A Different Point of View

The Guardian of The Gorge

A Different Point of View –  The more time that I spend as a photographer the more that I recognize how I handle life equates to how I should handle photography. How just being patient and using simple life lessons can affect my photos.

How many times have we been challenged by a situation where when we walk away for a period of time and then return everything falls into place? How many times have I came to a location and walked away without a pleasing photo, or with a photo that I’m proud of, only to return another day and effortlessly snap an impressive photo? What makes the difference? In my life it sometimes is only a matter of looking at the problem with a fresh set of eyes, being there under different conditions, using different tools or techniques for the job. Sometimes it takes all three.

When we are challenged by an obstacle that impedes our progress sometimes just a simple break can allow us to throw out or forget about a thought process that keeps us from looking at the situation in a different way, many times creating a “Now why didn’t I see that before” situation. Sometimes it requires a totally different approach with a different set of skills or tools, sometimes it’s just a matter of looking at it with fresh eyes. I’ve been out shooting with a friend and saw their photo and thought, holy guacamole! Why didn’t I think of that? Many times we insist on taking a path that is difficult when the easy way is not far and can be found if we just step aside for a moment and look around. My father would say to me that sometimes you have to stop or back up to make progress again. I apply this to photography when I visit a location where I know there’s a photo but have been challenged in the past.

Technique, or how one uses their camera to capture the scene, is very important. Understanding how your camera works allows you to become instinctual about how to be able to capture the moment according to your vision, adapt to changing conditions and overcome challenging conditions. The three basic settings, shutter speed, aperture and ISO (film speed) and how they’re combined will create certain effects that will capture the scene accurately or will allow the photographer to create an effect that can enhance the image. These techniques can sometimes help create a stronger or more unique image. Another part of technique involves composition, including different points of view. Standing in a different spot, raising or lowering your camera zooming in or out. These are all things that the photographer has control over that allows them to adapt the photo to their vision.

Next is opportunity. An opportunity can be an event, a fraction of a moment in time or a set of conditions that are unique. Simple analogies would be a sunset or a rainbow. A photo’s quality or beauty, in most cases, is enhanced under good light or is made more interesting due to a unique situation. A landscape photographer will typically prefer shooting a scene at sunrise, sunset or in “sweet light”, but the light doesn’t always show up, but when it does it usually creates an opportunity to produce a more beautiful photo than in stark light. Outdoor portrait photography or even real estate photography is no different than landscapes. Being there when these conditions, or opportunities are there brings us to the next variable.

The next variable is planning to take advantage of the previous variables. Planning is being prepared to use skill or technique to capture an opportunity. Relying on coincidence or luck is like a game of chance and it rarely happens and when it does happen, many times the photographer isn’t at the right place or doesn’t have their camera set properly to completely capitalize on the situation. When the opportunity is fleeting, the photographer needs to be prepared.

When I consider how I handle making a photograph I find that I get the best results when I stop, relax and look around, master the proper tools used for the situation and am prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they occur. I find handling life to be much the same.

Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords

Whittier Alaska Tour with Gary Randall Photography

Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords – The gurgling sound of the twin 200 horsepower outboard motors mounted in tandem on the stern of our excursion boat mixed with the sound of camera shutters and the random “ooh and ahh” as we cruised back and forth through the still, ice laden water at the face of the massive wall of glacial ice before us. Once everyone was through photographing this incredible scene our boat captain eased forward on the throttle turning the gurgle to a roar as we left the sheltered cove to head back to where we started this incredible day. Our group of intrepid photographers sat at rest enjoying the views after a full day of cruising the Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska photographing wildlife and the immense, wild remote scenery that surrounded us.

