (which he is an owner) to let them know we made it out okay since the conditions on Lone Pine Road were sketchy. We made it out to Tekoa and stopped at C&D’s to have a drink. We decided it was probably best stop the photography for the day and head to Spokane (we probably couldn’t have gotten very far up Steptoe anyway). However, not a mile outside of town on the highway to Spokane, the road was restricted to one lane by snow drifts and that lane was blocked by a tow truck pulling a car out of a drift. Right then, a Department of Transportation truck appeared and told us the highway was closed. We eventually did make it to Spokane by heading east out of Tekoa into Idaho first before heading north. The normally 50-minute drive to Spokane took about 1.5 hours. On the drive, our car was running rough and making unusual noises.

A view of Steptoe Butte with the Palouse River in the foreground. By the way, I cheated on this shot. Steptoe and the foreground with sunlit at different times, so I composited two shots together here.

But we made it to Spokane and checked into our hotel. After dinner with my Step-mom, we decided our SUV should probably go to the auto shop before we drove back across the state to Tacoma. You know how many auto shops are open in Spokane on Sundays in winter? Maybe two. We still hoped to drive to Tacoma Sunday, so I got the car to the Firestone shop when it opened at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. However, with the storm, their power had been out all day Saturday, and they were very backed up. They’d get to my SUV when they could.

About 3 hours later, I got a call from Firestone. They had the car up on the lift and the mechanic saw something he had never seen before. Apparently, the total undercarriage of my SUV was coated with over 1 foot of ice. They said they’d need to thaw the car before determining what was wrong. Needless to say, we did not drive to Tacoma that day. Around 5 p.m. Firestone called back and said they had finally melted enough of the ice to check the car out. They thought their might be a problem with the transmission and suggested I take it to a transmission shop in the morning.

So Monday morning, I picked the car up at Firestone and drove it to the transmission shop. It took them a couple of hours to determine nothing was wrong with the transmission. Though they did call me into the shop and under the lift to show me ice still packed into the nooks and crannies under my car and asked where I had been driving. They thawed more ice and sent me on my way. We hit Interstate 90 toward Seattle at around 10:30 a.m.

However, the car was not totally fine. I had a dead headlight (obtained while plowing through snow banks on Saturday morning) and the wiper fluid was frozen. Driving on the interstate freeway in winter without wiper fluid does not work very well. So, we stopped in Ritzville (about an hour west of Spokane) to get the headlight replaced and the wiper fluid unfrozen. It took about 2 hours – they had to thaw a block of ice in the wiper fluid reservoir, the wiper fluid lines, and the wiper fluid motor. But finally we were back on the road.

All went fine until we were about half way up and over the Cascade Mountains on Snoqualmie Pass. It was around 5:30 p.m., was snowing heavily, and very dark with almost no visibility (I was glad I got the headlight fixed). Not surprisingly, the State Patrol closed the road. Unfortunately for us, they closed it about 10 cars in front of us. If we had left Spokane 5 minutes earlier, we could have got over the pass. Instead, we found a hotel room for the night in Cle Elum.

Tuesday morning, we packed up and learned that the pass was still closed and Interstate 90 was closed both ways. We decided to try for White Pass (good thing, Snoqulamie Pass didn’t open until a day later). He had to first take back road east to Ellensburgh because the freeway was closed. But once at Ellensburg, we got back on the freeway and drove east and south to Yakima. There we got on the US Highway 12 to White Pass. The pass was open, but conditions were not good. However, we finally made it over the Cascades. Unfortunately, the highway to Tacoma from Highway 12 was closed due to snow and downed trees, and we had to take the long way around. We finally got home around 5:30 p.m. – a full two days later than we had planned. It had snowed about 13 inches at our house and we needed to shovel the berm created by the snowplow in front of our house to park.

So, was all this worth it for some winter shots of the Palouse? You be the judge and let me know what you think of these shots.

This is the old Skeen School near Kamiak Butte. It’s amazing how it is still standing.

An old abandoned house near Farmington, Washington.

A red barn along Borgen Road in Idaho, east of Uniontown.

Two barns along Banner Road north of Pullman during a snowy period on Friday morning.

