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.

Fort Rock Night Photography

The Milky Way at Fort Rock Oregon
Fort Rock Before and After
Fort Rock Night Photography Before and After

Fort Rock Night Photography - After a drive from my home here on the south side of Mount Hood to Central Oregon for some Fort Rock Night Photography. I and my friend Rob arrived at the Fort Rock Museum, what's left of the history of this little town, and the geologic feature it's named for. It was a little after midnight when we arrived. The old buildings at the museum were our goal for the evening, although it was our third stop on the two day trip, and we were excited at our chances at photographing the Milky Way in the sky above.

As a photographer I understand that, no matter how much I try to prepare it seems that there's always some sort of unforeseen situation that pops up. In this case the complication came in the form of a huge invasive orange street light illuminating the scene. This actually created two complications. The street light created a huge range of light from the buildings to the dark sky which wouldn't allow a longer exposure which is required to allow the sky to be exposed properly. When the sky was exposed properly the buildings were overexposed and vice versa. The second complication being the hot orange white balance of the light. Sodium lights produce a very narrow spectrum of light, meaning that it's basically a monochrome image, kind of like a black and white but orange. No other color is represented and so it's near impossible to correct for this type of light. To say the least I was a bit disappointed. Never one to just give up I decided to shoot the area nonetheless.

After we were done at Fort Rock we wrapped up the trip with a sunrise at the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes. It was a long trip with no sleep but an excellent adventure. We returned with photos from Smith Rock, Sparks Lake, Fort Rock and Christmas Valley all in a matter of about 24 hours.

Once home and after downloading my photos the realization that all of my photos from Fort Rock were affected by the aforementioned sodium street light started to sink in.

Sodium Light in France
Sodium Light in France

I've had to photograph under sodium lighting in the past but I just rolled with it, either that or I converted  them to black and white. Many of the photos that I made in France were under this same orange light. In this case I didn't want to roll with it. I wanted to take some time and process the photos into the images that I drove so far to create. I had to decide what approach that I would take.

While I was at the location I decided to take two photos for each final photo that I would make. One would be exposed for the sky while another was exposed for the buildings. After some thought I decided on a workflow that included the following:

  • Import into Lightroom for basic adjustments and then import both photos into Photoshop as layers
  • Convert the building layer that was bathed in the orange glow to black and white and do finished contrast adjustments
  • Adjust the sky layer with the Milky way
  • Create a mask to bring the sky into the black and white building layer
  • Create a 50% grey layer with Soft Light blend mode and select a brown color and paint the buildings and adjust opacity until it looks right
  • Create a 50% grey layer with Soft Light blend mode and select a drab green color and paint the sagebrush and adjust opacity until it looks right
  • Make final separate adjustments of separate layers
  • Merge layers and create final adjustments
  • Size and sharpen

It's always my goal to get my photos in a single exposure and I try my best to make my processing as simple as possible to get the best effect but there are times when one must push the envelope and salvage a long drive to the middle of nowhere. In this case my creativity and knowledge of Photoshop was tested. Although it wasn't exactly what I went for I think that the final images were salvaged, at the very least.

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.

The Fortress of the Night Sky

The Fortress of the Night Sky

The Dee Wright Observatory at Night

McKenzie Pass Oregon
McKenzie Pass Oregon
McKenzie Pass Oregon
McKenzie Pass Oregon

 

The car doors closes with a thud and the interior light's soft glow that's been allowing us to prepare our gear turns off in an instant leaving our senses to rely on sound as all sight goes away in the black of the night. I put my arm out to reach for Darlene​ as we both let our eyes adjust to the night sky. The summer breeze wisps softly around us as the stars appear as our eyes adjust. Darlene was the first to break the silence when she lets out a sigh as the Milky Way appears in front and above us. "Wow" is all she says.

We lock arms and shoulder our gear, turn on our headlamps and walk into the night and up the path jagged volcanic rock bordered path to the rocky structure that is the Dee Wright Observatory on the McKenzie Pass through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.

The structure was built in 1937 and is made from the lava rock chunks that make up the surrounding area. The observatory sits amid a barren rocky ancient lava flow very much like the black basaltic a'a lava flows in Hawaii. Because it's made from the area on which it sits it looks as if it is rising from chaos to be assembled in a wholly organic yet orderly fortress like structure. it was made as a place where people can come to view the beauty of the area from a majestic prominence, and yet we couldn't see past the light of our lamps.

The arched openings showed the warm flickering light from a candle that was placed inside by another visitor for the purpose of making photographs. How fortunate we think as we walk up to get a view of the Milky way in the south sky shooting up and over the observatory.

I'm fortunate that Darlene likes the night time outdoors as much as I do. We decided to pose her inside of one of the arched openings. We get a few shots until the other photographer takes her candle and leaves at which point we start using a flashlight. We light paint the outside for a while. We go inside and we light paint inside for a while. We're taking shots, checking them out on the backs of our cameras, adjust and try to perfect it before moving on the the next shot. We're like kids in a playground.

We finished the shoot on the observation deck at the top of the structure, in the center of which stood a raised pedestal with a 36" diameter bronze azimuth-like "peak finder" compass. On its face are lines that help the observer find prominent landmarks, such as the incredible volcanic peaks of the Central Cascade Mountain Range. Belknap Crater from which the lava which flowed over the area is where the rock that made the lava flow came from. Then there is North, Middle and South Sister Mountains to the south, the amazing jagged peak of Mount Washington, the scenic Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, to the north and Black Butte to the east. Several more are marked on the circular bronze disc with an arrow pointing in their direction.

I light paint the disc as a foreground for a Milky way photo and then we decide to just turn off the lights and look at the stars for a few minutes before heading back down the rock path and back into the glow of the light of the car.

I love the night.

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