A Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Sunrise

Rowena Crest Sunrise with balsamroot flowers

It’s pushing midnight as I finish processing the last photo for a client photo shoot the previous day. I get up from my desk and walk over to the gear that I have set on my couch. My backpack is full of the required equipment for a day in the field. My camera is charged up with an extra battery. My memory cards are clear and installed into the camera. My clothing is ready to go for the next morning and my alarm is set for 4:00 am. These are the moments when one can easily justify turning the alarm off and just calling the next day off completely. The temptation of sleeping in is almost overwhelming. 

The alarm rings and in a daze I hit the snooze alarm. Five minutes later the familiar but unwelcome sound of the alarm sounds off but with an increased intensity. It’s at the moment that I realize why it’s ringing. Spinning around while sitting upright my feet hit the floor. Heck, I need to visit the bathroom anyway. Maybe I’ll just get up, take care of some business and look outside to see how the weather looks.

As I go to the front door and let my dog Betty outside I stand on the porch and watch the drizzle as it saturates everything. A typical Oregon Spring day, I think to myself as Betty and walk back inside to decide that because I’m up anyway, I’ll just make some coffee and get into my rain resistant clothing and head out to see what the day will hold.

It’s dark and with just enough time to get to the gorge for sunrise I put my gear into the Jeep, load up Betty and head out to drive over Mount Hood and over Highway 35 in the pouring rain. At that time of the day there are very few people on the road. It’s my favorite time to drive. I sip from my travel mug and watch for errant deer crossing the road in front of me.

Rowena Crest Sunrise with balsamroot flowers
Rowena Crest Sunrise with balsamroot flowers

As I drop down into the Hood River Valley I notice that the rain has stopped and the clouds are thinning. My heart starts to pump with a bit more vigor with the realization that the morning may turn out to provide the conditions for a photograph that I am seeking, and perhaps the effects of the coffee. I turn east and travel down Highway 84 and then take the exit at Mosier before heading up to Rowena Crest. As I drive up the old Columbia River Highway toward my destination there are still a few sprinkles as the twilight starts to illuminate the horizon to the east, but it’s looking very promising.

Driving into the parking area at Rowena I grab my gear and and run to the spot that I have in mind for the composition that I seek. I have been here several times in the past and have photographed the area with varied luck, typically with mediocre skies, and am hoping that this will be the best moment yet. Within moments the light from the sun over the horizon starts to shine light under the clouds in the sky. I immediately start photographing the scene while blocking out all other thoughts or worries from my mind. I am in the moment. I’m in the groove.

That morning turned out to be one of my best days of photographing wildflowers in the gorge. I came home with a big bag of great images. This, the morning when I was riding a razor's edge in deciding if I should even go or not, turned out to be amazing. It would have been so easy for me to just turn that alarm off and roll back over and sleep for another few hours. It would have been so easy for me to just come back inside after seeing the rain from my porch and hop back into bed. It would have been so easy to justify missing this amazing experience. I certainly had more reasons to not go than I had to go.

I think about this a lot and have this notion ingrained into my thinking now so that I am more apt to think about these experiences when that alarm rings on those early mornings. I don’t know much about gambling but I’m sure that certain principles that apply to it might apply to outdoor photography in Oregon and around Mount Hood. You don’t win the majority of the times that you play, but if you don’t play you will never win. Take that gamble. What do you have to lose but a little sleep? And the Photography Gamble just may pay off. You may end up photographing A Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Sunrise.  

 

Oregon Wildflower Photography Season

Rhododendrons in Oregon

Oregon Wildflower Photography Season is here.

It's time to go act like a bumble bee and flit from flower to flower, cameras in hand. Here in the Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge area especially as we have so many options as well as a very long season to photograph them. Oregon Wildflower Photography Season is here.