These horses didn’t seem to mind the blowing snow on Saturday morning.

Snow at Dave’s Old Truck yard in Sprague

Palouse Falls on Friday afternoon. The water was a dirty brown color, as was much of the ice. Black and white to the rescue!

 


Thanks to a Broken Snowplow

Rainier AlpenglowI can’t count the number of times I’ve been through Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park; dozens at least, maybe a hundred times over my life. Usually I drive right past on the way to Paradise, but even so, I have stopped many times over the years. The main reason I usually don’t stop at Longmire is that I’ve always considered the view of Rainier to be, frankly, not so good. I’m sure it was great then they built the lodge, but it’s my supposition that over the years, the trees have grown up around Longmire meadow, blocking much of the view of the mountain. Additionally, if you shoot from the lodge, the road runs through the foreground.

Last week I discovered I was wrong. Longmire has a great view of Rainier! Perhaps this is old news to everyone out there whose ever been to Mount Rainier National Park, but it was news to me. Last week my photographer buddy, Mark Cole, and I went to the park to go snowshoeing and take a few pictures. We stopped at Longmire, not because that was our destination (we had planned on going to Paradise), but because the road to Paradise was closed due to the snowplow needing a replacement part. I was resigned to the fact that our photography would be limited to snowy forest scenes, perhaps a few shots of the Nisqually River, and maybe a view of Rainier from the Rampart Ridge trail if we decided to snowshoe it.

We stopped in to talk to the ranger, largely to see if the road to Paradise would open later that day, but we also asked about where to snowshoe at Longmire. We mentioned the main purpose of our outing was photography. He told us about Rampart Ridge, but said the best view of Rainier was at the Community Building right in Longmire. Both Mark and I had never heard of the Community Building nor the road to it. The ranger told us of a road which travels through the employee living area, crosses the Nisqually River on a suspension bridge, and runs down the south bank of the river to the Community Building (and a short distance beyond).  We drove to the Community Building and couldn’t believe our eyes, the view of the mountain was awesome. Some of Longmire’s buildings are visible on the north bank of the river, but by wandering along the river, and through careful composition, the buildings can be eliminated from a photo. The bridge is also in the view, but it is pretty scenic, so I kept it in my compositions. I’m not sure what the view looks like here without snow, but with snow, it is great.

We ended up spending an hour of more there, snowshoeing along the river, taking photos of the mountain from several different locations. By the time we finished, we didn’t have enough daylight left to do the Rampart Ridge loop, so we wandered up the Wonderland Trail toward Cougar Rock looking for more shots of the river. But as sun set approached, we again crossed the bridge at Longmire and took shots of the alpenglow on Rainier with the river and bridge in the foreground.

Thanks to a broken snowplow, I discovered the Longmire does have a great view. Who knew?

This is the view of Mount Rainier from near the Community Building from along the river. The aplenglow photo at the top of the post is from nearer to the bridge where less of the mountain can be seen.

This is the view of Mount Rainier from near the Community Building from along the Nisqually River. The aplenglow photo at the top of the post is from nearer to the bridge where less of the mountain can be seen.


6 Years Ago – A Freezing Thanksgiving

Winter at SnoqualmieBetween family obligations and work, I haven’t been able to get out and do any photography this month. So instead of showing something new, I’ll show something old. Six years ago on November 24th, I shot the above image of Snoqualmie Falls. This is in total contrast to the present November. This year, we have not had a frost yet at my house in Tacoma. But six years ago, a blast of freezing Arctic air descended on western Washington, first bringing snow, then bitter cold.

That Thanksgiving Day in 2010, I packed up Tanya and our newfie, Carson, and drove up to Snoqualmie Falls to see what it looked like in the deep freeze. It was magnificent. The mist off the cascading water had encased the canyon walls in huge icicles, creating a very unusual, and photogenic, view of the falls.

There are several viewpoints at the falls, but only the one close to the parking lot was open due to the ice. While a nice viewpoint, it looks down on the falls, rather than being more level with the falls, and I do not think it is that great for photography. So I carefully walked around a barrier and carried my tripod down to one of the lower viewpoints to capture this shot. Yes it was icy, but not overly so. Plus, there was no one else around, so I could more easily position my tripod where I wanted. I think this little bit of rule-breaking was worth it. (Not that I would ever suggest any photographer should go into closed areas without permission to make an image!)

