Gateway to Cold Spring Creek
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.
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.
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.
This is a composite that took 360 images taken as 30 second exposures over a three hours period of time layered over a single 30 minute exposure.
The secret to this shot was to be patient for three hours as the camera snapped away its 30 second exposures first, and then in post processing the additional patience to sort through the 350+ images to separate the frames that held a meteor, and then to mask out all but the meteor in the shots prior to layering them onto the base image. But that wasn't the end of the process. Once the meteors were layered over the base image I had to rotate them to align with their point of origin. Over the course of three hours the Earth rotates and so the point of origin changes. To correct for this I had to use Polaris as a pivot point and then to compute the time in relationship to the position and then rotate the meteor to correspond with that position. In all there is over 8 hours of time spent to create this image.
The point of origin is close to the position of the galaxy Cassiopeia and Perseus, thus the name of the meteor shower. When you go out to get your meteor shot make sure that you have a clear view to the northeastern sky that's not affected by the lights from a city. The meteor shower will be the most intense during their peak August 11-12 after midnight. It is estimated that we could expect up to 200 or more meteors per hour this year, but one never knows until it happens.
To get your photo set up your tripod and mount your camera. Use a programmable shutter release and set it to take 30 second exposures one after another. This will allow you to be able to capture every meteor that will fall within the frame of your camera in that three hour period of time. Don't move it while you're getting your shots. You want all of your frames to be the same. I chose to shoot for three hours but you can shoot as long as the sky is dark and your battery and memory lasts.
Remember when you are shooting 30 second exposures that you will need to open your aperture and raise your ISO to allow you to expose the night sky. When shooting the 30 minute exposure you will be lowering your ISO and stopping down to about 5.6 or so. It all varies on how much ambient light in the sky.
Once you return home you will need to use Photoshop to allow you to import the photos with the meteors in as layers, and mask out all but the meteor. Sometimes changing the blend mode will help to blend them more naturally over the base image. For the base image choose one of your best ones for static stars or create a single star trail photo for a different effect, like I did with this one. Once they are all masked and layered over, locate the pivot to the center of the rotation of the Earth which is Polaris. Rotate the layer until it is moving away from the northeast sky and the Perseus galaxy. I used a formula that allowed me to determine how many degrees that it had moved in the time that it was taken and move it roughly that many degrees. If that's all just a little too much, just layer them and call it good. It will give you a chaotic display as if they are coming from all points of the sky, but it's still very cool.
I hope that this helps. Even if you don't get a photo it's such an amazing experience to be able to go out into the night and stare at the sky and count falling stars.
Thank you for your support and thoughtful comments.
Well it's shaping up to be a great year for wildflowers on Mount Hood. The flowers are about gone at the lowest elevations but they're moving their way up the side of the mountain. We had a great year for snow and a wet and cool Summer so far, generally speaking. The flowers seem to be taking advantage of the conditions.
I started this year in the Columbia River Gorge photographing Rowena Crest and Dalles Mountain Ranch on the Washington side of the river. I photographed balsamroot and lupine there. In time the dogwood and rhododendrons in the forests became my game and my primary pursuit, as well as the bear grass. This year's bear grass bloom was a fraction of last year's amazing bloom. It was incredible last season but a bit disappointing this year and understandably so considering it's irregular bloom cycle. Now that the rhododendrons are about finished my next wildflower pursuit are macros of the little flowers that tend to be a bit more singular in their dispersion. These are the ones that I enjoy photographing close up. At this time the lower meadows are blooming and in time the upper alpine meadows will be covered with flowers as well.
Here are a few photos that I have made so far this season. Most are close up shots, I love macro photography, but I plan on getting up to those upper meadows soon for some nice photos of Mount Hood so I hope to have more landscapes with nice flowers in the foreground. We'll see how that goes.
I have plans for a wildflower workshop next Summer. I hope to be able to use it as a venue to show my macro photography techniques. Stay tuned for news about that when I post next year's schedule. Look for it soon.
Thank you for all of your support everyone.
Last month I shared a few thoughts to consider when choosing the right digital camera for your use. I mentioned how one can easily get by with just their cell phone camera, while others will consider much more when deciding on a camera and will decide on a Digital Single Lens Reflex or Mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.
