Like a House on Fire – Night Photography in Central Oregon.
Exploring Central Oregon is always fun for me. I really like seeing the remnants of the old buildings of farms and barns that have seen their better days. These old rustic structures are photogenic in most any light but I like to find ones that might look good in a night photo. Central Oregon is a great place for night shots. The skies are dark and the stars are bright.
This photograph is a good example of the beautiful and dramatic night photos that one can create from a day of exploring Central Oregon. This dilapidated old home turned out to be a good subject for a Milky Way photo. The way that I created this was to use two photos blended in post. I took the photo of the house before it got completely dark and the Milky Way photo way after it turned dark, close to Midnight.
The foreground is a single exposure while the Milky Way sky is 5 exposures combined to minimize noise. I used the Sky Replacement feature in Photoshop to help with the blending.
I will never forget the first time that I saw the Northern Lights. It was on my first trip to Alaska. I’m talking a real, bright, dynamic display straight above my head and not a faint glow off on the distant horizon like I have seen in Oregon in the past. In Oregon the Aurora could barely be seen with the human eye but was clear to the camera’s sensor after a relatively long exposure.
Photographing the aurora in Oregon required that I set the exposure at around 15-20 seconds on average because of how dim that they were. There was no real definition in the glow nor was there any discernable movement in the light. It was mostly a colorful glow.
My first real experience with the aurora was on a trip to Alaska to visit my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, who was living near Palmer in a cabin on the edge of the Knik River. My flight arrived at Anchorage at approximately 11pm. Darlene came to pick me up at the airport before we drove to her cabin, arrived there at around midnight. We were sitting in her dining room discussing the lay of the land that surrounded her home when I asked if it would be practical to take a midnight stroll to the river. She said that it would be fun so we grabbed our tripods and cameras and off we went.
It was a moonlit night, which would completely cancel any chances of seeing an aurora in Oregon, but I hadn’t even considered that there would be a chance of seeing it anyway. Off we went down a path and through the forest that lined the edge of the river. As soon as my eyes had adjusted to the night and we were about to emerge from the trees I could see a beautiful green light in the sky. When we got to the beach at the edge of the Knik River I was amazed by the scene before me. In front of us was the placid and mirror like water of the Knik River and just beyond in the distance stood the rugged peaks of the Chugach Mountains and above it all was the most incredible aurora. The lights were a vivid green and were moving like curtains in a soft breeze. Over my right shoulder was a moon illuminating the scene. The whole scene was reflected in the surface of the river that slowly flowed past in front of us. Of course I was completely blown away by the view and didn’t know if I should stand and watch it or divert my attention to photograph it. Of course I set up and proceeded to take some photos.
My approach to setting up to get the photos was to start with some longer exposures. That’s the approach that I would take for most any night photos, and was my experience with the aurora here in Oregon, but when I reviewed the photos and looked closely at them the definition of the curtains that I saw was gone. The aurora looked like just a big green cloud or something similar. Then it occurred to me that the lights were moving and were blending together during the long exposure. I thought that I should use what I’ve learned about photographing a moving creek. If I expose longer the water smears. If I want to freeze it I want ta fast shutter speed.
At that point I started to raise my ISO and shorten my shutter speed. I also made sure that I didn’t underexpose the shots. By making sure that the photos were exposed properly, and wouldn’t require me to raise the exposure in post, I would reduce the chance of ISO noise from using a higher ISO. That’s something that I can’t stress enough. It is better to use a higher ISO and to expose the photos properly than to use a lower ISO and underexpose the shots and then raise it in post. When you raise the exposure of an underexposed photo the noise will be greater than one with a higher ISO that was exposed brighter.
Next make sure that you check your exposure by using the histogram. There are two reasons to keep an eye on your histogram. The first is to make sure that you’re ETTR – Exposed To The Right, as much as possible and to make sure that you’re not over exposing the aurora. On exceptionally active auroras the light can be quite bright.
