Wildflower Season and Leave No Trace

Balsamroot Sunflowers at Rowena Heights in the Columbia River Gorge

Wildflower Season and Leave No Trace

Well, it's February and, so far, a mild Winter. If this trend continues we will have an excellent wildflower season. An early Spring has two consequences for photographers. I beautiful wildflower season and a lot of mosquitoes and ticks.

The Columbia River Gorge has many beautiful fields of flowers. One of the most popular locations by far is Rowena Crest. Rowena is known for its fields of lupine and balsamroot flowers. The location is usually over run by photographers and hikers who love these fields. Because of this the wear and tear on the terrain, as well as newly developed trails made by off trail walkers, it's becoming pretty severe, especially in certain viewing areas. Beautiful foreground areas have been denuded and worn down to bare dirt.

Rowena is only one of the areas that are being affected by the increased use due to the popularity of photography today. Because of this I would like to remind everyone to do their best to Leave No Trace at these sensitive high use areas.

Walk on established trails. It's difficult sometimes to stay on the trail when you see a nice clump but there's a great chance that the trail is there due to its view and there will be many other flowers along the way. Once you mash the grasses down to resemble a trail, others will naturally follow.

Don't pick the flowers. It may be tempting to pick a few flowers to create an arrangement, to turn their faces toward the camera or to simply bring home a bouquet. Please reconsider. Once they're gone they're gone for others and their ability to go to seed to supply fresh flowers next Spring is gone.

If you go with friends please limit the size of the group. The larger the group size the more apt for the group to leave the trail. A group of photographers in one place can cause a lot of damage. I've seen a group come in to photograph a place and completely stomp the area down.

Although controversial, consider the practice of not sharing the location to a pristine area that has yet to be affected by this high volume traffic damage. Some call this elitist, but in my mind it's certainly not. If I'm able to explore to find my own little discoveries, others can make that same effort too. If I could trust my fellow photographers to actually be conscientious enough to not tear these areas apart, I'd be happy to tell the world. In the last 15 years of doing landscape photography I have seen so many of my favorite areas become overrun with non caring humans who have crowded these beautiful areas, tearing up the foregrounds that were once used in photos.

My message is simple and is not meant to be elitist. My message is simply to respect these places that we love to photograph. Preserve them for future photographers. Volunteer with local groups who are restoring or maintaining these areas. Keep these places from being closed down permanently. If you see another photographer off trail, consider mentioning in a nice way that they might consider staying on a trail. If you see others causing malicious damage, especially vandalism, consider reporting the action.

We all need to consider ourselves stewards of these lands. Most are public lands shared by all. Consider them something that you need to value and take care of.

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon.

My friend Matt Payne and I were talking about this photo of The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon and how it's such a prominent in a sea of city lights, making it an obvious composition for a photographer with an eye for detail. I think that some who have photographed this overpass intersection have done it intentionally due to seeing the photo but others who may not have seen this previously just see it and do it.

I took this photo back in 2011 with my friend Bruce. He had seen this intersection in another photograph, perhaps not this exact composition, and wanted to try to get the shot. I was glad to come along, and am honest that I did not create this comp. I was unaware of it until Bruce talked to me about it.

in 2011 not many had photographed this intentionally but since then I've seen it pop up in a lot of photographer's portfolios, and rightfully so. The photos are certainly striking, especially if you've never seen it before.

I shot this at 300mm from the top of "Pill Hill at the OHSU Tram upper terminal. It was windier than the halls of hell, but it's a great place to view the city.

 

Moonlit Mount St Helens

Moonlit Mount St Helens

Moonlit Mount St Helens with lupines in the foreground taken from Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Night photography is a lot of fun but can be a challenge, even on a bright moonlit night, but the results can be dramatic. The breeze made this shot a challenge, while the moon light threatened to shine too bright and cast too many shadows. I still had fun playing in the dark that night.

Moonlight and Flowers on Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens in the moonlight

Moonlight and Flowers on Mount St Helens

With about 50% moonlight I set up this shot at Loowit Viewpoint near the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The clouds above the mountain created a great fan like effect.

I used a short tripod to include the flowers in the foreground. Because I couldn't stop down to get my depth of focus I used two photos; One for the foreground and another for the background. Once blended I finished with brightness and contrast adjustments.

Moonlight Mount St Helens.

Amazing White River Falls & Celestial Falls Oregon

White River Falls Oregon

White River Falls and Celestial Falls Oregon

White River Falls in the background and Celestial Falls in the foreground on the White River near the town of Tygh Valley Oregon.

White River has its source on the southeast side of Mount Hood and its terminus at its confluence with the Deschutes River just north of the town of Maupin.  It's located about 35 miles south of The Dalles.

At the base of the falls is an old abandoned hydroelectricity generation plant which was active from 1910 to 1960.

