Fall is coming

We’ve had unseasonably warm (HOT) temperatures around here for several weeks but there are signs that Fall, cooler temperatures and … gulp… rain are just around the corner. A couple of signs that things are changing are: migrant birds are showing up and orb weaver spiders are more noticed and active.

Yesterday I went to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge while Dianne was busy getting refreshed on First Aid and CPR. I used her class time to go get my own refresher course on how the refuge changes as the water comes back in and birds start showing up. Things are still fairly slow at the refuge but I saw about 10 Great egrets and as many Great blue herons, a couple of kestrels and, for me, a life bird.. the Brown creeper. I have a couple of photos of the creeper but they are not worthy of presentation here. It was dark in the ash forest when I saw the birds and set to taking their photos. Anyone who has been with me knows that I tend to shoot a burst to get some “insurance shots” and then try to improve everything from composition to exposure. I was pushing the camera hard to shoot in the low light and the birds, being birds, were moving fast as they darted up and down the tree trunks and branhes in search of insects. I got my safety shots and was preparing to make some adjustments when a truck pulls up behind me and honks his horn. Yes, I am proud of myself for not giving into my initial reaction to this bozo. It is a public refuge and it is only common courtesy to try to not block the one way road (which I was doing). Still, I think of this refuge as a place where a person can slow down and appreciate nature. Apparantly not everyone can make that transition. I gave up my opportunity to get better shots, stowed the camera and moved ahead about 100 yards to a turnout. I do know that he got a chance to look around a bit as we moved forward since I was only going about 2-3 mph. Such a rebel.

I found a small group of Greater yellowlegs foraging in the shallows of a pond and just sat and watched them scurry about. I took some video of them and now realize that if I am to do this reasonably well I really do need to have the camera on a solid mount and use a fluid head to smooth out the panning. I’m pleased that the video is sharp and well exposed but I’m ticked that the jerkiness I created renders the video unuseable to anyone but me. I’m such a slow learner. But the birds obliged me with several nice portraits while I was there.

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I was happy to see that I did not interfere with a meal or two. The outing to Ridgefield was fun and made me anxious to visit again as the season matures and the birds come back in greater numbers. I know that Eric and I will be out there as much as we can. I also know I’ll be there alone and on my own time to watch, appreciate and experiment with this great hobby of mine.

The other sign that Fall is near is the increasing number of orb weaver spiders in our yard. I found several webs the other day as I mowed the lawn… sorry spiders but your webs were nearly invisible and, frankly, in my way. This morning I looked out the back door to see if our resident hummingbirds were still present (they are). I saw what looked like a perfect web placed within easy reach and covered with drops from the early morning drizzle we were experiencing. I hurried to fix and eat breakfast so I could go out for some shots before the rain or wind did away with the web. I was quickly reminded just how little wind/breeze/puff makes a spider web bounce and sway. I remembered that getting the camera perpendicular to the web is important if you want to mainting focus across the web. Backgrounds are important. I love our roses and the flowers but not as a backdrop to a spider web photo. So I jerked around and tried to find a composition I liked. I’m sure the neighbors got some good laughs at my expense. I took a couple of dozen shots and came in… dripping wet. After wiping down the camera I uploaded the images and found one that comes close to what I wanted. As is usually the case with me, there are several things in the image I’d like to improve… more clarity, more uniform background, perhaps a different composition. For now though the image below comes close and reminds me that such beauty can be found 10 feet from my back door. I love the structure and pattern as much as the random occurrence of water drops. I am easy to please in many ways and never happy in others. What ever.

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Refreshing

I just returned from an outing with my friend Eric.  This is the second time that he and I have taken a short hike to photograph Oneonta Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.  I went in one other time with my friend Deigh and have to admit that each time in to this location brings me a new appreciation for being “out there” with friends.  It’s hard to beat being in a wonderful location with a friend who shares interest in photography.

