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regnaD kciN

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Gender: Male
Hometown: Maple Valley, Washington
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,018

Journal Archives

Water Falling Over Things 2014: Part IX (Autumn's End)

This week, remnants of "super-typhoon" Nuri drove far north into Alaska, joined with the polar jet stream, and plunged back down into the U.S., bringing record low temperatures to the north central states. As a side-effect of this storm, frigid air from Canada flowed into eastern Washington and Oregon, from where it was driven by pressure differential across the Cascade passes and Columbia Gorge to the coast. Where I live, in the Cascade foothills of Seattle, such windstorms are not uncommon, but this one was notable in its length and ferocity. Normally, these storms last twelve to eighteen hours; this one, however, gave us an amazing two-and-a-half days of steady, freezing winds, with gusts regularly reaching over 60 miles per hour. Aside from uprooted trees and widespread power outages, the windstorm, coming in the midst of a late fall, stripped what still remained of colorful foliage from trees throughout the Northwest, leaving bare limbs in its place. Once the storm had passed, so had autumn. Winter was on its way.

Earlier, before leaving Portland on the day of my Japanese Garden visit, I made a quick side-trip to the Columbia Gorge, guessing -- correctly -- that it might offer my final opportunity for fall shooting. My first stop was, as for so many other photographers, Multnomah Falls. Although the color wasn't as widespread as I've experienced on previous visits, a pair of big-leaf maples were ideally placed to provide foreground counterpoint for the upper fall.

I had just enough time before sundown to visit Horsetail Falls, the other easily-accessible waterfall in that stretch of the Columbia Gorge Highway. By now, the drizzle had increased to the point where tilting the camera up to capture the entire 100-plus feet of the fall would be impossible; any viewpoints would have to be level or tilted downward. Fortunately, once again, a big-leaf maple was in just the right position to serve as a colorful foreground accent to the lowest portion of the fall, captured with water-smoothing slow shutter speeds.

Finally, I descended into the bowl of Horsetail itself. The spray here was an almost-steady mist, and far too may of my attempts wound up being spoiled by water on the lens. But I was able to capture one image where the spray didn't interfere, and which, for me served as an almost-perfect "farewell to autumn" - where the only foliage consists of fallen, but still colorful, leaves floating in the pool beneath the fall.

It was a fitting final image for a season that, although initially seeming somewhat of a disappointment, wound up providing some truly-memorable ones. Now - on to winter.

Water Falling Over Things 2014: Part VIII (Deceptively Forgotten?)

(I'd been meaning to post this for some time, but other matters, and other subjects, got in my way. I'm finally getting around to it because I have later WFOT images to post, and wanted this to be in the proper chronological order.)

I've photographed Deception Falls along Stevens Pass many times before. It was literally one of the first subjects I photographed during my "digital photography renaissance," and long-time DUers will, no doubt, remember seeing several images from there. Nonetheless, I hadn't been back for many years. On the way back from a scouting trip to Tumwater Canyon over a month ago, I decided to pay another visit.

The big difference was that, in the past, I had been there at or around high-water for the year, and had tried, as usual, to capture the fall using the slow shutter speeds that generally make waterfalls most photogenic. This time, the falls were at lower flow, and the general impression was of speed rather than power. Therefore, I opted for a slightly different approach, getting as close as possible to the lowest section of the upper fall by shooting at a lower vantage point than usual, and choosing a slightly-faster shutter speed, to get more of a sense of motion while still providing some smoothing effect.

Here's a detail from the lowest bend; as you can see, I used an even faster shutter speed to capture even more motion.

Autumn in Tumwater Canyon

The fall foliage season, now drawing to a close, turned out to be a disappointment in much of the Pacific Northwest. Blame the hot, dry summer, and the record high low temperatures (that's not a typo - daily low temperatures were abnormally high) throughout early autumn, which prevented the frost that could jump-start fall colors. But, as happens in years like this, the foliage didn't turn together. Instead, we had a "slow-motion autumn" where trees already gone to dead, brown leaves group with neighbors who are still green; there was never a point where much of the foliage was at a photogenic peak at the same time.