You can learn more at the Oregon State Parks website.

 

 

Panther Creek Falls Washington

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls Washington during high water.

It was a great day to visit this waterfall. I had tried to drive to the trail two weeks prior and was stopped by fallen trees and unmelted snow. In the meantime the road had been cleared and so Darlene and I decided to drive up and give it a look. I'm glad that we did. With the high Spring runoff from the snow and the rain has made the creeks and waterfalls very full and powerful. This particular waterfall has areas to the right side of the normal fall that become a water curtain when the water becomes high. These were the conditions that I sought.

As I approached the falls the view through the trees was breathtaking as it appeared as a soft, bright diffused veil of water past shadows from the trees. When I broke through the trees and walked down to the water's edge the mist was soaking. I had to cover my gear to keep it reasonably dry. The rocks were very slippery and because I was down there alone didn't push my limits much.

The compositions from there are a little bit limited but conditions make a big difference, and this amazing curtain of water at the right side of the main falls, which is not there in normal water flow, was pretty incredible and made a unique photo for this location. The sun and the mist would play on each other as each one changed in time.

Just a quick word about photographing this location. Be aware that there's a viewing platform at the top of the falls that most folks view this scene from. The more adventurous and capable can take a steep and slippery slop to the bottom, but please beware if you attempt this, especially when it's wet.

 

Oregon Wildflower Photography Season 2017

Rhododendrons in Oregon

Oregon Wildflower Photography Season 2017 is here.

It's time to go act like a bumble bee and flit from flower to flower, cameras in hand. Here in the Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge area especially as we have so many options as well as a very long season to photograph them. Oregon Wildflower Photography Season 2017 is here.

Dalles Mountain Ranch Washington
Dalles Mountain Ranch Washington

Early in the season the flowers such as the purple lupine and bright yellow balsamroot sunflowers start in the lower elevations, especially along the east end of the Columbia River Gorge. Places such as Rowena Crest or Dalles Mountain on the Washington side of the river are both very popular locations for those who seek these wildflowers in the Springtime. As the season progresses the flowers work their way up into the foothills of Mount Hood and in time onto the slopes of the mountain during during the summer months. Most of the best wildflowers on Mount Hood are accessible from the many hiking trails available to us but a drive on some of the forest roads will be lined with everything from lupine and paintbrush to a wide assortment of orchids and lilies.

 

When photographing the flowers I like to get up before sunrise to be able to be there during the best light available to me, especially for my landscape photos, but a sunset can be just as nice. I typically avoid the light of mid day but a nice blue sky with some fluffy clouds is also striking. As the light changes I like to take more close up photos of the flowers. Macro photography is fun, but bring some knee pads. I spend a lot of time on my knees during wildflower season.

When out in the wild and roaming among the fields of flowers be aware of your surroundings so as not trample or destroy any plants or areas surrounding them. Don't break new trails as there will be many opportunities for photos along the pathways and trails. As outdoor enthusiasts we need to practice and preach proper stewardship of the lands, especially in these days of increased usage.

Rowena Crest Oregon
Rowena Crest Oregon

Some of my favorite secret locations:

Rowena Crest Viewpoint, Mosier Oregon early season.

Rowena Crest Viewpoint is located on and is a part of the old Historic Columbia River Highway. Located between Mosier and The Dalles it gives you a commanding view of the Columbia River Gorge, especially to the east which makes it a great place to photograph a sunrise. Lupine and balsamroot sunflowers dominate the scene but it is home to an amazing variety of native wildflowers. There are great trails through the area, including the Tom McCall Preserve.

Wildflowers Washington
Wildflowers Washington

Columbia Hills State Park - Dalles Mountain Washington early season.

Across the Columbia River from The Dalles Oregon lies a whole world of exploration. One of my favorite places to photograph is Dalles Mountain Ranch near Dallesport. It once was a ranch and several of the buildings, including barns and the original farm house are still there and a part of the historical history of the area. With views over fields of wildflowers in the Springtime that overlook the southern skyline including Mount Hood amazing photos are made here.

Mt Hood National Forest roads any time that they're clear of snow.

I love to just go for drives on many of the roads that are open for travel that are on National Forest land, especially while the rhododendrons and bear grass are blooming. Many of these roads come to views of Mount Hood. As you drive you will also notice a wide variety of wildflowers that grow along the road. Just pack up your camera and go for a drive.

Heather on Mount Hood
Heather on Mount Hood

Mount Hood's Wy'east Basin late season.

For those who enjoy a beautiful hike that will get you onto the upper slopes of Mount Hood I recommend a hike up Vista Ridge to Wy'east Basin. It can be strenuous to some but if you pack a lunch and water, take your time and stop and photograph the flowers along the way a wonderful day can be had. The trail weaves its way through the ghost forest created by the Dollar Lake fire, the floor of which can be covered in flowers including beautiful white fawn lilies. As you break out of the forest to views of Barret Spur and Mount Hood bear grass and rhododendrons line the trail. When you arrive above the timber line and into Wy'east basin you will be greeted with areas covered with beautiful mountain heather.