I’m very thankful about what that freezing Thanksgiving Day six years ago gave me. And thank you to all my friends and readers of my blog – if you are American, enjoy your Thanksgiving holidays, and if not, just have a great end of November.


Of Geese and Daffodils

Snow Geese and Conway ChurchFebruary 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.

One of a dozen or so bald eagles we found.

One of a dozen or so bald eagles we found.

Geese flying in shortly after sunrise.

Geese flying in shortly after sunrise.

A flock flying in later in the morning with Mount Baker in the background.

A flock flying in later in the morning with Mount Baker in the background.

Daffodils - just starting to bloom. No need for a big telephoto lens here!

Daffodils – just starting to bloom. No need for a big telephoto lens here!

It got cloudier as the morning progressed, but that made for some dramatic clouds over the daffodil fields (Olympic Mountains in the background).

It got cloudier as the morning progressed, but that made for some dramatic clouds over the daffodil fields (Olympic Mountains in the background).

This shot is from 2010 when the geese were much closer to the road.

This shot is from 2010 when the geese were much closer to the road and my 70-200mm lens was plenty big to get some “wing” action.

 


Quick Shots: Mount Rainier National Park

Emerging RainierWinter is rapidly ending here in western Washington. Spring flowers are already blooming in my yard. But it isn’t quite over yet. Here’s a few shots from a snowshoeing outing I made earlier this month in Mount Rainier National Park.

Sun lighting part of the slopes near Paradise

Sun lighting part of the slopes near Paradise

Part of the Tatoosh Range, south of Paradise

Part of the Tatoosh Range, south of Paradise

View of the Nisqually River from the bridge over the river in the park

View of the Nisqually River from the bridge over the river in the park

Down by the Nisqually River

Down by the Nisqually River

Blue winter sky above the Nisqually River

Blue winter sky above the Nisqually River

Grove of trees in the Nisqually Valley

Grove of trees on the floor of the Nisqually Valley


Iceland Winter Lessons

GullfossGranted, spending five days in Reykjavík over Christmas does not make me an expert on Iceland in winter. Further, my vacation was a true family affair (besides Tanya, our son, Brooks, and Tanya’s mother, Maxine, joined us on the trip), making time for photography difficult. However, I did learn a few things, not the least of which is that I want to go back and spend a lot more time there. If you are thinking of going to Iceland in winter, here’s some things I learned.

  1. The light is incredible. The blue hour starts a full two hours before sunrise and lasts until two hours following sunset. And in between the blue hours, the entire time the sun is up, is the golden hours. When I was there, the sun was never above 3 degrees above the horizon. The light was magical.
  2. The light is short. Even with the long twilight hours, there isn’t a lot of time for photography. On Christmas day, for example, the sun rose in Reykjavík at 11:22 a.m. and set at 3:32 p.m. This is the perfect time to visit for photographers who like to sleep in.

