A Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Sunrise

Rowena Crest Sunrise with balsamroot flowers

It’s pushing midnight as I finish processing the last photo for a client photo shoot the previous day. I get up from my desk and walk over to the gear that I have set on my couch. My backpack is full of the required equipment for a day in the field. My camera is charged up with an extra battery. My memory cards are clear and installed into the camera. My clothing is ready to go for the next morning and my alarm is set for 4:00 am. These are the moments when one can easily justify turning the alarm off and just calling the next day off completely. The temptation of sleeping in is almost overwhelming. 

The alarm rings and in a daze I hit the snooze alarm. Five minutes later the familiar but unwelcome sound of the alarm sounds off but with an increased intensity. It’s at the moment that I realize why it’s ringing. Spinning around while sitting upright my feet hit the floor. Heck, I need to visit the bathroom anyway. Maybe I’ll just get up, take care of some business and look outside to see how the weather looks.

As I go to the front door and let my dog Betty outside I stand on the porch and watch the drizzle as it saturates everything. A typical Oregon Spring day, I think to myself as Betty and walk back inside to decide that because I’m up anyway, I’ll just make some coffee and get into my rain resistant clothing and head out to see what the day will hold.

It’s dark and with just enough time to get to the gorge for sunrise I put my gear into the Jeep, load up Betty and head out to drive over Mount Hood and over Highway 35 in the pouring rain. At that time of the day there are very few people on the road. It’s my favorite time to drive. I sip from my travel mug and watch for errant deer crossing the road in front of me.

Rowena Crest Sunrise with balsamroot flowers
Rowena Crest Sunrise with balsamroot flowers

As I drop down into the Hood River Valley I notice that the rain has stopped and the clouds are thinning. My heart starts to pump with a bit more vigor with the realization that the morning may turn out to provide the conditions for a photograph that I am seeking, and perhaps the effects of the coffee. I turn east and travel down Highway 84 and then take the exit at Mosier before heading up to Rowena Crest. As I drive up the old Columbia River Highway toward my destination there are still a few sprinkles as the twilight starts to illuminate the horizon to the east, but it’s looking very promising.

Driving into the parking area at Rowena I grab my gear and and run to the spot that I have in mind for the composition that I seek. I have been here several times in the past and have photographed the area with varied luck, typically with mediocre skies, and am hoping that this will be the best moment yet. Within moments the light from the sun over the horizon starts to shine light under the clouds in the sky. I immediately start photographing the scene while blocking out all other thoughts or worries from my mind. I am in the moment. I’m in the groove.

That morning turned out to be one of my best days of photographing wildflowers in the gorge. I came home with a big bag of great images. This, the morning when I was riding a razor's edge in deciding if I should even go or not, turned out to be amazing. It would have been so easy for me to just turn that alarm off and roll back over and sleep for another few hours. It would have been so easy for me to just come back inside after seeing the rain from my porch and hop back into bed. It would have been so easy to justify missing this amazing experience. I certainly had more reasons to not go than I had to go.

I think about this a lot and have this notion ingrained into my thinking now so that I am more apt to think about these experiences when that alarm rings on those early mornings. I don’t know much about gambling but I’m sure that certain principles that apply to it might apply to outdoor photography in Oregon and around Mount Hood. You don’t win the majority of the times that you play, but if you don’t play you will never win. Take that gamble. What do you have to lose but a little sleep? And the Photography Gamble just may pay off. You may end up photographing A Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Sunrise.  

 

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

Get Into Photography Now

Snoqualmie Falls, Washington film photo

Get Into Photography Now - I’m asked frequently what camera that I would recommend if one wants to “get into photography”. To this I reply that they most likely carry a camera that will get them into photography every day. In this day and age you don't have to wait to get into photography. There’s no excuse not to master your cell phone camera before you upgrade to one that’s more complicated. In photography the kind of camera has never dictated the artistic quality or impact of a skillfully done photograph.

Snoqualmie Falls, Washington film photo
Snoqualmie Falls, Washington film photo

Creating an interesting or artistic image in any medium relies more on an eye for an interesting subject, a basic understanding of light, an understanding of basic compositional standards and the ability to use the tools that they have at hand, the camera. A painter can use crude applications of heavy paint using a pallet knife and create an amazing image while another will use the finest brushes and the smoothest paints to create theirs. Both can be masterpieces. It’s about knowing how to use the tools instinctively through practice. Photography is no different.

Trillium Lake Pinhole Camera Photo
Trillium Lake Pinhole Camera Photo

I don’t discourage anyone from wanting to upgrade to a better camera, especially if they want to work on improving their skill. There’s not doubt that a better camera can yield a better image, especially in challenging conditions such as low light situations, but I do stress that photography is like fishing. Better gear doesn’t always yield more fish, especially in unskilled hands. One of my favorite photographs that I have made was made with a strip of film in a pinhole camera, which is nothing more than a wooden box with a hole in the front of it.