Mount Hood's Elk Meadows late season.

For a less strenuous hike go to the east side to Elk Meadows trail. A large variety of flowers can be found in these meadows, from phlox, shooting stars, elephant heads and lilies. This trail makes its way to several trails that network this area that allow loops hikes including a trip to Umbrella Falls which can be surrounded by fireweed.

These are only a small sample of the amazing scenery that can yield amazing wildflowers and, consequently, amazing photographs. Grab your gear and hit the road.

Jacobs' Ladder
Jacobs' Ladder wildflower

The Painted Hills in The Darkness

Painted Hills at Night

The Painted Hills in The Darkness.

As we drove away from this amazing place after a beautiful sunset. I had to stop and look back on the hills one more time.

Come back and look at this photo at night time if you're viewing in a bright room to see all of the rich colors and details.

Nikon D810
Nikon 70-200 @ 135mm
1.6" exp
f/2.8
200 ISO
Handheld steadied by the roof of the car.

A Painted Hills Sunset

Painted Hills Oregon

The mountain is such a beautiful place to explore with all that it has to offer the outdoor enthusiast and landscape photographer. With unmatched scenery that includes scenic vistas, old growth forest groves, moss lined creeks and majestic waterfalls there’s no shortage of beautiful scenery. There’s really no reason to go far to find a world class photograph, especially during beautiful conditions.

The Painted Hills
The Painted Hills in Central Oregon

In landscape photography the weather affects and in some ways regulates when we are able to make the most striking images. Some seasons are certainly more photogenic than others. A creative mind can usually find beauty in the most mundane or challenging conditions, but even the most creative mind can get weary of the weather, especially when they’re patiently waiting for Springtime and all that it brings.

We are in a unique position here on The Mountain in that we’re able to travel east a relatively short distance and find fairer weather. I always keep this in mind come April or May. On those gray rainy days when I feel captive in my own home I am known to head east.

On one particular day in May, after a long Winter that pushed snowfall into the days that are typically conducive to wildflower blooms, I had had enough. It was past lunch time. Half of the day was gone so I thought for a minute. The Painted Hills came to mind. The Painted Hills are only one example of the amazing scenery that we have at our doorstep. Being only three hours from home I packed my gear, my dog and a lunch and headed out.

The Painted Hills Oregon
The Painted Hills Oregon

As I drove the rain seemed to follow. My best consolation was that it was a great Sunday drive. It was doubtful that I would get any photos that surpassed anything that I had taken there in the past, but it’s better than sitting in my living room watching TV. I love the open road, a brown bag lunch and a full tank of gasoline.

I arrive mid afternoon in the midst of a rain squall. There were several other photographers there hooded and hunkered over their tripods. I sat in my dry, warm rig wondering if I should even get out, but I figured that if I was going to drive all the way out here I was going to, at least, eat my lunch.

I sat in my rig and watched as each of the other photographers gave up, got back into their cars and left. In time the park ranger came by. I got out and walked over to have a chat and explained that I was there for the sunset. He looked at me, then looked up into the sky and said, “Well, stranger things have happened I suppose”, before he wished me luck and went on his way.

As the afternoon progressed and it got closer to sunset it didn’t look good, but in time I could see a narrow slot of an opening in the clouds on the horizon to the west. I made a little wish and set up my tripod and camera just in case.

Sure enough the sun moved down to the horizon and to the opening in the clouds and as it did it shown this amazing orange light on the scenery around me. As I stood there looking to the west, with the Painted Hills behind me I started shooting the horizon. My heart was beating as I shot a few scenes. I never expected this show at all. A moment later it occurred to me to turn around and look behind me at the scenery that I had really come to photograph. “Holy macaroni!” The hills were painted with this amazing vivid orange light. I could hardly believe it. I ran around photographing the scene as if it were a super model.

The Painted Hills Oregon
The Painted Hills Oregon

As I photographed the scene it changed and morphed into an incredible light show. As the beam of light moved into the clouds above the hills a rainbow appeared above the scene. As I stand there my in awe of what is happening in front of my camera the only thing that I figure would make the scene better would be a pegasus flying through the sky or a unicorn grazing in the foreground.

I left that day with some of the best photographs that I have ever made, and I almost missed it. I learned a lesson that day. If you don’t go out you won’t get the photograph. A second lesson is that I wouldn’t make much of a meteorologist.

Don’t discount those days that aren’t obviously epic. At the least you will go for a nice drive in some beautiful countryside. At the most you will experience something epic. And don’t forget your camera.

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