And so the short answer to the question about how to photograph the Northern Lights would be to use a shutter speed that is as quick as possible. I wouldn’t recommend exposing longer than 2-3 seconds. It’s acceptable to use a larger aperture opening (f/2.8-f.3.5) to bring more light in, which will help to shorten your exposure time. And last but not least don’t be afraid to raise your ISO. In the case of the aurora it would be better to have a more defined aurora than one that is smoothed together from a long exposure.
The last thing to remember is that although you’re using a quicker exposure to capture the lights, the exposure times will still be too long to hand hold so don’t forget to bring your tripod.
Use as fast a shutter speed as possible
Use an open aperture
Raise you ISO
Use your histogram
Use a tripod
And don’t forget to take time to just watch and experience the incredible light show.
I am glad to be known more for my landscape photography than I am for any other photography style or genre that I dabble in, although I certainly do not limit myself strictly to landscapes, it’s what drew me back to photography in the beginning. This brings clients to me who want a unique heirloom portrait of themselves in the outdoors. As a landscape photographer I have many locations in the back of my mind that would work for the photos that my clients expect from me.
This photo is an example of one such session. The clients wanted a photo of themselves with Mount Hood behind them. We were fortunate to have a window of time when the skies would be clear, and a view of the mountain could be had. I chose White River Snow Park on the east side of Mount Hood. The park is busy, but we did well, and I can always take out the errant person in the distance with a clone brush tool in Photoshop during post processing. We walked up to an area with some trees which gave the photo the feel of being at the edge of a wilderness forest with the incredible mountain in the distance. The scene gave a sense of solitude to the feel of the photos even though there were people all around us.
I took a series of photos varying my focal length from 24 millimeter to 35 millimeter according to the composition that I was trying to achieve. They all turned out fine, but I had a vision in my head of a photo with the couple in the foreground with Mount Hood looming large in the background. An effect that I could not achieve with a wide-angle lens. I had this idea before we arrived and as we drove into the parking area, I surveyed the location to find a place to get the shot. I knew this location very well and so I drove right to where I knew that I would have the best luck in creating the photo. We did not have to walk far, fortunately, as the couple were surrounded by snow and dressed in their wedding clothes.
Once we had finished the photos, and were about to return to our cars, I asked my clients to stay behind with my assistant while I returned to my car to change lenses and take a photo of them from there. They were up on a ridge of snow above where I had parked with Mount Hood positioned perfectly behind them. As I stood in the distance, I mounted my 200 mm lens to my Nikon D850 and then zoomed in to 160 mm to compose the frame. I then stopped the aperture down to f/14 for a clear depth of field. Once my assistant had posed the couple, I took the shot. I had used a method of enlarging the mountain, in this case five miles distant, to fill the frame to give the illusion that the subject is much closer to the background than they were. I and my clients were pleased with the outcome.
Understanding your location and the capability of your gear makes it easier to visualize a photo prior to arriving at the location. And visualizing your photoshoot prior to the day of the event will allow you to be more prepared and to be more relaxed once you go to work. In addition, knowing the capabilities of your equipment will allow you to understand basic concepts or methods such as lens compression to create more compelling photographs.
Although our adventures were severely limited in 2020 we were able to make it to Alaska for our annual workshop. It took a lot of work to arrange including several covid tests, quarantining and a lot of common sense, hand sanitizer/washing hands and a lot of carefulling. And I’m so glad that we did though. The year would have felt like a total failure otherwise.
This year’s Alaska trip was one of the most memorable visits that we’ve had and I attribute it to the time that we spent with the grizzly bears on the Kenai River. When you spend several days in close proximity to a particular family of Alaska grizzly bears you start to become emotionally attached. In the four days that we spent watching and photographing them we all fell in love with this bear family. Their ultimate demise cemented their memory in our minds forever.
While we were there one of my workshop participants nicknamed them The Candy Family due to their caramel and chocolate colors. Sadly this family was dead within a week of us leaving. The momma and one cub were killed on the road the follows the river as they were crossing. Soon after a second cub was killed at the same spot. The third baby was put down by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game because it wouldn’t leave the scene and was deemed a hazard. All of us in the workshop were devastated when we heard the news. There’s more information about this sad news HERE.
