Redwood National Park

Over the past week or so i’ve spent time in Redwoods National Park and several state parks along the southern Oregon coast, taking advantage of a stretch of fine weather out here.  As I write this I’m in Samuel Boardman State Park, drying out my gear and my self after deciding that I could make it through a narrow corridor between two beaches, even though the surf was high and the waves were pretty big.  I was wrong, but my gear made it through fine and the only thing that was damaged was my opinion of my own judgement.  I do wish I had brought a second pair of pants, though, because I think Carhartts take a long time to dry out!

I had never been to the Redwoods before despite living just a four hour drive from them, and I’m really glad I made the trip.  There’s a feeling I had while walking through a forest of such ancient, giant trees, that reminds me of the way I felt while hiking through the High Sierra on the Pacific Crest Trail.  The landscape feels almost sacred, like humans shouldn’t be there, and I noticed that at times I was holding my breath as I looked around me.  Still, like most forests it was difficult to photograph though I did manage a few.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 8 sec at f/11, ISO 100, gitzo tripod  

It was difficult to find an area that I could isolate without too much bright sky and contrast, but I like this portrait of redwood trunks against the green of the forest.  For the last two seconds of the exposure I zoomed in slowly to get the streaks of light and to soften the hard lines of the forest.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/4 sec at f/13, ISO 100, gitzo tripod  

When I saw this smaller redwood sort of snaking around the larger one I knew I wanted to capture it.  After trying several different perspectives I settled on this one, though I can’t say that it really captures the moment as well as I had hoped.

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/50 sec at f/11, ISO 200, gitzo tripod  

Just to give you an idea of how big these trees are, and this one wasn’t at all unusual!

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 8 sec at f/11, ISO 100, gitzo tripod  

Clover grew pretty thick around the bases of many of the big trees, but usually the bark of the tree wasn’t as symmetrical as this one.  There wasn’t much color in the scene to begin with, and as the photo was mainly about lines and shapes I prefer it in Black and White.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 4 sec at f/13, ISO 50, gitzo tripod  

A small tree grows at the base of two giants.

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 8 sec at f/11, ISO 100, handheld  

I spent one morning at Harris Beach on the south end of Boardman, and saw this gathering of gulls from the hillside overlooking the beach.  I like the lines and simplicity, and it’s not often I get to use my long lens.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/60 sec at f/8, ISO 125, gitzo tripod  

Often times the clouds on the coast leave a lot to be desired by the photographer, appearing hazy and indistinct in the humid air.  But yesterday evening the clouds were lovely, and as I scrambled around the beach looking for a good composition I came across this tiny washboard stream going out to sea.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/250 sec at f/8, ISO 100, handheld

Many of the small islands just offshore around here have a few gnarled evergreens on top of them, and it’s just an irresistible draw for a photographer.  I tried for an unusual perspective this time by having the wispy clouds take up most of the frame, and I like how it turned out.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/8000 sec at f/8, ISO 50, handheld  

It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at Cape Blanco a few days ago, not normally an ideal time to be out trying to shoot landscapes.  I’d gone there to focus on this pillar, which i’ve photographed before but I just felt there was something better to be had there.  I still feel that way, but I got a couple of nice ones.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/800 sec at f/11, ISO 200, handheld  

One of the many islands at a beautiful beach north of Brookings.  Solar halos are amazingly common on the coast, though I can’t recall seeing them anywhere else.  Caused by sunlight reflecting off high-altitude ice crystals, they’re a real boon to the photographer.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 4 sec at f/22, ISO 50, gitzo tripod  

I needed a long exposure to capture the movement of the little rivulets of sea foam in the wake of each wave, but it was midday and really bright out so even with my aperture stopped down to f/22 and ISO at 50 the shutter speed was still just 1/4 second or so.  Fortunately I always carry a 10-stop neutral density filter which screws onto the front of the lens and reduces the brightness of the entire scene by 10 stops, supposedly without altering color though mine definitely makes photos warmer.


Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/250 sec at f/8, ISO 100, gitzo tripod  

A morning view of the big rock pillar at Cape Blanco, complete with pink light and some ubiquitous coastal fog.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 300mm f/4 lens, 2 sec at f/8, ISO 200, gitzo tripod

On Saturday morning I went down to the beach at Bandon to check out the big sea stacks, but once I saw this lone Canada Goose in the surf I decided it was more promising.  I wanted a longer exposure to blur the scene a bit, but the goose was slowly walking around constantly so I didn’t think it would happen.  Then a wave rolled passed it and it stopped moving as the water rushed past its feet back to sea, and I was able to take a fairly sharp shot of the scene.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1.5 sec at f/16, ISO 100, gitzo tripod

After my morning session in Bandon I started heading home under a steady rain, but almost skidded off the road as a passed a wooded creek full of blooming Skunk Cabbage, which is not the name I would have chosen for these beautiful plants.  I donned my hip waders and explored the amazing landscape of bright colors in a normally dark forest.

 

 


Arches National Park

A few days ago I got home from a 5 day hiking trip to Utah.  There were 10 people in the group, including Grant, my friend and the owner of an ultralight backpacking company in Austin called Gossamer Gear, and Will, the editor of Backpacking light magazine.  I’ve known Grant awhile and worked for him a little about 6 years ago, and it’s really awesome being on his invite list because he goes on several hiking trips a year all over the country, and sometimes I’m able to join.  Our last trip was also in Utah, to Zion, Bryce, and Escalante National Parks, and the trip before that was to Jackson, Wyoming.  His next trip is a thru-hike of Scotland, good luck Grant!

I brought my camera gear along on all our hikes, which were surprisingly rugged considering our group was diverse and our guide was 70 years old, though he’s in better shape than most teenagers.  If I’m half as fit as he is at that age, i’ll count my blessings.

It’s hard to spend too much time on photography as part of a group and I wasn’t able to be in the field during sunrise or sunset, but i’ve got a few nice photos to post.  Erin won’t be returning from Guatemala until April 4th and it’s just me and the cat in this lonely house, so I plan on spending as much time as I can doing photography.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/8, ISO 250, handheld

Delicate arch might be the most well-known and photographed arch in the park, probably in part because the trail leading to it isn’t terribly difficult or long.  I almost didn’t pull out my camera because the light wasn’t great and I was sure it had been photographed from every possible angle before, but when I did I decided to use the foreground and make the arch just a component of the overall photo.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 70-200mm f/4 lens, 1/80 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, handheld

One afternoon we did a guided hike through the Fiery Furnace, an area full of huge thin vertical slaps of sandstone called fins, the origin of which is really interesting.  The Arches National Park area sits on top of ancient salt deposits, which are unstable under the massive weight of the rock above them.  As the overlying rock is eroded away and the weight is decreased, the underlying layer rises in spots and the sandstone above cracks into these long, thin slabs.  Our fiery furnace guide illustrated the process with a big sponge with parallel cuts in it, which opened up when pressed from beneath.  The landscape was amazing, but the only photograph I ended up taking was of this shaft of light under a beautiful old juniper tree.


Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/640 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, handheld

Will has been all over the Moab area and knew of lots of great routes that are not in any guidebooks, so one day we went on a mostly cross country hike into a bizarre and beautiful landscape of sandstone fins.  This photograph is of the most interesting area we passed on the hike.  One of my favorite parts of the whole trip was when we were able to walk up and along one of the huge fins, which reminded me of ridge-walking on the PCT.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 70-200mm f/4 lens, 1/400 sec at f/6.3, ISO 250, handheld

This was just an interesting composition we passed on the above hike.  I recently got a 70-200mm f/4 lens for landscape shots, and it’s been a real joy to use so far, allowing me to take zoomed shots of parts of the landscape that I couldn’t have gotten before.

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/500 sec at f/8, ISO 320, handheld

The last hike we did was to Corona Arch, by far my favorite of all the arches we saw.  First of all it’s massive, but also the landscape surrounding it is just amazing.  Mostly it was just slick rock walls and canyons and the occasional gnarled old juniper tree, and I had a hard time pulling myself away.  This hole in the rock was about 1/4 mile from the arch, high up on the canyon wall.  The composition changed pretty quickly as the shadows changed shape with the movement of the sun, and I felt like I could have spent an entire day watching it.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/8, ISO 200, handheld

This gnarled juniper tree was pretty close to corona arch, and is the subject of the next photograph as well.  I really love incorporating shadows into an image, which is something you can almost never do during the “magic hours” because there either aren’t any shadows or they’re too elongated to get in the frame.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/160 sec at f/8, ISO 200, handheld

 Corona Arch was awesome and I photographed it from many angles including the one below, but I think this is my favorite, a wider composition showing more of that amazing landscape.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/250 sec at f/8, ISO 320, handheld

From the back side of Corona Arch, with a small bush as the foreground element.  I could honestly spend 3 or 4 days photographing that 1/4 mile of canyon sometime.

 

Great News!

The day before I left for Guatemala I got a job offer from the Grangeville Smokejumpers!  The five week rookie training program starts May 20th, so I’ll be spending most of the time between now and then getting ready.  It’s been over 5 years since I met a jumper on the Pacific Crest Trail and decided it was for me, so it feels great that it’s finally happening.  I haven’t made it yet though, and plenty of people wash during the training for a variety of reasons, but I think my chances are good.

Off to Guatemala

It’s been a long time since my last post and since I’ve been out with my camera, but a lot’s been happening.  Erin and I went home to Virginia for Christmas and then to Texas for New Year’s, and as soon as we got back I headed to Mt. Shasta, California for a month-long Wilderness-EMT intensive course.  It was tough, but I passed the national exam on Monday, and am leaving tomorrow for Guatemala, where Erin is doing a two-month stint teaching other midwives at a birth center in Antigua.  Meanwhile, I’ve been talking with several smokejumping bases I’m trying to get a job with, and a few are interested but no job offers yet.

As far as photography goes, I’ve actually had 3 photos place in competitions in the last month.  One is the striking Vine Snake photo from way back when that I entered into the National Wildlife Federation Photo Contest on a whim, and it was highly commended.  Another was the Receding Wave photo that made it to the finals in the Veolia competition.  It was highly commended in the Mountain and Nature in Abstract category of the Memorial Maria Luisa competition.  The last was a panorama I shot of Crater Lake last winter, which was commended in the Panorama category of the Sony World Photography Open, which got 55,000 entries.  Hopefully I can keep it going!

I’ll be back from Guatemala on Feb 25th, and will be training for the job I’ll hopefully have this summer.  Wish me luck.

 

Cape Blanco State Park

Last Friday, after looking at the Oregon coast on a map for awhile, I decided to head down to Cape Blanco State Park for the weekend.  Later that evening, I got a call from an old friend who wanted to know if I was interested in going king salmon fishing in Cape Blanco State Park for the weekend…..  Three days later I arrived back home with a few photos to share and a 10 pound salmon in a cooler.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 8 seconds at f/8, ISO 320, gitzo tripod

It was after sunset and getting pretty dark outside when I took this photo, which is why the scene has such a cool cast.  The beaches at Cape Blanco were beautiful, composed of large black sand and the occasional smooth stone.

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1 sec at f/18, ISO 50, gitzo tripod

The Oregon coast is full of sea stacks and by now I feel like i’ve seen a million of them, but this is probably the most intriguing one i’ve seen.  It’s bigger than it looks as my wide-angle lens can make things far away from it appear smaller, i’d say at least 100 feet tall.  I feel like I should explain why the sky looks the way it does.  Polarizing filters cut out polarized light, or light that comes in at angles, from entering the lens.  The effect is almost non-existent if you’re pointing directly at or away from the sun, and stronger at right angles to it, and with an ultra-wide lens you can clearly see this gradation.  I didn’t want to use a graduated ND filter to darken the sky because it would have also darkened the sea stack, and when I turned the polarizer it cut the brightness in the sky in the middle of the photo to what I thought would be a low enough level to recover detail in the highlights.  As it turns out, it only prevented blown highlights in that U-shape of the area affected by the filter, but I rather like the way it looks.   If nothing I just wrote makes any sense, it simply means that I didn’t do it in photoshop!

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/160 sec at f/10, ISO 160, handheld

When the sun gets this high in the sky I generally start to think about heading back to my truck for some food, and where the potential photographs might be in the evening, but I thought i’d scamper around the driftwood along the beach a bit and look for a composition.  Harsh light is rendered well in black and white, however, and I really like this photo of the same sea stack from the above photo.

