Pathway To The Stars – The Milky Way Over Mount Hood

The Milky way Over Mount Hood Oregon

Pathway To The Stars. The Milky Way Over Mount Hood Oregon - I had a great time hanging around in the dark with my brudda Rob last night. We shot the night sky over Mount Hood from the north side while talking about the Milky Way over Mauna Loa - The night was as warm as a Big Island night - and other places where we've stood and observed the stars.

There are very few things that surpass the brilliance of the stars on a dark Summer night. Since I was a small boy I have slept outside whenever possible, even if only in my backyard. I'm fortunate to have lived in some places that have extremely dark night skies.

I remember great times while I was in school in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon when neighbor friends, my brother and I would just lay blankets out in the pasture, set up our sleeping bags and count falling stars and satellites until we fell asleep only to wake up again at sunrise covered in dew.

I was reading the other day that 80% of the people in the United States are unable to see the Milky Way at night. That's a sad figure. I sincerely feel that when we remove ourselves from the natural world we suffer. Taking away the stars in the sky that have caused so many people to dream fantastic dreams and thoughts of wonderment and hope is the last brick in the wall of separation of humanity from Nature. Stand in a city some night and search for anything natural. Even the sky is cloaked in a bath of unnatural light. How can we understand what Nature requires from us if we don't understand her?

Please do yourself and Nature a favor and reconnect your soul to the Earth and all of its natural fantastic wonders. Drive somewhere dark some night and look up. Bring a blanket and a sleeping bag. You may be there for a while.

Robert Randolph and The Family Band in Portland

Robert Randolph and The Family Band

Robert Randolph and The Family Band in Portland - Darlene and I had an opportunity to photograph the Portland Oregon Waterfront Blues Festival with Robert Randolph and The Family Band as a headlining act. We're big fans and had a great time. We were able to meet him after the concert as well as a couple of the band members. I was so impressed at how kind, friendly and humble that they are.

 

 

Night Sky Photography

Mt Hood Milky Way

Night Sky Photography  - Summer is here. For a landscape photographer this time of the year means good weather, green forests, flowers, warmer nights and starry night skies. I enjoy heading out for a sunset and staying until the stars come out, and in many cases, staying out until sunrise. Sunsets and sunrises are always a wonderful time to get dramatic landscape photos, while landscape photos with an amazing Milky Way in the sky above can be unique and dramatic.

Night sky photography is a form of photography that seems mystical and magical. To many people night photography appears to be complicated and left only for those with the most acute photography skill, when in fact once you understand just the basics of the exposure triangle - Shutter speed, aperture and Iso - you will realize that all that’s being done to get these dark night sky photos, in most cases, is to get as much light into your camera as possible.

Set your camera on Manual, set up your tripod and let’s get started.

As most photographers know when you use a long exposure you will need a tripod. Your tripod will keep your camera still during the exposure. You will want to insure that no movement takes place at all during the exposure. Another device that helps with this is a shutter release. The shutter release will keep you from moving the camera when you press the button. If you have no shutter release you can usually set your camera timer to take the photo a few seconds after you click the shutter button.

Your exposure setting will need to be extended, in most cases, up to 20 or sometimes 30 seconds. This will depend on how dark the sky is. Remember that the darker the sky, the brighter the stars, therefore a night without a moon will give the best starry sky. The only negative consequence will be less light on your subject or foreground. Many times just a slight sliver of a moon will allow a more defined foreground while still allowing the stars to shine.

Concerning shutter speed, the only consideration that you must have is that the longer the shutter is open the more movement you will detect in the scene. Even in the stars as at some longer focal lengths the stars will streak slightly when you extend the exposure to 30 seconds. These star streaks turn into star trails if allowed to streak long enough, sometimes up to 30 minutes. This method will create amazing surreal images of steaks and circles of light above your subject. To do this requires another method, not explained here, to pull off.

The next thing that one must consider is how the aperture will block or allow light to pass through the lens and into the camera. When light is dim or it’s dark outside you will want to allow as much light through as possible, and to do this you must use a wider more open aperture - A smaller number. Without getting into the math involved just remember that when you open your aperture you will be allowed a quicker shutter and a lower Iso. Both are desirable, which I’ll explain later. A good quality lens will allow an f/2.8 aperture setting.

Next is your Iso setting. What is Iso? You know that the longer that you keep your shutter open the more light will pass through the lens and into the camera. We also know that an aperture that’s open wider allows more light in. In digital photography we have no film but we do have electronic film in the form of the image sensor. The image sensor’s sensitivity to light can be adjusted. The higher the Iso number the more sensitive to light your camera becomes. Iso 1000 will be more sensitive to light than Iso 100, for instance. Therefor you will need to raise your Iso to get your starry night photos. It’s easy to think that all one needs to do is raise their Iso, but there are negative effects in the form of noise in the image. In film it’s called grain. To get a cleaner image you want to keep your Iso as low as possible. Extending your shutter speed and opening your Iso allows you to do this.