Our day started at our log lodge located near Palmer in the beautiful Matanuska Valley located about an hour northeast of Anchorage. We had a drive to make and a schedule to adhere to as we had to be at the Whittier Tunnel on time to pass through with the regularly scheduled opening that allowed visitors and residents to get to the little town of Whittier located at the other end on the majestic and scenic Prince William Sound. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, commonly called The Whittier Tunnel, is a tunnel that was made through a mountain between the town of Whittier and the the Seward Highway, which is a major thoroughfare taking traffic to and from the Kenai Peninsula to Alaska’s mainland.

The Whittier Tunnel is a one way, single lane, tunnel 2 ½ miles long. It’s the longest highway tunnel in North America. The roadway includes a set of train tracks to accommodate the Alaska Railroad. The inside of the tunnel is rough rock, almost cave like, and is a bit claustrophobic the first time through, but is a bit exciting nonetheless. There’s a time schedule for opening the tunnel that accommodates the train as well as car and truck traffic in each direction at different times. If you miss your scheduled opening you must wait an hour before it’s open again in your direction.

On this morning our group awoke with adventure on our minds. We all climbed into the van and headed out. We were right on time, although the bathroom break along the way threatened to cause a little concern about catching the tunnel, we made it with time to spare. Our destination this morning was Epic Charters and the boat that we had reserved to take us out into the fjords of the Prince William Sound to photograph not just scenery, but also for the chance to photograph its wildlife.

The day was calm with some overcast skies. The ride out into the sound was calm and exhilarating. The Chugach Mountains surrounding us tower up from the water to reach an average height of 4000-5000 feet with peaks as high as 13,000 feet. Many have majestic glaciers covering their flanks and filling their valleys with some ultimately crumbling into the ocean waters. As we travel along we pass small islands covered with sea lions, rafts, as they’re called, of sea otters and eagles flying overhead while we hope to see orcas on our search for black bears.

Our skipper navigated our boat into a couple small bays, one of which was the location of a remote salmon hatchery where we found at least a dozen or more opportunistic black bears roaming the shore, dipping their paws into the water and dragging out a fish with little challenge. We left there and made our way to another bay where we found several more bears away from man made surroundings, a small group of which consisted of a mother and three cubs hiding in tall grasses on the shoreline. Their heads peeked up every so often just to keep an eye on the boat full of shutterbugs sitting in the water beyond the shoreline.

We left that bay and made our way further into the sound to a little island where we all stepped off of the boat to stretch our legs for a little while before making our way into the incredible Harriman Fjord, a finger off of the sound into the realm of huge hanging and tidewater glaciers. Our boat made it to the face of Surprise Glacier where we floated around taking in the massive mountains and huge flows of glacial ice. Massive waterfalls flowed down huge solid stone walls from the ice fields and hanging glaciers above. The boat slowly cruised through the iceberg filled water, several of which were the size of the boat itself as we observed walls of ice calving into the ocean creating waves that would gently rock the boat as we stood there in amazement of the scene surrounding us.

In time we turned to head back to Whittier. As we skimmed over the calm water we passed by the glaciers in the College Fjord before heading back into deeper water and passage back. The boat’s captain pushed the throttle further and brought the boat up onto a plane as our group sat at the stern watching the scene disappear behind us. As we sat there taking it all in for one last time, and recalling all that had happened on that day, a rainbow appeared behind us as one final parting gift from this spectacular land.

Our group left the pier and our captain as we gathered together to make sure to catch the tunnel scheduled opening for our trip back through and to the Seward Highway for our drive back to the lodge, with one more stop for a meal at the Turnagain Arm Pit, a favorite barbecue restaurant along the way. Once back at the lodge all everyone wanted to do was rest and look at all of their photos from this amazing time. This trip has become a favorite part of our yearly Alaska Adventure tours, but is only one day of the five that we spend photographing Alaska. Each and every day is filled with another incredible experience.