One shouldn’t need a more sophisticated camera until their skill level exceeds the camera’s abilities. In many ways a basic camera such as your cell phone will challenge you and will teach you lessons that you won’t need to learn once you get the better camera. Your learning curve will be smoother and your frustration level lower if you practice first with a more simple device.

Some advice that I do give to those who will be upgrading is to consider some of the intermediate, bridge cameras. Many have quality image sensors while supplying a single non-removable lens with a zoom factor that exceeds most zoom lenses that the average digital single lens reflex photographer uses.

Cell phone photo
Cell phone photo

For those that are upgrading to a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera I stress that unless they’re planning to use the gear professionally, there’s no need to purchase professional level equipment. Many intermediate photographers feel that they need a full frame camera to push their work further, when it’s not usually the camera that’s the barrier. The cost for pro gear is more than one needs to pay as the new sensors give outstanding performance. The cropped sensor DSLR’s perform amazingly well at low light conditions. The lenses filters etc also cost less. The only practical trade off is that you won't be able to print the size of a billboard.

Do you still have a film camera? Guess what? Film is cool again. Dust off your old film camera and take some pictures. You can still buy film and you can have it sent off to be developed. You can do it all over the Internet with a little help from the US Postal Service. There are still drug stores that sell and develop film.

The point that I’m really try to make is that if one want’s to get into photography there’s no time like the present. There’s no need to wait. If not having the right kind of camera is your reason for not starting today, you need to get past that. Not having the right kind of camera should not be an excuse. Art doesn’t matter what kind of camera that you use, nor does documenting your children while they grow or any other special moment in your life. Get into photography. Pick up your camera and take some pictures today.

Considering 2016

Mount Hood in Black and White

It’s been another great year here at Gary Randall Photography. I hope that it was for you all as well. After all setbacks are considered, we’re thankful for the growth and progress that has taken place in life and business, including being included as a writer for the Mountain Times.

As I look back on 2016 I thought that I should share a few of the photos that were made and share what it took to get the shot. The photos might not be my most beautiful or technically brilliant but combine my memory of the moment with the resulting image and they’re some of my personal favorites. Consider this a year in review. I hope that that non-photographers enjoy them and that fellow photographers and photographic artists can learn or be inspired to push their work to be the best that it can be.

I hope that 2017 brings good health, happiness and many photographic opportunities to you.  

Mount Hood in Black and White
Mount Hood in Black and White

I started the year out near home with a monochromatic photo of Mount Hood from Timberline Lodge. Although this looks as if it was taken at night it was made on a bluebird day. The snow had been rained on causing these channels of water runoff creating the lineal patterns in the snow. After the patterns were made another snow storm came and covered them back up again but left them soft like folds in fine white fabric.

To get the photo I had to blaze a path through the deep snow to the point of view that I wanted. Of course I didn’t have my snowshoes, but luckily this was only about 20 yards from the Timberline Lodge parking lot.

Processing involved was simple using Adobe Lightroom. For the dark sky I polarized it to a darker blue with my circular polarizing filter. I then localized the exposure and contrast to the blue and darkened the zone to pure black. I then brought the whites and the zones between 0% and 100% to a point where the brightest was at 100% with each level between that would allow for the texture of the scene to be represented. You can see all of the detail including a sandy texture in the foreground of the freshly fallen snow.

Mount Hood Oregon
Moon at Mount Hood Oregon

This photo is one of my favorites from this past year. After getting the previous Black and White  photo of Mount Hood I decided to return again after dark to see what I could do with the scene at night, especially under the moonlight. This photo might be considered an unexpected benefit of looking all around me while I was photographing the mountain. This scene was behind me.

To get this photo I used my tripod to be able to extend my exposure to 20 seconds. I stopped down to f/22 to allow the light to play off of the aperture blades which created the light star from the moon’s light. A snowboarder had cut a line through the scene that aligned with the shadows of the moonlight. I felt that the simple composition created a much stronger image than a wider view of this scene.

Alvord Desert Oregon
Alvord Desert Oregon

Early Spring is a good time to explore those places that heat up during the summer. The Alvord Desert is a great example. The mud tiles of the playa start to form as the mud starts to dry and the skies give you a good chance for a sunset at that time of the year as well.

To get this photo I had set up for a sunset and then waited. The sunset was nice that night, but the color didn’t come on in a dense colorful way until after I watched the “first sunset” fade and I had started to pack my gear into my Jeep. This second sunset is the result of the last beams of light shining from below the horizon and up under the clouds that were in front and above us. Always stay until the end of the show.