One thing that one must remember when setting up is that in the dark it’s more difficult, or in many cases impossible to use your light meter to determine your settings. Therefore one must take a couple test shots before they get the exposure right.

Another important and in many cases the most difficult part of getting setup for the shot is focus. Unfortunately on a zoom lens when you set the focus to infinity the stars will not be in focus. And at night when it’s dark it’s difficult to manual focus. I recommend taking your camera out in the daylight and setting the focus to an object far away and then marking the lens. I have used tape where when I line up the edges of the tape it’s in focus. There are other methods, but this is the simplest until you gain more experience.

And so once we understand this we can let more light into the camera using these three settings, we can start taking photos in low light. Tripod, long exposure, open aperture and a higher Iso. The next thing to do is to go out and practice. Once you do this a few times your photos will get better and your understanding of what settings to start with will become more second nature.

For more in depth instruction I'm alway available for private one-on-one in field workshops or post processing in person or via Skype.

Crystal Crane Hot Springs Milky Way
Crystal Crane Hot Springs Milky Way

The Bridge to Beautiful

Pont du Parayre, Le Ruisseau d'Audiernes, Peyrusse le Roc, France

Pont du Parayre, Le Ruisseau d'Audiernes, Peyrusse le Roc, France. Meaning, "Bridge Parayre, The Stream of Audiernes, Peyrusse le Roc, France".

This is one of my personal favorite photos. Perhaps due to the emotion that I feel when I think of the day that I spent with friends getting this shot at such an historic culturally rich location, but certainly this little bridge had a lot to do with it.

The story behind the photo.

I was perusing the interwebs one day looking at medieval castles and stonework - Doesn’t everyone? - when I came across a rather primitive photo of an arched bridge in France. It was just a simple snapshot, but for some reason it captured me. I did some research and found out the location, as well as a few more photos.

In time I was fortunate to have been invited to France by my dear friend Frederique. (Truly one of the most beautiful and kind people that I've ever met, and an excellent photographer and guide.) During a conversation with her prior to travelling there we talked of photographic possibilities and I asked her about this bridge and if she knew where it was. She replied that she did indeed know where it was and that we would go there on my trip. I could hardly believe it and I got excited every time that I thought about it until the day that we arrived there.

It was a perfect day for the visit. We arrived early in the day after a drive through the beautiful south central French countryside in a soft rain. It's what I would expect for a January day in France, and not much different than a typical January day here in Oregon. The creek was full of water fortunately as it can dry up in the summer months. The foliage was sparse due to the time of the year, but the scene was wet and luscious.

The the village Peyrusse le Roc, founded around 767 AD, whose original name was Petrucia, was a substantial town with a population of around 3500 people at its peak, while today the little town has no more than a couple hundred residents. The town was supported by local silver and lead mines until they closed up around 1400. Abandoned and in ruins there, are no less than twelve impressive medieval stone structures including the ruins of the Notre-Dame-de-Laval Church, a 14th century king’s tomb, two amazing bell towers and several other incredible stone structures in various stages of ruin.

The ancient village was built on the side of a wooded canyon with fairly steep but negotiable pathways connecting each of its levels, structures and features with the main village being at the top. The trail itself being, most likely, older than the village itself, makes its way down to the creek where this little roman style arch bridge resides. The area surrounding the bridge has some faint rock ruins here and there that tell of a day when a small mill of some sort existed there, but this bridge stands alone as a testament to the skill of its skilled builder. The bridge itself shows no sign of collapse or structural weakness, but does show worn grooves in its roadbed rock indicating wear from countless carts, beasts of burden and the footfall of people travelling over it in the last thousand years.

As I stood there I leaned on the rock of this bridge and wondered if the bridge was a conduit of connection between the builder and I. I could visualize him standing there proud of his work, leaning against the same stone and wondering if some day, perhaps a thousand years in the future, if someone would take the time to think about him.

To visit a location such as this that’s so rich in such ancient human history was incredible to me. I feel this way every time that I’m in an historic location with such a rich cultural history. I have sat in the doorways of ancient Anasazi ruins in remote canyons in the American southwest and have had the same feelings of connection to those who had been there before me.

As it was, I was hesitant to leave this amazing place as I kept turning and looking back until I could no longer see this little bridge, but left feeling satisfied and happy.

