I have made several trips to the Columbia River Gorge area over the past few years. This beautiful stretch along Scenic Hwy 30 just East of Portland, Oregon has been a beautiful treasure for hikers, photographers, nature lovers, and tourist for years. Unfortunately, due to extremely careless actions of one or several young teens, reportedly setting off fireworks near Punch Bowl Falls, this area will likely never be the same. Over 33, 000 acres had burned at one count. If you have ever been to this beautiful area and are familiar with some of the beautiful waterfalls and their locations in the Gorge, you can’t help but be devastated and heartbroken as you view some of the fire images.
Fortunately, no lives were lost but 3 homes burned and local business which rely on tourism will likely be devastated as many consider revising vacation plans. Even I had planned a photography workshop in the Gorge for 2018, which is now on hold indefinitely. Undoubtedly, the Eagle Creek fire will cost us all in terms of the loss of some beautiful areas to explore and photograph, but the local economy and small businesses that depend on visitors will likely suffer as well.
I read one opinion that the teens in question are not to blame. Rather, it is global warming, logging and capitalism at fault. Really????? Now I have no desire to rehash arguments, pro or con, about global warming. As far a logging, there is not logging in the Gorge and logging as an industry in Oregon has been greatly reduced over the years due to environmental issues. No, the cause and blame is clear: the carelessness and insensitivity of young kids, who maybe lacked proper guidance or mentoring from adults in their lives. But it goes beyond that. In recent months we have heard of even adults who clearly were aware of their actions, being prosecuted for defacing landmarks in national parks. In some cases actions like these are irresponsible careless acts and in other cases deliberate criminal acts. Either way we must do more to educate our young to preserve and protect the beautiful natural resources we have the good fortune to enjoy. I am 66 years old and will likely never see again see the beauty of the Gorge as I remembered this past Spring.
Went to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City several nights back. Thought I would try to capture something with the Christmas lights for a card. Spent some time with a fellow photographer checking out a few possible locations for a nice sunset over the Plaza. Unfortunately, the previously predicted 24% sky cover did not materialize. Such conditions could have provided the elements for a really nice sunset. But a cloudless sky is all we ultimately had to work with. After chalking it up to little more than a scouting mission, we grabbed a few shots and my fellow photographer friend decided he should call it a night. I too figured I would capture a few more and head home. As I walked a few blocks I noticed another photographer at a corner deeply involved in his work. As I approached I saw he was photographing through a clear crystal ball. I introduced myself and listened as he explained what he was doing and he then graciously offered me the opportunity the try a few shots through what was like a giant raindrop. Of course the image appeared upside down but that would easily be corrected in post processing. It was different and certainly produced a unique image for this year’s Christmas card.
Merry Christmas to all my photography fans and friends
I am a big fan of Eric Clapton, especially of his later years where he returned to his blues roots. I recall his “From the Cradle” CD where he really went back to the blues in a strong way. Not
sure why I am attracted to the blues but always have been as long as I can remember. What has this got to do with this post? Well, many years ago as I got started in photography I, like many others, experimented with black and white. Over the years I progressed through several camera formats, including 4×5 large format, with a basement darkroom. I would study the works of Ansel Adams and John Sexton and others. Studying Ansel’s zone system and using a modified Pentax spot meter is how I really learned exposure. This is one reason, even today, my primary camera mode is “manual” with spot metering.
While over time I came to shoot both color and black and white, I eventually began to shoot only color. Lately however, I find myself struggling with a desire to return to my earlier days of the monochrome capture. Every time I see a well done monochrome image I become increasing conflicted internally on a path forward personally. Why not just do both you ask? Good question. I really love it when I capture a beautiful color image with magical light. But the images don’t seem to have the same lasting power. A well done black and white print is not only beautiful but seems timeless. I also find that, for me anyway, I have to place myself in a monochrome mindset. It is a whole different way of seeing. Hard to do both.
Anyway, I made a promise to myself that the coming year I would refocus, return to my roots so to speak, and shoot monochrome for any personal work. While I will of course shoot some color in support of several workshops I conduct, personal work will be monochrome. It will be interesting to see my work by year’s end.
