When I was on the Oregon coast for a few days in 2009 I essentially subscribed to the notion that there was no point in getting out to the beaches and the overlooks at sunrise.  This was correct for the specific time that I was on the coast in July of that year because a thick marine layer fog was in place every morning, meaning there was no sunrise.  That was true of each of the four mornings I was on the coast; I actually got up early on three of those occasions, once because I hoped to shoot a sunrise–facing east, at Tillamook Bay–once because I wanted to shoot at Charleston Harbor in heavy fog and once because I had a long drive to make and I was trying to preserve time.

But at no point did I anticipate shooting coastal perspectives, from beach level or overlooks, at sunrise, marine layer or no marine layer.  It was sunset that I was looking forward to (and those were almost invariably killed by fog as well, but I digress) because, after all, this was the West Coast.  And there’s certainly no point in going to the trouble of shooting West Coast beaches or other coastal scenes at sunrise.

What utter drivel.

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

On this year’s excursion to coastal Oregon (and California), I entered with a completely different mindset and was out before sunrise every single morning.  For one thing, even if the most dramatic skies were likely to be to the east, the beautiful soft light of dawn would be present regardless of the direction I was facing.

South Beach Moonset, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach Moonset, Curry County, Oregon

Additionally, I’ve learned over the years that to ignore happenings in the sky in the direction opposed to sunrise (or sunset) is to potentially miss some beautiful nuanced scenes.

Dawn Light, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Dawn Light, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s the subtle beauty of a place that retains a lasting impact.  I’m as susceptible to the pull of going with the hope of experiencing a dramatic sunrise (or sunset) as anyone, believe me.  When they happen they can be absolutely breathtaking and it’s extremely satisfying to capture these moments photographically.  But…

Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

10-plus years ago, I frequented a landscape forum on a popular nature photography site.  Dozens of landscape images were posted on this forum every single day and there was one photographer who regularly posted some of the most dramatic images I’ve ever seen–right up to the present.  Extravagant, masterful sunsets reflected in pristine lakes fronting towering, snow-capped peaks;  once in a lifetime sunrises over seastack-filled beaches with huge crashing waves; fiery orange-red-yellow streaked skies above gorgeous, flower-choked meadows.  You get the idea.  Every shot from this guy was like that, and I was as awed by them as the next viewer.  These images were phenomenal.

Nesika Beach at Sunrise, Curry County, Oregon

Nesika Beach at Sunrise, Curry County, Oregon

What I discovered, over time, however, was that these images didn’t stay with me emotionally.  Their impact lasted about as long as my first view of them.  After being popped in the face, so to speak, they faded from significance–at least for me.  There was an awful lot of sizzle, but very little steak.

Secret Beach Morning, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Secret Beach Morning, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Upon reflection over the years, I came to the conclusion that what was going on with these photographs was that the early reaction was to the “wow” parts of the image, not really to the underlying scene itself.  What I’ve come to discover is that the images that tend to have a lasting impact on me–be they the images of others or my own–are those depicted with a subtlety that allow the essence of the scene itself to carry the day, rather than those that are masked by “trappings,” for lack of a better term.

Whaleshead Creek Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Whaleshead Creek Sunrise, Whaleshead Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

For that reason, if no other, I think many of my best coastal images from this trip came from sunrise shoots.  Don’t get me wrong, I was out at sunset at every opportunity as well, and I had some great experiences at the end of the days on the coast, but, somehow, I think I’ll end up with more lasting memories of my sunrise experiences.  Good thing I got up early each day.

Battery Point Lighthouse from Crescent City Pier, Del Norte County, California

Battery Point Lighthouse from Crescent City Pier, Del Norte County, California

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 15, 2015

Day 3: Northward Ho

Day 3 dawned much as its predecessor had–clear skies and a north wind which was forecast to grow stronger as the day moved along.  I decided to spend the day’s sunrise time back at Myers Beach–which I’d visited on each of the two previous days.  With no expectation of a sky with clouds, I couldn’t see going to the trouble of venturing somewhere more distant and/or with more difficult access.  Myers Beach was no more than 10 minutes from where I was staying and access to the sand was a simple matter of descending a couple of hundred feet on a trail from a coast highway pullout.

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Having already spent a significant amount of time on this beach on each of two previous days, I already had subjects in mind when I reached the sand.  I immediately headed toward the wet sand before proceeding up or down the beach as I knew the waves would erase my footprints thereby preserving a greater number of pristine shooting locations.

The forecast was accurate; there were, indeed, no clouds this morning, but the wind was still light, the setting moon continued to coincide with the rising sun and the early light remained exquisite.  As I’ve noted in earlier posts, Myers Beach is long, broad and flat and when the wind isn’t gusting the reflections in the pools of water that collect around the rocks at low tide and the wet sand are marvelous in good light.  Add in the emptiness of the beach (I was the only person on this miles-long stretch of sand at this hour) and it was a very peaceful atmosphere.  Somehow, the simpler compositions I established, complemented by the negative space of a cloudless sky, seemed to embody that sense of tranquility.

Dawn Light, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Dawn Light, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

A notable sea arch, nearly centered in a large seastack, made for an obvious photographic focal point.  I wasn’t even aware that this arch existed until I found it on the evening of my first day in the area when I noticed it while wandering around on the northern end of the beach.  It was high tide that evening and I couldn’t obtain a pleasing perspective that included the arch, but it was neap tide when I was on site on the morning of the third day.  At its lowest, the tide allows a beachcomber to nearly reach the stack itself without getting wet.  I would assume that during an extremely minus tide it might even be be possible to actually reach the arch on foot.

Myers Beach Moonset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Moonset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Morning light holds longer on the Oregon Coast than in many other places, as the impact of the rising sun is muted by the coast ranges to the east.  Realization of this fact allowed me to wander along on Myers Beach in eminently shootable conditions for more than two hours.

Myers Beach Morning, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Morning, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

There were tidepools in evidence–it being low tide–on the beach, but there didn’t seem to be quite the diversity of sea life contained within as I’d seen on my previous visit to the region (July 2009).  I attribute at least part of that to the difference in the time of the year.  Still, in addition to plenty of anemone, sponges and other creatures, there were some sea stars in evidence here and there.

Tidepool Morning, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Tidepool Morning, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

There certainly was no shortage of seagulls, which seemed to be keeping another bird species company–Canada geese!  I couldn’t believe it, but on several occasions I saw geese on or flying over the stacks on the coast.  Visually, you’ll have to settle for the gulls.

Seagulls, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Seagulls, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Though I did a great deal of wandering that morning, I ended up returning to the sea arch before all was said and done.

Sea Arch, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Sea Arch, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

When I put a wrap on Myers Beach for the day, I headed about fifteen miles north–five miles or so north of Gold Beach–to Otter Point State Recreation Site.  The wind was, by this time, blowing a gale and the light wasn’t great.  But the location was, though this was mostly a scouting expedition, I hauled my gear out to the point and, with some difficulty (I was looking north and the wind was gusting 30 MPH right in my face), made a couple of images.

Relentless Surf, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

Relentless Surf, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

I spent roughly an hour poking around Otter Point–a meandering set of cliffs with unfettered access that stretch out into the ocean, buttressed by beaches below both to the north and south–and decided that, if circumstances allowed, I’d be back later in the week.

