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regnaD kciN

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Gender: Male
Hometown: Maple Valley, Washington
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,175

Journal Archives

2015: A Look Back

Time for my (almost) annual photo retrospective. For those of you who haven't seen one of these before, I always have two rules in building this collection:

1) One photo per month.
2) None of which has been shown on DU before.

Normally, at this point, I gripe about how difficult it's been to choose this year, because I tend to post every good image I shoot here. For once, that isn't true -- I barely posted anything this year. The reason for that was that this was a most unusual year for nature photography in the Northwest. Remember the old Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times?" 2015 was the most interesting year yet.

As I noted in my last post, the weather up here this past year was decidedly weird, with January temperatures reaching into the 60s and 70s, with very little rainfall. This essentially "kick-started" the seasons, so everything was running well ahead of its usual schedule. There's a certain routine to Northwest nature photography, as detailed in this article I wrote several years ago. In particular, from the first daffodils in March to the last autumn leaves in November, you generally have a number of predictably-good subjects and locations for every month of the year. Not so in 2015! One example will suffice: normally, you can count on Mount Rainier's wildflowers reaching their height of color in middle-to-late August. This year, as hard as it was to believe, they had reached peak before Independence Day! The weather had a ripple effect throughout the year; the overcast days and high water levels ideal for photographing waterfalls and forest streams in May and June barely happened at all, with hot, cloudless days taking their place; middle-to-late summer featured dried-out landscapes (and smoke from massive wildfires); autumn, following that dry summer, was similarly disappointing. Finally, as if to catch up on all it had missed, December was one of the wettest months on record, with downpours, flooding, and dark gray skies making nature photography near-impossible.

Oh, well, as a prominent former Secretary of Defense may have put it, you shoot the year in nature you have, not the one you want...

What may be my favorite image of the year came from early on, in January. Some interesting, distant locale? Hardly -- this was taken from a highway overpass one morning, while returning from dropping my son off for classes at college, when the rising sun broke through the fog behind a grove of bare trees.

February was literally for the birds. (In past years, I have found it almost impossible to get a shot like this -- during the late winter Cedar River salmon run -- with anything other than a white, blown-out sky. The fact that we actually had clear weather was immensely-helpful in getting this imnage; unfortunately, it was also a harbinger of what was to come.)

From all accounts, the first sighting of a "flying saucer" came from an Air Force pilot flying near Mount Rainier. With lenticular clouds such as those found on this day in March, is that any surprise?

The Skagit Tulip Festival always touts itself as taking place in April, with "bloom dates by Mother Nature." Indeed; I can remember years when the month drew to a close with only the first patches of color emerging in the fields. By contrast, this image was taken on April 8th, at one of the last unharvested fields.

As covered in a previous post, May provided one appropriately-cloudy day to make the uphill trek to Fairy Falls in Oregon. Here's a different composition from that location.

With most of the usual June attractions dried out, I traveled to the coast for my first visit to Ruby Beach in several years.

On July 3rd, spurred by reports of an unbelievably-early wildflower bloom, I made it to Lower Tipsoo Lake for my only chance this year to capture Rainier wildflowers.

As noted, August was a particularly-unpromising month for photography. With little in the way of natural locales available, I wound up capturing the sunset at Mukilteo Lighthouse (you'll notice more sunset shots than usual this year -- when all else fails, the sky is something you can count on).

I tried visiting Upper Tipsoo Lake twice in September, when the forecast for sunset clouds looked promising. Unfortunately, the first time, smoke from the eastern Washington wildfires flowing over Chinook Pass was so thick, you could barely see Mount Rainier, as I posted here earlier. A week later, the smoke had cleared, and I got the sunset for which I'd been hoping.

The last two times I had visited Kuboda Garden in south Seattle, I had been 1) attacked by a pitbull and 2) had my car broken into. As you can guess, I hadn't been eager to return! However, as October drew to its end, reports were spreading through the Seattle photographer community that it was the one place where you could find good autumn color. Accordingly, I joined the throng, and wound up unbitten and unrobbed this time.

November took me for a second trip to the Gorge, where I found this scene along Starvation Creek.

December has been a washout (literally), except for the predictable subject of holiday lighting displays. In keeping with the main pop-culture story of this month, I'll close with an image I've titled "This Is Not The Santa You're Looking For." Here's to a better 2016!

Water Falling Over Things 2015: Part One (And Only)

For those who may have been wondering what happened to my annual (mostly-)Pacific Northwest waterfall series, here's the explanation in one sentence: This has been a godawful year in the PNW for shooting waterfalls (or pretty much anything else, but more on that later).

Put the blame on last year's truly weird winter, where 60- and 70-degree days were not uncommon, and precipitation was way below normal. That meant two things: first of all, there was a lot less water in rivers and streams; second (and I'll write more about this in my year-end summary, due in the next week), seasons seemed to be running at least a month ahead of usual. In other words, not only were waterfalls flowing at a lower level than normal, but the usual spring period when they're at their highest featured warm, clear, sunny summer-like days that are about the worst possible conditions for shooting waterfalls. It wasn't until late in autumn, when the clouds and rain returned, that conditions for decent (I said "decent," not "great") waterfall photography reappeared.

