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USA 2013 Part 6+: To the conclusion

I’m speeding up the end of this series to the USA as I do feel I would like write about a few other topics! Here’s a summary of the rest of our trip and some tips about each image.

Chapter 15: Any ‘ole mountain

When I was doing my virtual research for walks around the Mount Hood area, I came across several pictures of Mount Hood with Mirror Lake in the distance below. I actually thought people were ‘taking the mickey’ of the walk by saying that they climbed ‘Tom Dick and Harry Mountain. Now I know it is a real place, and I also know that it isn’t just any ‘ole mountain. It happens to have a superb view of the whole area. Our accommodation was  the little town of Government Camp which meant that I had very easy access to this trail and decided to do it in the dark. There were no issues with path finding but for my recovering lungs, it was a challenge to walk at my usual pace up the mountain. The path itself is never particularly steep or challenging but more unrelenting in its slow climb.

Photo tips to achieve sunstars : Try to have the sun partially obscured. Shoot at a narrow aperture (f16 or smaller). Have clean glass. Have less glass (exposure blend if you have to rather than having layers of filters which can create extra flare). Place an object (like your finger) over the source of light to prevent flare over the rest of the image. Consider taking shots on either side of your desired image (like a panorama) with your flare suppression technique such that any residual flare can be recovered from an overlapping image source.

Mount Hood from ‘TDH’ summit

Chapter 16: Mojo returns

By this stage of the trip, we had thankfully returned to health but Marianne’s recovery took somewhat longer as the pregnancy no doubt also took it’s impact on the course of influenza. I was glad that some time while in the Mount Hood area, her mojo for photography returned. Our second day in the Mount Hood area was spent doing a beautiful hike to Tamanawas falls. The trailhead was about 30 minutes drive from Government camp and ascends slowly through lush forest scenes toward the falls. At the time of of our visit, the fall colours were among the most vivid we had seen all trip and Charlotte certainly appreciated the walk from her seat on my back.  She was so comfortable that she once again fell asleep during the walk! Whenever this happens, we adjust our plans to wander around for an extra hour to give her undisturbed sleep. While we were doing this, we were able to find many species of fungus which we attempted to photograph. This fungus exploration and the walk’s photography was largely led by Marianne while I kept the paces going to lullaby Charlotte’s ongoing snooze. The evening was once again completely clear and so, we stayed home while munching some fries and spending some down time watching TV.

Phototip on shooting waterfalls and foilage: Often the wind will be blowing and moving foilage so your long exposures of the water will be accompanied by blurred leaves. You can take separate images at higher iso or larger apertures with a shorter shutter speed to overcome this problem but when you do so, try to compose to have the leaves not directly opposed to water as your shorter exposures will also include shorter exposures of the water motion.

Tamanawas Falls : long enough for water motion, short enough for still foilage

Chapter 17: Pumpkin Mania!

The drive from Mount Hood to Mitchell is a beautiful one through agricultural land and a gradual departure from alpine scenery. Along the way, the autumn colours were blazing as were the oranges of pumpkin fields the likes of which we never see back home!

Phototip on shooting landscapes with long focal lengths : One of my favourite aspects of shooting landscapes at long focal lengths is to achieve what is known as ‘compression of planes’. Simply put, the perspective of a highly ‘zoomed’ image minimises the apparent distance between different objects of interest. In the shot below, Mount Hood to the naked eye , though visible and looming appears much more distant than this image portrays.

Pumpkin workers with Mount Hood in the background

Chapter 18: Dali-esque landscapes:

The painted hills are an amazing array of bald , eroded hills in Central Oregon. They are part of the larger John Day Fossil Beds national monument. We based ourselves in the town of Mitchell in some beautiful holiday homes. ( . The weather was once again clear which meant that the landscapes did not compete with dramatic skies for attention.

Phototip for choosing lighting direction: At given locations, consider how much of the detail in the landscape you want. In front lit scenarios shooting into light, it can be difficult to extract detail from the landscape due to broad dynamic range but the results can often be striking in terms of contrast. In back lit (or side lit) situations, the scene is often easier to capture and the risk of losing detail from flare or incorrect exposure is lessened. Side light can also provide some interesting shadows. At the time we visited, the painted hills overlook appeared to be best shot at sunset for a slightly side lit appearance.

