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.

What Lens Should I Use?

Mt Hood at 20mm lens

What Lens Should I Use? - The most asked question of me is typically advice in what camera that one should get. I have addressed this in a previous blog post. The second most asked question may be what lens to choose.

In SLR (single lens reflex) photography there are basically two types of lenses that one can choose. Fixed focal length (prime lenses) and zoom lenses. It was common back in the old days when I first started for photographers to have a whole set of fixed focal length lenses. A full set typically consisted is a 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro. Beyond those focal lengths one bought large telephoto lenses such as a 200mm or a 300mm. We had zooms back then but they were of poor quality. After the 1970’s zoom lenses became much better and eventually became the choice of most photographers, especially hobbyists. Today the quality of a zoom lens is fantastic.

Mt Hood at 20mm
Mt Hood at 20mm lens

A zoom lens allows you to magnify the scene that you’re photographing, enlarging an area to give a closer view. It will also help in aiding your composition. You can start wide and zoom in until you have removed all that you don’t want in the shot creating a much more solid and stronger composition. A zoom lens is very handy as it allows you to have one lens instead of a set. Zooms are available that will allow a range from 28mm-300mm in one lens.

The most valuable tool in my bag is the right lens for the right purpose. In landscape photography the most common lens used is a wide angle lens. A focal length range from 24-70mm on a 35mm camera or a full frame digital camera, or 18-55mm on a cropped sensor camera, is the most effective and most used range for landscape work. Although it’s the most commonly used range it’s certainly not the only one that a landscape photographer can use. I love to use my 70-200mm zoom to get some details of the scene of more abstract interpretations of the

Mt Hood at 50mm
Mt Hood at 50mm lens

scene as well as my 14mm and 20mm ultra wide angle lenses, both being “fast” prime lenses.

The next consideration in choosing a lens is how fast the lens is. Fast meaning how wide that you’re able to open your aperture. The most common maximum aperture setting is f/3.5, but better lenses typically will allow f/2.8 to f/1.8. This means that you can use a faster shutter with more light coming through the lens at the maximum aperture setting. The wider the opening the more light that’s able to make it inside the camera. Another consequence of the wider maximum aperture opening is a narrowing or decrease in the depth of field which will allow one to separate the subject from the background by keeping the subject sharp while blurring the background. The better lenses will usually have a wider maximum aperture but with the quality and extra feature comes an increase in cost.

I have been talking a lot about landscape photography but the same principles apply in all forms including portraiture, for instance. A typical prime focal length for portraiture is 85-105mm. When you own a zoom lens, you have that range. A note concerning portraiture use a wider aperture to narrow the DOF to separate your subject from the background by blurring the background as described above.

Mt Hood at 85mm
Mt Hood at 85mm lens

For those who don’t own a camera with removable lenses, all of this applies to your camera as well. A typical prosumer camera will have a built in zoom as well as the ability to switch to manual and set your aperture. Learn to manually adjust your camera and use the aperture to control the DOF to allow you to enhance the look and quality of your photos.

It’s easy to complicate photography in one’s mind with the perception of mathematical complication. I leave the math to the engineers and learn simple practical application. Experiment, practice, make mistakes, experiment more and in time it will all come together into an instinctual understanding. In this day and age of digital photography film is cheap. Take a lot of pictures.

Moonlit Mount St Helens

Moonlit Mount St Helens

Moonlit Mount St Helens with lupines in the foreground taken from Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Night photography is a lot of fun but can be a challenge, even on a bright moonlit night, but the results can be dramatic. The breeze made this shot a challenge, while the moon light threatened to shine too bright and cast too many shadows. I still had fun playing in the dark that night.

Moonlight and Flowers on Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens in the moonlight

Moonlight and Flowers on Mount St Helens

With about 50% moonlight I set up this shot at Loowit Viewpoint near the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The clouds above the mountain created a great fan like effect.

I used a short tripod to include the flowers in the foreground. Because I couldn't stop down to get my depth of focus I used two photos; One for the foreground and another for the background. Once blended I finished with brightness and contrast adjustments.

Moonlight Mount St Helens.

Amazing White River Falls & Celestial Falls Oregon

White River Falls Oregon

White River Falls and Celestial Falls Oregon

White River Falls in the background and Celestial Falls in the foreground on the White River near the town of Tygh Valley Oregon.

White River has its source on the southeast side of Mount Hood and its terminus at its confluence with the Deschutes River just north of the town of Maupin.  It's located about 35 miles south of The Dalles.

At the base of the falls is an old abandoned hydroelectricity generation plant which was active from 1910 to 1960.

You can learn more at the Oregon State Parks website.

 

 

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