To have these photos in my portfolio is a dream realized. Being around real live Alaska grizzly bears and photographing them has been a dream of mine for a very long time. This was the second time that I’ve been able to photograph the bears at a close distance and I’m looking forward to doing it again during next years workshop. Perhaps you’d consider joining us on our 2021 Alaska Adventure.
This is a series of the bears that I wanted to share as ten of my best, or favorite, photos of 2020. I will post ten of my favorite landscape photos soon. I hope that you enjoy them. Happy New Year my friends. Please be safe while driving and watch for wildlife.
It’s time once again to start planning for our trip to Alaska next August 15-21.
Darlene and I have worked hard to plan another spectacular Alaska adventure. Perhaps the most epic trip yet. Join us for our Alaska Workshop 2021! This Alaska adventure is all inclusive except airfare to and from Anchorage. We will have comfortable private home accommodations in beautiful locations for you to enjoy.
Morning Mist in The Trees – Mornings are a wonderful time of the day to take photos. Sometimes you’re rewarded with a beautiful sunrise, and other times you’re rewarded when the sunrise doesn’t work the way that you had planned. The beautiful view of the Sandy River Valley from the promontory Jonsrud Viewpoint is a great place for photos no matter the conditions.
This beautiful scene is available in several mediums and sizes. Please click on the link to see what options that are available for this photo.
As landscape photographers we visit and photograph some of the most beautiful places in the world. Many of these scenic locations attract millions of people each year. A lot of these locations are found by others by searching for the photos that we take and share on the World Wide Web. In most cases we don’t realize the potential for harm of the places that we love and photograph by sharing them. It is natural for us to want to share the photos of these incredible places but I feel that we need to be aware of and to share with others how to protect the environment which, in most cases, is the reason that these places are so special.
In the years that I have spent as a full-time working landscape photographer I’ve been able to see the gradual damage that’s being done to some of the most beautiful spots in the Pacific Northwest by its overuse. Most of the erosion and the denuding of the grasses, ferns and mosses is from repeated footfalls onto areas beside and beyond designated paths and fences.
I spend a lot of time in the field visiting these beautiful places and am a witness to so many people who shun the posted signs or fences that are placed to keep people from fragile environments or those that are being reclaimed due to the traffic that has ruined them. I feel that it’s easy for most people to think that it won’t hurt if they go because as an individual they won’t cause any harm. I personally feel that it’s a form of selfishness and greed to think that the signs and rules are for everyone else but them.
Although it is true that as individuals we have little impact on the areas that we tread, but we’re not individuals when we visit these highly impacted areas. We are a part of a collective of humanity that causes an accumulative, damaging effect. It is not just the one person but the effects of us all wearing these places down. I feel that it is imperative that we develop a collective consciousness that instils a want to preserve these places. We each should develop a personal code of environmental ethics and to encourage others to do the same. We need to take responsibility for these places. We need to take care of them. Not doing so will further erode them to a point where access will be limited or closed completely.
As landscape photographers who share photos of these places, we can take the lead in raising the awareness of the fragility of the places that we photograph. I think that every landscape photographer who shares their work online should create and adhere to their own photography code of ethics and have a Nature First attitude that addresses how we conduct ourselves while in the field. We can also add a short plea in the description of the photos that we share that urges those who go to be careful where they tread.
My personal code of ethics includes three parts. Environment, Social and Self. These principles are endorsed and shared with others via Nature First . Nature First is a group formed to urge photographers to become responsible stewards to the places that they visit and share online. It’s a place where the Leave No Trace principle is urged and Nature First Principles are shared. If we all adopt a personal code of ethics and encourage others to do the same perhaps we can turn this trend of abuse of the locations that we love around and make it cool to protect the beauty of these photogenic places.
Nature First Principles for Photographers
Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.
Educate yourself about the places you photograph.
Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.
Use discretion if sharing locations.
Know and follow rules and regulations.
Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.
Actively promote and educate others about these principles.
Hi everyone. I am always thankful to those who purchase one of my calendars each year. This year I have added a couple of wildlife photos to make my 2021 Gary Randall Nature Calendars. Including the majestic grizzly bears that we were blessed to be able to spend time with on this last trip to Alaska. CLICK HERE to order yours.