Each year since then, over the last five years, I have pulled this photo out to try to, in some way, process it into the image that my mind and memory evokes of that day, but I hardly ever feel that I do it justice. I have a feeling that my exercise may be more a melancholy reminiscence than an exercise to perfect a photograph, but what artist should feel so lofty in their confidence to claim to be able to do nature or memories their justice anyhow, but why not make it a goal?

I will return to this location again someday. And when I do I will know just how to shoot it next time. Perhaps I won’t be so overcome in the experience of being there to not take the time to stop and be thorough and find that special comp, or to wait until the light is right. Perhaps then I’ll be able to claim that I’ve done this little bridge the justice that it deserves. Until then I’ll pull this photo out once a year and process it one more time, remembering that special day every time that I do and questioning the reason that I am.

My Latest Release – Rhododendron Gateway

Rhododendron Gateway

I love Spring and early Summer. I love photographing the wildflowers that bloom around my home here near Mount Hood, especially the rhododendrons.

This is a view of Mount Hood from the northwest on a hilltop above Lost Lake.

Prints of this photo can be purchased at this link. As always, I appreciate your kind support.
https://gary-randall.com/product/rhododendron-gateway/

Rhododendron Gateway
Rhododendron Gateway to Mount Hood Oregon

Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon

Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon - Oregon is truly an amazing place. In terms of variety of the landscapes available within an easy day’s drive, who really needs to travel outside of the state to find what they want to experience? From my perspective, that of a landscape photographer, I speak primarily in regards to the natural world. Oregon has views of the ocean, rolling hills and valleys, forests, mountains, glaciers, sagebrush desert, mud playa desert, you name it. I tell people that in Oregon there’s a view of a canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon - Hells Canyon on the Snake River.

Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon
Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon

Considering the variety of terrain that we have to choose from here, I seem to gravitate to Eastern Oregon. Perhaps it’s because I live in trees and relish a clear view of the sky and clouds, but I seem to breathe more freely in the open spaces and expansive views that I find there.

My latest trip east included a stop at a place that I can never get tired of exploring, Leslie Gulch. Leslie Gulch is on Bureau of Land Management land located about an hour from the little town of Jordan Valley near the Oregon and Idaho border. Named for a

poor fellow named Hiram E. Leslie who was struck by lightning there in 1882, it’s a part of a larger area that is a part of the many canyons that make up the Owyhee River drainage. It’s a canyon with towering rock spires and formations made of ancient volcanic tuff, a rock very similar to what’s found at the popular Smith Rock State Park, but times ten as there are huge formations surrounding you all the way through the canyon and up side canyons.

Owyhee Country in Eastern Oregon
Owyhee Country in Eastern Oregon

The canyon has a 15 mile dirt road that takes you down into and through to the end where it meets the Owyhee Reservoir where there can be found the 8-unit Slocum Creek - Leslie Gulch Campground (Open from March - November) and a boat ramp. Many people come here to fish. A bit of caution must be expressed here. The road can be treacherous in rain, and the area can be prone to flash floods so be warned. When adventuring in remote areas always be prepared and make sure that your vehicle is up to traveling for miles on dirt. Please don’t go unprepared.

Once you’re in the canyon you’re surrounded by castle like pillars of rock formed by ancient volcanic ash, sheer cliffs and honeycomb type rock formations. The rock features are jagged and more reminiscent of a place in southern Utah or Arizona, but it’s all Oregon. In the Springtime wildflowers bloom, but as Summer approaches the grasses turn yellow and the canyon can be prone to grass fires. Although elusive, there is an abundant amount of wildlife there including bighorn sheep which was established there in 1965 that number close to 200 animals. As you sit at camp you’re serenaded by birds including chukars, which are a type of partridge, and coyotes in the evening, while consumed by the aroma of sage and juniper. Oh - And there’s no cell phone service there so you have no choice but to relax and take it all in.

Cliff Along the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon
Cliff Along the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

While in the area take note of some other places nearby that are also worth visiting. There are many other places to get a view of the Owyhee River as well as camping places. Succor Creek is another spot that I’d recommend. Consider also visiting Silver City Idaho, a remote “ghost town” at the end of a rough dirt road that still has a few hearty residents holding on there and a city ordinance that prohibits modern improvements. Take a day and explore the old town and its old buildings including the Idaho Hotel. The little town of Rome and the Pillars of Rome and views of the Owyhee River as well as the Alvord Desert - A mud lake much like Death Valley in California are nearby. The Steens Mountains, considered the Alps of Oregon tower up from the Alvord Desert, and also the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge north of the Steens is an amazing place to sit and birdwatch.