But there are always places where you can count on good fall color, and Tumwater Canyon, north of Leavenworth on the east side of the Cascades, is generally one such place. This year, even Tumwater was a bit subdued -- but a subdued season there is still equal to much of the Northwest at its best. I made three trips to the Canyon this autumn; the first was a scouting mission before the leaves had turned enough to be worth photographing, while the second two caught different stretches of the Canyon as their foliage reached its peak.

About halfway down from Stevens Pass, Winton Road branches off from Route 2; stands of aspen were, as usual, providing great opportunities for long-lens "texture" shots.

Further south, the highway meets the roaring Wenatchee River. The northernmost part of this area remains blackened by a forest fire from earlier this summer. But, once past the burned-out area, there are many pullouts where you can walk down to the river (or at least close enough to it) and capture autumn colors fronted by rushing waters.

And, even when leaves have fallen in some places earlier than one might want, they still leave the opportunity for "intimate landscapes" underfoot, particularly when framed by the speckled, water-polished stones of the river-bank.

There's more color to be found west of Leavenworth along Icicle Creek, and south through Blewett Pass...but those will have to wait for another autumn - hopefully, an even-more-colorful one.

On Puget Sound

Some images from a late summer afternoon spent on the water...

Independence Day Fireworks

You know what I really miss here on DU? The group thread of fireworks photos that would appear in the Photo forum every July 4th. The posts would arrive in order of time zones, from east coast to west, as more and more members added their images, and we here on the west coast would usually be the last ones finished, and have to pull an all-nighter to make sure our photos were posted before dawn. I remember several years where the now no-longer-with-us superconnected and myself would shoot the same display somewhere in the Seattle area, then spend the rest of the night working away on adjacent laptops until we could submit our contributions to the thread. Of course, with so many DU photographers submitting images, the thread would invariably come with a "DIAL-UP WARNING" designation, back in the days when some of us still used dial-up modems to access the Internet.

Well, in the absence of a group thread, here are my images, taken, as has been the case for the past few years, at the Lake Wilderness display in Southeast King County. No need for a dial-up warning anymore, but maybe I should include a "long thread warning." This year, an overcast sky meant enough ambient light that I probably won't be able to offer any of these as prints, but some might be of interest all the same. It's reassuring to learn once again, that, even after a number of years, I'm still learning ways to improve my fireworks photography -- I probably should turn that into an article on my website someday. Anyway, I'd encourage everyone to add their fireworks photos from this July 4th to this thread, so we can revive the tradition of the group thread, even if these will be appearing after dawn on the 5th for about half the country.

Water Falling Over Things 2014: Part VII (Punch Bowl Falls...now with extra poll!)

(The majority of this post, with the exception of the postscript, is adapted from the latest journal entry on my website.)

Punch Bowl Falls, in Oregon's Columbia Gorge, has long been one of the meccas for Northwest landscape photographers. It's also been one that, for one reason or another, I had never visited. It was on my "must shoot" list for the past couple of years, but vision problems got in the way. With eyesight renewed, I made Punch Bowl Falls one of my top goals for "making up for lost time" this spring.

There was only one problem: for more than a decade, the view of the falls had been partially blocked by a fallen log. This log had finally been washed away in the winter storms of 2009, and Punch Bowl Falls was at its best once again. So it remained, literally until just before my planned trip back in April. The Thursday before that weekend, I logged onto the Portland Hikers' website to check conditions, only to read that an entire tree had toppled into Eagle Creek just in front of the falls in a storm a couple of weeks beforehand. While this tree, unlike the previous log, was not cutting a diagonal swath across the waterfall itself, a twisting and unattractive branch protruding from the trunk stood in front of the fall, blocking it from every imaginable tripod position available within the "punch bowl" itself.

I didn't make the trek after all that weekend, but, on my second trip to the Gorge this year, hiked Eagle Creek to the falls this past weekend. I did so, in part, after hearing from fellow Northwest photographer Mark Metternich that Punch Bowl Falls was still worth visiting.

When I arrived, I found, as expected, the fallen tree in front of the falls. I also discovered, with the proper camera positioning, that you could place the majority of the branch along the right side of the fall, instead of in front of the water itself.