 

 

Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance

Purple Mountain Lavender

Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance. It’s a beautiful morning as you gather your camera and gear to head out to take some beautiful landscape photos. You understand the settings that you’ll need to get the proper exposure, in this case with a fast enough shutter to overcome the blur caused by the breeze that’s tosses the flowers around in front of you. In the background is a view of Mount Hood on the horizon. You allow the camera to set the focus by using one of the automatic settings. Perhaps you focus on either the foreground or the background. Or, if you are using manual focus, you use the age old method learned from another photographer who learned it from his uncle who was a photographer who learned it from some guy named Ansel, you focus a third of the way into the scene and hope for the best.

Once you get home and download your photos you notice that in some of the photos the foreground is out of focus and the background is in perfect focus, while in others the foreground is sharp but the background is out of focus. Some may be fine from front to back but you don’t know why or how it happened.

In time, as you hone your photography skills, you will want to understand how to focus properly and consistently. It’s something that is hard to guess your way through or to accidentally discover. And once you figure out that there’s a method, understanding it seems daunting but it’s rather simple to understand if explained properly, so I’ll give it a try.

What you need to understand is something called hyperfocal distance. By focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance your photo will be in acceptable focus from half that distance all the way to infinity. In other words if your hyperfocal distance is 20 feet everything will be in focus from 10 feet to infinity. In landscape photography especially it allows you to maximize your depth of field. Knowing this, in this example, we can then push our depth of field out by focusing to 30 feet, ten feet past your subject, maximizing the depth of field.

Determining the hyperfocal distance for a particular focal length and aperture combination can be tricky, but there are charts that you can put in your billfold or camera case. There are also apps for your smartphone that will help you calculate what it is for your particular camera, focal length and aperture setting. Because of this I won’t go into the complications of the mathematics involved in determining your hyperfocal distance. With one of the variables being “The Circle of Confusion”, it would be easier to explain a method that I use that you can start using right away to maximize your depth of field resulting in a more accurate and consistent focus in your photos.

Start by switching your lens to Manual. Turn off any kind of vibration reduction if you’re using a tripod, leave it active if you’re hand holding. Make sure to stop down, aiming for the lens “sweet spot”, an aperture setting of roughly f/8 – f/11. The sweet spot is the range of sharpest aperture settings of your lens. It’s typically two full stops from your widest aperture depending on the lens. Just make sure to stop down to increase your depth of field.

Turn on your Live View screen and increase its magnification and scroll the view to the closest spot that you want to be in focus in the scene. Observe that area as you turn your lens focus ring to infinity, which will slightly blur your foreground, and then focus back from infinity slowly until your foreground object just comes into sharp focus then stop. Once you do this you’ve moved your depth of field out as far as it can go while maintaining focus at your foreground object. Using this method you don’t need to know distances to set your focus.

I should mention that there are times when hyperfocal distance is not desired or necessary. Many forms of photography rely on a shallow depth of field such as portraiture or macro photography. In that case, none of this is necessary as having areas that lack focus is desired to direct the viewer’s attention to the subject which is in focus.

Also modern digital photography and computerized post processing allows a photographer to take multiple shots of a scene, focusing from front to back, and then combine them to create a focus that is sharp throughout the image. This method is called Focus Stacking, but in most cases it’s unnecessary if you use the methods described in this article.

As in most cases when an instructor explains something, they will always seem to take the long way. I know that I gave you the shortcut at the end of a lengthy description, but in any skill it’s more than doing, it’s also about understanding. The more that we understand what we are doing, the more we’re able to perfect how we do it. I hope that this rudimentary explanation of hyperfocal distance helps you to take your photos one step closer to perfection.

My Photography Lens Filters

Little Creek Swirly

One of the most asked questions of me is one concerning lens filters. So let’s talk about filters for a minute.

Filters are round glass elements that screw onto the end of your lens, or in some cases glass or resin panels that are placed on front of the lens using a fixture. The purpose of these filters is to affect several different things when you’re taking a photo.

During the era of film photography many colored filters were used, mostly used with black and white film. These colored filters would block or cancel certain colors of light causing corresponding areas of color to respond in different ways. An orange or red filter will darken blue tones and lighten reds, while a blue one will darken reds and lighten blues. In digital photography these colored filters are not needed as the sensor has the ability to filter Red, Green and Blue light.

