Columbia River Gorge Spring Wildflowers and Shallow Depth of Field Landscape Photography – In this day and age of hyper sharp, focus stacked photos, how do you feel about shallow depth of field landscape photographs?
When I’m photographing the wildflowers in the gorge I can almost always expect a wind or at least some sort of a breeze that tends to toss the flowers around. When you’re trying to increase your depth of field the breeze makes stopping down more difficult to do. An aperture lets more light in when open wider but the depth of field narrow, blurring the background. In many cases most photographers try their best to maintain a deep focus, but when that’s not possible the next step is to photograph multiple exposures at different focus points into the scene until frames are captured with each area in focus. After which these frames are combined to create a full focus from front to back.
But what if you are unable to focus stack or simply do not want to? In that case you will, most likely, deal with an area in the photo that’s out of focus. This can be used to a certain effect to create a feeling of depth. It can also be used to isolate an area in the scene that the photographer wants to make the subject of attention. In the case of the photo that is included with this blog post the foreground is in focus but it trails off to the soft glow of the sunshine in the background.
It’s not often thought of in landscape photography to use a shallow depth of field, but it’s used a lot in macro photography. But using a shallow depth of field is always an option that shouldn’t be completely ignored when the photographer is trying to be creative with their work. Does it work effectively every time? No, but there are times when we are challenged with capturing a scene, such as a windy day, when we can try to create something artistic instead of giving up and going home with nothing.
Sometimes super sharp focus from front to back isn’t necessarily the best approach to landscape photography. So keep this in mind on those windy or even on dark days. Perhaps it will eliminate a little stress or maybe produce a more creative image.
Well, it’s February and, so far, a mild Winter. If this trend continues we will have an excellent wildflower season. An early Spring has two consequences for photographers. I beautiful wildflower season and a lot of mosquitoes and ticks.
The Columbia River Gorge has many beautiful fields of flowers. One of the most popular locations by far is Rowena Crest. Rowena is known for its fields of lupine and balsamroot flowers. The location is usually over run by photographers and hikers who love these fields. Because of this the wear and tear on the terrain, as well as newly developed trails made by off trail walkers, it’s becoming pretty severe, especially in certain viewing areas. Beautiful foreground areas have been denuded and worn down to bare dirt.
Rowena is only one of the areas that are being affected by the increased use due to the popularity of photography today. Because of this I would like to remind everyone to do their best to Leave No Trace at these sensitive high use areas.
Walk on established trails. It’s difficult sometimes to stay on the trail when you see a nice clump but there’s a great chance that the trail is there due to its view and there will be many other flowers along the way. Once you mash the grasses down to resemble a trail, others will naturally follow.
Don’t pick the flowers. It may be tempting to pick a few flowers to create an arrangement, to turn their faces toward the camera or to simply bring home a bouquet. Please reconsider. Once they’re gone they’re gone for others and their ability to go to seed to supply fresh flowers next Spring is gone.
If you go with friends please limit the size of the group. The larger the group size the more apt for the group to leave the trail. A group of photographers in one place can cause a lot of damage. I’ve seen a group come in to photograph a place and completely stomp the area down.
Although controversial, consider the practice of not sharing the location to a pristine area that has yet to be affected by this high volume traffic damage. Some call this elitist, but in my mind it’s certainly not. If I’m able to explore to find my own little discoveries, others can make that same effort too. If I could trust my fellow photographers to actually be conscientious enough to not tear these areas apart, I’d be happy to tell the world. In the last 15 years of doing landscape photography I have seen so many of my favorite areas become overrun with non caring humans who have crowded these beautiful areas, tearing up the foregrounds that were once used in photos.
My message is simple and is not meant to be elitist. My message is simply to respect these places that we love to photograph. Preserve them for future photographers. Volunteer with local groups who are restoring or maintaining these areas. Keep these places from being closed down permanently. If you see another photographer off trail, consider mentioning in a nice way that they might consider staying on a trail. If you see others causing malicious damage, especially vandalism, consider reporting the action.
We all need to consider ourselves stewards of these lands. Most are public lands shared by all. Consider them something that you need to value and take care of.
Night photography is a lot of fun but can be a challenge, even on a bright moonlit night, but the results can be dramatic. The breeze made this shot a challenge, while the moon light threatened to shine too bright and cast too many shadows. I still had fun playing in the dark that night.
With about 50% moonlight I set up this shot at Loowit Viewpoint near the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The clouds above the mountain created a great fan like effect.
I used a short tripod to include the flowers in the foreground. Because I couldn’t stop down to get my depth of focus I used two photos; One for the foreground and another for the background. Once blended I finished with brightness and contrast adjustments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.