Rowena Crest Oregon
Rowena Crest Oregon

As the year progressed the anticipation of flowers increased. Not every year is a good year for flowers in the Mount Hood area, including the Columbia River Gorge. Weather can take its toll on their fragile petals. It can also affect the timing of which bloom when. When it all comes together like it did this last Spring it creates perfect conditions for beautiful wildflower photos. The lupine and the balsamroot bloomed in unison.

To get this photo I got up before dark and drove from my home here on The Mountain over Highway 35 through the Hood River Valley in the rain. I didn’t hurry because of the weather. I did not anticipate a sunrise, but the closer that I got to The Gorge the more that it looked like the clouds might part so I decided to head to Rowena Crest. I arrived just in time for this sunrise. I was also fortunate that there was hardly a breeze in the air which helped me to get this photo without the struggle of needing a super fast shutter speed or an open aperture. This allowed me to get a clear and sharp image through the scene.

Smith Rock Oregon
Smith Rock Oregon

I like sunrises. I just wish that they weren’t in the morning, but that they are limits the amount of people there to photograph them. I love Smith Rock any time of the day. I wanted to get the morning light as it shown onto the rocks I also wanted to take advantage of the foreground in this spot at this beautiful location.

To get this photo I drove out in the dark to the Smith Rock State Park and found these cracks that I found from a previous trip. This photo was all about composition and, of course, the warm light as it painted the side of the cliffs beyond. I set my tripod up to bridge the crack allowing it to move through the center of the photo, and took care not to fall down into the approximately 15 foot drop below. Because the foreground is so prominent I maximized my focus by stopping (smaller aperture opening) down and then made sure that it was in sharp focus.

Wildflowers Washington
Wildflowers Washington

The Columbia Hills of Washington, with views of Mount Hood and the Columbia River beyond, is one of my favorite places to go run through fields of flowers in the Springtime. Columbia Hills State Park is located in Dallesport Washington. It includes the historic Dalles Mountain Ranch and fields and fields of flowers. This old car makes a great subject of interest in photos made of it, especially on a beautiful sunny day with cotton ball clouds floating by.

To get this photo I was able to hand hold my camera due to the bright light of the sunshine. With such bright light my shutter speed was fast enough that it was just a matter of walking around and looking for thoughtful compositions.

Central Oregon
Central Oregon

I’m a guide and photography instructor. I love taking people from all over the world to places in and around the Mount Hood area. Less than an hour away we have a whole different world to explore by heading east toward open skies and Central Oregon. This photo is one that I used to demonstrate my focusing techniques. My goal was to get the wheat in front of the camera as well as the house behind in perfect focus.

To get this photo I set my camera on my tripod to give me a stable platform to allow me to take my time with my composition and adjustments. There was also a bit of a breeze so it allowed me to repeat the shot if it didn’t turn out the first, second or third try. I stopped down my aperture to maximize the focal distance, moved my focus out to infinity and then focused back until the wheat became tack sharp. Set my exposure and took the shot.

Perseid Meteor Shower 2016
Perseid Meteor Shower 2016

Every year I do my best to get a photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower. I enjoy photographing it because it happens in a arm time of the year and I stay up all night doing it. Sitting out on a dirt road in a lawn chair, under a blanket watching falling stars is a great way to spend time.

To get this photo I literally stayed up all night. This is a composite of about four hours of meteors that fell in front of my camera. Each photo is a 30 second exposure which allowed me to give the camera time to catch the falling stars. To get a constant sequence of images to cover the whole time I set the interval timer to take one shot after the other. Once I got back home I selected each of the photos that had a meteor in it and then layered each one on top of another as layers in Photoshop. I then masked out everything but the meteor. I then rotated each one according to the amount of time that had lapsed to compensate for the rotation of the Earth. The last step was to combine them all into one base image of Mount Hood taken that night. There’s a lot of work to get a photo like this but in the end I find it worth the effort.

A selfie under the Northern Lights in Alaska
A selfie under the Northern Lights in Alaska

Standing under the Aurora Borealis is an incredible experience. All of my life it has fascinated me. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Alaska to see them this year as a part of a Photography Workshop that I hosted there.

To get this photo I used my tripod and remote shutter release. Because this was a night with no moon the only light was from the northern lights above me. I put my camera on the tripod, set it to a fairly high ISO, opened up my aperture to about f/3.5 and my exposure to about 10 seconds and then attempted to stand still while the camera exposed the image. I wouldn’t recommend standing in the middle of a road to get a photo, but this was Alaska. We saw no other cars at all that night.

And speaking of Alaska, here’s a photo of my workshop members. I took this photo as we were making our way across the ice of the Matanuska Glacier. In all we spent three days exploring this amazing place. As tour leader I was able to lead everyone out to a spot inside the heart of the ice to get amazing photos of a real Alaskan glacier up close and personal.