During that time we also used UV filters to cut the effect that ultraviolet light had on film. Today the digital sensors have built in UV filtration so they are no longer necessary. Today they’re used to protect the lens element from scratches. The only caution that you need to consider is that you should remove them at night. Even though they’re clear, they can cause light to reflect between the filter glass and the lens glass. This can cause a double image of any light in the scene.

In digital photography the most commonly used filters are a circular polarizer and neutral density filters.

A circular polarizer, or a CP filter, will do a couple of things to your photo according to how it’s used. The primary purpose is to reduce glare and reflections on things such as the surface of water or even wet leaves. It will also turn the sky a deeper blue. It is made with two elements, one which you can turn to adjust the amount or place of polarization. The filter glass will be somewhat dark so it will stop light, the amount of which varies depending on the darkness of the particular filter but a typical CP filter will stop about 2 f/stops.

The next filter that is most commonly used in digital photography is a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter modifies the intensity of all wavelengths of color. In short its purpose is to block or stop bright light. The purpose typically is to extend or lengthen one’s shutter speed during bright light such as a sunny day. When a photographer mentions neutral density filters, they typically call them ND’s or ND filters. ND filters come in a variety of “darknesses” stopping different levels of light. They can vary in optical density from almost clear to nearly solid dark. The most common ND’s are ND2, ND4 and ND8 with a corresponding 1, 2, and 3 f/stop reduction. Another common ND used for extreme stops of light some choose an 8 or 10 stop ND filter.

Neutral density filters also come in what is called a graduated neutral density filter. This filter is just as it describes. It has a graduation from top to bottom making half of the filter dark and the other half clear. This is used in neutralizing the exposure when you have an extremely bright sky and a dark foreground, It stops the light of the sky making the exposure more even.

As mentioned previously I use my circular polarizer to affect the blueness of the sky, to remove glare and reflections from water surfaces and wet foliage which will allow the color and texture to show. I love using it for creeks and waterfalls, especially on a rainy day or a day where it’s recently rained as the water will typically reflect the bright light from the sky. So too will the leaves and plants reflect this light from the sky. Once you polarize them the shine goes away and color and textures start to show through. An important thing to remember is that a CP filter works best when the light is coming from 90 degrees from the direction that you’re shooting. As the angle changes so does the amount of affect that the filter has on the photo. Also, the filter will allow me to extend my shutter speed to smooth the water a little more to give it a feeling of movement or flow.

My primary purpose for ND filters is to allow me to extend my shutter even more than I could without them under extremely bright light. They come in handy if you show up to a creek or a waterfall during mid day sun.

As for graduated ND filters, I use them as little as possible as they tend to darken areas that don’t necessarily don’t need to be. A good example is if you want to darken the sky but there are trees or buildings that extend into this area. The most ideal case for the use of one would be at the coast in a photo of the ocean with an even horizon line.

Whew. This can all sound a bit complicated, but once you use them it will become easy to understand. If you use your camera on the Manual setting it’s also easier to understand as you probably have encountered some of these problems while trying to get that shot at less than an ideal time. I do my best to show up at a scene in good light. If I want to extend my shutter at a creek or a waterfall I find it best to show up when the light is right. Good light from a creek or a waterfall is subdued light with little or no glare or reflection on the surfaces in your photo. I find it best early in the morning or later in the afternoon, but I love it best when it’s drizzling or an even overcast cloudy sky. Bright light is not your friend in these cases. Surprisingly, the CP works under cloudy skies too.

In the photo included in this blog post you can notice a swirly in the water. This little eddy was caused by a current in the water that held bubbles that were caused by the little pour off in the scene. It took awhile for the bubbles to make a circle so I wanted to extend my shutter as long as I could so I had to block light in any way possible to me. I lowered my ISO, stopped down (narrowed) my aperture and applied my CP for two more stops of light. By doing this I was able to get some decent shots at up to 6 seconds exposure time.