This is not a hike one takes too casually… at least not if you go in at all prepared for what it means to hike the short distance to the falls.  The hike is probably just about a quarter mile, maybe a bit more.  Stairs lead down to creek level from the Old Scenic Highway.  Once on the creek you get to pick your own path along gravel bars or, in my case, up the channel.  There’s not really much sense in trying to keep your feet dry for too long.  About 1/3 of the distance in you are greeted by a significant log jam piled into a couple of shed-sized rocks… bigger than a car but smaller than a house.  The log jam requires me to reinforce the wisdom of having at least 3 points of contact at all times.  Many times I had 5 as I sat down to lower myself onto a perch or navigate along a log.  This is not a good place to fall.  Once over the log jam you continue to move upstream in water that is foot to shin height.  Just before the waterfall at the head of the canyon the gorge narrows and the water depth increases.  I had put my camera gear in plastic bags inside my pack… good idea.  As I watched Eric wade through with his pack raised over his head I was reminded of the saying “still waters run deep”.  In this case Eric kept descending into the pool until the water was about arm pit high.  I entered the pool and made my way across the short distance hoping that the ziplock bags did their job.  They did.  We set about shooting the falls and the gorge and left shortly after another 2 guys showed up. They told us that they were scouting a location to use to take a photo next year.  One of them explained that he was planning a shoot involving about 100 nude people in the water and planned to shut down the gorge and all the trails around there for about 4 hours sometime next summer.  I shook my head at both his idea as well as the practicality of controlling access to the area during prime tourist season.  It takes all kinds.  As we walked out we ran into a wedding party scaling the log jam and heading into the falls.  There were about 15-20 people some of whom did not appear real comfortable on the logs.  I wish I could have seen their migration across the deep water pool.  I’m betting that will be one of the stories at the reception later today.   Maybe the mass of people gave the nude shooter a dose of what was to come if he actually goes through with the shoot.

A couple of images may help appreciate this rather spectacular gorge.  I expect I’ll be in here again some day but I can be safe saying that it will always be during low flow and on a warm day.  Getting to the falls is certainly a refreshing experience.

Lower Oneonta Falls
Lower Oneonta Falls
Oneonta Gorge looking north
Oneonta Gorge looking north

The deep pool area is just past the first spanning log in the photo immediately above.  That small bit of bright area past the log is a place that makes you appreciate a set of dry clothes back at your car!

 

Columbia River sunrise

I’ve been waiting to visit the Columbia River around the Corbett exit until the water went down and a row of pilings was exposed.  My friend Eric and I headed out early this morning to see what the sunrise would bring.  Turns out that the water was really low and we were wading in muck to get out near the water edge.  My original thought was to photograph the setting full moon over the pilings but I misjudged the actual time of moonset… should have been there yesterday.  While I took a few shots looking west to the moon the real action was to the east as the sun came up.  Of course, the row of pilings was backlit and almost silhouette-like.  A little bit of help from Nik painted onto the pilings helped to bring them out a bit against the sunrise glow.

It was a fun morning out with a friend who enjoys his time behind the camera as much as I do.  I can’t wait to see his favorite images from today.

Down time

Dianne and I spent some time in Wenatchee, Washington this week… part business, mostly relaxation and exploration.  We set out one morning to explore the area around Leavenworth.  We thought a short hike was in order but  a variety of factors worked on us and we (I?) decided we’d continue up Stevens Pass and see what some waterfalls looked like on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie side of the Cascades.  We stopped at Deception Falls which conveniently flows right under the highway.  It was already bright light when we got there so we moved upstream into some remaining shade.  While the image below is not of the primary falls, it does show the segment just above the main falls.

ISO 160, 1/3 sec, f/22

This is one of the few waterfalls I’ve shot in the last several months without the 10 stop ND filter.  I do have files that use the ND filter but I like the character of the water here better.  I’m still learning my way around that filter and get surprised frequently by the results.

We moved off to find nearby Fairy Falls.  There aren’t any signs marking the falls as you drive by.  The parking area is just a large turnout.  We were using GPS coordinates and found our way with a minimum of hassle.  Once stopped we could hear the falls and knew that we were on target.  We hiked down to the falls and sampled several locations to determine a safe view for photography.  Again, the main falls were in bright sun so we moved up to a nice flat spot and set up on the edge of the rocks above the river.  We created a bunch of compositions and played with different shutter speeds.  Having looked at all the images I prefer this square composition the most.  And believe it or not, it’s in color and does not use the 10 stop ND filter.

5 shot HDR, ISO 100, f/22

 

Here’s a broader look at the area above Fairy Falls.

ISO 250, f/14, 122 sec

 

After sitting beside this stream for quite some time my knees were sore, my butt was tired and I knew, even though she never complains, that Dianne would appreciate a change of location.  We headed back to Wenatchee and a great meal at The Thai Restaurant.  Give it a try if you are in town at dinner time and enjoy Thai food.  Maybe the best Pad Thai I’ve had in years.