While this framing is better than simply having the entire branch block the waterfall, it still left something to be desired, in my opinion. Interestingly, what I found even more annoying than the branch is the broken-off piece of moss-covered bark jutting up from the tree to the right of the fall; it tends to catch the light and draw one's eyes away from the image's center of interest.

One thing that Metternich had mentioned, in his Facebook post referenced above, was that it looked to be possible to "clone out" the branch in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. I was personally dubious; while I have used such techniques to remove visual annoyances like telephone lines or road signs in previous images, the objects I have removed using those techniques have been relatively small. Certainly, that branch was far too big and visually-intrusive to be successfully removable, wasn't it? As it turns out, I had underestimated the power of the latest editions of "digital darkroom" tools. With a lot of work with the spotting brush in Lightroom, and a final touch-up in Photoshop, I found I was able to, indeed, remove all traces of the branch (and the aforementioned bark).

But, needless to say, this opens up a whole new can of ethical worms. (Is it possible for worms to be ethical?) As I noted above, cloning out distracting elements has been a common photographic practice for years, and not just in digital photography; witness the retouching of prints and even negatives in past years. But that had generally been reserved for small, distracting patches that were peripheral to the image's center of interest. Now that it's possible, at least in some limited circumstances, to remove large distractions from the focal point of a photograph, the question immediately arises, "is it wrong to do so?"

Before proceeding, I'd like to first note the irony here: for decades, a common belief among many was that "photography cannot be art," because it was, supposedly, merely a bare, unyielding reproduction of elements already present at the scene, as opposed to the creative vision of a painter or sculptor. However, as capabilities increased for creative manipulation of photographs in post-processing (and, to be honest, some of these techniques have been around, and used by landscape photographers, since the early days of Ansel Adams; it's just that such capabilities have increased by an order of magnitude since the advent of digital photography and computer processing), the paradoxical claim has arisen that, if a photograph includes anything that diverges from that bare, unyielding reproduction of elements already present at the scene, it's somehow "dishonest." (Sometimes, both of these positions are held by the same would-be "critic," which is enough to make one's head spin.)

Also, I think we need to recognize that most landscape photography distorts reality in ways no longer recognized, simply because such ways are so common. Certainly, waterfall photography is among the most blatant cases here, as the slow shutter speeds almost always employed in order to render the falling water as a soothing, graceful blur mean that the image will already look unlike the scene in real life. (In reality, the water flowing over Punch Bowl Falls takes the form of a rapid, choppy pulse that simply wouldn't photograph as nicely with a higher shutter speed.) Similar uses of shutter speeds to blur the motion of waves or clouds are also common. And, while time can be distorted in such ways, so can space; the effect of most wide-angle lenses favored by landscape photographers is to provide a field of vision and perspective that people simply cannot see with their own eyes while looking at any particular scene, while telephotos can radically distort the scale of the background relative to the foreground. Photography has almost always manipulated reality in some ways -- the only issue in most cases is when the form of the manipulation is, due to technology, of a newer and less-familiar type than those with which we've grown so familiar that we no longer notice them.

Having said all that, the question remains: is removing large, distracting elements, such as is done here, thus creating a scene that, to be blunt about it, doesn't exist in real life, unethical or dishonest? I'm going to get irritatingly vague here, and say that, for me, "it depends." What is the intention of the photograph? Is it to provide information, or a sensory experience? If the former, if the primary goal of a given photograph is to show to viewers what a location actually looks like, then it's obviously disingenuous to render the scene in a way that visitors there simply couldn't see for themselves. However, if the primary goal of that photograph is to appeal to the eyes and senses, to create a mood or stir the heart through the beauty of (possibly-idealized) nature, I don't see the objection to presenting the "ideal vision" the photographer may have had in mind when he or she chose to capture that image. It would be a little like complaining that the real night sky over Saint-Rémy-de-Provence never looked anything like Van Gogh's representation of it in The Starry Night. My only qualm would be in the matter of how the image was being presented -- if there's any chance of the image being taken for a documentary photograph rather than an artistically-modified one, the nature of the modification should be made explicit to viewers.