The Breakers, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

The Breakers, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

The main purpose of the day was to scout some locations around Blacklock Point, located at the far southern end of Floras Lake State Park, roughly 18 miles south of Bandon.  Bandon is a bit more than 50 miles north of Gold Beach.

On the way to Floras Lake, I stopped at Cape Blanco State Park–less than 10 miles south of the access point to the Blacklock Point trail.  I’d visited Cape Blanco twice on my trip to the region six years earlier; on both occasions, the entire cape was swathed in fog.  Most of the time, the marine layer was so thick the beaches on both sides of the cape were invisible from the grounds of the lighthouse that bears the cape’s name.

Not this time around.  It was windy (what’s new?), but the skies were mostly sunny.  I spent a lot of time walking around the Cape Blanco headland, both north and south of the lighthouse, and found many extremely interesting perspectives of the lighthouse and its surroundings, particularly from the area to the north.  The problem was all the “clutter” up on the headland–unattractive clutter.  There’s an ugly visitors center building (it looks like a concrete slab straight out of Prague, circa 1960).  In addition, there are a series of extremely unappealing utility and communication towers that run up and down the headland.  Excluding these features is essentially impossible (believe me, I looked, carefully), which is a real shame because the site would be a photographer’s dream without them.  I also walked all the way down to the beach on the south side of the cape, which eliminates all of the objectionable elements visible from the north, but also makes it virtually impossible to see the lighthouse itself.

In the end, I settled for the same basic perspective of the lighthouse that I’d invoked six years earlier–looking northward from a short distance away.  Part of the coast is visible in the background.  All of the objectionable things are out of frame to the right in this relatively tight composition.

Cape Blanco Light, Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon

Cape Blanco Light, Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon

After wrapping at Cape Blanco I drove another ten-odd miles to the north, to access the trail to Blacklock Point–a high cliff overlook providing coastal views to the north and south.  The trail, which starts near the (apparently moribund) Cape Blanco airport, is a 3 1/2 mile (approximately) out and back hike.  The trail can be pretty boggy in spots; it hadn’t rained for at least a week when I was there, but there were still some pretty substantial areas of standing water (which were easily worked around).  It was around noon when I arrived at the trailhead and, since the light stunk and I wanted to look for an unofficial “spur trail” that led out to a cliff overlook north of Blacklock Point itself, I deliberately left my photo gear behind.  I made it out to the point with little difficulty and investigated a number of views.  Despite the stiff north wind, I felt that, by far, the best views were to the north, and of these the very best meant traversing a moderately precarious, narrow rocky “saddle” that jutted out from the point itself.  This wouldn’t have been even slightly problematic if not for the extremely stiff wind.

I saw no one on the trail, at the point, or during any of my subsequent wanderings.  Despite taking anything that even remotely looked like a side trail, and doing some bushwhacking in other spots, I couldn’t find the spur, and I returned to the car.  By now it was a bit after 3 PM, and I gathered my gear and trudged back to Blacklock Point.  I intended to shoot here in late afternoon and then head back, with the intention of photographing sunset at Bandon, about 15 miles to the north.

Before heading to the preferred northward view, I pulled out my camera with the telephoto lens attached, took aim at some rocks in the surf below, added a six-stop neutral density filter and played with different shutter speeds.

Rocks & Surf from Blacklock Point black & white , Floras Lake State Park, Oregon

Rocks & Surf from Blacklock Point black & white , Floras Lake State Park, Oregon

After fiddling around at this spot for awhile, with the light improving all the time, I headed to the edge of the point to photograph the coast to the north, in the direction of Floras Lake itself.

North Coastal View, Blacklock Point, Floras Lake State Park, Oregon

North Coastal View, Blacklock Point, Floras Lake State Park, Oregon

The view you see above was from the aforementioned saddle.  Again, without the gusty wind blowing directly in my face, this would have been a simple matter, but, perched as I was on a rather narrow strip of rock, I had to take extra care.  I left my backpack up on the point and descended to the saddle with only my tripod, camera/lens and cable release.

It was approximately 6:30 PM when I got back to the parking area, less than two hours until sunset.  Since I was already in the “neighborhood,” I decided to head the 20-odd miles north to photograph sunset at Bandon.

I photographed for parts of two days on the beach at Bandon six years ago; the vast majority of that time it was bathed in marine layer fog.  It appeared to me, on this evening, that the marine layer would stay at bay and that I would–finally–see Bandon Beach in good light at sunset.  In fact, based on what I was seeing to the west, this had a chance to be an exceptional sunset.  It would be an hour’s drive back to Gold Beach at the end of the night, but…so what?

Off to Bandon.

I hit the staircase down to the beach at the Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint about one hour before sunset.  I was familiar with the basic beach elements at Bandon due to my six-year-old experience.  The sky situation was highly promising.

The beach at Bandon is a fine one–maybe the best I’ve seen.  It’s long, it’s wide, it’s deep and there are countless rocks and seastacks to use as compositional elements.  Much like Myers Beach, it’s a great location for wet sand reflections. Everything was ideal, right?  Well…

As I maneuvered into place, a bit south of Face Rock itself, I immediately realized that there would be a problem–there were already a fair number of other photographers on the beach and I could foresee ample opportunity to get in one another’s way.  As it turned out, we were all pretty respectful of one another, but the fact that it would be so easy, even with relatively minimal movement, to stray into someone else’s shot made this a less exciting photographic experience than it otherwise might have been.  Additionally, the sunset–while nice, certainly–didn’t quite develop into the epic experience I’d hoped for.

Bandon Evening, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Bandon Evening, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

All that griping aside, this was still a fine photo opportunity.  Bandon Beach is a beautiful spot and for someone who never had so much as a clear view of the place six years ago, this was a marvelous experience.

I did some shooting before the sun really began to set, as you can see in the image immediately above and below.

Bandon Evening, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Bandon Evening, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

The real action, however, got going when the sun descended near the western horizon and the clouds began to light up, as was the case in this view looking to the south.  At this point, the sun was playing footsie with the clouds to the west.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

After some time, a couple of the photographers who were set up to my left moved, which allowed me to move and establish a view looking pretty much due west.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

This was pretty much the peak of the sunset color.  This what I mean about it not being an epic, all-time experience.  All the elements were present, and it was certainly very nice, but it just never quite reached its potential.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

And I still wouldn’t have missed this for anything.  Shortly after the image above was made, I glanced around and realized that most of the other photographers had moved on from their initial spots or left the beach entirely.  So I quickly grabbed my things and took off on a trot to my right–up the beach to the north.  The wind, which had been pretty strong all day, was blowing dry sand all over the place and I just ran on through it.  The light was fading, but before I lost it entirely I scoped out a composition that I found appealing and quickly set up for one final shot.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

I slogged my way back up to the staircase, cleaned up my tripod and began to make the lengthy drive back to Gold Beach.  It had been a long day, with a lot of hiking involved, but over all, I was satisfied.  It would turn out that the next day would be every bit as long and, in some ways, even more satisfying…

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 8, 2015

Day 2: Scouting the South Oregon Coast, Part II

As mentioned in the previous post, Day 2’s sunrise was to be spent on South Beach, at the far southern edge of the town of Gold Beach–located only five minutes or so from where I was staying, which made it quite convenient given that sunrise was at roughly 6 AM.  I arrived on site a bit before 5:30, parked at the large highway pullout and made my way down to the beach.