Sidelight on the hills provided shadows across the textured hills

Chapter 19: From nowhere :

The next leg of our journey took us back to Eastern Washington with much more arid landscapes passing by the car window. Our final destination was Colfax in the Palouse region. Naturally we had been attracted by the rolling hills and greenery we had seen in previous images but we were visiting at the wrong time of year for those conditions. The land instead comprised of tilled earth with groves of autumn colours speckling the undulating land. Just over one hour from Colfax, Palouse Falls makes a sudden appearance seemingly out of nowhere. There was no hint of gaping chasms or any flowing water for miles around before arriving at the state park.

Phototip for shooting icons or well shot locations: Certain vantage points do offer the best view and most pleasing composition of a given scene. I found this to be the case at Palouse Falls with the ‘traditional’ top down view of the falls seemingly squeezed in on the left of frame. When visiting locations like this, I do like to photograph ‘that’ scene but try to achieve something else either by exploring the area more thoroughly or visiting at different times of the day. These are some of the takes of these magnificent falls :

The hike to the base of Palouse Falls is moderate , but the view not so grand.

During the afternoon, the sun’s light can strike at beautiful angles

Don’t forget the iconic shot! The touch of autumn colour at least added something different to this inconic view

Chapter 20 : Grass is greener

We had a very relaxed three days based in Colfax where we didn’t adventure past Steptoe Butte to the north and Kamiak Butte to the south. The skies were once again crystal clear on the first two dawns there before unexpectedly firing up for the last morning when we didn’t have plans to shoot!

Phototip for travelling and sunsets: We had been getting used to a sunset at approximately 6pm for most of our trip and planned a sunset shoot on our first evening in the Palouse for about that time. However, remember that when travelling east within a time zone, all times are pushed back to a varying degree! In turned out that the sunset was about 20 minutes earlier in the Palouse than around the Portland area meaning that we arrived late on the scene. The safest thing to do of course, is to double check with tools such as ‘The photographers’s ephemeris’ rather than make assumptions….

The Palouse from halfway up Steptoe Butte after arriving late!

Surprise! This dawn came out of the blue and had us scrambling to somewhere outside of Colfax…

Chapter 21: Happy returns

For the last two nights of our trip, the original plan was to visit the Stevens Pass area and possibly do a strenuous return hike to one of the alpine lakes in the area. However, given that our initial visit to Mount Rainier was plagued by influenza and the closure of the National Park, we decided to return to the area to close out the trip. It would also mean a shorter drive to the airport on our last morning. We are very glad that we chose this option as we were finally able to appreciate the park itself and in good health. From Reflection Lake, Mount Rainier itself initially  proved  to be elusive before bearing too much of herself with the absence of any cloud on our last day. Of the two lakes we visited, I’d say the view of Mount Rainier is more complete from Bench Lake even though it is a short muddy slog down to its shores.

Phototip for shooting alpine conditions: Simply this, don’t give up on the light! On the first evening at Mount Hood, there was constant drizzle and no visible sky as we drove from east to west across the park. Returning to Reflection Lake at sunset, there seemed to be no chance of any light or visibility of Mount Rainier but out of the blue, some spectacular light fell across the mountain albeit shrouded in cloud.

Initially there was no Mount Rainier!

Then there was a pink cloud mountain in Mount Rainier’s place!

Finally, some visibility from Bench Lake on the following morning

Chapter 22: Transition back to Urban life.