I hope that this helps clear up this subject a little. If you’re serious about your photography put a CP and some ND’s in your bag.

Organizing Priorities

Panther Creek Falls Washington

Preparing for a trip, even a simple day trip, should be pretty basic when it come to packing your camera gear, or so it would seem. It’s easy to throw your gear in the backpack, grab it and go.

You must know that photographers take their backpacks pretty serious. For those who aren’t aware, I should explain that a photography backpack is very much like a typical rucksack but they have little padded dividers that are fastened with velcro in an arrangement decided upon by the owner of the backpack to hold their various camera bodies, lenses and other assorted accoutrement. With these dividers it’s easy to take a quick inventory of your gear prior to heading out into the field. Zip open a panel, look inside and zip the panel back up and off you go.

Taking quick inventory in this way is typically pretty straight forward. It’s easy to see if you have your camera and your lenses, but there are always those little details that will trip you up as this little story will show.

After taking my quick inventory on one particular day, I grabbed my gear for a hike to a waterfall that I had been meaning to photograph for a while. The hike was going to be about a five mile trip, ten miles altogether. A good day hike but still a bit more laborious due to my backpack full of gear. It’s usually like me to pull my camera from my backpack at the trailhead and carry it separately and take snaps along the way, but on this day the hike was familiar and I figured that I would just wait until I arrived at the spot that I had in mind. Besides, it would make the hike easier without carrying something in my hands.

I hiked with certain urgency as I was on a mission. I walked the five miles with no break for rest as I knew that where I was going would be a great spot to snack on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the apple that I had brought along with me. How perfect. A beautiful waterfall to photograph and a nice little picnic all at the same time.
After the morning hike I arrived at my destination. The spot that I had in mind for the photograph that I had imagined since my last hike there. I walked to the creekside, peeled off my backpack, set up my tripod, unpacked my camera, set it up on the tripod, turned it on to check my settings. As I look at the digital display, which shows me everything that I need to know to adjust my camera, I notice the available exposure count. It reads 0. Zero??? What?

As I stand there looking at the display the cold realization that I forgot to check that I had put the memory cards back in after I had pulled them out to reformat and clear them to prepare for more photos of this trip. I was literally standing there with a camera without “film” in it. All at once I felt emotions welling up inside. I’m not sure if they were feelings of frustration, anger or dismay or a combination of them all. It really didn’t matter as they weren’t good. I dug through my pack to see if I had stashed a spare card, but found nothing. I felt pretty dumb.

Without much more than a thought or two about what more that I could do, I packed my gear back into the backpack and sat down to eat my sandwich.
As I sat there I lectured myself. I berated myself for forgetting to reinstall the card, and agan for not checking when I packed the backpack, but in time I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to take a single photograph, and that I was in an incredibly amazingly beautiful place in a terrible state of mind and that I just needed to realize how my priorities were out of order.

I had to ask myself how taking the photo became more important than the experience of being there and experiencing the tangible part of the experience that a photo can never capture. At that moment I closed my eyes and paid attention to those non visual components of this beautiful location that make the experience complete. I listened to the water as it tumbled over rocks. I listened to the breeze in the trees above my head. I felt the moss under me. Once I did this I started to pay attention to things that I may have ignored. I heard birds singing and squirrels quarreling. I smelled the fresh fragrance of a forest in the morning. I felt the mist from the falls on my face. I could feel the stress leave as I concentrated. My feeling of frustration changed to resignation and then to a feeling of satisfaction as I realized the complete beauty of my surroundings.

In time I stood back up, grabbed my backpack and started back down the trail with the thought in my mind about lessons learned. Practical thoughts about how to prevent forgetting memory cards or batteries, but even more the thoughts and wonder if I would have taken the time to enjoy the experience of the waterfall if I had remembered to bring them.

