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. 😀
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 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.
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.
A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon by Greg Vaughn
I’m often asked of locations around Oregon where my photos are taken. After reading through Greg Vaughn’s excellent book Photographing Oregon – A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon I am glad to know that I have a single answer for them. “Buy the book”. And this is The Book when it comes to Oregon’s landscape photo opportunities.
Not only is Greg an excellent writer he’s also an wonderful photographer. his book is filled with easy to understand descriptions of how to get to “the beautiful locations found in coffee table books, posters, calendars, and travel magazines”.
“Photographing Oregon is a comprehensive guide to photographing the natural wonders throughout the state of Oregon. With more than 300 pages of information and over 240 color photographs, the book tells not just where to go, but also when to be there for the best conditions, and includes suggestions on how to capture the best photos in locations all over this beautiful state.” Each location has a description of the location, a photo that represents nicely the area as well as directions and estimated time of travel.
It’s my opinion that every landscape photographer should have a copy of this book in their backpacks. Even if you’re not a photographer and just enjoy exploring all that Oregon has to offer in the form of scenery, you should have this book.
Ask for Photographing Oregon at your favorite local bookseller either by title or ISBN # 978-0916189181. You can also order the book, in either print or Kindle version, from Amazon.com.
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.
The Fortress of the Night Sky – The Dee Wright Observatory at Night
The car doors closes with a thud and the interior light’s soft glow that’s been allowing us to prepare our gear turns off in an instant leaving our senses to rely on sound as all sight goes away in the black of the night. I put my arm out to reach for Darlene as we both let our eyes adjust to the night sky. The summer breeze wisps softly around us as the stars appear as our eyes adjust. Darlene was the first to break the silence when she lets out a sigh as the Milky Way appears in front and above us. “Wow” is all she says.McKenzie Pass Oregon
We lock arms and shoulder our gear, turn on our headlamps and walk into the night and up the path jagged volcanic rock bordered path to the rocky structure that is the Dee Wright Observatory on the McKenzie Pass through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.
The structure was built in 1937 and is made from the lava rock chunks that make up the surrounding area. The observatory sits amid a barren rocky ancient lava flow very much like the black basaltic a’a lava flows in Hawaii. Because it’s made from the area on which it sits it looks as if it is rising from chaos to be assembled in a wholly organic yet orderly fortress like structure. it was made as a place where people can come to view the beauty of the area from a majestic prominence, and yet we couldn’t see past the light of our lamps.
The arched openings showed the warm flickering light from a candle that was placed inside by another visitor for the purpose of making photographs. How fortunate we think as we walk up to get a view of the Milky way in the south sky shooting up and over the observatory.
I’m fortunate that Darlene likes the night time outdoors as much as I do. We decided to pose her inside of one of the arched openings. We get a few shots until the other photographer takes her candle and leaves at which point we start using a flashlight. We light paint the outside for a while. We go inside and we light paint inside for a while. We’re taking shots, checking them out on the backs of our cameras, adjust and try to perfect it before moving on the the next shot. We’re like kids in a playground.
We finished the shoot on the observation deck at the top of the structure, in the center of which stood a raised pedestal with a 36″ diameter bronze azimuth-like “peak finder” compass. On its face are lines that help the observer find prominent landmarks, such as the incredible volcanic peaks of the Central Cascade Mountain Range. Belknap Crater from which the lava which flowed over the area is where the rock that made the lava flow came from. Then there is North, Middle and South Sister Mountains to the south, the amazing jagged peak of Mount Washington, the scenic Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, to the north and Black Butte to the east. Several more are marked on the circular bronze disc with an arrow pointing in their direction.
I light paint the disc as a foreground for a Milky way photo and then we decide to just turn off the lights and look at the stars for a few minutes before heading back down the rock path and back into the glow of the light of the car.