Therefore, my current inclination is to offer the modified images, as befits their intention as "visions" rather than journalistic documents, as prints on my site's Image Gallery, with each clearly captioned as having been retouched. At the same time, the unmodified versions will be made available in the site's Stock Library, since images from that collection are more intended for a "documentary" purpose.

At the same time, I welcome comments on my proposed solution, along with the greater issue of what should and should not be permissible in nature photography. For the convenience of DUers, I've included a poll below.


On the way back, I stopped by Metlako Falls, which I had photographed earlier this spring. I had already decided I wouldn't go to the trouble of taking any further photographs here unless, this time, there was mist in the gorge surrounding the fall...which there was.

(While it's a nice image, I find my photographs from the last trip, where the foliage was fresher and the flow of the fall much stronger, to be preferable. But I thought I should include it for the sake of completeness.)


POLL QUESTION: Is such manipulation of photographs permissible?

To Helen back...

My only previous visit to Mount St. Helens took place in late summer five years ago, and my reaction at the time was that the area surrounding the volcano was still oppressively dead. At the time, I found myself wishing I could return during the early-summer wildflower bloom, in the hopes that their color would transform the landscape. Hearing that the bloom was taking place early this year, I made the journey there on the solstice, a blue-sky day in which there was only significant cloudiness over one small part of the Pacific Northwest. Anyone care to guess which place that was?

For awhile, I thought I might have to outfit my camera with a "My photographer went to Mount St. Helens, and all I got was this lousy photograph of an Indian Paintbrush" shirt.

But, as I waited (and debated with myself whether, if I left now, I'd be able to make it to the coast before sunset), the cloud cover began to transform itself -- first, into a display I could only describe as "Cloud Eruption."

Gradually, the clouds began to dissipate...

...and, soon enough, were gone altogether...

...giving me some great photo opportunities along the Boundary Trail.

On my way out of the park as evening fell, I stopped at Loowit Viewpoint for a closeup of Paintbrush "under the volcano."

I understand that, while the past winter's weather meant the wildflowers are early this year, it also means they aren't as plentiful as in years of a spectacular bloom such as 2012. Needless to say, if that's the case, I'm looking forward to returning in future years!

A Pocket Rainforest in Rainier's shadow

Most residents of and tourists to the Pacific Northwest have heard of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, but fewer know that Washington boasts a second temperate rainforest, this one just a ninety-minute drive from Seattle.

The Carbon River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is found in the northwest corner of the park, far from the main tourist entrances on the south and east sides of the mountain. Until almost a decade ago, visitors could use the rough, unpaved Carbon River Road to drive as far as Ipsut Creek campground, from where they could access the Wonderland Trail around Rainier; they could also stop along the way to hike to places like Chenius Falls, Ranger Falls, and Green Lake. Sadly, heavy winter floods in 2006 damaged Carbon River Road, and it has never been rebuilt. The road now closes at the park entrance, making those destinations a much-longer hike away. But, at that entrance, you can find one of the treasures of Mount Rainier: the Carbon River Rainforest.

I will admit that before the 2006 floods, I used to drive by the rainforest, barely giving it a second glance. My mistake. I returned there recently, and found myself wishing I had done so long before.

The Rainforest Trail used to be a short loop through the forest; smaller than the Hall of Mosses and Spruce trails of the Hoh, it ran merely a half-mile, mainly on a nicely-constructed boardwalk, winding along and crossing June Creek. Nature has taken its toll here, too, and a bridge on the loop is now out (and looks unlikely to be rebuilt soon), turning the loop into a couple of even-shorter out-and-backs. No matter; what visitors to both rainforests will soon realize is that this is, for all purposes, a "mini-Hoh" -- much smaller, yes, but containing all the beauty of the larger, more-famous rainforest. It also struck me that there are, if anything, more nice photographic compositions readily available from the trail here. I know I'll be back...often.

Water Falling Over Things 2014: Part VI (Victor Falls...vanquished photographer)

After the long-distance WFOT extravaganzas of the past few weeks, I was feeling like staying closer to home for my next venture, and decided to check out Victor Falls on Fennel Creek, found (rather surprisingly) in the Seattle exurb of Sumner.