“Charlotte , do you like forests or the city?” . To which Charlotte repeatedly responded “Charlotte like forest”. That’s our girl! After leaving the crisp cool autumn of the Pacific Northwest on a beautifully clear morning, we headed to our last stop before returning to Adelaide. Marianne and Charlotte had not been to Los Angeles before while I had visited as an emo-driven teenager who did not necessarily appreciate. In a short visit there, we planned to visit Hollywood itself before spending some time in Disneyland. Even though those aspects of our visit were fantastic, we also encountered the most stress while here for the entire three weeks away. We had to wait in a rental car queue for 2 hours while trying to prevent a 2 year old meltdown. Driving itself wasn’t as bad as I had imagined but on our departure, we experienced lengthy delays due to  a shooting at LAX a few hours prior to our departure! On the positive, Charlotte enjoyed placing hands and feet at the Chinese theatre and surprisingly enjoyed most of the fast moving rides at Disneyland! On our last night, I managed to talk my way into obtaining a ticket to Mickey’s Halloween party after hours which was absolutely packed on Halloween evening.

Phototip for photographing your toddler on the go!: As posing and standing still are not two things toddlers are accustomed to doing, your shutter speed needs to be relatively high. Regarding movement to and from the camera, picking very wide apertures is highly likely to miss focus no matter what funky artsy shot you might be aiming for. After all I’m more taking images of Charlotte as  a record rather than artistic statement. For those reasons, I try not to open up below F4, I try not to reduce shutter speed below 1/100 (even when we’re posing for a family shot) and adjust iso accordingly. 

At any second, Charlotte might do a sudden movement to cause blurring!

Charlotte enjoyed most rides with the exception of Ursula who brought her to tears! 5dmk3 showing off clean high iso capabilities at  iso12800.

Phototip for shooting multiple trails of fireworks: Prior to the display commencing, work out what exposure you need for the background at a low’ish iso. Then probably halve that exposure time (for 1 stop less light) and keep that exposure time in your mind. When the fireworks start, leave the camera in bulb exposure mode with a black card over the camera until fireworks are launched. Count how long you have left the black card off for and end the exposure once you’ve reached your approximate exposure duration after varying salvos of fireworks. I hope that works for you as it did for me during Mickey’s fireworks over the castle!

Multiple trails of fireworks in the one bulb exposure

Lastly, Charlotte has the last word in this video of her trip experiences!

Well, that rounds out a fantastic trip to the USA and hopefully we’ll be able to return in a few years time with an older Charlotte and sibling at the same stage of development 🙂 Have a merry christmas and happy new year everyone!

-D & M & C & (yet to be named infant!)


USA 2013 Part 5: The illusion of choice

Chapter 13 : Great expectations

Two days based in Portland to visit the Columbia River Gorge? Too short!! If you are planning a visit to this area and wish to take your time hiking and photographing the multitude of waterfalls here, plan longer. Our accommodation was located near Burnside in the eastern suburbs of Portland. This was still half an hour away from the start of the waterfall run. Some of our time was also unfortunatelyconsumed with finding a place to repair a flat tyre which a Les Schwab outlet did for us free of charge! Our plan on the first day was to visit a few of the closer waterfalls after Charlotte woke from her afternoon nap. As a travelling couple, Marianne and I used to be able to leave at the drop of a whim and be out the door in no time flat. These days, with the right amount of cajoling and giving in to Charlotte’s requests, we might take 30 minutes? A happier child in a car is still better than a grumpy one no matter what the non life-threatening agenda ! As such, we only made our way out at 3:30pm. On the first day we were able to visit Latourell falls and Multnomah falls which we accessed through the old highway and scenic drive (well recommended). At two years old, I can only be thankful that Charlotte still likes being in the carrier provided she is given enough distraction and stimulation. It seems that moving water works a treat 🙂

The walk to Latourell Falls is a short one. We approached from the park below the falls though there isn’t a dedicated parking lot. The main feature of these falls is the almost graffiti like lichen on the rocks and it’s basalt textures. Marianne shot the falls from a higher vantage point while I waded in the water with Charlotte (flowing water is a good distraction for her!)

Latourell according to D (left) and M (right)

Multnomah Falls is the ‘King’ of waterfalls in this area. The parking lots were full, visitors of all ages and agendas were present and it also happens to be the start of a great hike which we didn’t have time to do . Evening was a good time to photograph the falls as there were minimal sharp contrasts to contend with. After photographing these falls, we made our way back to Portland for a quick bite at a local Chinese restaurant. I might add a small note that if you haven’t eaten at Chinese restaurants in the USA, you’d be doing well to finish one menu item per person such is the size of the serves everywhere we went.