    Swans, Geese and Church

    Swans and other waterfowl in Reykjavik

  3. Expect a lot of contrast. Even with the great light, there is still a lot of contrast. Iceland is made of volcanic rocks, which are black. There will be snow – it’s Iceland after all.
  4. Be ready for wind. Though it wasn’t windy every day, when it was windy, it was very windy. With the low light levels and the wind, a tripod is absolutely necessary.
  5. Don’t like the weather, wait a day. The weather seemed to be totally unpredictable. Our first full day in the country, the high was just above freezing, it was mostly cloudy, there were a few scattered rain and snow showers, and there was no wind. The second day, a day we decided to do a day trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, it was below freezing, there was fog and low clouds, and even though it didn’t snow much, there were blizzard conditions with a steady wind over 30 mph (48 kph). The following day, Christmas, it was cold, a high of 16 degrees F (-9 C), but mostly clear with no wind. The day after Christmas had a high temperature a few degrees above freezing, with a partly cloudy skies and no wind. And our last day in the country, it was rainy with strong winds (strong enough to nearly blow our rental car off an icy road). The moral – keep your plans flexible as the weather.
  6. It’s expensive, but so what. Yes, prices are high, especially for food. But with a little prudence, you can keep to a budget. Try an off-brand rental car for instance; we paid about $280 for a 5-day rental of a mid-sided all-wheel drive SUV (a Ford Kuga) at Saga Car Rental (run by Thrifty, which, by the way, was at least $100 more), the equivalent at Hertz – about $700. Besides, chances are you are on vacation, worry about your bank account when you get home.
  7. Skip the tour and do it yourself. Rent a car (see above) and drive the Golden Circle by yourself. You’ll be on your own schedule, giving more time for photography. However, before doing so, critically consider your winter driving skills. On our trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we came upon one unprepared rental car drive who was blown off the road.
  8. It probably goes without saying, but dress warmly in layers. The wind chill can be brutal.
  9. If you speak English, don’t worry about the language; nearly everyone speaks English.
  10. Take your whole photography kit. You’ll find lots of opportunities to use your wide-angle as well as your telephoto lenses.
  11. Be prepared. Research before you go as well as when you are there. I recommend the photographer’s road map of Iceland by Michael Levy. Want to see the aurora, check out this website with real-time northern lights forecasts. The site also give temperature and wind forecasts.
Blue hour on the the road near Akranes, Iceland

Blue hour on the the road near Akranes, Iceland

20-minutes prior to sunrise over Þingvallavatn Lake

20-minutes prior to sunrise over Þingvallavatn Lake

Rift valley in Thingvellir (Þingvallir) National Park

Rift valley in Thingvellir (Þingvallir) National Park

Small Icelandic horses are found throughout the countryside

Small Icelandic horses are found throughout the countryside braving the winter temperatures

The Strokkur geyser starting an eruption at Geysir

At Geysir, you can see the Strokkur geyser erupting


Quick Shots: Frozen Annapolis

Naval HouseI’ve been spending the week in Baltimore while Tanya attends a conference. While winter has been very mild back in western Washington, it is very cold here. This morning, the low temperature was 2 degrees. This has not stopped me from getting out to do some photography. Here are a few quick shots from Annapolis, Maryland. Thanks to friend and fellow travel photographer Walter Rowe for suggesting Annapolis. It is a great place for travel photography, and I will have to get back some day when it is not so frozen. These shots were taken several days ago, when the temperature was only in the 20s. I’ll post some more shots from the trip after I get home. Meanwhile, enjoy these shots from frozen Annapolis.

US Naval Academy Chapel

Cadet

Winter at the Academy

Frozen Harbor

Ice

Statehouse


Snow Seeker

Scene near BlewettEvery year I seek to capture a few snowy scenes for possible calendar use. At Robinson Noble, where I have my day job, we produce a calendar every year for clients, and I supply all the images. There seems to be some unwritten law that requires the December and January images to have snow in them (sorry that my northern hemisphere bias is showing here!). The problem is that I’m not that much of a winter person, so I don’t get out much in the cold season. Plus, the easiest place for me to get snow images is Mount Rainier National Park, which is only 70 miles from my home. However, the calendar needs variety, so the January and December images can’t be taken in Mount Rainier National Park every year. Now add in that this winter has been very warm in the Pacific Northwest and there is not much snow.

So with all this in mind, I took last Monday off work to go and find some snow. Tanya, Nahla and I drove east into the mountains. At Snoqualmie Pass, it was very dark with mixed rain and snow falling. We kept driving. Coming down from the pass, the weather improved, as it usually does, with sun and mixed clouds. While this area is typically snow-covered in January, it was not this year. We kept driving. We left the interstate and headed toward Blewett Pass and we finally found snow and sun together. We stopped at the top of Blewett Pass and got out the snowshoes. While snowy, the snow wasn’t deep, perhaps about a foot at the parking lot.

We hiked off the northern end of the lot, west along a forest service road. Most of the time we were in the forest, but the views did open up at a few spots. It was an easy snowshoe hike and a nice day to be out. I captured a few shots that might be worthy of being on the calendar next year (let me know if you agree). Mission accomplished.