 

Gearhart Mountain Wilderness

For the second winter in a row I decided to try and penetrate into the heart of the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness, and for the second time it was a bad idea.  Well not bad exactly, it just didn’t work out yet again.  Last year I was stopped by snow on the road that was too deep for my little 2 wheel drive Toyota truck, but this year I actually made it to within a mile of the trailhead before I had to go on foot.  The snow was only a foot or two deep in the forest, and I could follow the trail fairly well, but the weather turned nasty and in just a few minutes the visibility was down to 100 feet and the winds became uncomfortably strong.  As I went higher and higher up the snow also got progressively deeper, and it became more difficult to trudge through it.  When snow started falling and the fog showed no sign of lifting, I decided to turn back.  It’s funny, but I think the name Gearhart Wilderness has some strange draw for me, and is partially responsible for my wanting to explore it so badly.  After leaving there I traced a long route through Lakeview, La Pine, and Bend, and have a few photos to share.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 1/60 sec at f/6.3, ISO 320, handheld

A state trooper pulled me over near lakeview for going 66 in a 55, which I wasn’t aware of because my speedometer has been broken for about 3 years now(which I didn’t tell him), and he told me that an epic storm was coming in and would hit any minute.  Sure enough, about a half hour later I drove into some of the strongest winds i’ve ever felt in a car, winds that pushed the tall grass along the highway completely flat with every gust.  As I passed by a field I noticed this scene and pulled over for a shot.  Getting out of the car was actually kind of a struggle, but I was able to take this peaceful portrait of some cows grazing, seemingly unperturbed by the 50mph wind buffeting them.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 1/50 sec at f/5, ISO 400, handheld

The clouds were beautiful that day, and a long band of dark, ominous blue hung just over the horizon in the eastern sky.  When I noticed this row of Juniper trees, I thought they would make a nice panorama.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 1/15 sec at f/8, ISO 100, gitzo tripod

I know I posted a photo of a ponderosa trunks a couple weeks ago, but I couldn’t resist showing this one as well.  Though it seems like a long shot, I hope that wherever I end up living has an old growth stand of Ponderosa Pines in the front yard.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 1/80 sec at f/2.8, ISO 250, handheld

I noticed this small group of mushrooms sprouting from a downed log while I was exploring a grove of aspen trees near Sisters.   The mushrooms are between me and the sun, so the dark wet bark appeared bright white, and I had the camera flat against the log to get an out-of-focus foreground and background.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 1/250 sec at f/8, ISO 320, handheld

 It was snowing as I went through the Willamette Pass, but was just warm enough that the wet snow stuck to the tree trunks instead of falling to the ground.  When I passed this scene in an old wildfire scar, I knew I had to shoot it.  Notice that the three biggest trees are the only ones that made it through the fire alive and green.

 

 

Flooded Forest

It’s been raining heavily the last few days, so many of the forests around here are full of standing water.  As anxious as I am to get back to the coast, flooded forests are full of possibilities.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm f/4 lens w/1.4X teleconverter, 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 320, tripod

I knew i’d found a subject when I saw this tiny plant and its reflection, and moved around until I found a gap in the trees so I could frame it against the bright sky.  After getting the composition right, I took probably 300 photos of the scene in light rain and then brought them home to go through them.  Obviously that’s something I never could have done with film, and I’m so  happy that it’s now possible.  I had to do more post-processing with this photo than I normally do because the water was full of little floaters that registered as dark specs and detracted from the image.  There was hardly any color in the scene, and i’ve found that photos like that often look better in black and white, and I certainly think this one does.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/60 sec at f/9, ISO 320, handheld

I wasn’t intentionally trying to channel my recently award-winning photo of hundreds of bubbles with my reflection in each, but it sure looks like it.  As I walked through the water in my hip waders, I noticed that occasionally a really big bubble would escape from under my shoe and float around for awhile before popping.

 

 

The Northern Coast

I left home Monday morning for the coast, and got back yesterday evening after a couple of great days.  The weather was nice the whole time, and I found and explored some new spots that i’ll definitely be going back to.  The Oregon Coast is such an amazing place, it seemed like every person I met out hiking would see my camera gear and tell me about some place I just had to go see.  Part of me didn’t want to leave so soon, but sitting in my warm house and looking out the window at a torrential downpour, I’m glad I decided to head home.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm f/4 lens, 1/500 sec, F/4, ISO 250, handheld

 The first place I went was Cape Kiwanda again, because it’s hard to resist such a photogenic place that’s just a short walk from the world’s best brewery (they actually won that award at the World Beer Cup this year).  There’s a large rock shelf that sits just above water level and I wanted to see what kind of reflections I could find to photograph.  Before long some seagulls came by and started bickering with each other about who’d gotten there first.  Judging by the white streaks dotting the surrounding rocks, I think it’s a favorite hangout spot for them.

  
Canon 5d Mark ii, 70-200mm f/4 lens, 1/6400 at f/13 ISO 320, handheld

 The end of Cape Kiwanda is an awesome place, where the waves are funneled into a huge bowl and explode into the air, and Haystack Rock sits out there like an ocean sentinel, but i’ve had trouble capturing any part of it to my satisfaction.  This time was no different, though I do like this closer photo of the sun behind the massive rock.  The detail is incredible, and I can see every individual wave if I zoom in close.  Some scenes are just difficult to photograph, either because their various components don’t line up well compositionally, or sometimes because the scene is so huge and grand that only a 20 foot wide photo would convey the feeling of being there.  That was the problem I would run into the next day at Cape Lookout.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, .6 sec at f/4.5, ISO 640, gitzo tripod

 Darkness was settling in, but I was wearing my trusty hip waders of course and the dark sky and tossing waves were something to see, so I waded out into the surf to try some exposures.  I love that kind of photography, where everything is moving and you’re trying to capture just the right moment when everything comes together compositionally, though it can be frustrating and in some cases, exhausting.  This was my favorite photo from the series, two waves crashing together with a streak of bright sky overhead.  It definitely conveys what it felt like to be standing out there.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/14, ISO 160, handheld

My next destination was Cape Lookout, a peninsula about 20 miles up the coast that dwarfed Cape Kiwanda on the map.  The distance from the mainland to the end was over 2 miles, and periodically the trail leads you out of the forest and you’re looking down maybe a thousand feet to the sea below.  It was an incredible hike, but difficult for me to convey in a photograph.  I shot the image above through a gap in the gnarled limbs of some trees, and it does convey just how high you are off the water and the grandness of the scene.   When I got to the end, I noticed a small faint trail leading down the near vertical face and couldn’t resist.  After a pretty rough hike down to the water, I rounded the front of the cape and found a massive cave, probably 100 feet wide and 200 tall, that I couldn’t see the back of.  The waves were pretty serious but the tide was low, so I was able to make my way along the rocks to the back of the cave, probably just 200 feet or so from the entrance.  Although I half expected to find a treasure chest or a crazed hermit back there, there was nothing except lots of mussels and sea anemones.  It was a pretty neat experience, because I’m pretty sure that people rarely find their way there.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1/30 sec at f/13 ISO 100, gitzo tripod

 Someone I met on the Cape Lookout hike told me emphatically that I should check out Ecola State Park, about an hour north near Astoria.  I’d never been that far north on the coast and I’d heard of the place, so up I went.  Along the way I saw this lone tree on a rock out in the water, and was able to capture this scene of it with a reflected solar halo.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 3.2 sec at f/14 ISO 50, gitzo tripod

 It was getting dark when I finally got to Ecola, so I holed up in my truck for the night and headed to the park at first light.  It was raining lightly and extremely windy when I got there, and the surf had doubled in size overnight.  Walking along the beach, I noticed the sea foam coursing back to sea in the wake of a receding wave, and began experimenting with long exposures.  One of the hardest parts of it was keeping my tripod steady, because the water rushing by the legs pulls the sand out from under them and the tripod slowly moves around.  A got a lot of interesting shots, but this one is my favorite.