What to do, what to do…

I thought it could be interesting and rewarding so I organized a trip to the Darrington, WA area and took the camera gear along to explore when I was not “on the clock” for a job for my friend Brian.  I’d only been to Darrington one other time and after a night in Concrete, WA, Darrington seemed like a really nice place.  I booked my lodging and arrived in town to find out that the only … one each, singular, solo…. place to eat was the Burger Barn.  As I visited with the two high school girls running the place I found out that (a) they are the only “restaurant” in town and (b) they don’t do breakfast.  Where is the grocery store immediately went through my mind.  Turns out it was right next to the motel.  Only the liquor store separated the two facilities.  The liquor store was also closed.  I spent 10 minutes and cruised the town.  Now, I like small towns and lived in a town much smaller than Darrington in my past.  But man, this place really hit me as a town on the decline… fast decline.  I hate to see that and honestly felt bad for the folks who live there.  It’s their choice to be there but they didn’t control the events that led to the decline.  I guess I needed a bit of “in your face” economic reality to slap me awake.

After my meal (mushroom burger) I headed up the Mountain Loop Highway to the North Fork Sauk River waterfall.  Research on the internet told me that sunlight killed any photo chances of the falls until late in the day.  I arrived about 7:00 PM and walked the short, unmaintained trail to the falls.  I trusted fate as I stepped onto some stairs that were probably 40 years old and felt the sway.  Hmmm… back up and test a bit.  What the heck… down I go.  No problems.  As I closed in on the falls I thought I heard a helicopter overhead.  The sound did not change as I walked and when I got to the falls I realized it was the roar of the falls…. very different from any waterfall sound I’ve heard before.  I crawled over some rocks and logs to a vantage point that gave me some river runout and set up the shot.  I took some normal exposures to get the base for my long exposure, attached the 10 stop ND filter and started a 4 minute exposure.  Soon I was on my way back to the excitement of Darrington.  The falls were a great place to be and made the whole night worthwhile.

 

Time is short. So was the hike

A week from today we will be airborne enroute to Iceland.  Let the games begin.  This week is all about final prep… getting the last gear, measuring and weighing suitcases and carryon bags.  Iceland Air does an interesting thing… tickets purchased before April 1 this year are encumbered by a carryon weight limit of 13 lbs.  After that date you not only get to carry on two items but they can weigh more.  Go figure.  I’ll be wearing my Scottevest so I can put a lens or some gear in the pockets as I board.  I know everything fits in the pack but it will be over weight.  No worries.  Just a curious demarcation by the airlines.

We had an appointment in Gresham at 1:00 this afternoon so we set out for a favorite hike of about 4 miles… Tunnel Falls on Oneonta Creek and Ponytail Falls on Horsetail Creek.  I’m still learning about the adjustments needed when using the 10 stop ND filter but I really do love the effect it creates.  I really want to get some dull light and time to play with 4-10 minute exposures rather than the 30 seconds I’ve been limiting myself to lately.

Two shots from today.  The next waterfall you see on this blog will likely be in Iceland.  We’re ready to get there!

The perfect dry run?

Fridays we hike.  We’ve targeted a variety of waterfalls to visit since we know that we’ll be overwhelmed with great waterfalls in Iceland in a few weeks.  When I looked at the weather forecast last night it looked like rain or showers everywhere we might want to visit.  We awoke to cloudy skies but no rain.  We’d originally intended to head to the Willamette National Forest and Opal Creek but I figured we’d have a better chance of staying reasonably dry if we stayed on the edge of the Cascades.  We decided we’d go to Silver Falls State Park and hike the loop – rain or shine.  We’re equipped with good rain gear for Iceland and we might as well get to testing it and getting our minds around walking in the rain.  What a disappointment… no rain.  It was a perfectly wonderful day with good cloud cover to keep the light manageable and the temperatures pleasant.  We set out on the Trail of Ten Falls and made the loop by hiking between waterfalls and pausing long enough to set up and shoot this wonderful set of falls.  Not too many people, great weather for waterfall photography, a wonderful hiking companion and waterfall after waterfall.  It may be that this was the perfect dry run for what we’ll get in Iceland.  Just a few weeks and we’ll find out.  Here are my favorite shots from the day.

 

And an unnamed feature in Silver Creek near Double Falls.  I really want to go back to visit this feature some time.  I really enjoy the churning channel at the base of the falls.

 

Another attempt

Around our house it’s pretty much all about Iceland and being prepared for the photo opportunities it will provide.  Hiking and conditioning are a big part of our preparation.  Getting set with clothes and boots is another.  Deciding on the camera gear to haul along is yet another aspect of the preparation.  And then there’s photo technique to consider.  That’s what I did this morning.