To this day when I head out to hike to a waterfall I will check everything, including the details. I haven’t left a card or a battery at home since, but more importantly after this experience the first thing that I do when I arrive at a location is to close my eyes and experience everything that being there has to offer, and I think that it shows through the photos that I take afterward.

A Primer on Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography

With the Spring and Summer months behind us and the Fall and Winter months ahead many people start planning ahead for the next season’s warm weather activities. Many of these plans will revolve around weddings and wedding engagements. Because of that I’ve decided to try to provide some information that will help in deciding what photographer would be best for you from a photographer’s point of view. So here is A Primer on Wedding Photography.

First and foremost is the misconception that all that a photographer does is show up, take pictures, go home and send them in an email. That’s no different than thinking that all that the caterer does is show up and put some food on a table, serve it up and throw away the paper plates. That food needs to be carefully prepared, delivered carefully and served in a beautiful way and then the dishes need to be done. It’s a process as photography is a process. It’s certainly true that you can hire someone to come and take pictures inexpensively, you can also hire a caterer that will serve TV dinners.

When you hire a professional photographer you will expect more than snapshots of the wedding. A photographer can take hundreds or sometimes a thousand or more photos at a single event. Once back at the studio they will need to sort out all of the stinkers before starting the processing phase of the project. Out of focus, closed eyes, redundancy etc are all considered in this phase. This all takes time. After the initial sorting of the photos there are still many more left to consider whether they’re worthy of being a final photo.

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography

If the photographer is using film, which some still do, they will have shooting time plus processing/developing time. If they shoot digital they will also have processing time. Modern professional photographers photograph their images in what’s called a RAW file which is considered a digital negative as it will need to be converted into a usable image format for printing or digital display. This RAW format gives the photographer the same form of adjustment ability that the film photographer does in a darkroom, primarily brightness, contrast and color adjustments such as white balance and saturation, plus a lot more. Because each photo is unique each will typically require separate attention from the rest. In other words each photo is typically processed in its own unique way.

In many cases a professional photographer will have a second or third photographer at the event. The second, or assistant photographer, is helpful in capturing fleeting moments that come and are gone in a flash. This assistant is also helpful in setting up any equipment such as lighting and backdrops as well as posing people, seeing overlooked details as well as sorting the photos after the event. Once sorted the primary photographer will process the final photos. A second shooter will also help with any video captures of the event. Today most professional wedding photographers provide video service as well.

A professional will also have a backup photographer who will cover for him if he becomes ill or is unable to photograph the wedding for unforeseen reasons. The last thing that you want is a sick photographer at the event or one that’s too ill to attend.

What do you get for your money?

All of this can add up when considering cost. Generally speaking one can expect to pay from $2500 – $10,000 for a true professional wedding photographer. Most photographers will have packages at different levels of pricing. The packages will typically provide a specified amount of final photos provided as well as other products such as specialty printing like canvas or acrylic prints, a hard bound portfolio album or a video of the event.

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography

I know what you’re thinking. Holy macaroni, right? I know because I’m asked a lot about photographing weddings and have seen the look in a few faces when they start to think about their budget. First consider this. Will you remember or enjoy or remember the catered food in twenty years? Will you remember the DJ or the wedding planner or the venue manager? In my mind photography is the most important part of the wedding besides the vows. The photos will be with you for the rest of your lives and will help you to remember the details like the fabulous food and great music. Why compromise on what will truly be heirlooms for you and your family?

I also understand that a professional, in many cases, is impractical. In those cases my advice is to look for a photographer who is trying to make a mark for themselves or one who is trying to gain experience and a professional portfolio. Most aspiring photographers are not only willing to work for less they’re also usually enthusiastic. In this day and age, in many cases, one will know someone that’s either a friend or a family member that has a nice camera that would be willing to do this, sometimes for free. Ask to see their photos. You may be surprised.