 

Samuel Boardman State Park

Yesterday afternoon I arrived home after a few days in Samuel Boardman State Park on the southern Oregon coast.  Amazingly the weather was great the whole time, and it actually got pretty cold in the back of my truck at night.  I spent most of my time exploring the tidal pools and caves below the Arch Rock viewpoint, on the northern end of the 30-mile or so park.  Low tide was around 6 in the morning and evening, so that coincided well with the soft light at those times.  I can’t say I got anything great, but the variety is pretty interesting, everything from a lounging starfish and an angry crab to wider shots of the coastal landscape.  Recently I circled several spots on the Oregon and Washington coasts, and will be taking trips out to them in the coming month, so stay tuned…

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, zoomed to 35mm and cropped down about 1/3, 1/90 sec at f/8, ISO 320, handheld

 I actually took this as I was leaving the park yesterday.  To get the photo I had to walk out on a long bridge on the outside of the railing, staying very focused on my balance as log trucks rumbled by.  In the area of the coast I was at, these sea stacks were absolutely everywhere, it’s a really interesting landscape.

  
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 3.2 sec at f/11, ISO 125, gitzo tripod, 2-stop grad ND filter

 I spent the first night in my truck at Whalehead Beach, a long stretch of sand with a couple of enormous rocks jutting out of the water, one of which apparently looked to someone like a whale head.  When I saw the two slicks of water meeting and sort of mirroring the movement of the clouds, I knelt down and used a graduated ND filter to darken the sky a bit and even out the exposure.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 3.2 sec at f/11, ISO 125, gitzo tripod, 2-stop grad ND filter

 Another view of sea stacks at Whalehead Beach.  The puddles that often form around rocks on the beach make wonderful subjects, especially when they’ve got those little eroded gullies leading into them.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 320, gitzo tripod

 Low tide was a pretty frantic time for me, because there would suddenly be neat stuff all over the place and not long before the water covered it all up.  I spotted this bright orange starfish from about 80 feet away, and could see right away that it’s position right above the water level and its lounging look had potential.  To get the full reflection I had to position the tripod-mounted camera about 2 inches above the water.

 
 Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/40 sec at f/2.8, ISO 800, handheld

I found this kelp crab (Pugettia producta) near an exposed tidal pool, and got down close to it to elicit this behavior.  It’s difficult to get much in focus with such a narrow depth of field, but I think the essence of the photo comes through regardless.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/10, ISO 250, gitzo tripod

 This was the first of a number of caves I found at the base of the 200 ft cliffs.  I like the way the cave opening frames the island, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make a great photograph from it.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 4 sec at f/16, ISO 200, gitzo tripod

 I took this photo at the back end of the above cave.  I’m not sure what kind of rock that is, maybe a red shale, but it was so interesting to see it amidst all the dark basalt stones.  It was actually fairly big, as you can see from my footprint next to it.  There were long cracks on the cave ceiling into which many different types of fishing buoys had been forced by the pounding waves.

  

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/30 sec at f/7.1, ISO 320, handheld

This beautiful seagrass was only exposed right around low tide, but while it was I had a really hard time pulling myself away from it.  As lovely as it is in a photograph, it was even more so when small waves carried it back and forth, like long hair being blown by the wind in slow motion.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, .6 sec at f/22, ISO 50, gitzo tripod

 This cluster of starfish was a strange sight, because they seemed to just be sitting in the sand while normally they’re clinging fast to rocks.  But I think there was rock down there, just not visible.  I used a longer exposure to try and capture the movement of waves around them.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm f/4 lens w/1.4X teleconverter, 1/50 sec at f/9, ISO 400, handheld

 I think this is probably the 3rd or 4th bird photograph i’ve ever taken, and I enjoyed it.  Erin enjoyed it too, as much for the variety as for the photo itself.  I’d say my 300mm f/4 lens is rapidly becoming my favorite, because I can use it for shots like this as well as for macro.  In fact, most of the macro photos I took this summer were taken with it, instead of with my 100mm macro.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/160 sec at f/9, ISO 400, handheld

One place I took a walk was called Indian Sands, about in the middle of the long park, and though it was near midday and the light was harsh, I found an interesting composition of grass shadows on the dunes.

 

Goodbye Fire Season, Hello Rain.

The fire season officially ended about 3 weeks ago around here, and i’ve been busy getting ready for winter by wrapping up the garden, moving the 3 or 4 chords of oak and fir into the shed, and getting my application and paperwork ready to submit to the smokejumpers for next summer.  I got home yesterday from a tour of the bases in Oregon and Idaho, and it went well except for a noticeable undercurrent of coldness from the people i met with that I think stems from the fact that with 200-300 applications coming in for 4 or 5 positions, they know darn well that the chances are slim for any given person.  Still I’m cautiously optimistic, and after putting together the best resume I can and taking a month long course to become a wilderness EMT in January, I’ll know that i’ve done everything I could.

I won’t be getting any calls until January regardless, so now it’s time to focus on photography again, and i’ll be taking several trips in the upcoming weeks to different spots around Oregon.  Erin’s contract is up in a few weeks and then she’ll be able to join me, which will be great.  For three years now she’s been on call and hasn’t been able to go more than an hour outside of Eugene, except while on vacation, so we’ll probably feel like two dogs that have just lost their electronic collars.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm Macro Lens, 1/40 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400, handheld

I like this photo, but as Erin was quick to tell me, it’s kind of redundant.  In fact she thought it was one of my older photos that I’d taken years ago.  It can be difficult to avoid copying yourself or ending up with photos that look similar without continuously traveling around the world to new places.  The consolation is that while the photos may look similar to ones previously taken, in my experience they generally get better.