South Beach Moonset, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach Moonset, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach doesn’t have a lot of rocks or seastacks offshore, but there is one prominent offshore rock.  The beach is long and broad, bisected by Hunter’s Creek, and inhabited by some strands of driftwood with sections strewn with small beach stones.  As the light came up, I saw that there weren’t a lot of clouds in the sky, but there was just enough marine layer activity to produce some cloud-like apparitions to the southeast.  I positioned myself to take advantage of both of these features, as the rising sun brought the colors in the sky to the fore.

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

The flat areas of sand held the moisture left by the breaking waves for a long time, which provided extensive areas of reflected sky.

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach at Dawn, Curry County, Oregon

In a happy coincidence, moonset was correlated with sunrise during most of my week shooting on the Oregon coast.  I made use of this circumstance frequently during my morning shoots, including this initial instance.  The nearly complete lack of cloud cover produced a substantial earthshadow effect to the west prior to the sun’s appearance behind the hills to the east.

South Beach Moonset & Earthshadow, Curry County, Oregon

South Beach Moonset & Earthshadow, Curry County, Oregon

When sunrise light began to fade, I moved on, traveling the coast highway to the south.  I briefly stopped along Cape View Loop, a rarely used road that runs above and to the east of US 101 that provides some aerial views of Myers Beach.

Myers Beach and Cape Sebastian from Cape View Loop, Oregon

Myers Beach and Cape Sebastian from Cape View Loop, Oregon

The views ran nearly 180 degrees, from Cape Sebastian to the north to Pistol River and Crook Point to the south.

Myers Beach and Crook Point from Cape View Loop, Oregon

Myers Beach and Crook Point from Cape View Loop, Oregon

I spent some time up on Cape View Loop playing around with a long lens and some neutral density filters, focusing on the breaking waves to the south, varying the exposure time to see what kinds of effects could be produced.

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop, Oregon

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop, Oregon

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop black & white, Oregon

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop black & white, Oregon

Crook Point from Cape View Loop, Oregon

Crook Point from Cape View Loop, Oregon

By the time I finished shooting at this location it was approaching 8 AM.  It was shaping up as another clear, exceptionally windy day and I decided to proceed into full-blown scouting mode.  I continued the journey south, and wandered around the mouth of the Pistol River, where it feeds directly into the Pacific, and then to Samuel H. Boardman State Park, where I spent most of the rest of the morning and afternoon scouting a broad variety of viewpoints, trails and beaches.  I made my way down the short but steep trail to Miner Creek (a.k.a. Secret) Beach and determined immediately that I would have to return to the spot–with plans to do so at sunset–and also took the much longer jaunt to China Creek Beach, several miles south of Secret Beach.  I also spent time investigating Whaleshead and Lone Ranch Beaches, and made my way around the viewpoints at Thunder Bay Cove, Natural Bridges, Arch Rock, Whaleshead Viewpoint, North Island Viewpoint, Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Indian Sands, Cape Ferrelo and others.

Did I mention that the wind was ferocious?  It–literally–nearly blew me over on the trail to North Island Viewpont, forcing me to turn around and head back.  At Thunder Bay Cove, I was loathe to get too close to the cliff’s edge to investigate a possible perspective–without my camera gear, mind you–due to concern over gusts.

I also spent a fair amount of time hiking different segments of the coast trail that connects many of the above locations.  I found a few new vistas worthy of mining but mainly turned my attention to tighter, more intimate scenes to photograph under the appropriate conditions (i.e. less wind and even light).

In all, essentially no photography took place during these many hours, but it was time very well spent.  I had never visited any of these spots south of Cape View Loop and this time spent simply investigating granted me the opportunity to make the most of the rest of my time later in the week.  Remember, all of this scouting was conducted under cloudless skies (read: harsh light) and high winds, so it wasn’t as though a lot of great shooting opportunities went by the wayside.

The lone exception to this no-photo policy was Whaleshead Viewpoint where I hauled my equipment out to a spot along the trail to obtain some images of waves.  (Note the effect of the aforementioned strong winds.)

Wind & Surf black & white, Whaleshead Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Wind & Surf black & white, Whaleshead Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

About an hour before sunset I made my way back to Secret Beach.  The trail to the beach is short–perhaps 1/4 mile–but quite steep.  At the bottom, you find yourself about 15 feet above the sand, but you can climb onto a tall stack and then make your way down the rock face to the beach itself–it’s not as difficult as it sounds.  I climbed down to the beach–for the second time that day (remember, it had been my first scouting stop of the morning).

Secret Beach at Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Secret Beach at Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Miner Creek Beach (sometimes referred to as Secret Beach–I’m using the terms interchangeably) is a very, very pretty location, with marvelous seastacks, several of which are topped by conifers.  Two creeks–one of which contains a significant waterfall–empty onto the beach and into the ocean.  The only negative to the location is the shallowness of the beach…that and the footprints in the sand which aren’t routinely washed away, even at high tide, without a significant ocean surge.  I also noted that the best perspectives–at least in my opinion–were facing to the south and southwest, which meant that the very best sunset colors would be absent, at least at this time of year.

Secret Beach at Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Secret Beach at Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

While the light was wonderful, the sky conditions were less than ideal:  no clouds at all.  There was a nice orange gradient along the western horizon, but the conditions were hardly spectacular.

Secret Beach at Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Secret Beach at Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I made my way back up the trail in the dark; I had a headlamp and a flashlight with me, and since it was pitch dark inside the densely wooded area, they were welcome.  Even though conditions hadn’t been ideal at either sunrise or sunset, I was reasonably pleased with the day’s activities.  I certainly anticipated a return to Secret Beach later in the week.

While I had scouted the vast majority of locations I’d wanted to investigate to the south, I still had spots to the north of Gold Beach that I wanted to explore–I would cover most of that territory the next day…

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 1, 2015

Day 1: Scouting the Southern Oregon Coast (Part I)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I last spent time on the Oregon coast in July, 2009, during an extended trip to the Pacific Northwest.  That experience was something of a whirlwind, as I covered the coast from Cannon Beach in the north to Bandon–and parts south–in a span of about three days.  It was an absurd itinerary and led to at least as many frustrations as it did good photo opportunities.  During the parts of two days I was based in Bandon on the prior trip, I explored as far south as the area around Myers Creek Beach, just north of the spot where the Pistol River empties into the Pacific Ocean.  The Oregon coast extends as far south as the area around Brookings, the southernmost coastal town in the state, just a few miles north of the California state line.

On this particular trip, I decided to base myself for a full week in the small coastal town of Gold Beach.  I felt this gave me the best proximity to the areas on the south coast that I was most interested in visiting and photographing–areas that I either scarcely had the opportunity to view on my previous trip or didn’t have the chance to see at all.  Based on some reading I’d done since my first trip, I’d reached the conclusion that the far southern Oregon coast–essentially the area between Gold Beach and Brookings–provided the biggest bang for the buck.  I was, however, willing to investigate spots as far north as Bandon.