Snowy Forest Road

Snowy Mountains

Above Blewett

Winter in the Cascades


Quick Shot – Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge sunsetI’ve been super busy lately getting ready for my first solo show. I need to drop off 26 pieces a week from today and just finished the printing yesterday. Now to finish matting and framing… I’ll post more on this show later.

Even though busy, I wanted to post a quick shot from a trip I made last Friday with Tanya and our new Newfoundland, Nahla (more on Nahla later as well) to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Western Washington has been experiencing a temperature inversion lately, which causes lots of fog in the lowlands, but sunny and warm skies at elevation. This trip was a perfect example. Hurricane Ridge is about 17 miles by road from the City of Port Angeles and perhaps only 10 miles straight-line distance. Port Angeles is at sea level; Hurricane Ridge is at 5,242 feet above sea level. We drove into Port Angeles at noon. It was foggy and the temperature was about 38º F (3º C). A half hour later, we arrived at Hurricane Ridge, the sky was mostly sunny and the temperature was 60º F (16º C).

There isn’t much snow at Hurricane Ridge this year. Last Friday, there was about 28 inches of snow on the ground – a year ago it was around 90 inches in mid-January. However, the snow that was there was enough to go out snowshoeing and enjoy the view. And with the warm weather, it was great being out with only a light coat.

After our short snowshoe, we hung out for sunset, where I captured the above photo. All in all, a great trip. If you decide to go, be aware that the road to Hurricane Ridge is only open Friday-Sunday (and holiday Mondays) during winter (December through the end of March). It normally opens at 9 a.m. and closes around sunset (they chase everyone out of the parking lot each night). Before you go, be sure to check road conditions at http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hurricane-ridge-current-conditions.htm as the road is only open if conditions permit.


Ebey’s Landing – One Great Hike

Ebeys Landing Trail

The trail off the bluff above Ebeys Landing down to the beach on Puget Sound. Mount Rainier can be seen in the distance.

A week ago last Saturday, Tanya, Carson and I took another hike. This one to Ebey’s Landing up on Whidbey Island. This hike covers a bit less than 6 miles roundtrip and involves walking across a classic, island prairie, along the tallest coastal bluff in Washington State, and along a driftwood-strewn Puget Sound beach.

Though this is a great hike anytime of the year, it is especially good in the winter when snow prevents hiking in the mountains. It is also in the Olympic Mountain’s rain shadow, so it rains less there than in Seattle (the average annual precipitation is about 24 inches compared to 34 inches in Seattle).

Almost every step of this hike has a great view of the Olympics (though they were mostly cloud covered on our trip). There is also an awesome view of Mount Baker, and even a view of Mount Rainier far to the south. The hike even has a bit of history; the hike being inside Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. The area was first settled in the 1850s, and a few of the original homestead buildings are still standing today.

And after the hike, don’t forget to drop into the nearby, historic town of Coupeville for some of the famous Penn Cove mussels. We stopped at Toby’s Tavern for a quick bite and a cold beer. The tavern sits on the water of Penn Cove and offers affordable seafood and other bar foods (though if stuffed animal heads make you nervous, you might want to try someplace else).

PS – Kickstarter update:  my project has been online a little over a week and has already been fully funded. However, the project will still be active on Kickstarter another few weeks. You still have a chance to pledge. For a $5 pledge, you will receive a copy of  the ebook – that’s a discount on what the ebook will cost after it’s published. Check out my Seattle ebook project here.

 

 

 

Ebeys Landing

View of Ebeys Landing over the prairie; again Mount Rainier in the distance.

Baker over the Prairie

Mount Baker above Ebeys Prairie

 


Six Years Ago this Month

Fishing boat in winter at Gig Harbor,\I haven’t been out shooting lately. I’m planning to go out tomorrow, but with a forecast of rain, I’m not sure how much photography I’ll be doing. While it is rainy here now, that wasn’t the case six years ago, when we had a big snow storm here in the Puget Sound region. I was still living in Gig Harbor then, and risked life and limb to drive down a big icy hill to get to the city waterfront to take get some shots of a rare case of snow on the harbor. These images are from that snowy January day in 2007. If you lived around here at the time, I’m sure it’s a day you remember.