This month I want to cover a few basic accessories that you will need sooner or later when taking photos with a DSLR camera.
First a couple basic lenses. I recommend a wide angle to mid range zoom such as an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm will also come in handy. Many times a camera kit will come with both lenses as a package. One can get spend a bit more and get an 18-200mm. Then you will have the most common range in a single lens.
A good backpack. Your backpack will be your first line of defense from damage to your gear. Make sure that you get one that’s well padded and has partitions for your body and lenses. I like to make sure that I have one that has an extra compartment for a lunch or a jacket.
A solid tripod.. A tripod is used as a steady platform to place your camera one while taking a photo, typically during a longer exposure. You usually don’t need to use a tripod if your shutter speed is fast enough to keep the shot from blurring due to motion. Examples of when you would want to use a tripod is if you’re taking a photo in dim light, or if you are taking a longer exposure of a waterfall for instance. Don’t scrimp on a tripod. You don’t need an expensive one, but don’t get a cheap wobbly one that will fail in the field or shake at the hint of a wind.
A couple of words about filters. The only filter that I can’t live without is a circular polarizer to reduce glare or to enhance the blue of the sky. Many people use a UV, or Ultraviolet filter, but because digital cameras have a filter on the sensor to do it, a UV filter is now used to protect the front element of the lens. A warning about using filters at night or with bright lights. You can get light refracting between the lens and the filter. City lights are a good example where you would want to remove your filter.
Good cards. Get good memory cards that have good read/write speeds. It helps the camera write the photos to the card quicker as well as downloading to your computer. A fast card will help a lot if you’re doing a burst of a continuous sequence of photos. A better care will be less apt to fail on you. There’s nothing worse that losing a whole memory card of irreplaceable photos.
Camera strap. A good camera strap will save your camera from hitting the deck. If you’re walking around with it, sling it around your neck. I buy neoprene straps with buckles that allow me to remove the strap from the camera while it’s on the tripod. It keeps the strap from getting caught on my arm and knocking the tripod over, plus if it’s windy it keeps the camera steadier without the strap flapping in the wind.
A remote shutter release. It’s very easy to get shake and slight motion blur in your photos by simply pushing the shutter button down while mountain on a tripod. A remote shutter release will keep this from happening. You can get them that connect via a wire or via remote. I use the wired type because I find them more reliable.
A good computer and storage. These days the digital cameras are making some amazingly fine and detailed photos, but that quality can come with a price. Processor speed, memory and storage will be taxed if you have an older computer. Make sure that you have plenty of room to store your photos on your machine, and consider backing them up to a separate external hard drive in case of computer failure. I recommend deleting any photo that you deem a failure to save hard drive space. Today’s cloud storage services provide a great place to backup your photos. Another practical solution is to sign up to sharing sites such as Flickr or even printing sites such as SmugMug to store your photos.
The bottom line concerning accessories. My approach to photography, and most things in life, are to keep it all simple. You don’t need a truck full of doo-dads, gizmos and what-nots to take a good photo. You best accessory to your photography is going to be your knowledge of your camera and how to use it on manual to have control of the light that makes your photos.
Silver City Idaho - Where time stands still.
I had the opportunity to visit Silver City Idaho this last June for a day. I'm still in a bit of disbelief that this kind of place still exists in today's modern world.
My friend Bruce and I packed our gear and headed to southeastern Oregon where we explored several places that we've been curious about, so on this trip we drove past the familiar scene of the amazing Alvord desert, after a burger and a shake at Fields Station, and headed north in to the Jordan Valley area including The Pillars of Rome and Leslie Gulch. After a side trip in toe Nampa Idaho to get a tire repaired, we made the side trip through the beautiful southern Idaho area to Silver City.
Once we arrived in the little town hidden back in the hills we knew we were some place special. After traveling over an hour on back country, single lane dirt roads of varying condition, we arrived to a large sign stating, "Welcome to Silver City Idaho. All property is privately owned. Please do not destroy or trespass. Violators will be prosecuted. Signed the Owyhee County Sheriff". Fair warning I thought. 🙂
We traversed the dirt streets past old well kept 19th century buildings, daring not to exceed the 5 MPH posted speed limit, and pulled up to the Idaho Hotel as if we were riding up to the hitching post on our horses after a long ride on the dusty trail. We walked inside and found the proprietor busying himself inside. We were glad to see that he was open for business and sold cold beer. Bruce and I each ordered a cold one and proceeded to engage the keeper in interesting conversation concerning the history of Silver City. Established in 1863 the hotel has changed little in character through the years. The old building showed obvious wear from an untold number of foot falls and activity through it's 150 year history.