To get this photo I turned behind me to see them all coming over this crest of ice. I asked them to stop as I set my camera to Aperture Priority, opening my aperture and setting my ISO at about 800 to insure a fast enough shutter and then snapped a series of photos, taking this one as the best of the group. Although Landscape photographers typically prefer to set their cameras manually, there are times when you have to work quick so it’s perfectly acceptable to switch to a more automatic mode such as Aperture or Shutter Priority to insure that you get the photo.

Matanuska Glacier Workshop 2016
Matanuska Glacier Workshop 2016

Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship

Columbia Gorge
Oneonta Gorge Landscape Photography Ethics
Oneonta Gorge Crowd
Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship of our public lands.

If you haven’t noticed lately, our public lands have become quite popular in the last decade. Many of the folks that are visiting them are inspired by the photos posted on social platforms such as Instagram or Facebook.

We have all seen that epic photo of someone standing on a hill in the foreground with their hands up in the air as if victorious after an epic journey. Behind them you see a sweeping view, idyllic light and a towering snow capped peak in the distance. These photos inspire those who yearn to express the human spirit of adventure and exploration. It also causes an increased number of people trekking to these locations. When I post a photo online the most asked question is usually, “Where is that?”

No longer is there an attitude that you should go out and explore the world and find these places. In this day and age it’s about the image and not the adventure. The location that’s easy to get to and to take a striking photo of especially. The result of this is that these iconic, beautiful and many times environmentally sensitive locations are being overrun by folks that may be inexperienced in the outdoors. Many that I have met seem to have the attitude that they are in a landscaped and maintained city park or, with some, an amusement park for extreme outdoor sports. At the end of the day it really is but a way to make an awesome photo to post online in attempt to feed their own vanity.

This may sound harsh, but as a professional outfitter and guide as well as a photographer and social media practitioner I experience this frequently. You may think that this is about me railing against the virtues of humility but it is not. The purpose of this is to point out that this activity on public land is causing it harm. With the increase in use of the trails and facilities it is more important than ever before to realize our effect on the land. Therefore I feel compelled to make a list of suggestions that will help to minimize the effects of this increased usage. This applies to us all, not just photographers.

Opal Creek
Opal Creek

Don’t create new trails in established trail areas. Stay on the existing trails. If you can see that someone has already been to an area, look for a trail to it before you cross virgin territory. I was at Elowah Falls one day and observed two photographers looking down and over the embankment to a spot in the creek below. As I approached I could tell that they were considering trailblazing their way to it. I walked up and started a friendly conversation about how beautiful it was there. I told them that there’s a great little trail just behind us that will take them there. They thanked me and took the trail. They were unfamiliar with the location, but if they would have taken just a few more minutes looking they would have found the trail.

Pick up other’s trash. We’ve all heard the saying, “Pack it in. Pack it out”. In this day and age it should be, “Pack it in, pack it… and other less considerate people's trash, out. I always carry a kitchen trash back and some ziplocks in my backpack. They can come in very handing for this and other purposes. If you’re hiking with a dog pick up the poo with a plastic baggie and do not leave it along the trail with the intent of picking it up on the hike out. Put it in it’s plastic bag and then put that into the trash bag. If you’re still worried about getting poo in your pack, double bag it.

Don’t pose in sensitive areas. I have seen people standing in or erecting their tents in places off trail just for a photo. This sends a message that this location is fine to walk to which will cause damage in time. Choose a location that a trail already accesses.

Be original. With the sheer amount of people accessing these areas think about why you would want to go to the same location to get the same photograph. This mindset creates a herd. And with any herd it causes a swath of wear to these places. I’m not saying not to go but think about all of the other less photographed areas left to explore. If we as photographers seek out new locations it will scatter the herd and at the same time you will create more unique photographs.

Columbia Gorge
Columbia Gorge

Buy trailhead or commercial use permits. There’s a purpose to purchase forest passes or commercial use permits beyond paying another tax. It’s also a way to help regulate the use of these areas. If you’re hiking frequently consider a season pass. It’s convenient because you don’t have to buy one every time that you go hiking, and it saves you a lot of money. I’m one of a mind that this land is ours to use freely, but in the 21st century we have a few harsh realities that a permit system addresses.

Volunteer. The Forest Service or many social or civic clubs have ways for one to volunteer to clean trails and trailheads. This gives you a chance to give back all that our public lands provide. Contact the US Forest Service office to inquire about how you can help. Join a meetup group and go out for a walk with new friends and teach by example how easy it is to clean a trail as you hike.

