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Leave It Better

The Painted Hills in Oregon

I remember a quote that I had read when I was a boy that has stayed with me my whole life. Robert Baden-Powell is quoted as saying, “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it…”  He was referring to being a good human, but in this day and age of increased recreational use of the outdoors, it is being used more as a way to increase the awareness of the proper care and use of our public lands. “Leave it better than you found it” is the new “Leave No Trace”. Those of us who care must do more than leave no trace. We need to try to offset the effects of those who won’t.

When the coronavirus came it changed almost every aspect of our lives. People started working from home. The travel restrictions cancelled a lot of people’s vacation plans. Cruise ship and air travel became impractical, as did hotel and resort stays. Even movie theaters and public places such as restaurants saw a dramatic decrease in business or were closed completely. With these restrictions came a new form of vacation trend, visiting the open outdoors. Everyone, including many who had never spent time in Nature, headed out to hike and camp seeking something other than sitting inside until the coast is clear.

Hiking and camping have seen a huge surge. Lawrence Lujan, the United States Forest Service (USFS) public affairs specialist is quoted as saying, “The visitation that we typically saw on the weekend, we were seeing during the week. And the visitation that we typically saw during a holiday weekend, like the Fourth of July, we were seeing on weekends.” What once was a weekend activity became one that was being done any day of the week.

The inevitable problems that come with the increased use of recreational lands are mostly wear and tear, but there are those who aren’t familiar with how to care for the outdoors, or just don’t care, that create other problems. Off trail hiking in sensitive terrain, off road driving or parking in restricted areas, trampling vegetation, illegal or abandoned campfires, vandalism and leaving trash behind have all increased.

The increase of visitation to the outdoors isn’t all bad news. With more people coming out to these beautiful natural places comes the appreciation of these places by more people. Typically, when someone visits a special place, one that they connect with and fall in love with, they are more apt to put forth an effort to preserve it. Volunteerism has increased with the increase in visitation but it’s not enough to offset the effects of the public loving these places to death. Everyone needs to accept the responsibility to help care for the land that we use as we use it.

So how can we leave these places better? Many times it’s just a matter of carrying a trash bag in your pack to gather trash and litter others leave behind. Volunteering with organizations that help to develop and maintain these places is becoming essential, and popular. If you’re unable to volunteer, donating to these organizations helps them greatly – I support groups such as Trailkeepers of Oregon. We need to teach our children by setting an example for them to follow. Also raising the awareness of those that you associate with to adopt the Leave it better principle of outdoor use.

Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to care for these special places. It’s up to us to assume that responsibility and apply it to how we use our shared public lands.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

  • 1.       Plan ahead and prepare
  • 2.       Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • 3.       Dispose of waste properly
  • 4.       Leave what you find
  • 5.       Minimize campfire impacts
  • 6.       Respect wildlife
  • 7.       Be considerate of other visitors. 

Photographing The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights over Vista House and Crown Point Oregon

I will never forget the first time that I saw the Northern Lights. It was on my first trip to Alaska. I’m talking a real, bright, dynamic display straight above my head and not a faint glow off on the distant horizon like I have seen in Oregon in the past. In Oregon the Aurora could barely be seen with the human eye but was clear to the camera’s sensor after a relatively long exposure.

Trillium Lake Aurora
Trillium Lake Aurora

Photographing the aurora in Oregon required that I set the exposure at around 15-20 seconds on average because of how dim that they were. There was no real definition in the glow nor was there any discernable movement in the light. It was mostly a colorful glow.

Aurora near Hood River Oregon
Aurora near Hood River Oregon

My first real experience with the aurora was on a trip to Alaska to visit my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, who was living near Palmer in a cabin on the edge of the Knik River. My flight arrived at Anchorage at approximately 11pm. Darlene came to pick me up at the airport before we drove to her cabin, arrived there at around midnight. We were sitting in her dining room discussing the lay of the land that surrounded her home when I asked if it would be practical to take a midnight stroll to the river. She said that it would be fun so we grabbed our tripods and cameras and off we went.