And a final word concerning attendees with their own cameras or cell phone cameras who are tempted to snap photos during the ceremony or during the professional photographers time. Please consider that if there’s a hired photographer working please allow them the freedom to work. There have been many times where I’m unable to get the photo through or between guests trying to get the same photo. It also makes it difficult when eyes are straying while a group of people are all looking at different cameras all at once. Many weddings ask attendees to not take photos during the ceremony and to relax and enjoy the event. If the bride and groom ask or if there’s not a professional working photographer there some brides and grooms want their attendees to snap photos. They figure that 25 photographers working for free are better than one or two pros working for a wage. That’s a valid approach which I give as an option when I discuss a job with a potential client.

I hope that this helps those who are considering hiring a photographer for their wedding. And may I be the first to congratulate you.

Taking Care of Our Forests

Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Charlie Riter Photo

Here on Mount Hood we are literally surrounded by forestlands. Our homes touch the edge of the Mount Hood National Forest and with increased recreational usage, and in light of the recent Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, concerns about wildfires and overuse are increasing. Many people aren’t aware that our local village is less than 20 miles from the Columbia River Gorge and the Eagle Creek Fire boundaries. A wind in a different direction was the only thing that prevented that fire from becoming a direct concern to our community.

In this day and age recreation is increasingly becoming the purpose and primary use of the forest. The amount of people using trails and camping areas has increased dramatically on public lands especially in areas such the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area and the Mount Hood National Forest. Local and Federal governments are trying their best to develop and to promote these areas to increase the usage and with this increased usage comes an increase in the impact on these areas. This makes our personal responsibility to and the assumption of stewardship of these lands important. We can’t have the attitude that it’s just the outdoors and that it will grow back or that the government will just repair or rebuild it. We must take care of it or lose it.

Most all of those who are coming out to use the forests are prepared, capable and aware of the responsibility involved in the use of these public lands, but there’s also an increased chance of having someone that’s not aware making mistakes or bad decisions that could prove costly or dangerous. There are many people who haven’t had the opportunity to live or to be taught the outdoor experience during their childhood. We can’t assume that everyone that is visiting the forest is aware of responsible forest use.

Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Adrian Blair Photo
Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon – Adrian Blair Photo

There are some basics that anyone that’s going to spend time in the forest should be aware of. These basics should be understood by anyone that goes out into the forest to recreate. The US Forest Service website has a wealth of information such as this that can be used to raise your awareness or of that of your friends and family before they go to play. They call it Responsible Recreation.

Camp responsibly. Use existing campsites or use an area without vegetation if possible. Keep the site small to minimize your impact. Don’t chop down or into trees. Camp at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams or wetlands. Use biodegradable soap or plain just water to wash with.

Answering nature’s call. Human waste can cause all kinds of problems if it’s introduced into the water. When you must go find a place that’s at least 200 feet from any water source. Dig a hole at least 6-8 inches deep to bury human waste. Pack out your toilet paper etc. Carry ziplock backs for this purpose. It’s kinda icky, but you’ll get used to it.

Be fire safe. First and foremost check with the ranger station in the area that you will be about any fire restrictions. Have a shovel, axe and a bucket of water available before starting the fire. Use existing fire rings. Remove flammable material from a ten foot diameter area around the fire. Keep fires inside of the fire ring. Don’t feed large logs into the fire. Never leave a fire unattended. Keep fires small and bring your own firewood. If you must collect wood from around your camp collect downed and dry wood only. Extinguish your fire properly. Poor water slowly into the coals while stirring with your shovel until the area is cool to the touch. Do not bury the fire as it can smolder for days. Never bring fireworks into the forest no matter the conditions.

Keep the forest creatures wild. Don’t approach wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife. Keep your dog completely under your control or on a leash to keep wildlife safe.

Don’t erase the traces of America’s past. Archaeological and culturally significant sites are protected and must be preserved for future generations. Anyone disturbing such areas can be dealt a substantial penalty if caught.