A Study of Spiders

Dragonflies have all but disappeared from the fields around here and praying mantises nearly have as well, so i’ve turned my attention to the Orb Weaver spiders and their beautiful webs that dot the landscape.  I’ve enjoyed it and have been getting some good shots, but i’ve been having trouble getting anything that really stands out.  Instead of waiting until I get something I really love, I’m posting the best ones i’ve gotten so far.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm f/4 lens w/1.4x teleconverter, 1/100 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, Gitzo tripod

I learned from watching this spider that Orb Weaver’s don’t build their big, amazing webs in a single day, or at least this one didn’t.  This photo was taken on the first morning I saw it and the next one on the following morning, and the circles are much closer

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/250 sec at f2.8, ISO 250, handheld

There’s almost nothing more amazing to me than spider’s ability to spin these incredible webs from birth.  It makes you wonder how much of our behavior could be genetically programmed, if such a simple creature can perform such a complex feat without being taught at all.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm lens, 1/400 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400, handheld

A side view of a spider on its web.

Living Fields

Right now the grassy fields are just like i’d hoped that summertime Oregon fields would be.  The difficulty is not in finding a subject, but in choosing one, and I just wish I had more time in the mornings before work.  Praying mantises are everywhere and the dragonflies are still around, but I haven’t seen any butterflies all summer.  Maybe they’ll come through in the fall.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/50 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400

I’ve been shooting mostly with my 300mm f/4 telephoto lately, but for this shot I switched back to the trusty old macro.  I liked the clean lines and simplicity of the photo, and both are accentuated in black and white.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm f/4 lens w/1.4X teleconverter, 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 500

I like the way the background grass looks jagged, almost like shattered glass.  If it’s too close behind the subject it will be distracting, too far away and it will be just a faint blur.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/500 sec at f/5.0, ISO 400, handheld

I’m not quite sure why, but I can almost never find an intact spiderweb in the morning around here.  This web was no exception, so instead of including the whole thing I tried zooming in on just a small section.  Notice the subtle pink and green tint to some of the droplets, the result of an extremely narrow depth of field.  I can’t remember the name of the phenomenon, but a few years ago I thought my new 135mm f1/8 Carl Zeiss lens was broken when a spiderweb I shot was violently pink and green.

 

First Mantis

While walking down to the field a few days ago, I started thinking about how strange and unfortunate it was that I hadn’t seen a single praying mantis yet this summer.  They’re one of my favorite photographic subjects and usually I see quite a few, sometimes even in an area that’s just been burned by a wildfire.  Well after walking around the field for a few minutes what do you think I found, my first mantis of the summer.  The best shot I got is a strange one and requires an explanation, which i’ll give below.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm lens w/1.4X teleconverter, 1/100 sec at f/5.6, ISO 500, handheld

Although this photo looks manipulated or heavily processed, it’s actually not.  The cause of the soft, ethereal look is the golden grass that was just in front of the lens, partially obstructing the scene.  It’s a technique i’ve used in the past but have been growing more and more fond of.  Sometimes I just don’t want harsh lines and crystal clarity in a photo, but a softer look that leaves a little to the imagination.  In the photo the mantis is cleaning it’s legs as i’ve so often seen them do, just one of many things they do that makes it so easy to anthropomorphize them.

Mid Summer

Yesterday I started to photograph this dragonfly about a foot off the ground in tall grass, and noticed that I was getting lower and lower until I had the camera flat on the ground and was using Live View to frame the composition.  If there’s one thing I could tell a beginning photographer to give them a head start, it would be that with macro photography, the best angle will almost never be from the human one, from above looking down.  Partly this is because the background is never far behind the subject and will be distracting, and partly it’s just not as interesting to look at the subject from the same perspective we always see them from.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm f/4 lens, 1/250 sec at f/4, ISO 400, handheld

Queen Anne’s Lace

The most common flower in the fields around here is the English Daisy by far, but the second most common is Queen Anne’s Lace, or wild carrot.  It’s supposedly called that in America because the large white flower resembles lace, and the tiny red flower in the center represents a drop of blood where Queen Anne pricked herself with the needle she was using to make the lace.  Although it’s similar in appearance to the deadly poison hemlock, it can be distinguished by fine hairs on its stems and leaves, a root that smells like carrot, and the single dark red flower in its center, which isn’t always there.  Like our cultivated carrot, the root is edible when young but becomes too fibrous and tough as it gets older, and the crushed seeds have been used as a form of birth control for thousands of years.  Modern research has shown that it does disrupt the implantation of the fertilized egg to some degree, but it’s not exactly plan b.  I’m always drawn to the flowers, especially when they’re not fully opened and resemble a hand that’s slowly opening to the sky, but have trouble photographing them.  I did finally get an image I’m happy with that conveys their beauty well, but I far prefer it in black and white.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/250 sec at f/3.5, ISO 200

The background in this shot is tall grass a foot or so behind the flower, which is far enough away to be pretty soft and not distracting, but close enough to add some texture and movement to the photo.

 

The Rising Sun, Finally

It’s pretty rare that I don’t enter a world of fog when I get down to the grassy field below my house in the morning, because of the low temperatures we get at night combined with the high humidity recovery.  It’s called radiation fog I believe, one of several different types, and has to do with the infrared cooling of a cloud-free, humid air mass.  Well today was one of those rare mornings when the sky was nearly fog free and I got to watch the sun crest the Cascade Mountains.   That extremely young, just risen sun holds unique possibilities for photography, because its light has to travel at an angle through more of the Earth’s atmosphere and is toned down or softened in the process, and turned a beautiful golden color as well.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm lens, 1/500 sec at f/4, ISO 250, handheld

As I was walking through the dewy grass this morning in search of a dragonfly to photograph, as usual, my attention was accosted by the beautiful spiderwebs hanging in the tall grass. I hadn’t noticed them at first, but as soon as the sun crested the mountains they were lit up by the golden light and suddenly I saw tons of them.  After I found one to photograph, I laid down to get a low enough angle on the web and used my hand to shield the lens from the sunlight to prevent flare. 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm lens, 1/1000 sec at f/4, ISO 100

Another wider view of a dragonfly in tall grass, but with the early morning sun painting the scene with soft light. 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm lens w/1.4 X teleconverter, 1/250 sec at f5.6, ISO 100, Gitzo tripod

I had to lay flat on the ground to get a low enough angle to silhouette this Orb Weaver spider against the horizon, and in post-processing I considerably reduced the color saturation, which I don’t think i’ve ever done before.  For this image, I think it works well.