The Northern Lights from the Knik River in Alaska
The Northern Lights from the Knik River in Alaska

It was a moonlit night, which would completely cancel any chances of seeing an aurora in Oregon, but I hadn’t even considered that there would be a chance of seeing it anyway. Off we went down a path and through the forest that lined the edge of the river. As soon as my eyes had adjusted to the night and we were about to emerge from the trees I could see a beautiful green light in the sky. When we got to the beach at the edge of the Knik River I was amazed by the scene before me. In front of us was the placid and mirror like water of the Knik River and just beyond in the distance stood the rugged peaks of the Chugach Mountains and above it all was the most incredible aurora. The lights were a vivid green and were moving like curtains in a soft breeze. Over my right shoulder was a moon illuminating the scene. The whole scene was reflected in the surface of the river that slowly flowed past in front of us. Of course I was completely blown away by the view and didn’t know if I should stand and watch it or divert my attention to photograph it. Of course I set up and proceeded to take some photos.

The Northern Lights over Anchorage Alaska
The Northern Lights over Anchorage Alaska

My approach to setting up to get the photos was to start with some longer exposures. That’s the approach that I would take for most any night photos, and was my experience with the aurora here in Oregon, but when I reviewed the photos and looked closely at them the definition of the curtains that I saw was gone. The aurora looked like just a big green cloud or something similar. Then it occurred to me that the lights were moving and were blending together during the long exposure. I thought that I should use what I’ve learned about photographing a moving creek. If I expose longer the water smears. If I want to freeze it I want ta fast shutter speed.

An aurora near Anchorage Alaska
An aurora near Anchorage Alaska

At that point I started to raise my ISO and shorten my shutter speed. I also made sure that I didn’t underexpose the shots. By making sure that the photos were exposed properly, and wouldn’t require me to raise the exposure in post, I would reduce the chance of ISO noise from using a higher ISO. That’s something that I can’t stress enough. It is better to use a higher ISO and to expose the photos properly than to use a lower ISO and underexpose the shots and then raise it in post. When you raise the exposure of an underexposed photo the noise will be greater than one with a higher ISO that was exposed brighter.

Upper Trail Lake Kenai Alaska
Upper Trail Lake Kenai Alaska

Next make sure that you check your exposure by using the histogram. There are two reasons to keep an eye on your histogram. The first is to make sure that you’re ETTR – Exposed To The Right, as much as possible and to make sure that you’re not over exposing the aurora. On exceptionally active auroras the light can be quite bright.

The aurora near Talkeetna Alaska
The aurora near Talkeetna Alaska

And so the short answer to the question about how to photograph the Northern Lights would be to use a shutter speed that is as quick as possible. I wouldn’t recommend exposing longer than 2-3 seconds. It’s acceptable to use a larger aperture opening (f/2.8-f.3.5) to bring more light in, which will help to shorten your exposure time. And last but not least don’t be afraid to raise your ISO. In the case of the aurora it would be better to have a more defined aurora than one that is smoothed together from a long exposure.

The last thing to remember is that although you’re using a quicker exposure to capture the lights, the exposure times will still be too long to hand hold so don’t forget to bring your tripod.

Summary:

  • Use as fast a shutter speed as possible
  • Use an open aperture
  • Raise you ISO
  • Use your histogram
  • Use a tripod
  • And don’t forget to take time to just watch and experience the incredible light show.
A selfie under the Northern Lights in Alaska
A selfie under the Northern Lights in Alaska

Visualizing The Photo – An Outdoor Wedding Portrait

Mount Hood Oregon Wedding Photography

I am glad to be known more for my landscape photography than I am for any other photography style or genre that I dabble in, although I certainly do not limit myself strictly to landscapes, it’s what drew me back to photography in the beginning. This brings clients to me who want a unique heirloom portrait of themselves in the outdoors. As a landscape photographer I have many locations in the back of my mind that would work for the photos that my clients expect from me.