I had seen photographs of Victor Falls before, but it was only after visiting them myself that I realized one common denominator of those photographs: they were apparently all taken in winter, or at least before the leaves had emerged on the maple saplings directly in front of the falls.

This was the best angle I could get on Victor Falls from the upper path, one which would be more appropriate under the category of "Water Falling Behind Things 2014."

There was also a lower path, but that was no improvement, to put it mildly. This was the photo I could get from the end of that lower path, a photo that required me to place the tripod on a narrow shelf at the very end of the path, with me standing to the side of the camera instead of behind it, and using the hinged "live view" monitor to compose, while I used my other hand to hold back even more maple branches.

Fortunately, Fennel Creek upstream of the falls was scenic enough to make up for my disappointment at not being able to get a clear image of the falls themselves.

Water Falling Over Things 2014: Part V (May's Grand Finale)

In the Pacific Northwest, the last week of May is the traditional end of "waterfall season," at least for the lowlands, as the heavy rains that guarantee roaring falls become a thing of the past. Therefore, I wanted to "go out with a bang," and decided, since the forecast for north-central Oregon was for solid cloud cover (as I would soon be reminded yet again, forecasts do not always correspond to reality), to spend Memorial Day at a favorite for Northwest waterfall-lovers, Silver Falls State Park, a place featuring ten waterfalls, and one I had only previously visited in autumn.

As it turns out, not one of my better ideas.

You see, while the falls were running full, so were the parking lots, as practically half the population of Portland, not to mention Eugene and Salem, were apparently out communing with nature by mugging for innumerable cameraphone snapshots while standing under waterfalls, clad in either white sweats or the gaudiest-possible neon Aeropostale t-shirts. And, yes, I said under waterfalls, as most of the falls in the park feature trails cut behind the fall itself, guaranteeing Disneyland-like lines behind most of the photographic attractions of the park. Between the tourists and the not-exactly-as-forecast partly-sunny conditions we wound up with, finding a point with clouds-and-no-crowds became a quest for the sort of "critical moment" Henri Cartier-Bresson never imagined.

The expedition began auspiciously enough at Winter Falls. As you can no doubt tell from the name, this fall is truly impressive during the winter rainy season; while it was less-so now, it was certainly remained imposing, if a bit problematic photographically, as the only angles available are from the side, looking up at a patch of bright sky.

About a mile down the trail, I got to Middle North Falls, considered one of the photographic highlights of the park. While it certainly was that, it was also the spot where I began to realize the scope of my challenge here, as tourists tended to not only go behind the falls but, once there, settle in for several minute's worth of basking in the experience, taking their own pictures with point'n'shoots (using the obligatory camera flash to light up several acres of foreground, of course), modeling for family members in flexing-muscle or "I'm King of the World!" poses, etc., etc. And, when they finally opted to move on, so did the clouds, and the scene would be bathed in ugly, high-contrast sunlight. As a result, I took far longer than planned standing there at the viewpoint, waiting less-than-patiently for people to leave and clouds to arrive. Finally, a few moments' respite provided me with the chance I needed.

My next stop was South Falls, the tallest fall in the park, and here the problems of visiting on Memorial Day really hit home, as this fall is not only the most popular, but the most-accessible from the main parking area. How bad was it? Take a look.

For the record, there are at least twenty-seven people standing under the falls in this otherwise-nice shot. And, when you combine them with the irregular wooden fence on the trail and some other features of the underside of the fall, it's clear that there's no way to Photoshop the crowd out of the image. And this wasn't even the most extreme -- in an image taken a few minutes after this one, I count at least forty-three tourists clumping under the waterfall.

Leaving South Falls for the moment, I headed down the trail another mile to Lower South Falls, hoping that the distance would mean fewer people. As it turned out, I was only part-way correct, as there was a line down to the falls that would rival anything this side of the Magic Kingdom. Fortunately, these people were more interested in looking at the falls from the front than spending time under them so, once I realized that what would normally be the best viewpoint for photos would give me a steady line of tourists' upper torsos in the frame, I decided to stay higher up the trail, where any such visitors could be cropped out of the frame.

