Saturday, July 21, 2007

Oregon Photography Tour: Wine Country to the Oregon Coast

Waking up in Roseburg, I was at a loss as to what to go photograph at dawn. I decided to sleep in and go wine tasting instead. I found a number of interesting wines, particularly at Abacela Winery. Eventually my focus returned to photography and I headed for the coast.

I reached the Oregon Coast near Bandon, in time to check a few viewpoints to find a good spot for sunset. The Face Rock Wayside provided a stirway for beach access, scenic rock offshore, and plenty of flat, wet sand on which to catch the sky's reflection.
This was my first sunset on the Oregon Coast, and it looked like there would be too much cloud cover and nothing happening. Then suddenly a hole started appearing, and I loaded up my gear, grabbed the tripod, and rushed down the stairway and onto the sand.

I caught some nice shots of the hole opening up in the clouds. I believe the rock to the left is referred to as "wizard hat."

However before coming down to the beach I had moved things around between a backpack and my fanny pack. I was in such a hurry that somehow I ended up on the beach with no filters. I should have used a graduated neutral density filter for most of my shots, but using a tripod and brackeint exposures I was able to use HDR processing and have the results turn out OK. That was fortunate, because it ended up being one of my favorite sunsets of the trip!

Here are a few of my other shots from the Bandon area.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Oregon Photography Tour: Crater Lake and Rogue River Waterfalls

After a stop in the Klamath Marsh to catch sunset, I arrived in the Crater Lake area late at night and camped by Diamond Lake. Dawn could bring an excellent view of Mt. Thielsen across the lake. Dawn actually arrived late and gray, so I caught up on some much-needed sleep.

My first few stops along the road circling Crater Lake's caldera were gray and very windy, but by the time I reached the visitor center, the clouds had broken somewhat and I could see that Crater Lake's 1,943 feet deep waters take on the most amazing turquoise blue tones under the influence of a blue sky.

My most recent Internet access had revealed a weather forecast for partly cloudy skies on the Oregon Coast with a fair amount of sun for the next few days, so I headed down Highway 138 along the Rogue River. I stopped at a visitor center near Diamond Lake and determined that I could stop at several waterfalls along the way. I'd simply see how far I could get by nightfall.

One of my stops was Whitehorse Falls, a small cascade into a punchbowl plunge pool.

Another stop was Tokatee Falls on the Rogue River, a dramatic three stage plunge over substantial basalt columns.

In the narrow canyon above Tokatee Falls, this fallen log was resisting the full force of the river. I used a polarizing filter to cut light and slow the shutter speed so the shot would show the motion.

I continued down to Roseburg for dinner and a motel.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oregon Photography Tour: Fossil Lake Sand Dunes

After a night in a campground near the Painted Hills, with rain still forecast for the Oregon Coast, I set my sights for a large area on my Oregon map marked "sand dunes" out by the dry Fossil Lake, near Fort Rock and the town of Christmas Valley. What could be a safer place, I thought, than sand dunes near a dry lake, for a photographer spending a rainy week in Oregon?

Although the woman in the BLM office I visited to get maps said that she had never heard of people visiting the dunes to hike and take pictures (why do we ignore warning signs like that until we remember them later with 20/20 hindsight?), the dunes appeared to be oriented east to west, so I envisioned a sea of dunes that would be warmly lit by the sun at dusk and dawn.

It was going to be a 3-4 hour drive, so partway into the trip to stretch my legs I stopped at Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. One of the attractions there is the Lava River Cave, a lava tube which extends over a mile underground. Upon reaching one long, straight section, I tried some 30 second exposures. I determined that the gas lanterns rented by the entrance booth were a bit too bright, so I carried a flashlight (red end, white light shining on the floor) and triggered my camera flash multiple timestowards the walls as I rushed out 15 seconds and and then back for 15 seconds.

Having distracted myself from the long drive, I continued on towards the dunes. The drive seemed endless. Although I had a detailed BLM map and the road out to the dunes had been designated a "Scenic Byway" by the State of Oregon, The turns didn't seem to match my maps and the Scenic Byway was very poorly marked.

When I finally arrived at the primitive campground by the dunes, there was a group of maybe a dozen children riding around on tiny ATVs. It gave me the impression of a sort of miniature version of Mad Max. The parents were sitting by their pickup trucks drinking beers and watching approvingly.

Unfortunately the nearby dunes were sparse and widely spaced, overrun with ATV tracks, not particularly photogenic. I hiked out onto the dunes for a variety of sand pattern shots, but it didn't look good for dawn, so I decided to drive a couple of hours more to move on to Crater Lake.