For those who are fans of the bears I’m glad to announce that Darlene has compiled a calendar that’s strictly bear photos. For those who know us, you know how much Darlene loves Alaska and the bears. CLICK HERE
This year’s calendar includes some of my favorite photos some of my trips. Photos include:
Snow Cave, Alaska
Virgin Creek Falls, Alaska
Cross Fox, Alaska
The Mt Hood National Forest, Oregon
The Mt Hood National Forest, Oregon
Bald Eagle, San Juan Islands Washington
Comet NEOWISE, Mt Hood, Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon Sunset
Mount Hood Oregon Autumn
Grizzly Bear, Alaska
Spirit Falls, Washington
In addition to the calendars I’m offering a limited edition set of Gary Randall landscape photography “posters”. The frame up incredibly well and are an excellent choice for those who would love to have one of my photos in their home but are hard to justify the price, or for those who are collectors of my work. I’m offering up five scenes and if you buy four you get the fifth for free.
I enjoy being a landscape photographer. Being a landscape photographer allows me opportunities to be out within Nature to photograph its beauty, many times in breathtaking conditions. Being out in Nature also allows me to enjoy encounters with the creatures that inhabit these beautiful sceneries.
Landscape photographers are typically unprepared to photograph an encounter with a deer, a squirrel or even an occasional bear, primarily since a landscape lens is a wide-angle focal length. A wide-angle lens will not do justice to any kind of wildlife photography. Most of the creatures will be small and obscure within the scene. A typical focal length for a landscape scene will be somewhere around 18mm/24mm. In the world of wildlife photography life begins at 600mm and so an investment in a long focal length zoom lens must be made. I use a 150mm – 600mm lens.
Photographing wildlife takes a different approach as well. A landscape photographer will set their camera up on a tripod and, basically, take their time constructing the shot. There is usually no rush at all and the shot is usually made with manual settings. But with wildlife the animals do not pose for you and are usually fleeting in their appearance. Your photos usually must be made in a blink of an eye and hand held.
My method for photographing wildlife is to set my camera up on either Aperture Priority of even Shutter Priority. I then will set my ISO to Auto and make sure that the range will cover all lighting conditions. In Aperture Priority you will set the aperture and the camera will choose the best shutter speed and ISO, again making sure that the shutter speed is quick enough to get a shot without any kind of motion blur. Open the aperture all the way and push the ISO. Some photographers prefer to set the shutter speed and not the aperture to make sure that it is always fast enough. In that case you set the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture and ISO. Either method works and depends on personal preference or conditions. But it is important to make sure that you have a fast-enough shutter speed. Either way these settings will be preferred over manual operation as it allows you to make a shot quickly without having to manually adjust as the animal is moving. Give it a try.
I had the opportunity to photograph wildlife in Alaska recently. Black bears, grizzly bears, moose, harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, eagles and other animals, but the grizzly bears were the most thrilling. This allowed me to use these techniques to nail the photos as the bears were going about their business feeding on fish in the river. Grizzly bears are very focused on fishing and are not aggressive toward humans in this situation unless they were to feel threatened. Using a 600mm focal length allowed plenty of room between us and the bears and allowed them to go about their business as we went about ours. We sat on the opposite side of the Kenai River and watched them as they pulled fish from the river.
Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority works well in other situations as well. Photographing people in quick moving situations, such as candid photos of wedding guests for example, will allow you to pay attention to your subjects and not have to deal with the camera settings. Also a longer focal length zoom lens works well for that too as you don’t have to get up close to your subject, allowing for more candid photos.
I recommend any photographer that wants to photograph wildlife to invest in a “long lens” and practice. Try the automatic settings Aperture and Shutter Priority. Use it in your yard on squirrels and birds and then go out to a wildlife refuge or a natural place frequented by animals and become a wildlife photographer. While you are out in the wild please be careful of your safety as well as being respectful of the animal’s space and safety. And as always when in Nature, leave it better than you found it.