Returning to South Falls, I found that the crowd behind the waterfall had abated only slightly, and those remaining had apparently decided to compensate for it by spending even more time underneath the waters. What to do? Well, the only option was to, literally, "go over their heads"; to zoom in for a mid-detail shot of the top of the fall, cutting out the Madd(en)ing Crowd. Fortunately, I was able to come up with a very satisfying composition.

When I last visited the park in autumn, one of my favorite images came from Upper North Falls, and I was eager to see what it would look like in spring coloring. Unfortunately, I found that, since my last visit, several fallen trees had blocked-up the falls, making them significantly less photogenic. Also, at this point, the clouds began to dissipate, leaving me dealing with harsh sunlight. This was not so much of a problem at Upper North Falls, due to the falls themselves being partly shadowed by the canyon wall.

However, when I arrived at North Falls, the problem was obvious: the falls were in direct sunlight, making proper slow shutter-speeds impossible. Given that I had already taken a number of good autumn shots there, and that North Falls, more than any other, was dependent on fall foliage for maximum effect, I decided to content myself with a "record shot" of my sixth waterfall at the park.

I may have been done with WFOTourists, but it was scarcely the end of my day. I decided to head north into the Santiam State Forest, to the trail at Butte Creek, site of two supposedly quite photogenic falls, whose valley placement would allow them natural shade from late-afternoon sunlight. After the last frustrating stops at Silver Falls, I was determined to close out the day with a satisfying waterfall photo or two, or die trying.

As it turned out, I almost wound up doing both.

To quote from Gregory A. Plumb's Waterfall Lover's Guide - Pacific Northwest, the directions to Butte Creek are as follows: "From the turn for the all-terrain vehicle area (described earlier), continue 0.5 mile, then turn left onto another gravel road (not signed). Travel 2 miles down this route to a turnout to the left. A sign now exists at the trailhead." I had read that the "gravel road" in question, Forest Service Road 400, had been closed to the public for most of the spring due to logging, and had just been reopened two days before. What I did not know was that the first mile's worth of the road had been completely clear-cut, and, with the slope denuded of trees, what I was faced with was a steep, narrow, slippery gravel road with about a quarter-mile plunge off one side, and an almost-ninety-degree bend partway down, where any sliding on the loose gravel could send one skidding right off the edge...not that it was much more secure the remainder of the descent. Needless to say, there was no guardrail, nor any place to turn around safely, so that, even if you thought better of it once you saw the drop, you had no alternative but to continue all the way down and then be faced with ascending the same road. This might have been no big deal with a 4WD, but, in my passenger car, it was one of the most white-knuckle drives I've ever experienced, and one I would not recommend to others. Eventually, I made it past the clear-cut area and into the forest, where the trailhead was as free of tourists (I only encountered one other family of hikers) as Silver Falls had been full of them.

An additional surprise was in store at Butte Creek Falls. Plumb's guide at least specifies that "The viewpoints are beautiful, as they are from the top of unguarded rock outcrops." with an added "Be careful." Having dealt with unguarded outcrops many times before, I was unfazed by the description, until I got there and realized that said outcrop was really a rough ledge, about eight feet wide, sticking out into the canyon for thirty or forty feet, with a hundred-and-fifty-foot drop on either side. I'm just glad I chose to bring my trekking poles along on this trail as, without the additional support, I would have opted to turn back at this point. However, with the poles, I was able to gingerly maneuver myself to the end of the ledge where I had a clear view of the falls.

Fortunately, the route to the second fall, Upper Butte Creek Falls, was somewhat less-"interesting," and a shaft of sunlight broke through the forest above the falls at just the right moment.

Then it was another white-knuckle trip back up F.S. Road 400 (with the sun in my eyes in the crucial section this time). Needless to say, I breathed a big sigh of relief when I got to the top of the clear-cut and returned to normal roads for the four-hour drive home.

While I'm certainly not done with WFOT for the year, this marks the end of high season until autumn. I think it safe to say I got my money's worth!
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