I plotted the course on the map, and tooka a route that might get me to the Klamath Marsh for sunset.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Oregon Photography Tour: Mt. Hood to Painted Hills

On the morning of my second day, before leaving Mt. Hood, for old times' sake I had to have breakfast in Timberline Lodge. Timberline Lodge is a massive timber structure built as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) project to help employ people following the Great Depression. The lodge is filled with handmade furniture, rugs, and other items made by unskilled workers, under the guidance of skilled craftsmen. One of the most impressive parts of Timberline Lodge is the Great Room, featuring an octagonal, 3 hearth stone fireplace that rises several stories to the timber-framed roof above.

The breakfast was great, perhaps in part because my alternative had been to cook on a campstove on a wet table in the rain!

As a side note, if you've seen The Shining, you may recognize Timberline Lodge, as it was used for many of the exterior shots.

A trip to nearby Trillium Lake to catch Mt. Hood's reflection was fruitless due to cloud cover, so I got back on the road. After an overcast and rainy morning on Mt. Hood (picking ripe wild huckleberries was great, but not what I was in the state to do), I knew that I had to head further out towards Oregon's dry interior. I'd head first towards the Bend/Redmond area and let the weather steer me from there.

By Madras I could see threatening storm clouds hovering over the Cascades in the Mt. Jeferson to Bend/Mt. Bachelor area. I knew that the John Day Mountains reached heights in the 9000 foot range and I had never gotten out there while I lived in Oregon, so I aimed for the center of the state. I had seen a picture of the Painted Hills unit of John Day Fossil Beds, and it seemed to be a reachable goal for sunset.

I explored the hills under overcast skies for a while in late afternoon, then the clouds broke up as sunset appoached. I used a circular polarizer on my wide angle lens to help capture definition in the clouds, also bracketing exposures so I could use HDR processing

There wasn't much happening in the sky until I reached a ridge that gave me a great eastward view of the bare hills, with a massive thundercloud on the horizon behind them. The range of light from the brightest sun-lit clouds to the hills they were shadowing on the ground was enormous. I'd need a long exposure for the detail on the hills, a graduated neutral density filter to bring the sky closer to the hills in exposure, three exposure bracketing to allow for additional HDR processing if needed. I also used various combinations of a Tiffen Enhancing filter and a Cokin Sunset filter to help the clouds hold color for the shots I would send through HDR processing. As it turned out, the exposures were too long and the clouds were moving too fast to use a typical 3 shot HDR sequence. For this result I tried every combination of two shots to identify the best one, then further noise-reduced and color-corrected the HDR result in Photoshop Elements. To think that some people think that all landscape photographers do is show up and trip a shutter!

To further enhance the realism of my shots I often perform the best possible edit that I can muster on the best single exposure, then blend that in with my most realistic HDR result. The HDR version contributes shadow and highlight detail, while the single exposure helps enforce natural color tone and light intensities.

As the setting sun started painting the cloud orange and touching the broken clouds above, to the west the sun shot rays of orange between mountaintops and onto the underside of the clouds above there as well. Not wanting to miss either spectacle, I was running back and forth across the ridge alternating a couple of shots in each direction, capturing vertical and horizontal compositions while bracketing exposures and varying filters and combinations.

After a night in a campground near the Painted Hills, with rain still forecast for the Oregon Coast, I set my sights for a large area on my Oregon map marked "sand dunes" out by the dry Fossil Lake, near Fort Rock and the town of Christmas Valley. What could be a safer place, I thought, than sand dunes near a dry lake, for a photographer spending a rainy week in Oregon?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oregon Photography Tour: Columbia Gorge

My trip started with the 600 mile drive to Portland, OR. With rain forecast for the next week, it didn't make sense to visit the Hoh Rain Forest and the beaches on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Having lived in Portland for 3 years in the 1980s, I knew that if I set mysights inland towards the dry Eastern side of the Cascades, I'd probably be able to avoid the worst of the rain.

The Columbia River Gorge was a logical way to head out of town, but it was raining and even having brought a giant golf umbrella and towel for frequent drying, most of my shots have some degree of water drops on the lense. The drizzle stopped briefly during my hike into Oneonta Gorge, so I was able to capture this shot of Oneonta Falls.

My first night out of Portland, after a dinner stop at the Full Sail Brewery in the town of Hood River, I headed towards the rian shadow of Mt. Hood. I still had a Forest Service map from when I lived in Portland years ago, and I tried to find a campsite that would have a sunset and sunrise view of the mountain.

This site, "Clouds Rest" had a promising name, and while it seemed to take foreever to reach up a decaying dirt road, my effort was rewarded with this sunset view of the breaking storm, over a sea of wildflowers.

It was raining and gray when I woke up, so it was fortunate that I made it to the campsite in time for sunset!

I heard a couple of days later that the Washington coast received record rain on the days that I had planned to visit, so having the flexibility to head for a drier part of Oregon really paid off!