 

Dragonflies

Now that I have dragonflies as a potential subject every morning, I’m finding it hard to focus on anything else.  I don’t think it’s a secret that chilly mornings are the best time to photograph them and many other critters, because their wings are weighed down by dew and the cold makes them not nearly as active as they normally are.  This allows you to shoot them from two inches away, while in the middle of a warm day it can be difficult to get within 5 feet of them before they flit away.  While spending a lot of time photographing a single subject under very similar conditions has it’s drawbacks, I find that as long as you’re willing to edit yourself ruthlessly, you’ll end up with better and better results.  There are over 5600 known species of dragonfly in the world and about 60 of them are found in Oregon, but so far i’ve only seen 3 and been able to photograph 2.  The first is a smaller species with clear wings free of any markings, and it’s in the first two photographs below.  The species in the bottom photo is called the Widow Skimmer, and is the one i’ve seen the most.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/2000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 50, handheld

A big risk with a photo like this is lens flare, but the sun was filtered a bit through trees in the background so I didn’t really get it.  I decreased the aperture a bit to get more of the dragonfly in focus, though I wish I hadn’t because of the effect on the sun.  A light source will take on the shape of the lens diaphragm through which it passes, so when your lens is wide open at f/2.8 or f/4, points of light will register as smooth circles, while at f/5.6 and higher they will become more and more angled.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about and you have a DSLR, shine a light into the lens element, set the aperture to anything other than wide open, and hit the aperture preview button.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm lens w/1.4x teleconverter, 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100

A wider view of the sun just starting to rise through the trees.  I had something very similar to this in mind before I found this dragonfly, but what I would really like to get is a photo like this but where the orb of the sun is the only light in the frame.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 300mm lens, 1/300 sec at f/4, ISO 200, handheld

I like the wider view of this photo where the dragonfly is just a smaller part of the overall composition.  These are more difficult to do well than ultra close ups because there is more to the overall image, and hence, more that needs to be just right.  The Widow Skimmer in the photo is a juvenile with a golden body, while adults have steely blue bodies and adult males have large white bands on their wings.

Grassy Fields

At around sunrise this morning, I donned my trusty hip waders and walked down to the big grassy field that makes up the bottom third or so of the farm I live on.  To my amazement there were lots of dragonflies and other bugs in the tall grass, so I imagine I’ll be walking down the driveway early in the morning pretty often in the coming months.  Taking photos of bugs in tall grass day after day can get pretty tedious, and it can be difficult to avoid taking very similar looking photos, but sometimes the best work results from mastering a certain situation through repetition.  Plus, there’s always editing.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/200 sec at f/8, ISO 500, handheld

I shot this moth from every conceivable angle before finding this one, from behind and below looking up at the sky.  The blur on the right side of it’s wings is the grass head it’s holding onto, and the green streak on the right is another tall grass blade.

Local Woods

This was the first week in my new job, but I was still able to devote a little time to photography.  I’m going to try and keep that up, but I can tell that there’s going to be a really steep learning curve at first so I might not have much spare time.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/20 sec at f/4, ISO 640, handheld

I headed up Row River the other day and decided to check out Crawfish Lake, which i’ve heard about from a couple of people but never been to myself.  Eventually I found the trail but it went in separate directions from the road, and there was no sign saying in which direction the lake was.  After some hemming and hawing I went left and hiked for a good distance before concluding that i’d picked wrong, but I didn’t mind because I found this big mushroom and it’s resident spider a few feet off the trail.  I set to work and shot it from many angles before finding this composition, which as usual had me in an awkward position that would have looked very strange to anyone who happened by.  I was laying flat on my stomach, using Live View so I could hold the camera flat on the ground and not up to my eye, and shooting through a small plant that was about a foot in front of the mushroom.  To get the green blur all around the spider but not over it, I just moved the camera around until I found an angle at which there was a gap in the leaves between the lens and the spider.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, Canon 16-35mm lens, 4 sec at f/11, ISO 100, Gitzo tripod

The hike to this waterfall is great, fairly long and challenging but also beautiful, and the waterfall itself is really something.  The trail actually takes you behind the top part of the falls before looping around to where this photo is taken from.  It’s a great spot, but one i’ve had trouble getting a photo of that I’m happy with.  I like the scene better in black and white, but it still doesn’t quite capture the size and power of the falls.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm lens, 1/30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 640, handheld

I shot this photo about an hour ago in the woods above my house.  It was mid-morning so the sunlight was filtering through the trees onto the forest floor, making it difficult to get a non-chaotic background, but I eventually found an angle I liked.  When I was younger I remember thinking that you could only get good photos during the “magic hours” around dawn and dusk, but over the years i’ve begun finding that smooth, medium toned light to be more and more boring, while the chaotic, mid-day light is seeming more and more interesting, though it’s often a challenge.  It might just be because I live in the Pacific Northwest now, so even the harsh mid-day light is filtered so much through the trees that it ends up pleasant, while in the morning it’s so dark in the forest that shutter speeds are around 10 or 20 seconds.  Either way, i’ve been shooting a lot more in the middle of the day than I use to.

Diamond Lake

It’s been a shamefully long time since my last post, but after I finished entering photos in the big contests this year I felt like I needed a break from photography.  As it turned out, two of my new photos made it to the finals in the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photography Competition in London, the biggest in the world, but neither of them won a prize.  It was quite a letdown, especially after getting so excited about making it to the finals in two separate categories, but I got over it pretty quickly.  My good friend Jonathan is helping me design and build a new website with much better functionality, and i’ve vowed to spend two or three mornings a week taking photos this summer.  My new wildland firefighting job starts in about a week, but I don’t have to be there until 9 AM and only have a couple of miles to drive, so I should have plenty of time for photography beforehand.  The two photos I have to show today are of very different subjects.  The first is of a full moon rising over Mt. Thielsen as seen from the west side of Diamond Lake in the Cascade Mountains.  It didn’t turn out how I was envisioning, which was the full moon rising right over the sharp peak, but i’ll be back to try again.  For the other, I wandered around in the tall grass in a field near my house this morning, and eventually found a number of small white English Daisies, almost every one the home of a white Crab Spider.  When I found the one in the image below, hanging upside down in the classic crab spider posture, I immediately set to work.  I was able to handhold the photo with a fairly fast shutter speed, and framed the spider against several different backgrounds.  In the end, my favorite was the stark whiteness of the cold morning fog.

Canon 5d Mark ii, Canon 16-35mm lens, 30 sec at f/8, ISO 250

I’ve been thinking of this composition on and off for a few months now, planning on framing the rising full moon directly behind the sharp peak of Mt. Thielsen.  To accomplish this, I knew I would have to take a compass reading of the exact angle at which the moon was rising before it was full, and then hike 3 or 4 miles through the snow to the west side of Diamond Lake so I’d have an unimpeded view of the scene.  Then i’d hike around until the sharp peak was at the exact same compass angle, and then wait for the moon to rise.  Eventually i’ll get the shot in my mind, though it may be no better than what i’ve already gotten.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, Canon 100mm macro lens, 1/200 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400, handheld

At first I was framing the spider against the green background of the grassy field, but after a while I tried framing it against the sky as much out of habit as anything.  It looked great, and I realized that it was because both the flower and spider are white, and wouldn’t be just silhouettes against the bright sky.  If the subjects were darker, they’d look nearly black unless I drastically overexposed the image.  I’m looking forward to having time for photography during the summer for the first time in 5 years, and exploring as many dewy fields as possible.