Dalles Mountain Ranch Washington
Dalles Mountain Ranch Washington

Early in the season the flowers such as the purple lupine and bright yellow balsamroot sunflowers start in the lower elevations, especially along the east end of the Columbia River Gorge. Places such as Rowena Crest or Dalles Mountain on the Washington side of the river are both very popular locations for those who seek these wildflowers in the Springtime. As the season progresses the flowers work their way up into the foothills of Mount Hood and in time onto the slopes of the mountain during during the summer months. Most of the best wildflowers on Mount Hood are accessible from the many hiking trails available to us but a drive on some of the forest roads will be lined with everything from lupine and paintbrush to a wide assortment of orchids and lilies.

When photographing the flowers I like to get up before sunrise to be able to be there during the best light available to me, especially for my landscape photos, but a sunset can be just as nice. I typically avoid the light of mid day but a nice blue sky with some fluffy clouds is also striking. As the light changes I like to take more close up photos of the flowers. Macro photography is fun, but bring some knee pads. I spend a lot of time on my knees during wildflower season.

When out in the wild and roaming among the fields of flowers be aware of your surroundings so as not trample or destroy any plants or areas surrounding them. Don't break new trails as there will be many opportunities for photos along the pathways and trails. As outdoor enthusiasts we need to practice and preach proper stewardship of the lands, especially in these days of increased usage.

Rowena Crest Oregon
Rowena Crest Oregon

Some of my favorite secret locations:

Rowena Crest Viewpoint, Mosier Oregon early season.

Rowena Crest Viewpoint is located on and is a part of the old Historic Columbia River Highway. Located between Mosier and The Dalles it gives you a commanding view of the Columbia River Gorge, especially to the east which makes it a great place to photograph a sunrise. Lupine and balsamroot sunflowers dominate the scene but it is home to an amazing variety of native wildflowers. There are great trails through the area, including the Tom McCall Preserve.

Wildflowers Washington
Wildflowers Washington

Columbia Hills State Park - Dalles Mountain Washington early season.

Across the Columbia River from The Dalles Oregon lies a whole world of exploration. One of my favorite places to photograph is Dalles Mountain Ranch near Dallesport. It once was a ranch and several of the buildings, including barns and the original farm house are still there and a part of the historical history of the area. With views over fields of wildflowers in the Springtime that overlook the southern skyline including Mount Hood amazing photos are made here.

Mt Hood National Forest roads any time that they're clear of snow.

I love to just go for drives on many of the roads that are open for travel that are on National Forest land, especially while the rhododendrons and bear grass are blooming. Many of these roads come to views of Mount Hood. As you drive you will also notice a wide variety of wildflowers that grow along the road. Just pack up your camera and go for a drive.

Heather on Mount Hood
Heather on Mount Hood

Mount Hood's Wy'east Basin late season.

For those who enjoy a beautiful hike that will get you onto the upper slopes of Mount Hood I recommend a hike up Vista Ridge to Wy'east Basin. It can be strenuous to some but if you pack a lunch and water, take your time and stop and photograph the flowers along the way a wonderful day can be had. The trail weaves its way through the ghost forest created by the Dollar Lake fire, the floor of which can be covered in flowers including beautiful white fawn lilies. As you break out of the forest to views of Barret Spur and Mount Hood bear grass and rhododendrons line the trail. When you arrive above the timber line and into Wy'east basin you will be greeted with areas covered with beautiful mountain heather.

Mount Hood's Elk Meadows late season.

For a less strenuous hike go to the east side to Elk Meadows trail. A large variety of flowers can be found in these meadows, from phlox, shooting stars, elephant heads and lilies. This trail makes its way to several trails that network this area that allow loops hikes including a trip to Umbrella Falls which can be surrounded by fireweed.

These are only a small sample of the amazing scenery that can yield amazing wildflowers and, consequently, amazing photographs. Grab your gear and hit the road.

Jacobs' Ladder
Jacobs' Ladder wildflower

Gateway to Cold Spring Creek

Cold Spring Creek

Gateway to Cold Spring Creek

I stand at the window to the light of the universe, the smell of the earth, the sound of a dynamic reality and the sight of beautiful, precious life.
 
This is only one of many spots to get a shot along Cold Spring Creek beside the trail to Tamanawas Falls, a 100 foot tall waterfall in the Mt Hood National Forest on the east side of Mount Hood. As an outfitter and guide, this is only one of the many creeks and waterfalls that I am able to take my clients to.