Sea Fury

Harbor Christmas

Cold Harbor Morning

Harbor Snows


A Winter’s Day in Seattle

Seattle Fireboat Winter officially started here in the northern hemisphere a week ago yesterday. Winter in western Washington is typically pretty grey and wet. But now and then, winter serves up a great day. December 21st, the first day of winter, was one such day in Seattle, and I was lucky enough to be there photographing along with Tanya and Carson.

We spent several hours in West Seattle, visiting Lincoln Park and making two visits to the Belvedere Viewpoint (better light the second time around). Lincoln Park is the largest park in West Seattle and has great views of the Olympic Mountains and the ferry to Vashon Island. It also has wonderful madrona trees, with their peeling red bark, which I love to photograph. The Belevedere Viewpoint has an excellent view of downtown Seattle, which is across Elliot Bay from West Seattle. However, it is a bit far, so if you ever go shooting there, be sure to take a telephoto lens so you can zoom in on the buildings and ferries. Luckily for us, one of the fireboats was practicing spraying water int he bay and the snow covered Cascade Mountains were shining in the background.

From there, we drove up to north Seattle and went to Carkeek Park. I had hoped to find some salmon running in the creek in the park, but the run was apparently over. I understand it is best from mid-November to mid-December. I was just too late. Instead, I photographed on the beach and was rewarded with a great sunset.

From there, we headed to the East Portal Viewpoint on the west shore of Lake Washington (in the eastern part of the city). I hoped to get there with some light left in the sky, but traffic held us up. Still, it was fun to photograph the car headlight and tail light trails on the floating bridge (Interstate 90) over the lake and the lights from the city of Bellevue reflecting in the lake.

What a great start to winter in Seattle! Of course, the weather didn’t last, and the next day was grey and rainy, as was the next, and the next, and the…

Seattle Fireboat

The Vashon Island ferry sailing off Lincoln Park in West Seattle.

Madronas

Madrona trees in Lincoln Park, West Seattle.

Seattle Waterfront

A ferry sails from the Seattle waterfront as seen from the Belvedere Viewpoint.

Olympic Mountains

View of the Olympic Mountains from the beach at Carkeek Park, Seattle.

Carkeek Sunset

Sunset over Puget Sound from the beach at Carkeek Park.

Bellevue Lights

City of Bellevue reflecting in Lake Washington. You can just see the snowy Cascade Mountains in the background.

I90 and Lake Washington

The view from the East Portal Viewpoint in Seattle.


Free Day

Have you ever had a free day? You know, a day where you had something planned, and the plans fall through, and so you have a day without obligations and you’re free to do anything you want? I had hoped to be posting from New York today. You see, the dog/house sitter was set, the bags were packed, and Tanya and I were almost ready to go (kind of sounds like a song), when the airline called last night around 9 p.m. Due to a winter storm hitting the New York area, our flight was cancelled.

Though I was a bit miffed, it wasn’t too bad. Our main destination is Spain; New York is just a stop along the way. Since our flight to Madrid doesn’t leave until next Sunday, the flight delay doesn’t affect the flight to Spain. So although we are missing a day in New York, it doesn’t totally screw up the trip. (Though I still may have to pay for last night’s room – ouch!)

So here I am, still in Tacoma, with a free day. I accomplished all my pre-trip chores yesterday; so today I can do whatever I want. And it isn’t so bad being here today. The sun is shining and it’s about 55 degrees – rather pleasant. At this very moment, according to NOAA, there is a blizzard in New York, specifically 32 degrees, foggy, heavy snow, with winds over 20 miles per hour.

As a teaser for my upcoming posts for Europe, I’m posting one of my favorite images from my last trip to Europe. I shot the following image in Edinburgh, Scotland on the Royal Mile. The black & white conversion was completed in Photoshop.

Royal Mile Reds

Scene along the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

One more thing – today is Tanya’s birthday! As you now know, we had planned to celebrate it in New York. But with those plans ruined by the weather, we’ll have a little dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine. Then tomorrow morning, dark and early, it will be off to the airport and hopefully to New York. For now, in celebration of her birthday, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite portraits of Tanya.