But, of course, that doesn't mean that there were no opportunities at all! Unfortunately, for most of spring, it did rather feel like it. Fortunately, we did have one appropriately-cloudy weekend when I was able to get down to the Columbia Gorge, and take the trail up (and up, and up, and up...) along Wahkeena Creek to one absolute gem I had never visited before, Fairy Falls.

However, that was pretty much the highlight for the entire spring (and summer). Unfortunately, late summer also brought massive wildfires that blackened tens of thousand of acres in Washington state, including the sites of a number of notable waterfalls in the north Cascades, some of which had been on my "must-visit" list for some time. We'll have to wait until next spring's snowmelt to find out whether any of them sustained long-term damage.

Only as mid-October approached did conditions improve, and I was able to capture this autumn scene at nearby Snoqualmie Falls (of "Twin Peaks" fame).

Finally, in November, things were looking up enough that I ventured out on another trip down to the Gorge on what turned out to be a day of steady, drenching rain. (By the time I got back to Seattle, three-plus hours later, my supposedly-waterproof parka was still feeling like it had come straight out of the washing machine.) This time, I avoided the standard tourist stops (which were overflowing with crowds) and headed east. First up was Emerald Falls, another fall I'd never visited before.

Then further east to Starvation Creek State Park, where the namesake Starvation Creek Falls was the first attraction.

From the park, I cut back west on a trail running parallel to the highway. Ephemeral Cabin Creek Falls is actually screened from the trail by a giant boulder (visible on the right edge of the image), but can be accessed by going off-trail a few yards.

Finally, Hole-in-the-Wall Falls is a striking location I'd visited before, but only in spring. As it turns out, autumn foliage adds a lot to the scene.

And that was it for this year. Hopefully, 2016 will be better -- certainly, the amount of rain and mountain snow we've already received gives a reason for optimism in that regard.

Smoky Mountain

This is probably going to stand as my "photo of the summer"...unfortunately.

Putting it bluntly, this has been a rotten year for photography here in the Northwest. A warm, dry winter meant no chance for snow-covered landscapes. Worse, it was followed by an unusually-hot, dry summer. (For those of you ready to invoke global warming, it should be noted that the weather this summer, caused mainly by unstable upper-atmosphere patterns, was actually far hotter than could be explained by the measurable effects of climate change.) While, normally, mid-to-late August is prime wildflower season on Mount Rainier, this year, the bloom had hit peak well before July 4th. Brown has replaced green throughout the Puget Sound region, with "Stage II" water conservation measures in place even in legendarily-rainy Seattle.

The only thing we haven't had a shortage of here in Washington this summer have been over-90-degree days (breaking the all-time record, including a period of close to two weeks straight) and...wildfires.

On Sunday, I went up to the Tipsoo Lakes on Chinook Pass, a location I've photographed often before. (I'm sure you've all seen photos of mine posted here.) Normally, at this location, Mount Rainier looks close enough to touch. On Sunday, it was only a ghost on the horizon.

Note that the smoke blanketing the scene is coming from fires over two hundred miles away, almost half-way across the state.

Fireworks - July 4th, 2015

As I believe I wrote last year at this time, I'm sorry to see the grand "fireworks thread" seems to fallen by the wayside in the Photo Group. In earlier years -- back in the days when such threads required a prominent "dial-up warning" in the subject header -- it was what Joe Biden would no doubt call a "big f***ing deal," with the thread growing as each time zone brought new submissions from DUers, and it became a challenge for those of us in the Pacific zone to get our work processed and posted before east-coast members had a chance to check in the next morning. I wonder what happened to all those former participants. Did they move on from being interested in shooting firework displays? Did the move on from DU? (Sadly, I can think of at least one or two cases where they have moved on from this earthly life...) At any rate, I would like to see this tradition resume; as an attempt to kickstart it a bit, here are a few of my images from earlier tonight, taken (as usual) at the Lake Wilderness celebration of the 4th in Maple Valley. I encourage anyone else with fireworks photos from this year to post them here as well.

O.K., I can't resist...

Having stuck to my one-photo-per-month rule above, here are a few "deleted scenes" from the retrospective's last few months.

In October, I also visited the famed Cedar Creek Grist Mill in southwest Washington, long a favored autumn location for Northwest photographers. Surprisingly, I seem to have never posted any of those images here, so let me make up for that oversight now.

If the first day of November brought images of flame-orange foliage, two weeks later, an arctic blast had brought winter to the region in no uncertain terms. An attempt to photograph a frozen-over Franklin Falls came to nought when I discovered that the approach to the falls was a solid slope of sheet ice. On the way back, however, I was able to capture these ice patterns along the edges of a still-flowing Denny Creek.

I thought long and hard about my December choice above, as I had several worthy images from that vantage point. I elected to go with the earliest, with the city and mountain bathed in "golden hour" light. However, I also thought it worth including this shot, taken the better part of an hour later, with Seattle lit up in holiday colors, Rainier still hovering, ghostlike, on the horizon.

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.

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