Multnomah Falls upper section

Chapter 14: Local knowledge

One of the highlights of the trip for me was meeting Tula Top, a local photographer who has an impressive portfolio of waterfalls in the region. Tula’s site is here : . We had arranged to meet and hike for a day while Marianne did more ‘cosmopolitan’ things around Portland itself. After Multnomah, possibly the most photographed waterfall I have seen from the region is Punchbowl falls. I wanted to see this with my own eyes and Tula graciously obliged in playing host. As it was a beautiful day, an early start meant that we had the Eagle Creek trail nearly entirely to ourselves but as the day warmed, the crowds of hikers began to make their way up the creek.

Our first stop was at Metlako falls. From the top down perspective and view to its canyon I wonder if it is at all possible to wander up to its base?

Metlako Falls

After taking our time there, we pushed on to Punchbowl falls where we both witnessed some incredible lighting over the falls.Despite further falls tempting us further upstream, we decided to turn back and visit other falls in the area – the choice really made things difficult but by the time we arrived back at the parking lot, it was well after noon.

Lower Punchbowl Falls

A dino egg removed?

Punchbowl Glory!

As time was limited, we chose one further fall to visit and that was Panther Creek falls north of the Columbia River. By this time, the afternoon sun was strong and there was no chance of any mists like we had seen earlier in the day which made photography difficult. It was interesting to talk to Tula and find out all sorts of things in common , none the least being that we were both physicians! By the end of the day, Marianne had arranged for our tire to be repaired (free of charge!) and we finished on a great note by having a delicious dinner at Ya Hala. We would meet Tula again later in the trip.

Panther Creek Falls

Waterfall master Tula Top in action

Chapter 15: Mad dashes

By now I must have mentioned the superb weather countless times in this series of blog posts? Originally we had no plans for our last morning in Portland but as I was feeding Charlotte breakfast, I took a look outside and saw fog! I am thankful that Marianne let me head off on another solo dash out to the gorge in the hope of getting some atmospheric type of shots which had been lacking in our trip’s images to date. The fog cleared about 10 minutes out of Portland on the highway! I chose Elowah falls , dashed up and down the path, spent 20 minutes in the stream before dashing back to Portland to finish packing. Our next destination at Mount Hood was only 1 hour away so we had some time to kill before leaving. It just so happened that for one reason or another, one of our tripod heads had become stuck whereby no horizontal panning was possible. Thankfully, camera stores in Portland were far better stocked than any in Adelaide and we were able to purchase a Benro ballhead during a brief sojourn into the CBD. Gitzo will be receiving a few ballheads from us for repairs when we get around to it! The GPS was set yet again, and it was time to head to our accommodation at Government Camp, Mount Hood.

Elowah Falls

Autumn yin yang along the Eagle Creek hike

Next Chapters: Hoodwinked!

USA 2013 Part 4 : Silver linings

Every cloud has a silver lining right? If there are no clouds, then either all is good or you have to invent a lining in order to maintain a positive outlook. The weather continued to be beautifully clear throughout the next leg of our journey through Silverton and Portland. When we were planning this trip, I had conceptualised that we would be doing it in thematic segments : City, coast, waterfalls, alpine and ‘the land’. The next four days would be our ‘waterfall’ segment of the trip starting with two days based at Silverton.

Chapter 11: Silver for second?

The drive from Pacific City to Silverton was not a long one. Along the way we stopped at the beautiful city of Salem, Oregon’s capital though far smaller than Portland. Fall colours here were in full view and we hoped that this would translate to our destination slightly further inland. The town of Silverton is a great location to base travels southward toward Silver Falls state park, or northward to Butte Creek and Abiqua Creek. We stayed in the quaint and pretty Silverton Inn & Suites as it offered two bedroom apartments. After coming from our unexpected mansion in Cape Kiwanda, motel rooming was somewhat more crammed by comparison but we would still recommend it to those travelling in the area. Silverton is also home to the pretty  Oregon Gardens. Its opening hours however, did not quite fit in with our schedule hence we only managed a quick  visit to its exterior.  The comparison of the waterfalls in this area with the Columbia River Gorge is heavily skewed toward the latter due to its fame and proximity to Portland but if this area falls second to the CRG, it is only by a whisker!