Mount Hood Wildflowers

Jacobs' Ladder

Well it's shaping up to be a great year for wildflowers on Mount Hood. The flowers are about gone at the lowest elevations but they're moving their way up the side of the mountain. We had a great year for snow and a wet and cool Summer so far, generally speaking. The flowers seem to be taking advantage of the conditions.

I started this year in the Columbia River Gorge photographing Rowena Crest and Dalles Mountain Ranch on the Washington side of the river. I photographed balsamroot and lupine there. In time the dogwood and rhododendrons in the forests became my game and my primary pursuit, as well as the bear grass. This year's bear grass bloom was a fraction of last year's amazing bloom. It was incredible last season but a bit disappointing this year and understandably so considering it's irregular bloom cycle. Now that the rhododendrons are about finished my next wildflower pursuit are macros of the little flowers that tend to be a bit more singular in their dispersion. These are the ones that I enjoy photographing close up. At this time the lower meadows are blooming and in time the upper alpine meadows will be covered with flowers as well.

Here are a few photos that I have made so far this season. Most are close up shots, I love macro photography, but I plan on getting up to those upper meadows soon for some nice photos of Mount Hood so I hope to have more landscapes with nice flowers in the foreground. We'll see how that goes.

I have plans for a wildflower workshop next Summer. I hope to be able to use it as a venue to show my macro photography techniques. Stay tuned for news about that when I post next year's schedule. Look for it soon.

Thank you for all of your support everyone.

Flower Season

Mt Hood Rhododendrons Oregon

Flower Season

Spring has come and gone and now we look forward to Summer here on Mount Hood. Summer on Mount Hood is our best time for wildflowers. Most of the flowers at the lower elevations have come and are starting to go, but our elevation and snow cover delay’s the bloom and gives us amazing flower filled alpine meadows and forests full of native rhododendrons and dogwood trees.

Glacier Lily
Glacier Lily

Many landscape photographers wait in anticipation of the Spring Bloom. And because of this a they develop an interest in understanding the cycles of nature including weather patterns and celestial occurrences such as sunrise and sunset times and moon phases. The more one understands nature, the better that they are able to interpret it through their photos.

In the early Spring the flowers at lower, warmer elevations such as the east end of the Columbia River Gorge bloom. Beautiful purple grass Widows are usually the harbinger of Spring in the hills around Hood River and The Dalles, on both sides of the river, and can be seen poking up through coatings of fresh snow some years. Amazing views of the gorge with lupine and balsamroot in the foreground can be had in April and May. The lupine and balsamroot are the larger more visible flowers and will, on a typical year, bloom along side of each other, complimenting each other perfectly, yellow balsamroot and purple lupine.

As the season progresses the flowers move up into the hills and in time to the high altitude alpine meadows of our snow capped peaks. The flowers can cover fields or they can be scattered along roadways. They can even be in your yards. The more that you look for them, the more you notice.

Columbia Windflower
Columbia Windflower

Photographing flowers can be a way to create some beautiful photographs. It can also be a great way to spend some time outdoors. The combination of the two can create a peaceful and centering situation. I can get lost in my own little world as I wander with my wide angle lens among the fields that cover hills or meadows or on my knees with a macro lens in my yard getting close up photos of flowers, mushrooms and bugs.

When I’m out to photograph the grand landscape I try my best to be there either in the morning during a sunrise and into the golden hour or conversely in the evening when the light is nice, but don’t discount a beautiful blue sky especially one with some nice clouds to break up the space. I mention that as an ideal, but the reality is that we live in Oregon and a nice drizzly day can yield beautiful photos as well. On an overcast or cloudy day the light is even and the raindrops on the flowers are beautiful. No raindrops? Use a squirt bottle filled with water to must the flowers.

Let’s talk about the two previously mentioned forms of flower photography, wide angle and macro, or closeup photos. Both forms can be done with any camera.