The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon
The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

Prior to my time in Eastern Oregon I must admit that from all that I had heard I felt like there was nothing there but sagebrush and coyotes, but once I decided to go it was immediately obvious to me that I had found the solitude that I love and an expanse of land to explore and discover. It may not be for those who want luxury in their free time as there aren’t many motels but for those who want to get away from the luxurious, forget a shower for a few days and spend time in the natural world, I would recommend Leslie Gulch.

My Photography Lens Filters

Little Creek Swirly

One of the most asked questions of me is one concerning lens filters. So let’s talk about filters for a minute.

Filters are round glass elements that screw onto the end of your lens, or in some cases glass or resin panels that are placed on front of the lens using a fixture. The purpose of these filters is to affect several different things when you’re taking a photo.

During the era of film photography many colored filters were used, mostly used with black and white film. These colored filters would block or cancel certain colors of light causing corresponding areas of color to respond in different ways. An orange or red filter will darken blue tones and lighten reds, while a blue one will darken reds and lighten blues. In digital photography these colored filters are not needed as the sensor has the ability to filter Red, Green and Blue light.

During that time we also used UV filters to cut the effect that ultraviolet light had on film. Today the digital sensors have built in UV filtration so they are no longer necessary. Today they're used to protect the lens element from scratches. The only caution that you need to consider is that you should remove them at night. Even though they're clear, they can cause light to reflect between the filter glass and the lens glass. This can cause a double image of any light in the scene.

In digital photography the most commonly used filters are a circular polarizer and neutral density filters.

A circular polarizer, or a CP filter, will do a couple of things to your photo according to how it’s used. The primary purpose is to reduce glare and reflections on things such as the surface of water or even wet leaves. It will also turn the sky a deeper blue. It is made with two elements, one which you can turn to adjust the amount or place of polarization. The filter glass will be somewhat dark so it will stop light, the amount of which varies depending on the darkness of the particular filter but a typical CP filter will stop about 2 f/stops.

The next filter that is most commonly used in digital photography is a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter modifies the intensity of all wavelengths of color. In short its purpose is to block or stop bright light. The purpose typically is to extend or lengthen one’s shutter speed during bright light such as a sunny day. When a photographer mentions neutral density filters, they typically call them ND’s or ND filters. ND filters come in a variety of “darknesses” stopping different levels of light. They can vary in optical density from almost clear to nearly solid dark. The most common ND’s are ND2, ND4 and ND8 with a corresponding 1, 2, and 3 f/stop reduction. Another common ND used for extreme stops of light some choose an 8 or 10 stop ND filter.

Neutral density filters also come in what is called a graduated neutral density filter. This filter is just as it describes. It has a graduation from top to bottom making half of the filter dark and the other half clear. This is used in neutralizing the exposure when you have an extremely bright sky and a dark foreground, It stops the light of the sky making the exposure more even.

As mentioned previously I use my circular polarizer to affect the blueness of the sky, to remove glare and reflections from water surfaces and wet foliage which will allow the color and texture to show. I love using it for creeks and waterfalls, especially on a rainy day or a day where it’s recently rained as the water will typically reflect the bright light from the sky. So too will the leaves and plants reflect this light from the sky. Once you polarize them the shine goes away and color and textures start to show through. An important thing to remember is that a CP filter works best when the light is coming from 90 degrees from the direction that you’re shooting. As the angle changes so does the amount of affect that the filter has on the photo. Also, the filter will allow me to extend my shutter speed to smooth the water a little more to give it a feeling of movement or flow.

My primary purpose for ND filters is to allow me to extend my shutter even more than I could without them under extremely bright light. They come in handy if you show up to a creek or a waterfall during mid day sun.

As for graduated ND filters, I use them as little as possible as they tend to darken areas that don’t necessarily don't need to be. A good example is if you want to darken the sky but there are trees or buildings that extend into this area. The most ideal case for the use of one would be at the coast in a photo of the ocean with an even horizon line.

Whew. This can all sound a bit complicated, but once you use them it will become easy to understand. If you use your camera on the Manual setting it’s also easier to understand as you probably have encountered some of these problems while trying to get that shot at less than an ideal time. I do my best to show up at a scene in good light. If I want to extend my shutter at a creek or a waterfall I find it best to show up when the light is right. Good light from a creek or a waterfall is subdued light with little or no glare or reflection on the surfaces in your photo. I find it best early in the morning or later in the afternoon, but I love it best when it’s drizzling or an even overcast cloudy sky. Bright light is not your friend in these cases. Surprisingly, the CP works under cloudy skies too.