Cape Perpetua

I spent three days of this week on the coast, most of it in the back of my truck reading as the rain pelted the aluminum cap above my head.  First, I went back to the cave at Pacific City to try and get a better shot, but for some reason the water was brown and muddy and not very photogenic, so I headed down to Seal Rocks and Cape Perpetua.  There’s a huge sinkhole on the rock shelf at Cook’s Chasm, and I had a great photo of it in my mind.  The hole is about 12 feet wide and 100 feet from land, perched on the edge of the rock shelf where the full force of the waves smashes ashore.  You definitely take a chance going out there, but it’s more a chance that you’ll get bowled over and lose your equipment that anything really dangerous.  I’d set up my tripod at the edge of the hole and then try and decide if the wave about to slam into the rocks was big enough to knock me over.  Every fourth or five wave i’d decide that it was and run back from the hole about 10 feet and jump up onto a higher rock for safety.  I was building a pretty good guessing record when I looked over and hesitated… uh..maybe..uh..ah screw it.  I stayed where I was and the massive wave exploded over the rocks and fast-moving, waist high water swept me back about 5 feet from where i’d been standing.  Somehow I kept my footing and didn’t get any icy water down my hip waders, and was able to hold my camera high over my head and keep it dry also.  But that was the last straw, and since I wasn’t getting anything good anyway I decided to retreat.

 Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 2 sec at f/22, ISO 50

This was a spot i’d photographed before, but I thought maybe I could get something better this time.  It’s a close call, but I think I like this one better than my best from the last trip here.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 3 sec at f/22, ISO 50

As I was headed out I noticed the way the sea foam formed a little ribbon as it headed back to sea through this little channel in the rock, and used a longish exposure to blur it a little.

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1.6 sec at f/22, ISO 50

The big hole at Cook’s Chasm.  It was fascinating to watch the water inside shoot up and down with the swells, but when it shot up it often shot out also and I had to be careful.  I’ll probably be back to give it a second try.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1/200 sec at f/7.1, ISO 250

I don’t know why the sea foam bubbles were all different colors like this.  The first thought that came to mind of course was oil, but it’s a really pristine part of a really pristine coast and that seems unlikely, though I guess you never know.  Either way I think it’s beautiful.   I watched as the waves would wash white bubbles into these little pools, and moments later some patches of them would turn colors while other remained white…..  I just googled the above quandary and it looks like it’s not oil after all :

An interesting aside to bubbles in foam is iridescence. When you see beach foam on a sunny or slightly overcast day, look at the colors in the bubbles just before they burst. You will see in each bubble a partly reflected sun in some color of the spectrum, one purple, one green, another yellow, and so on, depending on the thickness of the bubble film. Light is reflected from both upper and lower surfaces of the film. The color has two possible explanations: one, the interference of light waves reflecting from the two surfaces, the other (and probably the more accurate) by the quantum theory of the interaction of light and matter with the “horrible name” of quantum electrodynamics, simply and entrancingly described by Richard P. Feynman (1985) in “QED – The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. I refer you to this book.

Definitely a cooler explanation than just oil!  Here’s a cropped section of the above photo so you can see my reflection better.  My legs are spread because I was bracing myself on the sides of the pool, and the three straight lines are the legs of my tripod.

 

 

 

Coastal Cave

Erin was not on call this weekend for the first time in a while, so we headed out to the coast for the weekend.  I’d heard about this cave and was eager to get down into it, and i’m happy with this photo but I think i’ll definitely have to go back.  The swells were about 15 feet and at very short intervals, so my camera and I got soaked several times.  I’d set up the tripod and take a photo quickly, and then have to turn and run up the boulders behind to escape the next wave.  Unfortunately, I didn’t always make it.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 2 sec at f/16, ISO 50
I made sure to arrive at the cave near the bottom of a very low tide, but the huge waves were still able to thunder all the way through the 200 foot long tunnel and slam into the rocks on the other side.  Using Live View helped a lot in setting up the tripod and snapping a photo in the 10 seconds or so I had before the next wave hit, as I was able to arrange the composition and watch the waves at the same time.  I’ll go back when a low tide coincides with smaller waves.

 

Crater Lake

I’m pretty sure that i’ve never suffered as much for a photograph as I did for the one I have to show today.  I’ve been bitten by snakes, ravaged by mosquitoes, spent hours with numb extremities and even been injured while out in the field, but the last two days have topped it all.   I rarely plan my photographs, partly because it just hasn’t worked out well for me, and partly because I enjoy photography more when it’s spontaneous.  That said, I decided to try and get a great panoramic photo of Crater Lake in the winter, and set out on Tuesday morning to make it happen.  The weather was supposed to be clear the day I arrived, snowy the next morning, and clear thereafter, so I figured i’d stay two nights and hike out Thursday morning.  To get Wizard Island in the middle of the frame, where I wanted it, I had to hike 4 or so miles to the west along the Crater rim because the island is in the western corner of the lake.  Earlier in the day I had gone to REI for some snowshoes and hiking poles but they were closed until 10AM.  I checked my clock, 9:15, and decided I could manage.  Big Mistake.  I set off from my car with my 60 pound pack and was post-holing about 1 foot deep with every step.  It was difficult, but manageable, and it took me about four hours to get to where I needed to be.  I explored the rim for a few minutes before finding a suitable spot, where there was a lovely curve to the snowy edge that framed the island.  As I was walking out to the edge I suddenly froze about 6 feet from it as two words locked me up, Snow Cornice.  I backed up slowly and walked along the rim until I had a view of where I was standing and sure enough, I had almost walked onto an ice overhang with about 500 feet of nothing underneath it.  The sky was clear that night and I got some nice photos from my chosen spot, but not yet what I was hoping for.  In the morning I awoke to a howling blizzard, and when I poked my head out of my tent I saw that the visibility was about 30 feet, so I retreated back into my cave and finished reading my book.  All day I lay trapped in there, hoping that the storm would end and I could get to work, but it didn’t.  Eventually I started to worry because I had barely been able to make it out to where I was, so how was I going to get back if there was another foot of fresh snow to wade through?  The storm cleared that night and I took some nice long exposures under the half moon.  At some point I realized that I had drastically under-packed food and would have to manage the last day and the hike out on a spoonful of almond butter and a 2 inch piece of salami.  It got down to around 10 degrees that night and sleeping was not easy.  I was curled up with my water bottle to keep it from freezing and had to rub my feet every once in a while to restore feeling.  It was a long night, but eventually a blue light in the eastern sky roused me and I got everything ready.  It’s always a special thing when I get to watch a sunrise unfold from the first faint glow, but this one was just amazing.  Crater Lake is so big that you need to make a panorama from two images to get it all in, so I was taking one photo of the south side of the lake and then rotating the tripod and taking another of the north side.  The color in the clouds just got brighter and brighter, but I was pretty sure the best photo would be at the moment the sun crested the horizon, when it was bright enough to register as a sunburst but not bright enough to cause flare.  Finally it happened, and I got the photo.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1/2 sec at f/22, ISO 50.  This is a two-photo panorama.  I used a 3-stop graduated ND filter to darken the sky.

