Windy Ridge – Mt. St. Helens

Once in awhile I get the opportunity to take some photos in an amazing environment.  A place that is awing and overwhelming. Yesterday was one of those days.

Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake

This is Spirit Lake, near Mount Saint Helens in Washington State. When I was six years old, the same age my son is now, the mountain blew her top and devastated the Cascades Range for miles. Over three decades later, the evidences of the fearsome power of the blast are visible everywhere near the mountain.  Trees laid flat, rock faces blown clean of soil, and a more barren landscape compared to the surrounding lush forests in the Cascades.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

Turning almost 180 degrees from the first photo, I had this view.  What used to be a pointed peak, is now a giant crater.  Evidently most things don’t grow well in ash and bits of volcanic rock.

Valley below Mt. St. Helens

Valley below Mt. St. Helens

This was also my first time using the Canon EOS 6D with my 17-40 f/4L lens. The full-frame camera turns the lens from a 27-64mm (35mm equivalent) on the 7D (or any other APS-C sensor body) into a real 17mm, and I love the result!  There is a very obvious image quality difference when I started editing the RAW files for the first time.  I’ll miss some things on the 7D (can’t afford to keep both bodies), but what I am really after is image quality and low light sensitivity, and that’s where the 6D is the clear leader.

Mt. Adams - from Windy Ridge

Mt. Adams – from Windy Ridge

I was getting dark and saturated skies with the Tiffen polarizer. When facing away from the sun at 17mm, I got an odd effect with a dark sky in center with lighter edges.  I understand this is just a side effect of using a polarizer at a very wide angle.

I am considering upgrading to a B+W brand circular polarizer, but those are over $100 and I just broke the bank on the new 6D, so it’ll have to wait.  It just doesn’t make sense to use cheap filters with an expensive body and lens combination. I don’t need my images softened up, I can do that in post if I feel like it.

Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake

One more shot of Spirit Lake. It could not have been a more beautiful day! It was just over a 2 hour drive from my house, but well worth the amazing views.


Little Mashel Falls – July 4th

I had the day off and could have slept in. But by 7:30AM, I had my camera bag and tripod in the car and was driving the hour east to Eatonville, Washington.  Just outside the town, the Little Mashel River drops in a series of waterfalls through a deep gorge in the dense forest.

Lower Mashel Fall - 4 sec, f/16

Lower Mashel Fall – 4 sec @ f/16

This is the lower falls, where I had to sling my tripod on my back with my camera bag, and hold onto a steel cable to climb backwards down to the base of the falls.

Lower Mashel Falls - 1.5 sec @ f/16

Lower Mashel Falls – 1.5 sec @ f/16

I used to love taking these kinds of pictures with my film camera in the 90’s. I love having so much more control and immediate feedback with digital!  I used a circular polarizing filter to bring out the rich colors and cut the bluish reflections on the water and wet rocks.  Obviously, every shot here was on a tripod, but I also used a cable release, and a lens hood to prevent flare from the morning sun across filter.  It’s always fun trying to rotate a circular polarizer with a hood covering it.

Mashel River - 1.5 sec @ f/16

Mashel River – 1.5 sec @ f/16

I had already been to the middle falls the month before, so I skipped them headed straight to the upper falls – which I could not reach without wading.  So I doubled back and took a little trail down the steep gorge to the river between the upper and middle falls, and found the shot above.

I just have to say, please don’t take your kids here. It’s actually dangerous. You can fall and kill yourself easily if you’re not being cautious. There was a place where the weeds covered the trail so I couldn’t see where I was stepping as I pushed through them, then suddenly there was a gravel slide off a 70-foot drop to the river below. I could have slipped off if I wasn’t taking it slow and stepping carefully.

Mashel River - 0.7 sec @ f/19

Mashel River – 0.7 sec @ f/19

This is a really cool pair of mini falls between the upper and lower falls.  On the left is a straight drop, and on the right is more of a waterslide down the rock.  The wet rocks with moss on them are as slippery as polished ice!  I had to be very careful when maneuvering for the best angle to set up the tripod. A fall on these boulders would be more than painful.

Little Mashel River - 2 sec @ f/16

Little Mashel River – 2 sec @ f/16

My primary targets were waterfalls, but I’ve learned to look around for other things that might make good photos. Especially when you drive some distance to a shooting location. I thought this line of rocks through the shallows was interesting.

Little Mashel River - 1.5 sec @ f/19

Little Mashel River – 1.5 sec @ f/19

This was a great morning which I enjoyed immensely, even if I was alone.  Photography is like a treasure hunt sometimes, which is fun, but it’s an extra challenge to use your skills and equipment to capture the “treasure” you found so you can bring it home.

I really don’t mind doing this for free, and it would be a dream come true to get paid for it. But there a lot of people better at it than me out there, and smart people will only pay for the best.  You want to see what the best looks like? Go check out the 500px website. It blows my mind every time I visit that site and see what some of the best photographers can do!

Unfortunately, by about 11:00AM, the sun got to an angle that started creating hot spots on the river and falls, so I collapsed my tripod and climbed out of the gorge to hike back to my car.