Tanya


Gray Day at Grayland

Waves on the JettyBad weather can often make for good photographs, or so I’ve often read. However, sometimes bad weather is just bad. Such was the case last Wednesday. I scheduled the day off from my day job to do some photography. Wednesday morning didn’t look too bad when I got up, but by the time Tanya and I had the dog and cameras packed up in the car it was raining. Remembering that bad weather sometimes makes for good photography, I wasn’t too worried about coming home skunked.

We drove south and west to go the beach at Westport and Grayland. Though the sun started peeking through the clouds early in the drive, by the time we reached Aberdeen, there was a constant mist falling and the sky was a blank, gray sheet. We stopped at the Johns River Wildlife Area to let the dog out. Luckily, the mist had stopped falling, and I was able to take a few photos. After an hour or so, we continued on to Westport. We drove down to the marina, and the mist started up again, now accompanied by wind. I walked a bit on the docks, but took few pictures – it was pretty miserable out.

We then drove over to the beach by the jetty, and the mist let up again. However, the sky was still a blank slate and the wind was strong. We walked on the beach some, and I took a few more photos. Normally in situations like this, where the sky is so lifeless in photos, I try to concentrate more on taking detail shots – like of beach rocks, patterns in the sand, etc. However, the wind was causing me problems, shaking the tripod. And the clouds were so thick, it was dark, requiring long shutter speeds.

Later we drove down to Tokeland and then back up to Grayland for another walk on the beach, this time back in the mist.  We ended the day having a picnic dinner, with a bottle of red from the Westport Winery, in the car facing the waves of the Pacific. There was no sunset, just a slow fading of what little light there was.

Overall, it was a great day. How can being on the beach with wife and dog not be? Just not a good day for photography.

Johns River Field

Wet field at Johns River Wildlife Area

Westport Docks

On the docks at Westport

Beach Scene

Beach detail at Westhaven State Park, Westport

Johns River Trees

Bare, lichen covered trees at Johns River

Beach Sign

Looks like they remembered the sign but forgot the road!


Snowbound

IciclesI admit feeling a little embarrassed, being snowbound at home by only 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow when I’m an eastern Washington native who learned to drive on snow and ice. Earlier this week, western Washington experienced a winter storm that brought havoc to the Puget Sound region. On Wednesday, snow fell; Thursday brought freezing rain, coating everything with ice. I stayed home and telecommuted to my day job. Can you blame me for not wanting to put tire chains on the car when work was as close as my studio computer? (Does this mean I’m getting lazy or wise in my old age?)

I accomplished a lot without the distractions of the office. However, being home brings its own distractions, not the least of them being the snow and ice in the yard. So I couldn’t help but slip out in the yard to do a bit of photography, especially after the freezing rain ended. Outside, the coating of ice seemed to make everything old new again in our yard. I was amazed how bit of snow and freezing rain changed everything and made my creative imagination flow. I wish I had more time to do photography, but by the time I got enough work done to justify picking up the camera, it was already late in the afternoon and the light was fading.

The experience did remind me once again how a change, sometimes a small change, can provide inspiration. Sometimes, the change need not be more than a change of attitude. If you’re having trouble getting the creative juices to flow, or have a case of photographer’s block, grab your camera and make the old new again. If you’re lucky, you might have an ice storm available to help.

PS – a big thanks to Tanya for braving the cold to hold a piece of black mat board for backgrounds on some of these shots!

Footprints

On the porch, near the bird feeder.

Frozen Bud

Our camellia, just about ready to bloom, crashed to the ground later in the night from its ice load.

Icy Mesh

Some old wire mesh I've be meaning to throw away - glad I haven't yet!

Ice and branch

I'm not sure which plant this is, but it looks nice with ice

Man and Beast

Guess I'm attracted to footprints, here's mine and Carson's (our Newfoundland)


5 Years Ago This Month

Snow on the HarborSometimes it seems like the new year has addled my brain. I wanted to put out a new blog post, but my brain fog wouldn’t let me think of a topic. So what does a photographer do when they have nothing new to show, pull something out of the archives of course. Thus, this post, complete with photos from January 2007.