Once we finished our refreshment and a series of interior photos, we left the building to roam the streets, guided for a time by our new found friend. As we explored the town I photographed a few of the details in the quaint little city. There are so many different views and details to be noticed and creatively photographed.
If you are ever in the vicinity of Silver City and feel adventurous enough to travel the old back road to the little town, take a day and go take a visit. Remember that this is a real town and not an amusement park. People live there. They enjoy showing a stranger around but appreciate their privacy.
Below are a few of the variety of black and white photos that I made while exploring the beautiful little "ghost town" of Silver City Idaho.
A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon by Greg Vaughn
I'm often asked of locations around Oregon where my photos are taken. After reading through Greg Vaughn's excellent book Photographing Oregon - A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon I am glad to know that I have a single answer for them. "Buy the book". And this is The Book when it comes to Oregon's landscape photo opportunities.
Not only is Greg an excellent writer he's also an wonderful photographer. his book is filled with easy to understand descriptions of how to get to "the beautiful locations found in coffee table books, posters, calendars, and travel magazines".
"Photographing Oregon is a comprehensive guide to photographing the natural wonders throughout the state of Oregon. With more than 300 pages of information and over 240 color photographs, the book tells not just where to go, but also when to be there for the best conditions, and includes suggestions on how to capture the best photos in locations all over this beautiful state." Each location has a description of the location, a photo that represents nicely the area as well as directions and estimated time of travel.
It's my opinion that every landscape photographer should have a copy of this book in their backpacks. Even if you're not a photographer and just enjoy exploring all that Oregon has to offer in the form of scenery, you should have this book.
Ask for Photographing Oregon at your favorite local bookseller either by title or ISBN # 978-0916189181. You can also order the book, in either print or Kindle version, from Amazon.com.
Oregon Aurora - The Northern Lights in the Pacific Northwest - There once was a day when I was asked, "What would be your dream shot?" I replied that my dream shot or the impossible shot would be the aurora over Mount Hood, Oregon.
Since then Earth has passed into the peak of the solar cycle known as solar maximum and camera sensors have become much more sensitive to light allowing myself and many other photographers to be able to photograph the event when it happens, and it has happened quite a bit the last three years. The first time that I photographed the aurora I had no idea that I had captured it in the shots that I had made the night when I went to photograph Trillium Lake, but when I looked at the photos when I had returned home I noticed a green glow on the horizon. Granted, it wasn't columns and ribbons of light, but a soft green glow. That was October 24th, 2011. Four years ago.
Since then I have been able to catch the Northern Lights in the area and snap a few photos. It's not as easy as just taking a chance and going and to get a photo. They only come after a solar storm and typically happen from a day or three afterward. I use an application for my phone called Aurora Notifier that signals me when the Kp level, the strength, of the aurora rises above 4Kp. Once that happens, if it's a dark night, I grab my gear and go.
Once out in the dark one must realize that at this latitude the light is dim and difficult to see with your eyes, but if it's a strong enough display you can see the light pillars dance on the horizon once your eyes are adjusted. You must get away from any sky whose darkness is diluted by any affect from town or city light. Even the light from the moon can wash out the northern lights. Choose a dark sky with a view toward the northern horizon. Set your camera on a tripod and set your aperture wide open to allow as much light in as possible. Then set your ISO high, it will vary depending on how dark the sky is or how bright the aurora is. Then set your shutter speed for at least 20 seconds. This long exposure is only for the aurora at this latitude. When photographing the aurora in the northern latitudes where the aurora is much brighter a much shorter exposure is called for.
Once you have your camera set take a shot and see how it looks on your preview screen. If it's too dark raise your ISO or extend your shutter time, from 20 sec to 25 sec for instance. If it's too bright lower your ISO. That should get you started. There are challenges that you will run into but in time you will get some northern light shots for your own.
Below is a collection of some of my Oregon Aurora photos. I hope that you enjoy them.
No color was added to any of these photos.