To help make all of this a bit easier to visualize, I’ve included this map of the south coast:

south coast map

The blue flag represents Gold Beach.  Brookings (green flag) is roughly 27 miles to the south.  Bandon (black flag) is a bit more than 50 miles north of Gold Beach, with the town of Port Orford (red flag) almost exactly halfway in between.  There are no other towns of consequence along the approximately 80 miles of coast between Bandon and Brookings (and the largest of these communities–Brookings–has fewer than 10,000 year-round residents).  This area was to be my working environment for a week, with the plan to spend the bulk of my time in the area beginning about eight miles north of Gold Beach and Brookings (a span of about 18 miles of coast) covering Pistol River and Samuel H. Boardman State Parks.  This stretch of coast is almost entirely undeveloped, has no services to speak of and has, by reputation anyway, some of the most beautiful beaches and coastal vistas in the world.

My route from Portland took me south on I-5 to Roseburg, where I stopped at a supermarket to pick up provisions for the trip, and then west on SR 42 to Bandon.  It was early afternoon by the time I reached the Coast Highway (US 101) south toward Gold Beach.  I stopped to scout a number of spots between Port Orford, where the highway skirts the coast, and Gold Beach and by the time I reached Gold Beach it was after 3 PM.  After checking in to the motel and unloading the rental car I had about four hours of daylight remaining.  Other than the minimal remnants of marine layer clouds, the skies were completely clear and a very stiff north wind–something that would be a constant presence for days–was blowing.

I headed south on the coast highway, took a brief look at South Beach–on the southern outskirts of Gold Beach–and made plans to return to this location for sunrise the following morning.  Then I resumed the southward journey and made my next stop at Cape Sebastian State Park.

I produced few images on this day due, I think, to several reasons:  limited time; a mind more attuned to scouting than actual image making; and some difficulty getting into a “groove,” at least partly a function of a lack of intimate familiarity with the locations.

Cape Sebastian

You can see Cape Sebastian, even though it’s unlabeled, on the map above;  it’s the small bulge south of Gold Beach.  Cape Sebastian is a conifer-laden promontory that rises more than 200 feet above the ocean and provides views up to 50 miles both up and down the coast in clear conditions.  It’s also one of the windiest places on the Oregon Coast and with an already stiff breeze blowing, it was ferocious at times on this afternoon.

A trail from the south parking area takes you out to some of the views to the north; the best views to the south are arguably from the parking area itself.  I wandered down the trail–part of the extended Oregon Coast Trail which, at least technically, runs the length of the state, from the Columbia River to the California state line–about 3/4 of a mile, noted what I felt were the best possible spots for a northward view, then returned to the parking area for my gear and produced this shot.

Looking North, Cape Sebastian State Park, Oregon

Looking North, Cape Sebastian State Park, Oregon

Back at the parking area, I photographed Myers Beach and other parts of Pistol River State Park to the south.  I anticipated that this would be the only time I’d visit Cape Sebastian, given that I’d obtained these shots–which are relatively limited due to a copious amount of undergrowth and less than optimal climatic conditions–but I was wrong.  Somewhat ironically, it would take conditions that were less than ideal for the views that Cape Sebastian is known for to encourage me to return later in the week.

Myers Creek Beach from Cape Sebastian State Park, Oregon

Myers Creek Beach from Cape Sebastian State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach

The Coast Highway climbs steadily from Gold Beach as you approach the heights of the entrance to Cape Sebastian State Park and descends abruptly back to sea level on the other side of the cape.  The road bends sharply to the east and just as you reach the beginning of the curve the sea stacks of Myers Beach come into view.

If you don’t feel something the first time you view Myers Beach as you approach it from the north on US 101 you’re probably not conscious.  I can recall my first experience doing so, on a sunny July afternoon in 2009; I was viewing something special and I immediately knew it.  The light was awful that day and I was more than 60 miles away from my base at Bandon so I didn’t have time to do much more than exit at one of the three Myers Beach pullouts and gape.  But on this occurrence, in May of 2015, I had time.  This time, I got out of the car.  This time, the light was improving (even if the sky was almost completely bald).  This time, I got out my gear and made my way down to the beach itself.

Myers Beach Surf black & white, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Surf black & white, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach–also known as Myers Creek Beach (the names are used essentially interchangeably) reminds me a lot of the beach at Bandon.  It’s long–miles long, its northern end abutting Hunters Cove, at the southern foot of Cape Sebastian, and extending all the way to the Pistol River outlet stream to the south–and, depending on who’s counting, another mile or two all the way to the northern edge of Crook Point.  It’s also deep, and directly accessible from three roadside pullouts.  And it has sea stacks…lots of them, many of them directly accessible at low tide, and plenty of smaller rocks to boot.  What makes it arguably better than Bandon is that there are no nearby accommodations.  So, while Bandon Beach seems to be becoming ever more crowded, Myers Beach–10-odd miles south of the town of Gold Beach and nearly 20 miles north of Brookings–is never crowded.

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I parked the car at the second of the three Coast Highway pullouts, climbed down to beach level and spent some time wandering around.  The wind was blowing steadily out of the north and producing some pretty good-sized surf.  It was close to, if not at, low tide and I wandered around a good deal of the northern half of the beach.  I ultimately settled on an area that had a small sea arch–impossible to see except when a minus tide allows one to reach a viewing spot amidst the stacks that’s typically underwater.  The sky was, as I mentioned above, almost entirely devoid of clouds, which was unfortunate, but I still hung around this area of the beach until the sunset light faded completely.  By that time, some clouds had filtered into place to the northwest.

Myers Beach at Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach at Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I had hoped to scout a good chunk of Boardman State Park–south of Pistol River–that afternoon, but had never so much as made it there, let alone had the opportunity to poke around.  I planned to rectify that the next day, after a morning shoot at South Beach.

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 19, 2015

Setting the Stage

As noted in an earlier post, I flew from Chicago to Portland, Oregon on May 3 and drove from the Portland area to Gold Beach, on Oregon’s far south coast, the following day.  Thus began my most recent photo excursion:  a week on the southern Oregon Coast, followed by parts of four days based in Crescent City, California, to photograph the redwoods, and finally parts of two days at Silver Falls State Park, about an hour’s drive southeast of Portland.  I returned to the Chicago area on the evening of Saturday, May 16, and have spent the time since then recuperating.  I was bushed when I got back.

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I’ve scarcely had time to do any image editing since returning to the home base.  I’ve processed perhaps 20 images and have more or less randomly selected a half-dozen, just to give readers a taste of the subject matter, to accompany this post.  As was the case when I returned from my time in the Canadian Rockies last fall, it’s going to take quite some time for me to work through all of this material.  I spent something on the order of 10 weeks processing images from the Rockies last year and I suspect it will require a comparable amount of time to complete work on the Oregon/California photographs.

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I spent a few days on the Oregon Coast as part of my extended trip to the Pacific Northwest in July, 2009, just a couple of months before I started this blog.  On that occasion, I was frustrated by the incessant presence of the Pacific marine layer, which blotted out potentially epic sunsets on beaches in Washington and Oregon.  For a variety of reasons I was led to believe that mid-spring would produce more favorable conditions for coastal shooting and that turned out to be the case.  While the marine layer wasn’t a complete non-factor, as I will detail in coming installments chronicling the photo experience, it wasn’t the omnipresent force that it was during my time on the coast in 2009.

Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

My time in far northern California marked my first visit to the coastal redwood forests of the region.  (I’ve seen redwood groves before during several visits to Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.)  This part of the trip was my biggest disappointment, for two reasons.  First, I had hoped–though not expected–to be in the area during the rhododendron bloom.  Since the bloom usually peaks some time during a roughly four-week period from mid-May to mid-June, I figured to be a bit early, and so I was.  Despite much searching on my part, through three state parks and one national park, I found only a handful of rhododendron bushes flowering.  More surprising was the near complete absence of fog, which I had been told was a daily occurrence, morning and evening, in the groves.  I saw almost literally no fog during my time in the area, which was unfortunate, because its such a huge aesthetic and technical asset to forest photography.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Still, despite these discouraging conditional developments, as those of you have been fortunate enough to experience redwood forests know, the coastal redwood environments are awe-inspiring places and I’m not at all sorry I made the short journey from southern Oregon to northern California to see them.  In addition, the rather unusual weather developments gave me the opportunity to photograph some subjects in and around Crescent City that I hadn’t anticipated being able to do, and I think that time was spent productively.

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

I had only one afternoon and one full day at Silver Falls State Park, about 12 miles east of Silverton and 25-30 miles east of Salem, but the weather conditions when I was there were absolutely perfect for waterfall photography–mostly cloudy and very light winds.  Despite only a few available hours on May 14 and the full day of May 15, I spent roughly 14 hours photographing in the park, along the famous Trail of Ten Falls (so named because each of the park’s 10 waterfalls can be seen from the trail, which runs nearly nine miles).  Because the conditions were ideal, I was able to photograph all of the subject matter that I’d hoped to experience.  Additionally, wildflowers were ubiquitous in the park and I spent some time working these subjects as well.

Upper North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Upper North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

As I did with the Rockies imagery last year, I’ll provide a chronological reporting of the trip and will periodically interrupt the narrative with some thematic thoughts, based on my experiences during this trip and topics that those experiences engendered.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 5, 2015

The Rites of Spring

Each year during the Midwest spring, I try to get out with the camera at least a few times.  I managed four short day trips this season; it wasn’t as much as I’d have liked, but it was a fair piece better than nothing.  Here’s some of the fruit of these recent excursions.

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

I spent part of a day during the first half of April at Clifty Falls State Park in far southeast Indiana.  The trees were just beginning to bud when I was there–wish I’d been able to go back 7-10 days later when things were a bit further along.

One of the frustrating things about Clifty Falls is that, while there are four tall, impressive waterfalls in the park, there are very, very few good views to be had of any of them.  As a result, I spent the bulk of my time shooting creeks and wildflowers.

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

I did make a long, rather unpleasant slog up Clifty Creek in the hopes of getting a good look at Big Clifty Falls from below; I had to ford the creek at least a dozen times on the roundtrip  but the end view wasn’t quite what I’d hoped.

Big Clifty Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Big Clifty Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

This was as close as I was able to get to the waterfall (which you can see in the background).  None of the other three tall waterfalls in the park can even be approached this closely from below, which is disappointing.

Blue Phlox Intimate, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Blue Phlox Intimate, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

The following week, I took a very quick trip late one afternoon to Mucatatuck Wildlife Refuge, near the town of Seymour, Indiana, about an hour south of Indianapolis.  It was the first time I’d been to this particular refuge, and I mostly just poked around, as something of a scouting session for possible future visits.  I did manage to capture a few frames of this interesting, mixed ecosystem locale.

Muscatatuck Evening, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Muscatatuck Evening, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Muscattuck includes–as I understand it–the northernmost collection of cypress trees in North America.

Cypress Black & White, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Cypress Black & White, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Back in Illinois, I made two trips to the Morton Arboretum, about 25 miles west of Chicago this past week.

Daffodil Glade, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Daffodil Glade, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

The daffodils at the Arb’s Daffodil Glade were in peak bloom–that’s a good week to ten days later than most years.  The bluebells, which were badly stunted by the extraordinarily long, harsh winter of 2013-14 were in much, much better shape this spring.

Bluebells Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebells Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebells Hillside, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebells Hillside, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Virginia Bluebells, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Virginia Bluebells, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

The wild lilies on the West Side of the Arboretum were carpeting the hillsides.

Lilies Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Lilies Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

And some of the flowering trees were in full dress as well.

Tulip Tree Evening, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Tulip Tree Evening, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

It wasn’t an epic experience this spring but it was very nice to get out with the camera in decent weather for the first time in many months.

*                      *                     *

By the time this post sees the light of day I’ll be on my way to the West Coast for photo opportunities on the southern Oregon coast, the coastal redwoods area of northern California and Silver Falls State Park back in north-central Oregon.  I’ll be back in town–and on the blog–in mid-May.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 27, 2015

The Shot

Photographer Michael Gordon, in a recent piece on his blog, discussed “getting the shot.”  The primary focus of the post covers the notion of “getting the shot” as a kind of conquest or triumphal experience.  A related, but distinct, concept covered near the end of the article is the implication that the term “the shot” implies that there is merely one, single shot to be had at a given photo location.

If you read the original post, you’ll see that Michael is less than complimentary about each of these ideas.  I wholeheartedly agree with him, and I’d like to share a few thoughts of my own on the subjects.

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Photography as Conquest

Proceeding with the notion that there’s a specific shot to identify and obtain from a given location makes me think of having a to-do list and ticking off the items as they’re accomplished.  Feed the cat, check.  Drop off the dry cleaning, check.  Paint the garage, check.  Procure photograph of Delicate Arch in evening light.  Check.

Another way of looking at it is to think of individual photographs as preconceived items in a collection, like stamps or coins.  Tunnel View, Old Faithful, Mesa Arch at Sunrise, Schwabacher’s Landing…now if I can just pick up the Maroon Bells at peak color…

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

I suppose there may be people out there who gain some sense of satisfaction by applying these kinds of approaches to landscape photography and, if there are, who am I to judge?  But, this is utterly different from how I think about the endeavor.  The enjoyment and satisfaction that I attain from participating in landscape photography stems from embedding myself in a location and really looking around, trying to find visually appealing scenes, large and small; in spectacular light and even light; images that may mesh with whatever preconceived notions I inevitably bring to the subject and ones that may not.  The enjoyment, then, comes–at least in part–from the interweaving of the intellectual and aesthetic process of image making in the field.

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

None of this is to say that I won’t, under any circumstances, make images of iconic scenes; I certainly have in the past and presumably will in the future.  But I’ve never arrived at an iconic location, obtained “the shot” and moved on.  Ever.  That wouldn’t be much fun, I don’t think.

One Shot Pony

I’ve discussed the notion of approaching a scene with a preconceived idea of what will be found and what a shot will look like on several past occasions right here on this blog.  I have “visualized” a scene on a few occasions, and gone out looking to fulfill a vision a few times.  But this is the exception to the general rule, which typically follows a more serendipitous undertaking.  As I intimated, even when I approach a location with a clear, specific idea of what I expect to find there (often based on previous experience at the spot), I try to keep an open mind and act accordingly.