None of these points are abstract or obscure concepts. This was how my parents raised me as we hiked on Oregon trails as a boy. I’m not one to claim that we’re doomed in this day and age because of the deterioration of society. Even when you toss that out of that argument there’s one glaring fact that can’t be ignored. There are more and more people coming to these places and just that fact alone dictates that we treat our trails and public land with even more respect.

Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship should be all of our responsibility.

Is That Photoshopped?

Trillium Lake Aurora

“Is that photoshopped?” I hear that question every now and then, mostly on Social Media, although not as much as I used to ten years ago. I suspect that it could be that digital photography has become accepted more, and with websites such as Instagram that allow the user to alter their photos with a touch of a thumb, most of the time in an attempt to emulate a bad film photo, people are more accepting of photos with an artistic twist.

Photoshop is a photo editing program but the word is now used as a transitive verb usually in past tense to describe an altered photo. An altered photo is a very broad description for a process that can easily go from simply resizing a photo to altering a photo into representing something that wasn’t there. There are those who find no fault at all in the photographer editing their own photos, and there are those who say that one dare not touch their photo lest it become fake.

In reality even back when we sent our photos to the drug store they were altered in some way through the process, usually in an attempt to auto correct by the technician or because of the quality of the maintenance or calibration of the machine used to develop the film and even the type of film that we used.

As a photographer who learned how to shoot using a 35mm camera, a Yashica Electro 35 to be precise, and learned how to develop my own black and white photos I have my own take on the whole, sometimes controversial, subject.

Happy Sadie
Happy Sadie

Back when I started out as a hobbyist in 1977 I wanted to learn how to develop my own film in a darkroom. I joined a camera club and learned from the “old guys” there. One thing that I did learn is that it’s not just a simple process of developing, rinsing, fixing and drying. There’s also more to enlarging and making a print than what I suspected. What I learned the most is how much one can alter the look of the photo either by accident or on purpose in the darkroom. This is not to mention how one can alter a photo while they are making the image in the camera using the basic adjustments.

While in the darkroom one is able to push or pull the process which involves leaving it in the developing solution for a longer or shorter period of time, as well as dodging and burning areas independently of other areas. This was a favorite process of Ansel Adams and how he was able to put into practice his Zone System. Masking can be done with cut outs made of cardboard during the printing/enlarging process. Pieces of other photos can be combined, other details removed. One can be creative in the darkroom and most don’t realize that this was done regularly.

The composites that I mentioned that were made in the darkroom are still done today, and are the likely source of the use of the word photoshopped as a verb. These include images that include components that were not a part of the scene at the time such as huge moons, false skies or a person in a scene that they weren’t a part of. Some do it not to deceive but to create art. It’s done as an artistic method and the image or the artist usually make it known. But as with all good things in all good things there will always be those who abuse it. If it’s not real say so.

I say that in a judgmental way and I’m not afraid to say that. Any kind of deception isn’t good. In the world of photography it makes those who would otherwise enjoy genuine hard earned and skillfully made photos question the photo’s authenticity. It also makes beginners hesitate to enjoy the freedom that they have today in digital photography to be able to develop their own photos without chemicals or a dark room.

In digital there’s no such thing as not adjusted, or as some call it, “SOOC”, straight out of camera. It’s a myth that the image is a pure image. You have presets that are programmed onto the camera when it’s manufactured, usually Landscape, Portrait or Vivid, Neutral or even Black and White. All of these are processes that develop your photo in the camera. An engineer is, essentially, processing your photos for you, so why not do it yourself?

All of this considered, today we have the ability to do the same processes with our computers with the lights on. In my work my processing workflow follows closely the processes that are used in a darkroom. Exposure, contrast, color correct, dodge, burn etc. Even the one “special effect” that I use was made for film photography, the Orton effect.

I urge anyone who has ever wanted to learn to become a photographer and develop their own photos to not let digital stop them. I also tell them to not let the judgement of others affect what they do in either life or photography. Don’t let the question, “Is that photoshopped?” stop you from being creative with your photography. And the best part is that, due to the introduction of Lightroom you can say no it’s not, that is until lightroomed becomes a verb.  

Take Better Cell Phone Photos

The Columbia River

What did we ever do without our cell phones? In this era of miraculous technology it's hard to remember how it was to wait until we got home to make a call or to search for a phone booth along the way. They have revolutionized communication. These little devices have also revolutionized photography as well.

Gone are the days of limiting the amount of photographs that you take or the need for delayed gratification due to having to send the film out for developing. We just snap, smile, share with our friends on social media or email then forget about them as we continue to record in more pictorial detail our day to day lives.

As cell phone camera technology is improved the pictures become better and better. They have become so good that they have essentially replaced the point and shoot camera. They are all the average person will ever require for their personal photography needs, and even though they have become incredibly capable, they still take a little experience to master, especially in challenging light. A few tricks can make your photos even better.