This photo is an example of one such session. The clients wanted a photo of themselves with Mount Hood behind them. We were fortunate to have a window of time when the skies would be clear, and a view of the mountain could be had. I chose White River Snow Park on the east side of Mount Hood. The park is busy, but we did well, and I can always take out the errant person in the distance with a clone brush tool in Photoshop during post processing. We walked up to an area with some trees which gave the photo the feel of being at the edge of a wilderness forest with the incredible mountain in the distance. The scene gave a sense of solitude to the feel of the photos even though there were people all around us.

I took a series of photos varying my focal length from 24 millimeter to 35 millimeter according to the composition that I was trying to achieve. They all turned out fine, but I had a vision in my head of a photo with the couple in the foreground with Mount Hood looming large in the background. An effect that I could not achieve with a wide-angle lens. I had this idea before we arrived and as we drove into the parking area, I surveyed the location to find a place to get the shot. I knew this location very well and so I drove right to where I knew that I would have the best luck in creating the photo. We did not have to walk far, fortunately, as the couple were surrounded by snow and dressed in their wedding clothes.

Once we had finished the photos, and were about to return to our cars, I asked my clients to stay behind with my assistant while I returned to my car to change lenses and take a photo of them from there. They were up on a ridge of snow above where I had parked with Mount Hood positioned perfectly behind them. As I stood in the distance, I mounted my 200 mm lens to my Nikon D850 and then zoomed in to 160 mm to compose the frame. I then stopped the aperture down to f/14 for a clear depth of field. Once my assistant had posed the couple, I took the shot. I had used a method of enlarging the mountain, in this case five miles distant, to fill the frame to give the illusion that the subject is much closer to the background than they were. I and my clients were pleased with the outcome.

Understanding your location and the capability of your gear makes it easier to visualize a photo prior to arriving at the location. And visualizing your photoshoot prior to the day of the event will allow you to be more prepared and to be more relaxed once you go to work. In addition, knowing the capabilities of your equipment will allow you to understand basic concepts or methods such as lens compression to create more compelling photographs.

Quarantine Springs Photo Series

Quarantine Springs Series

I’m proud to announce my latest series that I’ve chosen to call “Quarantine Springs” to pay homage to this social isolation situation that we’re all caught up in.

Where I live it’s convenient for me to walk out my back door and down to the Sandy River. I have a hiking trail in my own backyard. I’m also so familiar with this area that I know of special places that I can drive to within a five mile radius from my home where I can just stop on the side of a back road, hop out and snap photos of the forest with nobody around.

This is one of those spots. Some of you might recognize this place from previous photographs that I’ve posted here that were so full of moss.

I’m fortunate, true, but I live where I do by design. I’ve sacrificed a lot of things that many are unwilling to live without so that I can have so much. And I do have so much, and I’m thankful for it all. Since I was a boy I knew that I wanted to live in the woods near a stream. that seed was planted a long time ago, and the fruit tastes pretty good right about now.

I just hope that my photos bring some sort of comfort to those who aren’t able to go out into the forest.

This is a series of 3 photos that are available for purchase at the links below.

Quarantine Springs – Scene 1
Quarantine Springs – Scene 2
Quarantine Springs – Scene 3

These are fine art photographs applied to your choice of either paper, canvas or metal in sizes:

  • 12″ x 18″
  • 16″ x 24″
  • 20″ x 30″

Please contact me for larger or custom sizes.

Intimate Landscape Scenes

Intimate Landscapes

Landscape photography has a reputation for requiring travel to epic corners of the earth to bring back photos of places that are rarely seen by most people. Or places that we’ve seen in a National Geographic magazine or a TV documentary. But from my point of view landscape photography as an art should include the photographer’s personal creative touch. It should be separate from documentary photography or marketing photos that are seen in magazines. It shouldn’t always need to depend on a location to send a message. I think that a beautiful artistic landscape photo can be taken along most any roadway if we learn how to read the details of the landscape. 