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I’m not sure that there’s anything worse for a photographer’s creativity than approaching a scene with a one-shot-only mentality.  There’s a certain self-fulfilling prophecy that surrounds this sort of mindset:  look for only one image and you’ll find only one image.  There’s always more than a single composition worthy of consideration at a given scene; it’s completely counterproductive to think otherwise.  It’s arguably acceptable for some photographers to approach a scene with the intention of obtaining a particular image; that’s what visualization is about, in a nutshell.  I’ve done that myself, as I’ve indicated above.  But if a preconceived image is held, once it’s obtained, the photographer must be able to look at things with a clear, open mind.  Shifting gears is a necessary skill if you’re going to play the visualization game and not let every other photo opportunity pass you by.

Elakala Falls (Tier 2), Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Elakala Falls (Tier 2), Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

“The Shot” mentality is a very dicey–at best–way to approach landscape photography, in my estimation.  It puts figurative blinders on the photographer, thereby stifling creativity, potentially turning the entire endeavor into little more than a trophy hunting expedition.  If that’s what you want, I guess that’s fine.  But if you derive satisfaction from the experience of exploring, discovering image making opportunities on location, “the shot” is a tremendous impediment to realizing your potential as an original maker of photographic images.

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 13, 2015

Preparing for a Photo Trip

Several years ago, I wrote a guest blog entry on 1001 Scribbles that dealt with photo trip preparation.  As I’m poised to head off on such an excursion myself (to the Oregon Coast and the redwoods area of northern California) in less than three weeks, I thought it would be appropriate for me to revise that post and present it here.

For those of us with cameras, there are two types of trips:  trips where we take photos and photo trips.  It may seem that there’s no distinction between the two, but I assure you there is.  While just about anyone with the shutterbug will take a camera and snap some shots during a trip, a photo trip is one that is specifically designed to accommodate photography.  Stated in other words, a trip that is created for the primary (or sole) purpose of photographing is a photo trip.  Anything else is trip where you take photos.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean dismiss trips that aren’t specifically intended to further one’s photographic pursuits–there is, quite obviously, absolutely nothing wrong with them.  But they are different, and it’s the photo trip excursion I’m going to discuss in this post.

I try to take two extended photo trips each year, though I’m not always able to do so.  This year, my first trip begins on Sunday, May 3, when I fly from Chicago to Portland, Oregon en route to spending approximately 12 days on the southern Oregon Coast, Redwoods National Park in California and Silver Falls State Park in north-central Oregon.

Because it’s been very much on my mind lately, this entry will provide some suggestions relevant to photo trip planning.

Conduct Advance Research on Your Destination

Being in position to obtain the best shots—particularly in an unfamiliar locale—demands some background research on the location.  For most places, there’s a tremendous amount of material available for you, in the form of printed guide books, e-books, websites, blogs and online forums.

Swift Creek Overlook at Sunrise, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Swift Creek Overlook at Sunrise, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

I’ve been to the Oregon Coast (not Redwoods N.P. or Silver Falls S.P.) once before, but it was about six years ago and it was a parts-of-four-days whirlwind, covering the entire coast from Cannon Beach in the north to Port Orford in the south.  So, for that trip I ordered a couple of books on photographing Oregon from Amazon (one dealing with the Coast specifically); did extensive research on Redwoods and Silver Falls on the Web; and engaged the always helpful services of Gunta at Movin’ On, because of her extensive experience in the region and willingness to help.  And that’s just for starters!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t expound a bit on the last point above.  It’s always a huge benefit when you have someone who has a home base knowledge of an area and a photographer’s sensibility to consult; I’ve leveraged this sort of assistance over the years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Red River Gorge region of Kentucky, western Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio, West Virginia, New Mexico, the Canadian Rockies and elsewhere.

By consulting these myriad sources, you can learn an incredible amount—in advance—about prime shooting locations, best times, weather considerations, what gear to bring and utilize and countless other handy bits that will allow you to hit the ground running and make the most of your time when you arrive at your destination.  There’s nothing worse than arriving at an unfamiliar spot and flying by the seat of your pants.  Photo opportunities will always be relatively limited, so it makes sense to give yourself as much of a chance to take advantage of them as possible.

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Don’t Overschedule

There’s an inclination, when planning a trip to a distant place (you know the kind; the one you’re not sure you’ll ever be able to return to) to try to see everything.  Resist this urge to the extent possible.  (I know it can be difficult; I’m as guilty of this as anyone.)  If you put too much on your plate, you’ll inevitably end up giving short shrift to everything and you’ll miss out on the pleasure of really working specific spots that particularly appeal to you once you’re on the ground.  You’ll also lose the opportunity to return to especially enchanting spots.

My suggestion:  Take the time to prioritize—to the extent that you can—the places you most want to see and then put together a list of alternatives to draw from, without committing to them.  This will give you the opportunity to maximize the places of appeal as you experience them in real time.

Aspen Hillside, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Aspen Hillside, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Retain Some Flexibility

In line with the above, don’t pigeonhole yourself into going to certain places on certain days or at specific times.  Give yourself the flexibility to adapt to the conditions.  For instance, a “must do” sunrise location will work best with scattered clouds.  Keep an eye on the forecast and if it’s going to be clear one morning, you might put that location off for another day.  Some locations work best under overcast conditions, while others do best when sunlit.  Give yourself the chance for the best opportunities by tailoring your spots for the conditions you face.  (If you’ve ever been on a photo workshop or tour, you already know this mantra.)

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Leave the Non-Photo Family Members at Home

This is going to be a bit controversial, but…photography is a terrible spectator sport.  It is extremely difficult—and probably unreasonable—to bring non-photographers on a true photo trip and expect them to keep themselves amused all day, every day, while you’re out in the field.  There are some very rare people who will do this without complaint (my wife happens to be one of them, bless her), but you may still find yourself feeling guilty wondering what on earth they’re doing to keep from being bored to tears while you’re waiting for the sun to peek behind a cloud or the wind to stop blowing…and that may make you rush and…let’s just say it’s not a good scene.

Photo trips are best handled when they’re exclusively limited to photographers.  I almost always partake in my photo trips entirely alone these days.  That will be the case for my upcoming Oregon/California trip.

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Be Comfortable with your Gear

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:  don’t buy a new piece of gear the day before you leave.  A photo trip is not the time to be experimenting or learning the ropes with unfamiliar equipment.  Be entirely facile with your equipment well in advance of your trip so that you don’t spend time in the field, missing the opportunities that you’ve sacrificed time and money to obtain, by fiddling around with camera menus or lens settings.

Similarly, if you haven’t shot with your existing gear for awhile, be sure to get out into the field a time or two before you hit the road for your photo trip, just to re-familiarize yourself with in-field workflow.

Elowah Falls, John B. Yeon State Park, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Elowah Falls, John B. Yeon State Park, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Be Prepared for Changing Weather

Depending on where you’re going (and when), be prepared for changing climatic conditions.  The Oregon Coast in spring, for instance, is prone to some rainy conditions–not as bad as winter, but it’s by no means a slam dunk to be dry, as is almost always the case in the summer–with temperatures likely to range from roughly 40 to 60 degrees, F.  As a result, I’ll be bringing plenty of warm, waterproof or water resistant clothing.   When I was in West Virginia a few autumns ago, it was snowing when I arrived, for the first few days the high temperatures never got out of the 30s and I dealt with near constant light rain.  The back end of the week I was there, mid 70s and sunshine were the order of the day.  I had a similar experience when I was in New Mexico five years ago, dealing with 90 degree temperatures and snowfall on the same week long trip!  The same thing happened on my trip to Utah and Nevada in May of 2012–I had temperatures in the low 20s at daybreak at Bryce Canyon and dealt with temperatures above 100 degrees in the shade at Valley of Fire.