Don’t shoot with a dirty lens. As we carry our phone here and there we can put them through a lot. Dust and dirt can collect on the lens of the camera. A little lens cleaner on a soft cloth will help to keep your photos clear and crisp.

Don’t miss the shot. Cell phone cameras won’t give you an instant shutter actuation. They take a second or two to find and focus your subject. This is referred to as shutter lag. Anticipate this shutter lag and be prepared to get the shot a few moments prior to the moment. This is especially true with moving objects.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t use direct sunlight when photographing people. Find bright shade to eliminate sharp contrast of glare and shadows. Your subjects eye won’t be as apt to be squinting.

Don’t use your flash. The stark light of your flash will wash out your photos. There’s an HDR (high dynamic range) setting, use it. And of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I like to use a flash when my subjects are back lit, such as at sunset.

Dont zoom. Zooming with your cell phone camera is not an optical zoom but it an electronic enlargement of the image. The image quality suffers when you zoom in. Choose to move forward or back to fill the frame. If you have a cluttered background move in to fill the frame to make your subject dominate the scene.

Don’t use harsh light.. If you are going to do portraits choose to do them in either mid morning or late afternoon. The light during these times has a less harsh feel and is more warm and welcoming. The camera will struggle less with the light and the photos will turn out nicer.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t settle for straight out of the camera. Post process them. Your camera does, why not you? Download applications such as Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile to adjust the photo to make it look its best. Most camera phones come with their own image editing application.

Don’t be selective in what you shoot. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital. You increase your odds of getting a great photo if you take more of them.

Don’t forget about them. In the past we would take our photos, print them and put them into a photo album. We can still do that today even though we’re no longer using film. You can either print them yourself if you have a printer, go to the drugstore and use their kiosk or you can send your digital file to a company online who can print them and send them back. Even better is that you can now self publish your own book in any quantity, including a single issue of your vacation photos.

Do have fun with it. It’s always with us when in the past we would leave our cameras at home today it’s usually within arms reach at any time of the day. You have a much better chance these days to get a unique photo of life as it happens around us. With these few little tricks you can make your photos better, but it takes practice and the willingness to tell your camera what to do.

The Evolution of The Darkroom

Mount Hood in Black and White
Trillium Lake Pinhole Photo
Trillium Lake Pinhole Photo

Mountain Times August Edition - I remember getting my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye box camera. It used medium format 620 roll film. I wasn’t much more than six at the time and a roll of 12 exposure black and white film was a luxury especially considering that after the photos were carefully taken, you didn’t want to waste a shot, it was sent to the drugstore to be developed. That was where the mystery happened. All I knew was that I had to wait about a week for the photos to be returned to me in their colorful envelope complete with their negatives. Opening up the envelope, I had two things on my mind. Did they turn out and what the heck did I take photos of? It was like opening a gift.

Gary As a Boy
Gary As a Boy

As time went on I grew up, transitioned to 35mm film and dabbled in the mysterious darkroom processes as a hobby. I would photograph in black and white and develop the photos myself. At the same time I was still shooting rolls of color film and sending it to the drugstore to be developed, but I was starting to understand how the best photos were made. I learned how photographers who were considered artists made their photographs.

I learned about tools and methods that were used to balance the tonality of the photo. The most notable may be Ansel Adams and his zone system that, in simple terms, used a system to balance the brightness and darkness of areas in the photo using methods such as “dodging” and “burning”, which used a small light to expose more or a paddle to block light to underexpose areas. I realized that the mystery could be affected.

Grand Tetons 1969
Grand Tetons 1969

I enjoyed playing in the darkroom, but I’ll admit that I probably would have preferred doing the same process with the light on. Not everyone is interested in learning the complexities involved in the chemicals and mathematical formulae to develop film photos. Welcome to the 21st Century and digital technology.

I think that it’s finally safe to say that digital photography has developed, no pun intended, in the last 15 years to rival and in many ways surpass film as the chosen imaging choice with both hobby and professional photographers. Both the cameras and digital imaging computer software can now replicate quite effectively the mystery of analog darkroom film processes. It’s quite easy for those who prefer to develop their own photos to pull up to their computer, download their photos, start a program and process their photos chemical free all while enjoying a nice tasty beverage of their choice.

The digital single lens reflex cameras that have replaced their film counterparts create what is called a RAW file which can be considered a digital negative because it can be developed with software and saved as a finished photo file but can always be returned to in the future, reset and redeveloped into a new photo. With so many popular programs available a RAW file gives the photographer the ability to apply the digital equivalent of traditional darkroom developing to their photos and a lot more. The photo can then be sent to a company who can print your image as a frameable ink and fine paper print or on metal or a canvas print, dare I say coffee cups, t-shirts or even your own self published book?