In the photo included in this blog post you can notice a swirly in the water. This little eddy was caused by a current in the water that held bubbles that were caused by the little pour off in the scene. It took awhile for the bubbles to make a circle so I wanted to extend my shutter as long as I could so I had to block light in any way possible to me. I lowered my ISO, stopped down (narrowed) my aperture and applied my CP for two more stops of light. By doing this I was able to get some decent shots at up to 6 seconds exposure time.

I hope that this helps clear up this subject a little. If you’re serious about your photography put a CP and some ND’s in your bag.

Ricketts Glen Pennsylvania Winter Waterfalls

Ricketts Glen Pennsylvania Waterfall

As some of you already know, I just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania. I didn't have as much down time as I had hoped and that which I did have was taken up with cat naps. I had a tummy problem the whole trip. This put a damper on my hike in to Ricketts Glen, which was a hike that I had been so looking forward to. Bad tummy or not, I was going to attempt this.

For me this was more of a trip to spend time with my buddy Chris Byrne my new friend Neven Dries and to meet up with another new found friend, Zachary Bright. When we arrived at the park it was closed to the general public but the ranger allowed us in as long as we had crampons, the cleats that you put on your boots to keep you from slipping, ice axes and a section of rope. So we outfitted ourselves in anticipation of the hike.

Truth be told I was hoping for inclement weather, and the weather leading up to this morning promised some beautiful conditions at it had snowed the day before down in Reading. I was hoping to hike in fresh fallen snow, but when we got there the bright sun was shining and the temps were starting to push 40° F. This made for a beautiful walk, but challenging conditions for photos what with bright highlights and deep shadows, but I had to get some photos.

Once I was in the creek and trying to find my comp I regretted lightening my pack by taking out my Neutral Density filters. I did have my circular polarizer with me thankfully. By lowering my ISO, stopping down and adding the CP I was able to get some photos that were acceptable, but certainly far from optimal image quality. Here in Oregon I prefer to shoot creeks and waterfalls in the rain or soon after a rain, ideally under an overcast sky. This is one of the photos that I took that morning.

In this photo you may notice that There's a lot of complexity. There's a lot going on in it. I did my best to compact the comp and to balance the light. It was a struggle, but I hope that I pulled it off. I'm imagining this same place in the Spring or in the Fall.

Although I love the Pacific Northwest, it was a great adventure for me to explore these Atlantic Northeast locations. I really, really can't wait to return.

Thank you Chris. You're a good friend. Thank you Zachary. You're a good man and I can't wait to shoot with you once more. I appreciate all that you guys did to make this happen.

And most of all Neven Dries who helped facilitate this trip, the primary purpose of which was to talk to the amazing people from the Burks Camera Society of Reading Pennsylvania. I will never be able to repay your kindness. I'm so glad to have met you my friend.

Please, once you find some time, go check out their work. You won't regret it.

Nikon D810 - Nikon 20mm f/2.8 prime - 0.6 shutter - f/22 - ISO 64

Knik River Ice Cracks

Knik River Winter Ice

Knik River Ice Cracks  - This was a great day of photographing the patterns in and on the ice on the Knik River near Palmer Alaska. Darlene and I were invited to shoot by our friends and Alaska photographer Calvin Hall. Another fantastic photographer, Jason Dahlquist joined us for the evening. It was cold. It was 5°F (-15C) but there was no wind. The wind pulls the heat from you as you stand outside in this kind of cold. We lucked out and our cold weather gear kept us comfortable.

I was able to come away with a shot or two that I like from this location, this one included.

After we were finished here we relocated closer to Palmer to photograph the overflow ice on the Matanuska River. It was there that we photographed the sunset.

A Dark and Dreary Central Oregon Day

A Dark and Dreary Central Oregon Day

A Dark and Dreary Central Oregon Day. This photo was taken November of 2010.

This was a blustery and stormy late afternoon. The light was flat but the clouds were big. I photographed this wide to include the powerful sky, and processed it dark to express the mood of the scene that day.

I have always loved this old house. I remember photographing this place before it became popular. It's rare when an Oregon landscape photographer doesn't have a photo in their portfolio of this location. Unfortunately the popularity of the location may eventually become the demise of this old home.

If my experience is applied to this old home the owner will eventually consider demolishing it due to trespassers. The owner has a no trespassing sign  clearly displayed but he tells stories of how bold some people can be in their pursuit of a unique photo of this place. The building is in very bad and unstable condition and an injury could easily happen. And furthermore the traffic of people walking around the house would wear the crop that he grows in the field.

The reality of the situation is clear. He doesn't want people in there no matter the reason.

When you're out in the field please remember to be an ethical photographer and respect private property. It helps maintain respect that others have for the photography community.

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