It’s almost impossible to concentrate on photography when you’re uncomfortable, so take that possibility out of the equation by being properly equipped.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Prepare Your Gear for Any Special Consideratons

If there’s something unique about your destination, as it pertains to your photo gear, find out in advance and prepare accordingly.  For instance, cameras, lenses and tripods positively hate sand and saltwater.  Guess what exists in abundance on the Oregon Coast?  Right.

Whenever I shot at the seaside, I make sure that I always have several things with me that I don’t necessarily bring when photographing elsewhere:  lots of fresh water (to wash down tripod legs at the end of the shoot to eliminate any sand/salt residue); plenty of clean towels (to dry off gear); high end clear filters for my lenses.  I only use the filters if I’m going to be shooting around salt spray (sometimes wind driven), to keep traces of that material off the front element of my lenses.  Similarly, if I’m shooting in snowy conditions or in dusty conditions, I make the necessary allowances for my gear.

The point, really, is to take note of any special shooting circumstances and make allowances for your gear accordingly.  Have what you need when you need it.

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Take Proper Care of Yourself

This is going to have to fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” category, but do yourself a big favor and don’t push yourself beyond your comfort limits.  I have a nasty history of really pushing the envelope on these photo trips, to the point where things can get out of hand.

For instance, when I was in the Pacific Northwest for two weeks six years ago, I was dealing with 17 hours of daylight per day.  I was awake a couple of hours before sunrise every day, to get myself in place for pre-dawn shooting, and out well past sunset night after night.  I was literally getting less than four hours of sleep per night.  I was in the field just about all day every day and I wasn’t eating properly or hydrating properly either.  I got some great pictures, but…  The upshot of it was that I was sleep deprived, lost 12 pounds (and I didn’t go into the trip needing to lose weight) and two days after I returned home I suffered through a brutal kidney stone episode (caused by the extended period of improper hydration).

I’ve continued to push myself pretty hard on trips since then, but never to that extent and I’m now very careful to properly hydrate.  Do yourself a favor and learn from my (bad) example; it’s not worth putting your health at risk for any shot.

Similarly, don’t take dumb, unnecessary chances with your safety.  Don’t go hiking alone in bear country, don’t get yourself stranded because of the incoming tide, don’t get too far out on the cliff face on wet rock surfaces just to get a slightly better (or even much better) shot.  I’m probably more willing to push the limits than most (but definitely not all–I’ve seen some people do things in the field that were patently insane), but I never go beyond my innate comfort level and (at least partly) as a result, I’ve never gotten myself into any truly dangerous predicaments over the years.

Live to shoot another day.

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 31, 2015

Acting Locally

When I was getting started with the digital darkroom, roughly 15 years ago, there weren’t as many tools available as there are today.  Photoshop was the 900-pound gorilla and it was widely–if not quite universally–regarded as the only “serious” software package for photographic editing/enhancement.  Almost literally all of the tutorials and editing tips at the time were concocted and outlined with Photoshop in mind and so, of course, I purchased a copy of the Mother of All Editing Programs and jumped in with both feet. And I floundered around for about six months before I had an epiphany, of sorts; the rest, as they say, is history.  (The chronology of my digital darkroom experience is, at least arguably, an interesting one, but I’ll save it for another, later post–maybe.)  To this day, Photoshop is, hands down, the least intuitive piece of software that I’ve ever used.  When considering that statement keep in mind that I’ve used a number of advanced statistical packages going back deep into the DOS era.  Photoshop was significantly more indecipherable than any of them.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

The process of using Photoshop, in the beginning, was so opaque that it’s difficult to convey.  Typically, when using software, the stumbling block that needs to be overcome is how to accomplish a specific goal that has already been identified.  How difficult this is tends to be a function of how complex the software is (i.e. how many things it’s designed to do) and how intuitive the interface is (among other things).  So, for instance, if I’m firing up a statistical package, I might want to carry out what is known as a discriminant analysis using a particular data set.  How do I go about carrying out this particular known task?  There’s a very specific way of doing so–I just have to figure out what it is (probably through some combination of checking through menu items, trial and error and accessing a Help file).  But postprocessing a photograph with Photoshop?  That’s an immeasurably more complex, fuzzier thing altogether.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The first problem–as compared to the statistical example outlined above–is simply determining what the task itself is.  How should I edit this photograph?  It’s not always so obvious, particularly when you’re new to the game.  Is there a color cast that you feel should be tweaked or removed entirely?  (By the way, if there is…it’s better removed in RAW conversion, assuming you’re shooting RAW, by means of a white balance adjustment.)  And, hey, the image looks pretty flat.  I guess it needs a saturation boost.  Or does it?  Perhaps a contrast adjustment would take care of the problem.  In short, you need to figure out what you want to do before you go about figuring out how to do it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Then there’s this little realization–there are multiple ways to carry out just about any kind of editing adjustment you care to apply in Photoshop.  There are  an innumerable number of techniques at your disposal, utilizing a variety of specific Photoshop tools and a dizzying accompaniment of blending modes, masks and plug-ins.  When I was first starting out, I began to create a Word document that listed different editing techniques as I ran across them, as a reference that I could consult.  I more or less stopped adding to the document after about five years, as I became sufficiently facile to remember/recognize virtually everything I felt I needed.  The document was well over 100 pages in length when I stopped updating it, in part because there were so many different approaches to accomplishing the same basic task.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

All of this–and other things, which I’m mercifully keeping to myself–in the early days of my digital darkroom experience meant that simply accomplishing ostensibly very basic actions with Photoshop were considered a triumph.  As a result, there was little recognition of what a blunt instrument Photoshop postprocessing could be.  The emphasis, naturally enough, was on carrying out global adjustments–making the entire image brighter or darker, for example, or adding contrast throughout.  But, in reality, it’s seldom necessary to carry out this sort of adjustment to a decent photograph.  In fact, it’s not only frequently unnecessary, it’s often a bad idea.  The vast, vast majority of helpful postprocessing work is accomplished with a far subtler, more deft, touch.  Truly enhancing adjustments are typically carried out in targeted fashion, via the use of layers, selections and masks.  This is what makes Photoshop such a potentially powerful tool for image enhancement (and the value of these tools is what made up the substance of the the aforementioned epiphany I had, six-odd months after first getting my feet wet with Photoshop).