A photographer can consider that landscape photography could be reduced to two basic types, grand landscapes and intimate landscapes. A grand landscape typically is a territorial view, or one where there’s a view off into the distance that includes a lot within its frame, whereas an intimate landscape is typically one that’s a smaller part of a larger scene. A grand landscape is more apt to include a recognizable location and is more likely to be location dependent and in a lot of cases weather dependent, such as if it’s raining and the clouds are obscuring the view. In many cases the composition of such a grand landscape is fairly basic and simple to find. I feel that a landscape photographer really spreads their wings when they embrace intimate landscapes. The photographer isn’t necessarily looking at an obvious photo. Many times it requires imagination and a little time analyzing the scene to be able to look past the obvious to recognize what is typically overlooked. Be creative in choosing your subjects and be creative in how you compose and photograph them. 

Intimate landscapes typically include a small part of or a detail within a grander scene such as a small segment of a creek instead of the whole forest or maybe a section of the scene that is affected by some atmospheric conditions, think fog and sunlight as it filters through the forest, or maybe sunlight illuminating a curtain of moss that is draped across the limbs of the trees. I also look for designs and patterns within the scene, such as patterns or colors on rocks. An intimate landscape can include a part of the scene that, when extracted from the larger view and seen separate from the context of the larger scene, stands alone and on its own merits. Put the wide-angle lens away and use your zoom lens. Get closer to the scene.

It’s said, in painting as well as photography, that it’s not what’s included within the frame but what’s excluded that strengthens a composition. And this is very true in simplifying complex or, at first glance, generally unappealing scenery. Analyzing a scene and trying to find an interesting composition for a photo allows us to look deeper into the scene and to recognize what more that it has to offer. The first glance at a scene is like looking at a book’s cover. Looking further into a scene is like reading the book.

I tell my students that as artists we shouldn’t take the scenery at its first impression. In most cases we will take all it has to offer all at once. Instead take some time to stop and analyze the components of the scene and separate these smaller scenes and abstracts. Be creative and I’m confident that you will be able to stop along most any side road and find a photograph within sight of your car. No longer will a destination be a requirement to make a beautiful photo. You will be able to make a beautiful photo in between your forays to far off lands. Mastering composition of intimate scenes will also help to strengthen the compositions of your grand landscapes. 

Multnomah Falls Emerging From The Veil

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls through the Columbia River Gorge mist

Multnomah Falls is more than iconic and easily recognized by most anyone who sees it. Even if they don’t know the name, there’s a good chance that they’ve at least seen the waterfalls in a painting or a photo before.

I find that the one best variable in determining how beautiful the waterfall is on a particular day is the weather. And in the case of Multnomah Falls, sometimes bad weather is good. On this particular day the waterfall was emerging from a low layer of clouds and everything was lush and wet and green. The rain had dominated that day but it certainly didn’t hinder our photography.

Nikon D810 – 28mm – f/14 – 3 sec – ISO 64 – CP filter

Fantasy Forest

Fantasy Forest

A day in the Mt Hood National Forest

Here’s my first photo of 2020… and the first photo after my stroke, taken not far from where I live.

It’s kinda funny but while I was going through the stroke I was thinking of potential consequences from the damage that the stroke could cause and if I would still be able to go out and stand in a creek and take a photo. I’m serious. I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid of living but without photography. Thankfully I’ve been blessed to be able to go back to what I love with, perhaps, a new and fresh purpose.

This is a photo of a creek in the Mount Hood National Forest. The moss is in its Winter color and the leaves have left the trees, but the forest is no less beautiful than it is any other time of the year.

I had an exceptional this day with my good friend Chris Byrne and his friend Bronwyn. I needed this day so bad. I was back in my realm doing what I’m meant to do. I was so happy. Thank you Chris. I appreciate all that you do for me.

Christmas Valley Oregon

Christmas Valley Oregon

Christmas Valley Oregon – I love the diversity of landscape in Oregon. We have most everything that a landscape photographer could want to photograph. Oregon has a pretty awesome ocean coastline abutted against forested mountains and hills, valleys, glacial peaked mountains, sage and juniper high desert plains, low elevation desert mud playas and a canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon – Hells Canyon on the Idaho border. We also have windswept sand dunes, not just along the coastline, but right in the center of the state in Central Oregon.