Jackson Hole Wyoming 1969
Jackson Hole Wyoming 1969

On the other hand, for those who still have the simple need to “make snapshots and take the film to the drugstore” in the digital age, you're covered as well. Each camera can make jpeg (.jpg) files developed automatically with presets within the camera’s onboard software. You can choose one of several “image effects” or styles such as Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape as well as the ability for you to set and save your own custom effect. This allows you to set your preferred style, take your photos, connect your camera to your printer and just print your own photos. You can even set your camera to make black and white photos. Digital technology and the software included with the camera make it all very simple.

Couple this all with how we use our camera phones and you can see how, in this day and age, digital photography has become so popular. When I was a boy my enthusiasm for photography was limited to twelve photos in a matter of a month or maybe two. Today the sky’s the limit when it comes to how many photos one can make, and we no longer must wait a week for the drugstore to let us know if we failed. It is adaptable to all levels of skill or interest, from snapshots to fine art photography.

Today everyone is a photographer. It has been computed that one trillion photos will be made this year alone. Like I always say, “Film’s cheap when you’re shooting digital.”

Flower Season

Mt Hood Rhododendrons Oregon

Flower Season

Spring has come and gone and now we look forward to Summer here on Mount Hood. Summer on Mount Hood is our best time for wildflowers. Most of the flowers at the lower elevations have come and are starting to go, but our elevation and snow cover delay’s the bloom and gives us amazing flower filled alpine meadows and forests full of native rhododendrons and dogwood trees.

Glacier Lily
Glacier Lily

Many landscape photographers wait in anticipation of the Spring Bloom. And because of this a they develop an interest in understanding the cycles of nature including weather patterns and celestial occurrences such as sunrise and sunset times and moon phases. The more one understands nature, the better that they are able to interpret it through their photos.

In the early Spring the flowers at lower, warmer elevations such as the east end of the Columbia River Gorge bloom. Beautiful purple grass Widows are usually the harbinger of Spring in the hills around Hood River and The Dalles, on both sides of the river, and can be seen poking up through coatings of fresh snow some years. Amazing views of the gorge with lupine and balsamroot in the foreground can be had in April and May. The lupine and balsamroot are the larger more visible flowers and will, on a typical year, bloom along side of each other, complimenting each other perfectly, yellow balsamroot and purple lupine.

As the season progresses the flowers move up into the hills and in time to the high altitude alpine meadows of our snow capped peaks. The flowers can cover fields or they can be scattered along roadways. They can even be in your yards. The more that you look for them, the more you notice.

Columbia Windflower
Columbia Windflower

Photographing flowers can be a way to create some beautiful photographs. It can also be a great way to spend some time outdoors. The combination of the two can create a peaceful and centering situation. I can get lost in my own little world as I wander with my wide angle lens among the fields that cover hills or meadows or on my knees with a macro lens in my yard getting close up photos of flowers, mushrooms and bugs.

When I’m out to photograph the grand landscape I try my best to be there either in the morning during a sunrise and into the golden hour or conversely in the evening when the light is nice, but don’t discount a beautiful blue sky especially one with some nice clouds to break up the space. I mention that as an ideal, but the reality is that we live in Oregon and a nice drizzly day can yield beautiful photos as well. On an overcast or cloudy day the light is even and the raindrops on the flowers are beautiful. No raindrops? Use a squirt bottle filled with water to must the flowers.

Let’s talk about the two previously mentioned forms of flower photography, wide angle and macro, or closeup photos. Both forms can be done with any camera.

Forget Me Nots
Forget Me Nots

Let’s first take a look at our cell phones as an option. Taking a nice photo of a field of flowers is pretty simple and the basic tenets of composition apply no matter what kind of camera that you use. While framing your photo tilt the camera up toward the sky or down toward your foreground to make sure that the sky isn’t too bright or the foreground too dark. Turn on your HDR (high dynamic range) setting and turn off your flash unless it’s getting dark and you want to try to illuminate your foreground. Another use for a flash is to shed light on a person especially when you are pointing toward the sunlight. To take a macro photo with your cell phone you can get a clip on macro lens that doesn’t cost much. The lenses usually come in a set. The other lenses in the set I can live without, but the macro lens works reasonably well.

Using a bridge camera, or an all in one non interchangeable lens camera, is handy. The zoom range can go from 24mm to 400mm and some have a fixed aperture of f/2.8 no matter the zoom range. So you can use the zoom in to get close to your subject or zoom out to get the wide view.

