Time on the river

Yesterday morning was spent on the Columbia River. Yesterday afternoon was spent with my good friend Connie. Both periods were well spent if you ask me.

I made a commitment to myself to slow down when taking photos and to try to be more deliberate in producing higher quality images more frequently. This is a stretch for me as many of you know. But, with the commitment in mind I’ve been studying the workflow of Vincent Versace who is a well known and respected fine art photographer. This guy is VERY deliberate in what he does with his photos while in the field and once he enters Photoshop. He’s not for everyone and I have a bit of a hard time not yelling at him “HURRY UP”. But the lessons, for me, were well placed and timed. You can get a taste of Versace by looking at his book “Welcome to Oz” if you are so inclined.

I balance Versace’s approach with Moose Peterson’s approach. Moose declares that he doesn’t want to spend more than 4 minutes on an image and purports to exercise more care while shooting to “get it right in the camera”. Well, there’s something to be said for that and I want to get better at the moment of capture. Back to the “slow down” approach.

I have a keen interest in the variety of rows of pilings that jut out into the Columbia River between Corbett and Cascade Locks. I still don’t know the history of these features but I do know that they intrigue me. One set near Corbett offers a background on the Washington side that is (a) not cluttered with houses or factories and (b) has a nice unifrom row of alders growing along the bank. Someday I hope to capture a scene where the tree line is lit brightly and the sky is filled with dark storm clouds to the north. I keep waiting.

Part of my plan to get pictures of the pilings and alders involves having the river be in a calm state. That means little or no wind. It also means no boats creating wakes. In the Gorge both of these conditions are fleeting. I had been watching the weather and knew that yesterday had a good chance of being calm in the early hours. It was worth a chance to get up early and get out there.

My main goal was to get a shot of the row of pilings extending toward the far shore from the south (Oregon) bank. I parked at the Corbett off ramp and walked toward the river. A low cloud at the east end of the Gorge caught my eye. I saw a few posts and pilings that I thought could make a nice composition. I walked down the closed road trying to get as close to the river as I could before entering the field of loose rocks and black berry bushes. Let me tell you that those rocks were SLICK. It took me a good while to walk back downstream to get the pilings/posts in the frame. No falls but amazingly tricky walking. The rocks were like ice.

Tech details: Nikon D700, 16-35mm lens at 16mm, 3 stop ND grad filter, 8 stop ND filter, 30 seconds at f/22, ISO 100. 14 bit capture, uncompressed NEF. Processed in Lightroom 3 and Photoshop using Color Efex Pro and Topaz BW plugins.

If you click on the images you’ll get an expanded view.

After making my way back to the interstate highway I walked the short distance to the row of pilings that was my original target of the day. I’d been in here before and was not looking forward to the beating the blackberries were going to give me. I kept looking for a spot to drop down to the river that was not a 10 foot vertical wall and that offered the least berry vines to contend with. A miracle happened. When I got to the point where the row of pilings was just below me I saw fresh churned dirt and what looked like a small debris flow heading right down the shortest path to where I wanted to be. Turns out that ODOT had been in there with a machine to open a drain. The result was as easy an approach that anyone could ask for. No berries. No slick rocks. Made me want to whistle as I walked.

Once I got to the flat at the river I started trying to find compositions that worked. I tried several from the upstream/up-light side of the row of pilings. As I shot I kept noticing that the sky and clouds were developing nicely. The shot quickly became one of the clouds more than the pilings. I moved to the downstream side of the pilings and found a foreground feature to put in the frame. Again, this was shot with the same gear listed above but this is a 5 shot HDR set processed in Photomatix before going into Photoshop.

I really enjoy the clouds and reflections in both of these images. I’ll say thank you to Vincent Versace for reminding me that treatment within an image can be very tightly controlled and does not need to apply globally to the image. Effects created by a variety of plugins can be tuned and masked to emphasize those elements of an image that are the most important to the photographer. I spent about 2 hours on each of these images… sorry Moose.

A tugboat came upriver and spoiled any more shooting of the calm river. Wake waves set up and persisted long enough to frustrate me. When I realized that I was both frustrated and cold I gave myself a little talking to and headed back to the car and the thermos of coffee. It’s always good to return to your car and see that all the windows are in place. I celebrated with a quick camera review of the images as the car warmed up. Then I headed for Multnomah Falls… an icon for sure and a scene I never really tire of photographing even though it is so overly photographed by the millions of tourists who pull in to view it. It is an amazing waterfall.

Same camera gear but without the split ND grad filter. This is a 5 image HDR shot processed in Photomatix. Perhaps the blurry leaves in the foreground give away that the exposures were long and the wind had started to come up. A bit of rain fell as I started to leave to meet Connie.

I drove over to Estacada via my old stomping grounds near Bull Run. It had been a long time since I’d been on the Sandy River in the Aims area and I enjoyed the drive filled with memories of bike rides with Dianne and our boys. The hills are a lot easier in a car than they were on the tandem. I got to Estacada in time to wander around a bit before meeting Connie at the Spiral Gallery in which she displays her art and works part time. We had arranged to meet for lunch and catch up conversation…. always a treat when I can get her time. I now own another Athman original painting. The first one, Bull Run Lake and Mt. Hood, was given to me by Connie as a retirement gift. The one I procured yesterday started as one of my photographs of Sandhill Cranes lifting off during a Bosque del Apache sunrise. The scene is now a wonderful watercolor that is hanging directly over my keyboard as I type.

What a treat. A day out where I had time and inclination to better my approach to photography and to visit with a close friend who creates wonderful art. Life is rich.

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