Five years ago I lived in Gig Harbor. Gig Harbor, like much of western Washington, doesn’t get much snow. In the typical winter, we might get snow two or three times a winter. In January 2007, we had a rather large snow storm hit the harbor. It was cold enough to freeze some of the water in the harbor. I drove down to the harbor before going to work that day and took these shots.

Back then was rather different from conditions today here in 2012. Today it feels almost like spring here; some trees in the neighborhood are starting to bloom, as are Tanya’s geraniums on the front porch. Of course, it still is winter, and it could get cold again any day. We might even have snow, like that day in January five years ago.

Cold Harbor Morning

Harbor Christmas

Sea Fury

Snow on Bike


Rainier

Rainier and TreeParadise, in Mount Rainier National Park, is the highest point you can drive in Washington State Cascades in winter. It would be the highest point drivable in the state, except for Sherman Pass (between Republic and Kettle Falls) in northeastern Washington which is about 200 feet higher. Paradise is an amazing place in winter. The National Park Service claims Paradise is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is regularly measured. The maximum annual snowfall observed there was in the winter of 1971-72, when 93.5 feet (28.5 meters) of snow fell. When I was there in mid-December, it was not quite that snowy, I think there was about 58 inches (1.5 meters) at the time. However, since Christmas, some storms have blown through and the accumulation as of the start of 2012 was 77 inches (2 meters). (You can check on the current snowpack at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.)

With all that snow, it is amazing the road is kept open, particularly in today’s climate of budget cutting (please don’t tell the Park Service how much money they could save by closing the road in winter!). The road to Paradise is open most days (there’s a gate at Longmire, which opens each morning after the road is cleared and closes currently at 5:00 p.m. uphill and 6 p.m. downhill).  During storms, the road remains closed during the day. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains.

Mount Rainier is a great place to travel to in the winter. There are plenty of sights to see from the road. Strap on some snowshoes or skis and there’s even more. On our day trip up there in mid-December, I took snowshoes; Tanya took skis. It helps to have some way to wander off the road and parking lots a bit. For most the shots here (and the one in my previous post), I wandered off the road. It is possible to get some good shots without venturing out into the snow, but without snowshoes or skis, you might have trouble getting around the snowbanks along the roads left from the snowplows.  This is hard sometimes even with snowshoes or skis. Another problem is just finding a place to pull over. Many of the pullouts there in the summer are not plowed. However, there is a lot of parking at Longmire, Narada Falls, and Paradise (though the parking at Paradise, in particular, can fill up on weekends).

Remember if you do go up in the mountains this winter for photography, at Rainier or anywhere else, here are some reminders:

  • Check the conditions before you go and dress appropriately
  • Don’t wander out in the snow if you aren’t prepared
  • And if you do wander out there, be aware of potential avalanche danger
  • Remember that camera batteries don’t like the cold. Take extra batteries and keep them warm.
  • Don’t trust your camera meter, or all that snow will be gray instead of white. Open up your exposure by one to two stops, or use your camera’s auto-bracketing feature (if it has one).
  • Try adding a bit of color to all that snow in your compositions (blue skies, green trees, colorful clothes of your companions, sunrise/sunset colors, etc.)
  • Remember to have fun!
    Rainier from Barn Flats

    Rainier from Barn Flats

    Narada Falls

    Narada Falls

    Bottom of Narada

    Bottom of Narada Falls

    Along Tahoma Creek

    Along Tahoma Creek

    Above the Nisqually

    View from above the Nisqually River

    Barn Flats

    Another view from Barn Flats


Happy Holidays!

Rainier SunsetI wish you all the best this holiday season with this natural light show from Mount Rainier National Park last Saturday. If I have time in the next several days, I’ll post some more shots from that trip. Meanwhile, it’s my holiday wish that peace fills your heart, joy fills your days, and life gives you a chance to experience the incredible in the new year.


Above North Bend

Ridge above North Bend

The golden hours, those right around sunrise and sunset, are magical for photographers. This image of the ridge line above North Bend was taken at sunrise from a Safeway parking lot as we waited to meet the others in our snowshoeing group a couple of weeks ago. That early morning light is so very sweet!