Totem Pole, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Totem Pole, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

So let me illustrate the point with a broadly accessible example.  Consider the below image of a scene at Cannon Beach near sunset.  It’s essentially unoptimized and illustrates a common issue with many grand landscape scenes (and, not coincidentally, something that bedeviled all of the images accompanying this post prior to optimization)–the yawning chasm of a luminosity difference between the sky and most of the rest of the frame. Cannon_Beach_0318_1&0&1&2_de-tc_untouched The issue here is how to better balance the light and dark parts of the image without stripping it of its contrast.  A standard global contrast tweak–using a curves or levels adjustment–will strengthen the contrast, but will actually make the already too-dark tones even darker.  A reverse global contrast tweak using one of the standard techniques will provide better balance but will strip out the contrast. In essence, the goal is to accomplish something that’s difficult if not impossible to carry out with a global adjustment.  One way to accomplish the task is to create a selection of the sky and apply a contrast adjustment to that portion of the image in isolation.  Then, reverse the process and do the same thing with the other portion of the image.  (Frankly, there are a number of different techniques that can be used to successfully carry out the task.  The important point is that the one thing that all of these approaches have in common is that they involve local, rather than global, adjustments.) Making a contrast adjustment to the sky alone tightens things up–and makes colors appear deeper without actually touching saturation.  The non-sky portion of the image is almost a mirror image; an isolated contrast adjustment here lightens this part of the image without doing any damage to the sky.  The following version of the image shows the final version.  Note how contrast is enhanced, with each portion of the image getting what it needs in terms of its luminosity adjustment.

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Obviously this is a somewhat exaggerated example, but it’s being used to clearly demonstrate a point–the power of local, rather than global, adjustments.  Often times, the appropriate postprocessing enhancements are made on a much smaller scale than what I’ve shown here.  Regardless, the postprocessing capacity of optimizing well-executed images is frequently realized by making changes below the global level.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 17, 2015

Working the Scene – An Exploration

I’ve discussed the concept of “working the scene” frequently on this blog, most prominently, perhaps, here.  But I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to describe the idea thoroughly, and I’m going to attempt to extinguish that oversight with this post.

I don’t always work a scene as extensively as I’d like, for a variety of reasons, but I try to do so as often as possible, particularly when I find myself mysteriously charmed by a given venue.  There are places that, for whatever reason, we as photographers seem especially touched by, and when that happens there’s a special incentive to take the time to attempt to visually do justice to the place.  On such occasionss, working the scene often feels like a personal responsibility.

In the broadest sense, “working the scene” involves making an attempt to exhaust the conceptual photographic possibilities held by a specific location.  Ordinarily this involves the implementation of at least one of two things:

1) Exploring a wide variety of different perspectives, either by altering position, focal length or, ideally, both.

2) Taking the time to let the place itself express itself as broadly as possible, assuming that the scene is imbued with dynamic characteristics (the most obvious of which is changing light, though there are others).

In a perfect world, I’d let both of these principles guide me everywhere I shoot.  The world, quite obviously, isn’t perfect, but occasionally the opportunity to invoke both points is made available and can be executed.  I’m going to use one such example from my own experience to illustrate the point:  an evening that I spent at Bandon Beach, Oregon in July, 2009.  I’m going to make an attempt to describe this experience in terms that are of a nuts-and-bolts variety, because I want this post to be as actionable as possible for those reading it.  I sense that there’s a tendency to discuss these non-technical photographic principles in ethereal terms.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing this, but I think that these accounts tend to be so personal, so subjective and so intangible that others reading them either don’t understand them or don’t know how to come to terms with them and make use of them when they’re in the field.  I will try to avoid this pitfall.

Mobile Investigation

The most commonly understood part of working the scene involves movement on the part of the photographer.  With or without camera in hand, the photographer physically changes place, to investigate different perspectives and how they alter the appearance of a scene’s depiction.

Before heading off to Bandon Beach on the July evening in question, I’d already done a bit of scouting of the area, both from high on the bluff overlooking the beach at Coquille Point and Face Rock and on the beach itself, earlier on the same day.  I didn’t have my photo gear with me during the scouting session and I really didn’t take the time to conduct a thorough investigation.  (Bandon Beach stretches for miles.)  About 3 1/2 hours before sunset, amidst a copious dressing of marine layer fog, full photo pack in tow and waterproof rubber boots donned, I descended the lengthy staircase at Coquille Point, all the way to beach level.  I slowly wandered southward, in the direction of Face Rock, near the waterline itself, frequently sizing up the various rocks and seastacks in search of what I felt were the most compelling compositional arrangements.  The tide was relatively low and this “feeling out” process continued all the way to the collection of smaller rocks and seastacks around the headland leading to the Face Rock area.

Bandon Beach in Fog, Oregon

Bandon Beach in Fog, Oregon

It was here that the compositional options were greatest, which was something of a double-edged sword.  A greater number of choices means that there’s a better chance of finding something truly special, but it also brings the burden of potentially feeling overwhelmed and, out of frustration, settling for something rather than pushing the margins to find something better.  (This is a constant battle; experience will, ultimately, tell you when to keep looking and when to stop and make the most of what you’ve already discovered; there’s really no hard and fast set of rules to follow.)

Because the tide was low, it was possible to maneuver in and around many of the stacks without any fear of being swamped by the surf.  Because I had waterproof footwear on my feet, the meandering shallow streams and tidepools in the area were minor impediments, to the extent that they were impediments at all.  I did, however, have to be cognizant of where I stepped because randomly scattered footprints in the wet sand could ruin an otherwise pleasing image.

Bandon Beach Evening, Oregon

Bandon Beach Evening, Oregon

At this point in the process, I was walking around with my camera (24-70 mm lens and polarizing filter attached) and frequently checking perspectives through the lens.  And I was not beyond executing some shots along the way.  Heavily diffused sunlight was frequently penetrating the marine layer, which made for interesting, if not necessarily ideal, lighting conditions.

Finding the Spot

The seacoast is, by definition, a dynamic landscape.  Whether it’s the tide, the light, the surf or a combination of all three, it’s always changing.  It never looks quite the same, even from moment to moment, which is one of its many great appeals.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

On the day in question, after actively working the scene for the better part of three hours, I decided to ease into the passive state of engagement.  What do I mean by this?  I had identified a basic composition, using a series of particularly interesting rocks and seastacks, that appealed to me a great deal, and as the day moved to within 30 minutes or so of sunset, I decided to plant myself in position to capture this specific scene under the changing light.  The marine layer was sufficiently thick to prevent a “real” sunset, but there was still plenty of interest, complemented by the changing light.  I shot at this spot, with minimal movement on my part, until I lost the light completely, and then trudged back along the beach in the gloom to the same Coquille Point staircase I had used to reach the beach hours earlier.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

The point is that the series of photographs that I made at the tail end of the day still represented “working the scene,” but with a different spin than had been the case earlier.  In the earlier instance, I was “working” by directly changing how I was interfacing with a comparatively static environment.  The changes in the images I was producing during this phase were a function of changing my perspective by transporting myself around the area.  Once I planted myself in a single spot, the “working” had to do with capturing the scene as it manifestly metamorphosed.  Yes, I moved a little bit, but given the size of the space I was operating within (remember, the beach here stretches for many miles), my movement was miniscule.  The largest share of what makes this series of images unique from one another is what was happening, organically, to the scene itself as the light and surf did their thing.  In this case, “working the scene” meant hanging around long enough to capture it throughout the varying phases of its expression.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Exactly how one goes about working the scene varies depending upon the specifics–the subject matter, the light and how quickly it’s changing, the variety of gear at hand, and so forth.  But time permitting, whether to work the scene should rarely, if ever, be an open question because the answer should always be “yes.”

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

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