False Hellabor
False Hellabor

A digital SLR (single lens reflex) or even a film SLR, yes you can still use film, can give more options for photographing flowers but the basics, as mentioned previously, still apply. The biggest difference is lens options especially for macro photos. On a SLR you can get a close up photo two ways. One is to put on an extension tube to extend the focal length of one of your prime lenses such as a 50mm, or you can use a longer focal length zoom lens. With an extension tube set up you will be closer to the flower than you could normally get, but it will allow you to fill the frame with the photo and still maintain focus. It’s not so good when you’re photographing bees. The second way is to use a longer focal length zoom lens and zoom in, a much safer way to photograph bees.

Buy a field guide to flowers. It’s fun to identify them. Be a Leave No Trace photographer. While in the field be respectful of the plants around you and try your best to not crush them under your feet. It’s easy to look out away from you while getting the shot and not see the flowers below you.

As always, the technical details mean less than the action of actually getting outdoors with your camera. I may discuss a few minor details about the process but I always stress that it’s less about the process and more about the real reason.

Photography Tips and Tricks

Darlene at Cape Kiwanda

Have you ever stood next to someone as you both took a snapshot of the same subject, looked at their screen and wondered what the heck they did or why didn't you think of doing that? Trust me, it happens more times than you would think, and it happens to the best of us. Taking a photo can be all about luck. Luck to be at a place or a moment or having the camera work just right, just having everything line up all at once if you're really lucky. But if you leave it all to luck, as in life, your chances of getting lucky will be slim. Therefore, it pays dividends to increase your chances of getting lucky by understanding a few basics of how to be more in control of creating the image with your camera.

Image creation is different that just taking a photo. Ansel Adams famous quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” explains it best. Think of it this way. You can walk up to a scene and point the camera at it and get a photo, or you can take a moment and look around the area around you. What do you see that can be a foreground interest? Let's say that you're shooting Mount Hood, for instance. Many folks, I'm sure, point their cameras at the snow clad peak beyond, ignoring the rhododendron bush close by that would give the photos some scale and depth. Is there some sort of trail or an element that would make a lead in line. Perhaps a gateway of trees to frame the scene. Look around and find some components that, if you position yourself properly, will create a more thoughtful composition.

And then there's photographing people in landscape and photographing landscapes with people. I tell landscape photographers to include someone in the photo. It gives the photo scale and perspective as well as allowing the viewer to create a story in their minds as they view the photo. Conversely, I tell photographers who photograph people to put the landscape in the photo. Create a compelling photo of a friend or family member of a great time or location by including the whole scene. Get close to your subject and use a fill flash if you need to to illuminate them, or have them walk off into the distance and stand on a rock using a noble adventurer stance, pointing off into the distance like Lewis and Clark or their arms thrust into the air air in triumph. It will add a dimension of emotion.

Mount Hood View
Mount Hood View

Now that we've discussed adding a subject to a scene, or adding a scene to a subject, let's talk a bit about composition. I have an understanding of and yet an aversion to standards and rules. I understand how I can learn them and understand them but I love to break them. Learning compositional standards is learning the mechanics of art. Learning how to break them is when art happens in my opinion. In the beginning the first standard one learns in art is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds dictates a few rules that I feel is always a good place to start, such as not centering your subject, putting the horizon on either a top third of the frame of the bottom third of the frame and, in some forms of interpretation, in no case shall you center your subject, to which I would reply never say never, ever. Although I may start with the rule, it typically stops once I put my subject off center, such as a person at the side of the frame as not to block the view of the of Mount Hood scene behind. At that time I will look to each side and up and down to position the frame to include everything that I want in the frame and excluding all that I don't. Move in toward your subject or further away, zoom in or out. Try shooting lower or stand on something to put yourself higher. Picture your photo inside of a frame. Be creative.

Light is important when making a compelling image. Try to go out and get your shot either in the morning light or in the late afternoon when the light is less harsh and more warm. Mid day sunshine is the most challenging light to get a nice photo in. Don't be afraid to photograph your subject into the light. If you're photographing people, try filling them with a fill flash because they will be in their own shade, or put them in shade and do a nice fill flash. One thing that I rarely do is put my subject in a position where the sun is shining into their faces, primarily because they will be squinting their eyes, but their faces will be too bright in most cases. Use the light to your advantage but don't fight it. If you have the ability to do so return under a nicer light.

You have a lot of options to be able to create an image. Don't be afraid to experiment with some of your manual setting if you have them. It always pays to know your camera and to override the Automatic setting if it isn't getting it right. Conversely, don't be afraid of the Automatic settings. If your manual settings aren't getting the shot, flip it over onto Automatic and give it a try. The last thing that you want to do is miss out on the photo by messing with camera settings.

The next time that you're out with your camera consider what Ansel Adams said and make your photograph, don't just take it. Create an image not just a snapshot, but whatever you do capture the moment.

s2Member®