Forget Me Nots
Forget Me Nots

Let’s first take a look at our cell phones as an option. Taking a nice photo of a field of flowers is pretty simple and the basic tenets of composition apply no matter what kind of camera that you use. While framing your photo tilt the camera up toward the sky or down toward your foreground to make sure that the sky isn’t too bright or the foreground too dark. Turn on your HDR (high dynamic range) setting and turn off your flash unless it’s getting dark and you want to try to illuminate your foreground. Another use for a flash is to shed light on a person especially when you are pointing toward the sunlight. To take a macro photo with your cell phone you can get a clip on macro lens that doesn’t cost much. The lenses usually come in a set. The other lenses in the set I can live without, but the macro lens works reasonably well.

Using a bridge camera, or an all in one non interchangeable lens camera, is handy. The zoom range can go from 24mm to 400mm and some have a fixed aperture of f/2.8 no matter the zoom range. So you can use the zoom in to get close to your subject or zoom out to get the wide view.

False Hellabor
False Hellabor

A digital SLR (single lens reflex) or even a film SLR, yes you can still use film, can give more options for photographing flowers but the basics, as mentioned previously, still apply. The biggest difference is lens options especially for macro photos. On a SLR you can get a close up photo two ways. One is to put on an extension tube to extend the focal length of one of your prime lenses such as a 50mm, or you can use a longer focal length zoom lens. With an extension tube set up you will be closer to the flower than you could normally get, but it will allow you to fill the frame with the photo and still maintain focus. It’s not so good when you’re photographing bees. The second way is to use a longer focal length zoom lens and zoom in, a much safer way to photograph bees.

Buy a field guide to flowers. It’s fun to identify them. Be a Leave No Trace photographer. While in the field be respectful of the plants around you and try your best to not crush them under your feet. It’s easy to look out away from you while getting the shot and not see the flowers below you.

As always, the technical details mean less than the action of actually getting outdoors with your camera. I may discuss a few minor details about the process but I always stress that it’s less about the process and more about the real reason.

Oregon Aurora

Oregon Aurora over Mount Hood 10/24/2011

Oregon Aurora - The Northern Lights in the Pacific Northwest - There once was a day when I was asked, "What would be your dream shot?" I replied that my dream shot or the impossible shot would be the aurora over Mount Hood, Oregon.

Since then Earth has passed into the peak of the solar cycle known as solar maximum and camera sensors have become much more sensitive to light allowing myself and many other photographers to be able to photograph the event when it happens, and it has happened quite a bit the last three years.  The first time that I photographed the aurora I had no idea that I had captured it in the shots that I had made the night when I went to photograph Trillium Lake, but when I looked at the photos when I had returned home I noticed a green glow on the horizon. Granted, it wasn't columns and ribbons of light, but a soft green glow. That was October 24th, 2011. Four years ago.

Since then I have been able to catch the Northern Lights in the area and snap a few photos. It's not as easy as just taking a chance and going and to get a photo. They only come after a solar storm and typically happen from a day or three afterward. I use an application for my phone called Aurora Notifier that signals me when the Kp level, the strength, of the aurora rises above 4Kp. Once that happens, if it's a dark night, I grab my gear and go.

Once out in the dark one must realize that at this latitude the light is dim and difficult to see with your eyes, but if it's a strong enough display you can see the light pillars dance on the horizon once your eyes are adjusted. You must get away from any sky whose darkness is diluted by any affect from town or city light. Even the light from the moon can wash out the northern lights. Choose a dark sky with a view toward the northern horizon. Set your camera on a tripod and set your aperture wide open to allow as much light in as possible. Then set your ISO high, it will vary depending on how dark the sky is or how bright the aurora is. Then set your shutter speed for at least 20 seconds. This long exposure is only for the aurora at this latitude. When photographing the aurora in the northern latitudes where the aurora is much brighter a much shorter exposure is called for.

Once you have your camera set take a shot and see how it looks on your preview screen. If it's too dark raise your ISO or extend your shutter time, from 20 sec to 25 sec for instance. If it's too bright lower your ISO. That should get you started. There are challenges that you will run into but in time you will get some northern light shots for your own.

Below is a collection of some of my Oregon Aurora photos. I hope that you enjoy them.

No color was added to any of these photos.

Enjoy!

Gary =0)

 

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