Back during a September evening the forecast for the night sky was clear for the Kansas City area. So I thought I’d head out to the Flint Hills on the Kansas side to a place called Teter’s Rock for some night photography. The Flint Hills encompasses a region in eastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma. It features a band of rolling hills and grasslands with wide open skies. A place where in the spring you might see storms developing 50 miles away. In this area you can easily escape the light pollution of the city in search of a dark sky for star photography. While the dark skies are great for night photography, you have to really search for something to effectively use as s an interesting foreground element. Enter Teter Rock.
Teters Rock is a group of stones standing as a tribute to a man, James Teter, who owned the land where a small community developed around some oil fields. Of course the community is long gone and all that remains are these standing rocks on some high ground that represented what was originally intended as a guidepost for homesteaders searching for the nearby Cottonwood River. The original stones are long gone but the current day monolith was erected as a tribute to James Teter, while most any other sign of the former community is long gone. Teter Rock now offers a great foreground object to include in a composition while photographing the night skies of Kansas.
Arriving on site, I began to evaluate the area for possible compositions. The sun was just about to set so I caught a few quick shots of the setting sun through the openings of the rocks comprising the Teter monument. I then explored positions facing north to determine where to best set up to place the rock in relation to the North Star, which would be the center of rotation of my star trails. My initial objective was to plan for a length of time to take multiple exposures to later stack together to show the resulting star trails over Teter Rock. There are always small things to consider on the horizon, such as a flashing strobe on a distant tower, glow from a small town in the distance, should I position my camera closer to the ground for a lower perspective, and other considerations. The camera I had available to me this night was my Canon 5DSR. This camera is a great choice for landscapes because of its high pixel count, allowing for very detailed images. However, because of the higher pixel count it does not perform as well at high ISO settings often associated with night photography. But it is the only camera I had available at the time so I chose to use it to actually test its performance in these conditions.
When taking star trail images you won’t necessarily need to higher ISO’s such as 3200 or 6400. In fact I will often start out around f/4, ISO 400, 4min on a dark night without a moon. I might take a couple of test shots to fine tune my exposure. With desired exposure and composition determined, I set the intervalometer for no more than 4 min exposures and fire it off , sit back in my rag chair and enjoy a beverage and snacks, and just let it go. I had allowed for only a 1 sec interval between exposures and used a total of about 60 exposures to create the star trail shot above.
The crescent moon, which provided a small amount of ambient light, began to get low on the horizon as the night wore on. The brightest portion of the Milky Way, easily identified by its proximity to the constellation Sagittarius, was still about 15-20 degrees above the horizon. I could now reposition and try a few Milky Way shots above Teter Rock. Now this is when I really expected to run into problems with noise in my images because of having to increase my ISO. Using a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens my strategy was to stay as low as possible on the ISO to mitigate the
noise and rely on the speed of the lens to capture the needed light. I knew that by using my 24mm and applying the 500 rule ( 500 / focal length of lens = max exposure time)I should keep my exposure time to no longer than about 20 seconds to render the stars as points of light in the image. Nonetheless, I decided to push the exposure to 30 seconds considering I kept my ISO at 1600 in lieu of the 3200 or 6400 I might have otherwise chosen using my Canon 5D Mark III.
All things considered, the images I came away with were quite acceptable after post processing, and to my surprise the noise was very manageable. You can see, however in the 100% magnification of the Milky Way image of why you should be mindful of your exposure time when your objective is to capture stars as points of light. While the image viewed at normal magnification looks acceptable, when magnified it clearly shows the elongated rice-shaped stars resulting from the earth’s movement over that 30 seconds. Where this would really become obvious is if you decided to make a large print. The lesson here is that you should always consider the 500 rule in these cases and even do a test shot and then magnify the result in your LCD to be sure your stars are both in focus and your exposure is within limits to produce stars as points of light.
The prime season in the Northern Hemisphere to view the Galactic Core of the Milky Way is from March to October, with best viewing between April and July. While the Milky Way is still visible throughout the year, the brightest portion of the core will be below the horizon from November to February.
I CONDUCT SEVERAL NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS IN THE KANSAS FLINT HILLS AND HOPE YOU WILL SUBscribe TO MY BLOG TO GET PLANNED DATES OR REVIEW LATEST POSTS AND TECHNIQUES. YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY WEBSITE FOR ALL SCHEDULED WORKSHOPS AT WWW.CRAIGMCCORDPHOTOGRAPHY.COM
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT AS I AM INTERESTED IN ANY FEEDBACK.