The 10 stop neutral density filter is an amazing little piece of glass.  Hold it up to your eye and you can hardly see through it unless the light is really bright.  Put it on you camera lens and I guarantee that you won’t be fine tuning a composition or focusing.  Nope….you have to do all that before installing the filter.  So far about all I’ve learned is that I need to remember to double check that the camera is locked down.  Of course, the lens points away from me when shooting and I just can’t seem to put the filter on when I’m behind the camera. This filter is not cheap and I really don’t want to drop it so I note the the orientation of the tripod head, rotate the camera around so the lens is facing me, install the filter and then rotate the camera back around to shooting orientation and lock it down.  Shoot and adjust exposure as needed.  Oh yeah, there’s this thing about dust spots and water spots too.  Good grief.

Anyway, I went out this morning to practice.  The water in the Columbia River is still high and the pilings I wanted to shoot are submerged.  I went to plan B and shot a few taller pilings that create a foreground item for interest but don’t pull you into the image like a long line of pilings would.  I’d hoped for a bit more movement in the clouds.  There’s always something.  I did get some good practice with the steps necessary to perform this act when we get to Iceland.  A few more tries and I hope to feel well rehearsed.  Time will tell.

It was all new to me

I have seen several nice photos of Abiqua Falls near Scotts Mills, Oregon but had never been there.  The land is owned by the Mt. Angel Abbey but access is allowed to this beautiful place.  Researching the access I learned that the last few miles of road are dirt (actually, they are serious rock) and steep (yes, it is).  Once parked you start downhill on a trail that lasts about 0.5 mile.  Let’s just say that this is not a family hike.  The trail goes straight down with only a few roots, fallen logs or rocks to break your fall  progress.  Once down to Abiqua Creek you pick your way over rocks and logs as you head upstream to the falls.  You really can’t go wrong but the going is a challenge.  I’ve never earned a waterfall view and photo opp more than I did this morning.

Deigh and I met in Silverton at 07:15 and headed out.  I’d printed some directions to the parking area and they were spot on.  No time wasted getting to the trail head.  The sky was overcast and occasionally drizzly.  We started down the trail knowing that every step would be a potential skating rink.  Wet clay and rocks and roots are notorious for being hazards.  I was glad I’d brought my trekking poles and appreciated the four point stance as I descended.  Deigh worked his way down ahead of me while carrying his tripod.  Once down to the bottom I guess I felt a bit too confident and took a tumble.  Yeah, rocks are still hard but no damage done.  Deigh was relieved and we both knew that if someone got hurt it was going to be a very long day getting out.

Regardless, we got the falls without any more incidents and began shooting this falls.  What a beautiful place we had all to ourselves.

I think that both of us were determined to get our shots as we procrastinated about starting our trip back up the hill.  It turns out that we both found the trip out easier than the trip in.  Took us 40 minutes to get down and 20 to get out.

After lunch in Silverton we parted ways.  I headed out to the Hughes Water Gardens in Tualatin.  My friend Judy M. told me about this place when our little camera club met last Monday.  I just wanted to see what was there.  This is a commercial “nursery” for water plants and a supplier of materials and parts for creating water features at your house.  What a beautiful place this is.  I was anticipating that I’d be told to ditch the tripod but no such warning happened.  Great paths.  Wonderful access to a wide variety of blooms.  This place definitely needs to be visited with Dianne.  What a treat… unlimited access without a set of rules other than common sense and respect for the plants and property.

I shot water lilies of all colors and stages of maturity.  I talked briefly to a couple of nice ladies who were sitting by the main pond enjoying a bite and the day.  They coached me into visiting the greenhouses to see even more water lilies.  Yikes… were they right!  I was really pleased that all the blossoms seemed to be mature and remarkably unspoiled. I entered the last greenhouse and found a single lotus blossom growing about 2 feet above my head and right next to a dingy plastic cover on the greenhouse.  Bingo… it wasn’t perfect but the plastic became a great white background for the shots.  I knew I’d have to deal with all sorts of spots and such but also knew that it would not take long and I’d have a nice clean, near-white background.  After a few minutes in Photoshop that white became black and I had my “shot of the day”.

The flower really was that clean and bright.  I did nothing to the file other than add a bit of contrast and some clarity and a touch of vibrance.  For me the black background works much better than the white one… hence, that is what you see.

Thanks for a nice outing Deigh.  Thanks for the tip about the Water Gardens, Judy.  Both were, in the words of our friend Shyamal, “magical places”.

Outrageous

It’s not common for me to walk into a scene and utter “Holy Crap” (or some such exclamation).  Di and I hiked into Falls Creek Falls today and when I first saw the expanse of this falls at high flow I was blown away.  Our training for hiking in Iceland is targeting hikes of different lengths and with a unseen (by us) reward.  Today’s reward was this falls.  At 200 feet and with lots of water this falls is hard to beat.  Lots of spray in the air.  Camera and tripod worked as they should.  Hard to believe that this one could be upstaged in the coming month. Time will tell.