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.
The Surge - Below the creek was cold from the melted snow that flowed into it no more than two more miles upstream and it was swift from the rain coming down from above. Standing in the creek seemed to be the best approach to this waterfall, so I pull my Wiggy's Waders on over my boots and rain pants and take my tripod and camera into the stream.
In front of me is the surging waterfall that seemed to send a steady mist toward me spraying the filter on the lens with drops that would accumulate in a matter of seconds. The best approach was to clean the lens with the camera pointed downstream, cover the lens with the rag, swing the camera around, remove the rag, take the shot and spin it back again in a vain attempt at trying to keep the drops out of the photo.
In time I was able to get the focus and the composition set so that when I could perceive the slightest slack in the breeze I could do my spin, reveal and shoot procedure described above. With that methodology, I was able to come home with a photograph.
This was made using my Nikon D810 and my 20mm f/2.8 - 1/8 sec - f/16 - 1000 Iso
The aurora borealis over Mount Hood at Trillium Lake August 2015. This was an incredible night. The skies were great and the lodge only had one invasive light that I was able to brush out of the photo easily.
I've been asked a lot about seeing the aurora here in Oregon after seeing one of these photos. I explain that although you can see them with the naked eye, the camera absorbs more light than you eyes are able to. Therefore, these photos don't represent accurately how you're able to see the lights. So don't be disappointed if you go in search of the aurora and you can't see it. If it's forecasted to be displayed that night take a test shot or two just in case.
It was this night when I met two young women that were there enjoying the stars with one of the women asking me questions about photographing at night. I had yet to start to take any photos and gave her a quick two minute night photography tutorial. We got her all setup with her camera and tripod, took the first shot and looked at the preview screen. The image showed the northern lights as they were just starting to flare up. The woman practically freaked out when she saw the photo. I had to explain to her what was going on. She was amazed.
Once I was done with the two ladies there I went to get a few photos of my own, this being one.
Photographing Lightning - With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most.
A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.
Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand
Of course when we're trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.
When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.
You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.
Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.
Daytime or Nighttime
When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.
It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.
Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.
High Tech Toys
Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.
A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.
Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.
Have Fun - Be Safe
The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.
I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.
Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.