After I packed everything up and started heading back I knew immediately that I was in trouble.  Post-holing about a foot is difficult but doable, but post-holing up to your knees is barely possible.  Every step is a labor, especially with a sixty pound pack and nothing to eat, and I was having to stop every hundred yards or so to collect my strength.  I was never really worried, because I knew that i’d be fine and just had an ordeal to get through, but it was the kind of situation that 10 years ago would have caused me to fear for my life.  There were a couple of times as a young novice hiker when I thought that I might not make it, but looking back the situations really weren’t that dire.  I’m glad, though, that I thought they were, because I think they’re some of the most meaningful experiences i’ve ever had.  It took me about 4 hours to get back to my truck.  When I got there I ate a muffin i’d left in the cab, cracked the ice in my gallon jug and drank some water, and headed home.  I’ve done around 5000 miles of hiking in the summer, but almost nothing in the winter and i’ve got a lot to learn.  The lessons from this trip are; always bring snow shoes and hiking poles, take several pairs of socks even for a short trip, carry more than one book in case you get pinned down and have to hibernate, pack more than just a Z-Rest to separate you from the ice you’re sleeping on, carry more food than you think you need, and bring a camp stove even if you don’t bring cookable food, you need it to melt water.  Most of this should have been common sense, which I normally have, but it’s ok.  I don’t mind being humbled by the elements once in a while.

Eastern Oregon Desert

I’ve seen some really interesting photos of the Alvord Desert in eastern Oregon, so on Tuesday I loaded up the old Toyota and headed out there.  After I crossed over the mountains the road was covered in a thick layer of ice and the sleet was falling hard, so I didn’t get to the desert until late at night.  In the morning I explored around and got the lay of the land.  The dry lakebed I mainly went there to see was interesting, but the clouds were amazing.  I really miss living in places where the sky is such a source of joy.  I spent two days in the area before heading to Crater Lake on my way home.  The road up to the lake is blocked 3 miles shy of the crater rim, and since I didn’t have a tent, backpack, or snowshoes with me, that’ll have to be another trip.  I did stop by Diamond Lake on the way home to photograph the crescent moon and fast-moving clouds, and got a great idea for a photo on the next full moon.  Stay tuned…

 

Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 1/200 sec at f/11, ISO 100

Several of the photos i’ll show in this posting will be in Black and White.  Some photos are just better that way, and the truth is I don’t really know why I haven’t done it before.  This lone juniper tree caught my eye as I drove down the icy highway in Eastern Oregon.  I tried several different compositions, but in the end this simple one was my favorite.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 2 sec at f/16, ISO 100

There were several of these 3 foot wide mounds near the shore of Alvord Lake, and I walked by them a couple of times before finally deciding to photograph them.  I thought that the best perspective on them would be to use my wide angle lens about a foot above the water, as it enhances the round feel of the photo and adds some vignetting to the corners.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 2 sec at f/16, ISO 100

There were a few streams coming down from the snow covered mountains surrounding the lakebed, so I followed one as it snaked through the sand.  The clouds were amazing.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, .5 sec at f/16, ISO 100

The entire time I was there, a stream of lenticular clouds cut through the sky from the same place, the little gap between those distant mountains.  I set up my tripod and just had to wait for the sun to break through the clouds behind me and illuminate the golden grass and sagebrush.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 2 sec at f/22, ISO 100

My main idea for heading out to the Alvord dry lakebed was to get wide-angle shots involving the geometric patterns in the mud.  I had a heck of a time trying to accomplish that, partially because the mud was not dry, but semi-wet and so the cracks were not as distinct.  It’s definitely a good thing to do some planning when setting out to take great photos, like logically deciding when to go where, but I swear that almost every time I go out, even if I get the images i’m after exactly right, they’re not nearly as good as those I take on the spur of the moment.  It makes me wonder if i’d be just as well off if I simply closed my eyes and put my finger down on a map to choose my destinations.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 80 secs at f/2.8, ISO 400

After getting turned back by a snow gate just shy of Crater Lake, I was headed home and decided to pull over at Diamond Lake to try and photograph the crescent moon that I could see setting through the trees.  When I got to the water edge and noticed the fast-moving, wispy clouds, I thought that i’d try blurring them with a longer exposure.  I took several shots before the last light faded from the sky, but I like this one the most.  If I had to give this photo a title, it would be “Why?”.

 

Heavy Snowfall

After 2 months of unseasonably dry weather, a snowstorm blew through last night and left a thick blanket of snow on the valley floor, which we haven’t seen in the three years we’ve lived here.  We get a dusting or two a winter, but this was several inches, and nearly a foot up in the mountains.  So I loaded up my pickup before dawn and headed up, very slowly, into the high country.  It was gorgeous up there, and although I saw some beautiful vistas and visited two big waterfalls, the real gem was a mosquito just hanging out in the snow.  We’re supposed to get a little more snow the next couple days, so i’m sure i’ll be back up there.

 
Canon 5d Mark ii, 16-35mm lens, 2 sec at f/16, ISO 100

I’ve always admired this view on the trail to Moon Falls, and have tried to photograph it a couple of times without much success. When I rounded a bend in the trail and saw the scene today though, I knew I could capture something worth showing.

Canon 5d Mark ii, 100mm macro lens, 1/60 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400, handheld

I uttered a curse word as soon as I saw this tiny mosquito on the snow, because I just returned a lens i’ve been trying out, the Canon MP-E 65mm macro, which can fill the entire frame with a grain of rice and which would have been perfect for this situation.  I like how it turned out anyway, the utter simplicity and how the mosquito is lost against the white backdrop.