Be considerate of others. This should be a given in this society but unfortunately some folks don’t consider how their action affect others. Be courteous on trails and in the backcountry. Yield to others on trails. Take breaks and make camps away from trails and others who may be wanting to experience the solitude of the area. Keep noises down and let nature’s sounds and noises dominate.

And last but not least, don’t forget to take your camera.

It seems like a lot of do not do’s but trust that the do’s far outweigh the do not’s, so go out and enjoy the outdoors.

The photos for this article were provided by Adrian Blair of Adrian Blair Photography in Portland Oregon and Charlie Riter of Big Tree Photography in Hood River Oregon.

Motivation, Purpose, and Reason – 2017 Solar Eclipse

The Dead Ox Solar Eclipse Crew

2017 Solar Eclipse

Motivation, purpose, and reason. Why do we do what we do, especially when it’s doing something that we love? To me photography is more than taking photos. It took me a while to understand this as it applies to my own work and how it affects my life but the realization was life changing.

I just returned from an event in Eastern Oregon where 25 photographers gathered at a ranch just east of Baker City to photograph the total solar eclipse. I organized and conducted a solar eclipse workshop and campout. During the organization phase of the event I had no idea how it would all turn out. There’s always so much to worry about it seems. Will the clouds show up and blot out the eclipse? Will there be enough water? Will there be enough porta-potties? Will there be something that I’ve forgotten? Will everyone be happy? When it comes to worry I seem to be a pro.

The day of the event comes and the photographers start arriving. There were young, old, men, women, children, varied races, nationalities and ethnicities. People who, if they were in their own element, may not even meet let alone sit and share a campfire, food, drink, dance and conversation. Our lives were diverse. Our common catalyst is photography. Our reason for gathering is the eclipse. A perfect formula.

The event could have formed into smaller social groups defined by our differences but instead everyone came together into a hive of gracious sharing. We created our own village there of people who concentrated on their one common goal, in this case something as simple and as innocuous as getting a photograph, albeit a very special photograph. Everyone helped those who were less skilled or prepared. We all shared our experience, expertise, equipment, food and drink, anything freely and selflessly. Even the children ran and played completely disconnected from their electronic devices as if it was 1965. I saw no conflict that the children weren’t able to resolve themselves. It was an amazing convergence of love, happiness and cooperation.

I describe this event only to make a simple point that has taken me some time to realize. The secret to happiness and mutual cooperation, I think, is not finding our differences but, rather, to find our common interests. It doesn’t have to be photography. It can be a myriad of other things but if we stop for a moment and realize how much we help ourselves when we help others the world would be a better place.

I don’t mean to preach, nor do I mean to act as if I’ve discovered the secret to world peace, but I would like to express how much I have realized that photography for me is the tool that opens doors to the things that make me happy. It’s the tool that allows me to affect others in a positive way and the more that I receive the recognition and gratitude of others the more that I realize it’s more than the photography or vanity that could come with notoriety. It’s about affecting people’s lives in a positive way with what I love to do.

I have a lot of people ask me what is the most important element or method of my photography that allows it to stand out so that they too can learn how to do it themselves. I’m convinced that what will make anyone’s photography stand out can’t be taught but must be discovered through a journey of practice, mistakes, realization and discovery. It’s a process that allows you to be able to see the world through your heart and soul and not your eyes and practical mind. A realization that will bring a feeling of relief and relaxation that will allow you to do what you do in a much more creative way.

My personal realization of these principles has completely changed my approach to everything that I do that involves how I approach my work. It has brought me happiness where there once was frustration. It has brought a new inner peace that translates through my photos. It has even brought a certain amount of success that i wouldn’t have had otherwise. I feel that it all comes from sharing what I love.

I may not have discovered the secret to world peace, but what I’ve discovered is helping me with my own.

 

Solar Eclipse Composite
Solar Eclipse Composite

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.

Photographing Lightning

Lightning at Simnasho Oregon

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.

Equipment

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.

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon

 

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon