Oregon’s Alvord Desert

An Alvord Desert sunset

Alvord Desert Sunset - I had a great time shooting these amazing mud tiles at the Alvord Desert with my friends Jason Brownlee and Matthew Grimes.

I had an excellent time visiting with about 40 of the Pacific Northwest's best photographers this last weekend. It was an honor to have been invited to your get together folks!! I'm sorry that I left a bit early. I couldn't fathom enduring the heat any longer without some sort of acceptable shelter... like a travel trailer. I think I need one of them. 😀 Does that make me old? Sleeping in the back of the PPV seems to be getting harder and harder lately. lol

If I could have handled the heat better the photo ops at the Alvord would have been incredible. There was a reflection in the last of the standing water lake on the playa. There were amazing cracked mud tiles. The stars are completely unencumbered by light pollution. They are some of the most amazing star filled skies in the state. The nearest town with a light bulb is 200 miles away. We're talking remote. And completely awesome.

After this trip I am more motivated to save up for a 500mm lens to take wildlife photos, especially birds. The incredible variety of birds that I saw non the drive there blew me away. And I have lived among millions of birds while living at Midway Island. I got to see a pair of Sandhill Cranes. I think that I saw some great egrets but they could have been white herons. I saw blue herons too. I saw yellow headed blackbirds and red wing blackbirds. I saw kerlews and sandpipers and pipits. I saw pigeons and mourning doves. I saw vulchers and some hawks and crows of course. I also saw antelope and wild horses and various rabbits and rodents.

It really is one of my favorite places, but I like it when it's not over 100 degrees fahrenheit. 😀

Photography Tips and Tricks

Darlene at Cape Kiwanda

Have you ever stood next to someone as you both took a snapshot of the same subject, looked at their screen and wondered what the heck they did or why didn't you think of doing that? Trust me, it happens more times than you would think, and it happens to the best of us. Taking a photo can be all about luck. Luck to be at a place or a moment or having the camera work just right, just having everything line up all at once if you're really lucky. But if you leave it all to luck, as in life, your chances of getting lucky will be slim. Therefore, it pays dividends to increase your chances of getting lucky by understanding a few basics of how to be more in control of creating the image with your camera.

Image creation is different that just taking a photo. Ansel Adams famous quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” explains it best. Think of it this way. You can walk up to a scene and point the camera at it and get a photo, or you can take a moment and look around the area around you. What do you see that can be a foreground interest? Let's say that you're shooting Mount Hood, for instance. Many folks, I'm sure, point their cameras at the snow clad peak beyond, ignoring the rhododendron bush close by that would give the photos some scale and depth. Is there some sort of trail or an element that would make a lead in line. Perhaps a gateway of trees to frame the scene. Look around and find some components that, if you position yourself properly, will create a more thoughtful composition.

And then there's photographing people in landscape and photographing landscapes with people. I tell landscape photographers to include someone in the photo. It gives the photo scale and perspective as well as allowing the viewer to create a story in their minds as they view the photo. Conversely, I tell photographers who photograph people to put the landscape in the photo. Create a compelling photo of a friend or family member of a great time or location by including the whole scene. Get close to your subject and use a fill flash if you need to to illuminate them, or have them walk off into the distance and stand on a rock using a noble adventurer stance, pointing off into the distance like Lewis and Clark or their arms thrust into the air air in triumph. It will add a dimension of emotion.

Mount Hood View
Mount Hood View

Now that we've discussed adding a subject to a scene, or adding a scene to a subject, let's talk a bit about composition. I have an understanding of and yet an aversion to standards and rules. I understand how I can learn them and understand them but I love to break them. Learning compositional standards is learning the mechanics of art. Learning how to break them is when art happens in my opinion. In the beginning the first standard one learns in art is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds dictates a few rules that I feel is always a good place to start, such as not centering your subject, putting the horizon on either a top third of the frame of the bottom third of the frame and, in some forms of interpretation, in no case shall you center your subject, to which I would reply never say never, ever. Although I may start with the rule, it typically stops once I put my subject off center, such as a person at the side of the frame as not to block the view of the of Mount Hood scene behind. At that time I will look to each side and up and down to position the frame to include everything that I want in the frame and excluding all that I don't. Move in toward your subject or further away, zoom in or out. Try shooting lower or stand on something to put yourself higher. Picture your photo inside of a frame. Be creative.

Light is important when making a compelling image. Try to go out and get your shot either in the morning light or in the late afternoon when the light is less harsh and more warm. Mid day sunshine is the most challenging light to get a nice photo in. Don't be afraid to photograph your subject into the light. If you're photographing people, try filling them with a fill flash because they will be in their own shade, or put them in shade and do a nice fill flash. One thing that I rarely do is put my subject in a position where the sun is shining into their faces, primarily because they will be squinting their eyes, but their faces will be too bright in most cases. Use the light to your advantage but don't fight it. If you have the ability to do so return under a nicer light.

You have a lot of options to be able to create an image. Don't be afraid to experiment with some of your manual setting if you have them. It always pays to know your camera and to override the Automatic setting if it isn't getting it right. Conversely, don't be afraid of the Automatic settings. If your manual settings aren't getting the shot, flip it over onto Automatic and give it a try. The last thing that you want to do is miss out on the photo by messing with camera settings.

The next time that you're out with your camera consider what Ansel Adams said and make your photograph, don't just take it. Create an image not just a snapshot, but whatever you do capture the moment.

The Aurora over the East Fork of the Hood River

The Hood River Oregon

The Aurora over the East Fork of the Hood River on the east side of Mount Hood, Oregon.

Some people enjoy a nice Sunday drive. One that's warm and sunny where you can just relax, roll the window down, put your elbow on the door sill, crank the music up and hit the open road, destination not required... worries be damned.

I enjoy that too, probably more than the average person, and thankfully so does Darlene, but we do it in the middle of the night a lot of the time. Last night was one of those nights. Darlene came and picked me up at 10:30 pm to go look at the night sky.

My Jeep has been at the Jeep Whisperer being attended to and so I have had no wheels for the last couple of weeks. Thankfully I get it back today, but in the meantime I have missed a few things that I would have liked to have been a part of, including the amazing aurora show the night before last. I think Darlene could sense my anguish and felt sympathy for me. 😀

It was a beautiful night. We were in communication with another night owl photographer, Erika Eve Plummer. who got some incredible aurora photos the night before. Darlene and I decided to get out from under the clouds that were over us here on the rainy side of Mount Hood and go east where we ended up standing in hurricane force gorge winds at Rowena Crest, near The Dalles.

We set up and took a few test shots and the aurora was faint at best, so we took off and headed back toward Mount Hood, not hoping for much as we headed back toward the clouds, but as we approached Mount Hood we stopped at a little spot that we like to go to pee in the woods, and decided to take a photo or two to see what kind of color aht we could see in the sky.

This this photo. The time stamp is 1:17am. The aurora was glowing again, although not near as strong as the night before, but it still set a nice mood for this simple photo.

We drove back home on deserted highways, after visiting beautiful places, with no people. I can't understand why more people don't take their Sunday drives at Midnight. 😀

#oregon #randallpics #aurora

Workshop Results – Candee Watson

Candee Watson Before and After
Candee Watson Before and After
Candee Watson Before and After

Here's a photo that Candee Watson and I worked on during her private workshop. Candee took this photo and I processed it during the post processing segment of her workshop.

Although the photo was practically perfect straight from the camera, I demonstrated a few techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop on this image, which include:

  • Healing brush and clone tool.
  • Brightness and contrast adjustment with levels and curves adjustment layers globally as well as selectively using luminosity selections.
  • Dodging and burning using luminosity selections.
  • Light Bleed using eye dropper and Soft Light blend mode.
  • Applying a tasteful and effective vignette.
  • Selectively applying an Orton effect using masks.
  • Blend If for shadows and highlight recovery.
  • Sharpening techniques.

Although I demonstrated these techniques, I also stressed the importance of being subtle in the use of them and to do all that you can in your power to get the best photo while you're in the field.

You can easily see that the photo is great the way it is, and would be fine with nothing more than a minor brightness and contrast adjustment in Lightroom. She nailed it in the field.

If you're interested in taking your photography to the level of fine art, perhaps consider a workshop. I conduct more private workshop sessions than group workshops. Contact me and schedule a day playing... I mean, working on improving your photographic art.

If you aren't already following Candee Watson, Like her Photography page. You'll be glad that you did. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/candeewatsonphotography/

Accessories That Make a Difference For Your Camera

Camera Accessories
Camera Accessories

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 Accessories
Camera Accessories

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.

What to Look For In A Camera For Any Skill Level

Digital SLR

I'm often asked, "What kind of camera do you recommend?" I'm not so sure that those who ask that one simple question actually understand just how many questions that it can generate in reply.

Cell Phone Camera
Cell Phone Camera

There's the old adage that, the best camera is the one that you have with you, and a lot can be said for that. Capturing a moment in time is easily served well by modern cell phones. Most of the time the photos that are made are perfectly acceptable. With a little experience and an application or two and an Instagram account one can call it good and their photographic needs are taken care of. Not long ago if someone wanted a simple camera they would get a Point and Shoot but today cell phones have taken that role.

Because cell phones have their limitations, if a person wants to be able to take a little better quality photo, especially in challenging light or fast action, they can choose some excellent cameras today that make the pro models from years past look primitive. Even at entry and bridge camera levels. A bridge camera, or prosumer camera, is one that gives the user the ability to either shoot in automatic, programmed modes or manual mode. Generally speaking they don't have interchangeable lenses but have a large zoom range. Some offer from 24-1000mm equivalent focal length zoom capabilities. These cameras usually run from around $300 - $1000, with the average around $500-600 dollars and cover the majority of the needs of the average consumer or hobbyist.

The next step up the the progression of abilities are the Single Lens Reflex cameras. The majority of serious hobbyists or professional photographers will want to own a DSLR camera because of their increased capabilities such as more control, larger file sizes for larger printing, lower light capabilities, better lenses etc. I tell anyone who is considering buying a DSLR camera that if they don't plan on learning how to use it on any other setting than Auto to not bother with the expense as the Bridge cameras will give you the equivalent image. An entry level DSLR can cost as little as $500 for the camera body with lenses additional, up to $6000 - $8000 for a pro model with a myriad of costs and models between. I will discuss the differences in the different types of DSLR cameras in a future article.

Digital SLR
Digital SLR

It is important to note that technology marches on and in the next few years we can see a shift in the camera paradigm since the Japanese 35mm film SLR's came to the consumer market in the 1950's. The next big thing in cameras is the elimination of the mirror mechanism that's the main part of the single lens reflex camera. The mirrorless cameras have no moving parts and the sensor controls the exposure. Another benefit is that they are smaller and lighter. Manufactures such as Sony, Fuji and Panasonic are leading the way while, oddly, the big guys Canon and Nikon seem to be dragging their feet at this time, but it's logical that all of the other will follow suit soon.

To get back to my original statement about the best camera is the one that you have with you. I always tell anyone who wants to use a camera as a hobby to create artistic images that it matters little the type of camera. I have made beautiful photos with a wooden pinhole camera and 120 film. A pinhole camera is, essentially, a box with a little hole in the front. The photographer uncovers the hole for a moment to expose the film and then covers it again. I have made some photos with an old Brownie Hawkeye that would rival a Hasselblad. Don't use the excuse that you don't have a good camera to start taking photos. Use what you have. Learn how to use it. Learn what good and bad light is. Learn a few composition rules and practice. Learning photography is like any skill. It takes a lot of practice. And the true art of photography doesn't depend on cost or complexity of the paintbrush. There's a lot to be said about using gear that is more suited to your skill level and growing to the point where the camera's limitations are limiting your own. I always say that a pair of fancy golf shoes or an expensive titanium driver is not going to help my golf game. If I were a pro or a very good hobbyist, maybe.  

I have not addressed or endorsed a recommended brand. There's no reason to choose one over the other. Arguing about Canon or Nikon is like arguing about Ford or Chevy. It's all about personal preference. The brands do what brands do. They leap frog each other to try to have the best. We all win because of it. The main reason that a person chooses one brand over the other is the user interface or lens selection. And once you choose a brand and invest in a few lenses, one has little incentive to change brands just to buy a whole new set of lenses, which is indeed something to consider when choosing a brand.

I should also mention that if you are an old film fan you can still purchase film and have it developed, but, sadly they have taken our Kodachrome away!

I hope that this gives you a little bit of information to allow you to decide on which camera might be right for you. I am always available to answer questions either here at my blog or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Eastern Oregon Dirt Road

Eastern Oregon Dirt Road

Wake me when we come to a curve in the road.

This is an Eastern Oregon dirt road near Jordan Valley, Rome and Leslie Gulch, just north of the Alvord Desert. Somewhere that has no name. A place that needs no name, but if I were to name it I would name it freedom.

I love that whole southeastern Oregon area. I wouldn't mind at all living out there in a shack surrounded by sagebrush, invisible canyons and a sky as big as the whole wide world. In a place where everything is in the open and nothing is hidden by trees and mountains. A place where the coyotes sing all night long. A place where the wind runs free with the critters that dwell there.

I must admit that population density is a huge appeal for me. In the Owyhee country of southeastern Oregon it's from 1/2 a person to 6 people per square mile, where in Multnomah County it's from 81 - 203 people per square mile. :O Now don't get me wrong. I love people, but I like people like I like beer, in metered amounts and in a relaxed situation. Too much of a good thing is just still too much. 😀

Eastern Oregon isn't the only place that I get that feeling of freedom. Southern Utah is a place where I could hole up in a shack somewhere hard to find, and for the same reasons. Alaska is another place that I get the feeling of freedom in my soul. It's the "Last Frontier".

My soul is usually troubled when I'm in a city. My stress level increases to an uncomfortable level. It all feels so totally unnatural to me. I feel controlled, monitored and judged. The total opposite of a feeling of freedom.

I suppose cities have their place, but they aren't my place. My place is where I can walk surrounded by natural beauty. A place where I have to stop breathing to hear the sounds that surround me. A place where I can close my eyes and feel surrounded by a peaceful presence. A place where the roads have no corners.

#oregon #easternoregon #randallpics

Opal Creek Workshop 2015

Battle Ax Creek Bridge
Battle Ax Creek Bridge at Opal Creek Ancient Forest.

Opal Creek Workshop 2015 was another amazing time at the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center near Mill City, Oregon.

Everyone had a great time with perfect weather throughout the event. We were even fortunate enough to have a nice drizzle early Saturday morning, the day in which we had the most time to explore and photograph the area. Enough to dampen the moss and leaves and to make the forest extra fresh as the sun appeared as the day progressed.

Dinner at Jawbone Flats
Dinner at Jawbone Flats

All of the staff at Jawbone Flats were simply amazing in their want and ability to help make everyone comfortable and that their needs were met to the best of their ability. The food was excellent as it was prepared by the beautiful, talented, caring, humorous and completely inimitable Rebekah. For me Rebekah is an integral component of one of the most important parts of the experience of the workshop and any stay at Jawbone Flats, eating with the rest of the visitors and residents family style in the community hall.

The cabins were comfortable and provided us with opportunities to sit around a large kitchen table to review our photos, explore processing techniques and to discuss the day.

The time always goes by so fast. I'm hoping to make this workshop a tradition.

 

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