Christmas Valley Sand Dunes in Central Oregon are some of the remnants of the catastrophic volcanic explosion of Mount Mazama just 7000 years ago that blew 1600 meters (almost a mile in elevation) of the 12,000 foot (3700 meter) mountain completely off, creating a caldera that contains the iconic 1,943 foot (592 meter) deep Crater Lake,  that we know today. The Christmas Valley sand is composed of ash and pumice that was ejected during the eruption. Although the dunes are majestic on their own, they’re only a small part of the evidence of an event that changed what we know as Oregon forever, and greatly affected the people who lived there.

What’s thought provoking to me is the fact that humans were in the area and were witness to this event. Incredibly preserved reed sandals have been unearthed in a cave near the little town of Fort Rock not far from Christmas Valley that have been dated from 9000 to 13000 years old. Life for the native Klamath people in the area changed forever after the massive eruption. Their legends tell of an angry battle between Llao, their “Chief of the Below World” who inhabited Mount Mazama (Giiwas in the Native American Klamath language), and his rival Skell, their “Chief of the Above World”. Llao fell in love with a beautiful Klamath maiden but she refused his offer of immortality if she would become his wife. This angered Llao and he rained rocks and fire down from the sky onto the people below. During the battle Skell tried to protect the people from above while standing atop Mount Shasta. The battle ended when Skell was able to force Llao back into the mountain. All of this commotion formed the crater on Mount Mazama which filled with torrential rains that followed the battle.

The mountain became sacred ground to the natives and the people were forbidden from going there. Some shaman forbade them from looking in the direction of the mountain. 7000 years ago, all of this would make perfect sense. The human catastrophe and the pure terror that they witnessed must have been something that we as modern humans can hardly understand.

Today we can still witness the effects of the massive geological battle that forms so much of the landscapes that we photograph. I feel that understanding the science as well as the legend of these areas works to enhance our appreciation for them and allows us to better translate their meaning and message through our photos.

The winds in Central Oregon blow with some regularity in this area and create dunes as well as ripples in the sand. The patterns that they create are perfect for a photographic foreground. Unique conditions such as a vivid sunrise or sunset can complete a breathtaking scene.

Christmas Lake, Christmas Valley and nearby Peter’s Sink and Peter’s Creek were named for pioneer stockman Peter Christman, who grazed his cattle there and had a house at Silver Lake, 18 miles (29 km) to the southwest. The name “Christmas” was an early corruption of the name Christman that became entrenched in the vernacular by 1900.

The Christmas Valley Sand Dunes are administered by the Bureau of Land Management and are easily accessible and are designated as a recreational area for campers and wanderers as well as OHV use. Camping areas are available for extended camping stays. If you find yourself wandering in Central Oregon exploring our amazing public lands a trip to Christmas Valley should be on your list of places to stop and experience. 

Cannon Beach Oregon Sunset

Cannon Beach Oregon Sunset

Some days I feel that I’m blessed with an inordinate amount of amazing light when I go out to make photos. I can’t explain it. I’m not boasting but am simply acknowledging how blessed that I feel. I’ve never been a very lucky guy. Perhaps I’ve been saving up my luck to be used where it will make the biggest difference in my life. Certainly photography has brought to me some of the most meaningful returns in all of my life.

I just spent a couple of days at the Oregon Coast with one of my repeat clients this last weekend. What I found remarkable about the reason why he wanted to spend more time with me was that, according to him, all of the photos that he took during his time with me stood out well over those that he took alone or with other guides that he had hired. I was almost speechless. All I could do was thank him while he was thanking me. 😀 “Aww, thank you.” “No, seriously, thank you”. “No I really mean it. Thank you.” “No, thank you.”…. 😀 lol

This was the one segment of time that he and I had planned where I was hoping, wishing and praying a bit that the light would arrive on cue, and it certainly did. We were hoping for the best at Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock and it certainly did NOT disappoint with this amazing Cannon Beach Oregon Sunset.

I’ve been confident of very little in my life, but I have great confidence in the work that I’m doing at this point in my life.