Silver Falls state park is a 20 minute drive from Silverton along a well signed road. The trail of ten waterfalls is a 10+mile hike that will take you past ten waterfalls and countless other streams and opportunities to shoot depending on the prevailing conditions. With Charlotte on my back, we decided that we would visit a few falls at a time on separate outings so that a relatively easy ‘out’ could be achieved if things weren’t going to well with her. It turns out that she pretty much enjoyed all of the walks and even fell asleep once!

South Falls area: From the main car park at South Falls, we walked to South Falls and Lower South Falls. Fall foilage at the time appeared quite burnt and we wondered if we had arrived a little late in the area? The setting sun provided an opportunity to shoot images with very high dynamic range including from behind the waterfall.

South Falls from its side

South Falls from behind the fall

Lower South Falls

North Falls area: From the North falls parking lot, the North Falls are a short walk away and like South Falls, includes a passage behind the waterfall. While based at North Falls, you can easily take a short walk to Upper North Falls.

North Falls and fall colours (exposure blended)

Upper North Falls

Winter Falls area: Winter falls is a small seasonal fall which was flowing slowly at the time of our visit. From the winter falls trailhead it is possible to visit Lower North Falls and the remainder of the waterfalls in the park not mentioned. Due to time constraints we were only able to make it to Middle North Falls.

The path to Lower North Falls

Middle North Falls

Winter Falls

Chapter 12: The beauty of relative anonymity

Just north of Silverton lies the small town of Scotts Mills east of the 213. From here,  Crooked Finger NE road winds its way toward two very understated falls. The first is Abiqua Falls. There are no signs to the falls and the best directions I found were from various hiking sites including the Portland hikers field guide. I followed these instructions and was successful EXCEPT that in the last 12 months a new logging road has been constructed. Unfortunately I happened to venture down this road instead of the correct one and ended up asking some friendly loggers for directions! At some point along this road , the rental car’s right rear tire received a nail for its troubles.  Once you find your way on the correct road to the falls, you will notice that you pass an RV assembly area of some sort and at that point the road deteriorates. I would best describe it as a “hope that you don’t get a flat tire and hope no one else is coming the other way” type of road. The end of the line is a closed gate and some 30m back from this gate is a path leading down to the creek. I had read about how steep this path was and so when I came across a picnic area followed by an almost vertical forest with nothing resembling a path, I performed an ungainly glissade down the muddy slope  wondering how I would get back up. Do NOT go down this path. If you see a picnic area, go back up to the road, walk a further 10m back from the gate and you will find the correct path with disclaimer signs put up by the Mount Angel Abbey. I only found this out on the way back when I happened to spot some helpful ropes over a fallen log. There will also be some ropes to guide you down. Once you do get down, this is some of what you can expect:

The correct path has (a) ropes (b) a disclaimer sign!

Abiqua Falls

If you have limited time in the area, you can combine the Abiqua adventure with a foray to Butte Creek Falls. The turnoff to Butte Creek Falls is only a little further along Crooked Finger road past the Abiqua turnoff. Thankfully this road is only a little rough and the trailhead is well marked with a small parking area. The walk to upper Butte Creek Falls is a short one but it was all we had time for as we were on our way to Portland. One day we will return to spend more family time here and to walk to the lower falls. The sight of morning mists at the falls was definitely one to remember.

My tips for photographing these type of high contrast scenes (1) Have clean glass – flare and droplets could potentially ruin your well composed scene (2) Bracketing for these scenes is far superior to trying to use GND filters creatively (3) When taking your separate exposures, watch what the light is doing – if the mist is in different positions for your separate exposures , you may have great difficulty aligning light and shadow in your final blend.

Butte Creek falls

After this brief foray, we intermittently pumped up the flat tire while heading to Portland with even more waterfalls to choose from!

Next up: Portland and decisions!