Columbia River Gorge Part 3: Beacon Rock 2

This is the last post on my Columbia River Gorge hikes earlier this month.  I visited waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, then crossed over to the Washington side and hiked up Beacon Rock.  All of these photos were taken from “the rock”.  But first, let me introduce you to a friend I met on the very top of the rock, 840-some feet above the river.

Beacon Rock - Chipmonk

Beacon Rock – Chipmonk

He was hoping I had some snacks to share with him.  But I know that feeding wild animals human junk food is harmful to them, and teaches them to rely on handouts instead of finding their own food in their natural environment. So we just looked at each other for a few seconds.  I must have taken 10 photos of him (I’m assuming it’s a male) but he darted around so fast that only this one turned out without him being a blur or in an odd pose.

Columbia Creek?

Columbia Creek?

As I looked down to the east of Beacon Rock, I saw this creek running parallel to the Columbia River.  I used my EF 70-200mm f/4L to get a little closer.  You can tell it’s winter by all the bare trees closer to the river. Up in the hills there are more evergreen trees.

Beacon Rock - Ledge

Beacon Rock – Ledge

When I visited Beacon Rock with my parents as a teenager, you could see 360 degrees around from the top.  Now the trees have grown up, and there really isn’t a clear view to the west.  When I started down, I noticed a mass of rocks jutting out past the trees.  So I ducked under the railing and made my way out onto them to see if I could get a clear westward shot.  If you notice, there is a tree branch on the right edge of the photo.  I had the slide out to that little patch of grass on the ledge to shoot around it.  One little slip and I’d fall several hundred feet straight down to certain death.

I started questioning my sanity.  “I have a wife and two little kids at home. If I kill myself trying to get a shot, who’s going to provide for them?”  Like I said in the previous post, I am not really scared of heights, but there is something incredibly overwhelming about being exposed on a cliff to all that open space. So I only took a couple photos out there and got my butt back to the trail!  Here they are:

Columbia River - from Beacon Rock

Columbia River – from Beacon Rock

Columbia River - from Beacon Rock

Columbia River – from Beacon Rock

I’ve taken better photos, so I’m not sure these were worth risking my life for, but it was an adventure anyway!  The second photo was tricky to process because shooting directly into the sun made for an extremely broad exposure latitude.  Very dark shadows and very bright sky.  I was able to get some detail from the trees, which were black shadow in the untouched RAW image. And I darkened the sky with a virtual graduated filter in software.

Hope you enjoy the photos.  I am planning another outing soon, but I have to plan around weather and a hectic work schedule.  No shortage of awesome places to visit, though, within a two-hour radius any direction I go.


Columbia River Gorge Part 3: Beacon Rock 1

I just realized I had enough good photos from the Beacon Rock hike to do two posts, so I will.  This first part is about the path going up, which is not for people who are afraid of heights.

Beacon Rock - Door to the Sky

Beacon Rock – Door to the Sky

I guess they lock this door at night, and if you’re hiding up there you either try to get down without falling to your death, or you call for a rescue, in which case, you’re a “violator” and you’ll be “cited”.  Anyway, I just thought this was a neat perspective on the beginning of a trail which gains 800 feet of elevation in a very short distance.  And this is how it’s done:

Beacon Rock - Walkways

Beacon Rock – Walkways

As you can see, the narrow path is cut into the side of the cliff, and hand rails added. In some places, a wooden walkway spans rocks jutting out from the cliff.  There are several switchback sections like this on the way up.

Beacon Rock - Halfway Point

Beacon Rock – Halfway Point

I am just guessing, but I think this was about halfway up.  You’re looking east along the Columbia River.  You can tell it’s winter by the brown trees near the river.  That day, you certainly couldn’t tell by the weather!  I’ll just add that I really love my 17-40mm Canon L lens on a full-frame dSLR body.  I can get much wider angles now, as opposed to my previous APS-C sized sensor body.

Beacon Rock - The View East

Beacon Rock – The View East

I’ll leave it with this photo. I took this on the way back down, so it isn’t from the top, but it was so pretty I couldn’t resist.  You can see the massive shadow cast by Beacon Rock the bottom of the frame.  Next post I’ll show you the shear cliff I slid along to get a clear westward shot.  It was downright scary and I’m not really afraid of heights.

Columbia River Gorge Part 2 – Wahkeena Falls

Along the Historic Columbia River Highway, you pass Wahkeena Falls before reaching the better known and more frequently photographed Multnomah Falls.  Wahkeena Fall is much smaller in scale, but absolutely beautiful!

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls – 40mm, 1.5 sec @ f/16

I was here in 2003 with my Canon Powershot G3, a few months before I got my first digital SLR, the EOS 10D.  I love the old cement and stone bridge crossing over in front of the waterfall.  Moss grows easily here because in the winter, this north-facing fall rarely sees direct sunlight.

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls – 24mm, 1.5 sec @ f/16

This photo shows a little more environment around the fall.  When I find a good subject, I always try shooting both vertical and horizontal orientations, because sometimes I am surprised which one looks best in the end.

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls – 21mm, 2.0 sec @ f/16

Let me explain a little about my technique for shooting these photos.  As with any waterfall photos, I set up and shoot on a tripod.  I could probably shoot a little more quickly using a cable release (an electric, wired remote these days), but I just used the 2 second timer.  This way my hands are not touching the camera (or moving it) when the photo is taken.

I also used “Live View” and used the camera’s LCD screen to compose the shot.  A side benefit of this is that the mirror doesn’t slap up right before the photo is taken.  This could cause a small amount of camera shake, which you don’t want on longer exposures.  With fast shutter speeds, like 1/500, the mirror flipping up doesn’t cause enough shake to effect sharpness.

Choosing a small aperture does 2 things:

1. It causes the shutter speed to be longer for the same exposure value, and longer shutter speeds produce that nice “angel hair” effect with waterfalls. One to two seconds seems to create a nice blur effect but still retain some detail in the water.  Longer speeds with more blur make the water look more like cotton candy – more fantasy and less real.

2. As this last shot illustrates, while the rocks around the fall are sharp, so is the cement bridge rail and path right in front of the camera.  Smaller aperture (bigger number value) means greater depth of field (area from near to far, which is in focus).

I hope you enjoy the photos or have a chance to visit someday!

Columbia River Gorge Part 1: Ponytail Fall

I took a day off during the week and drove the 2 hours south to the Columbia River, which separates Washington and Oregon States.  I had been to the well-known Multnomah Falls several times, and there are tons of photos of it online, so I skipped it and headed for the lesser known falls.  My first stop was Horsetail Fall, which is right next to the road.

Horsetail Fall

Horsetail Fall

As I said before, I’ve changed the way I expose my shots since getting the EOS 6D. Partly because of the amazing amount of shadow detail it can produce, and partly because I am trying to learn to be a better photographer.  It’s pretty simple. I look at the histogram and watch for “blinkys” warning of blown highlights.  I can use quick, minus exposure compensation and reshoot to avoid having lost detail, or spots that are just flat white.

A waterfall itself is very light but surrounded by dark rocks and greenery. Since the majority of the photo is dark, the camera meter’s auto-exposure settings will over-expose the rushing water.  I shot most of these photos at -1 EV.  While the slower shutter speed blurs the water, it still looks odd if there is a flat white patch with no detail (blown highlight).


Ponytail Fall

Ponytail Fall

This is Ponytail Fall. I was last here about 20 years ago with my film SLR.  It’s a short but steep switchback hike up from Horsetail Fall. I was trying to reach Oneonta Falls, which is further on the trail past Ponytail Fall, but the large lower fall can’t be seen well from the trail, and the upper fall trail was blocked by a rock/log slide.  You can reach the lower fall by hiking up the gorge from below, but there is a log jam to climb over, and this time of year you need waders.

In post processing, I did mostly highlight and shadow adjustments, in addition to sharpening the RAW image. These were taken between 9 and 10 AM and it’s still winter, so the light was very blue and cold. A slight bump in white balance warmth helped the scenes look more natural.

Ponytail Fall

Ponytail Fall

There is a massive rock overhang over the trail passing behind the fall.  If you are claustrophobic at all, it’s probably going to be a scary stretch.  The thundering water reverberates off the rock in that space and pounds your chest.

Ponytail Fall

Ponytail Fall

I used to love taking waterfall photos as a freshman in college, after I got my first electronic film SLR camera. Two decades later, I still love it!  I love hiking and getting out in nature. Since I have a desk job, I like to push my body beyond what’s comfortable to strengthen it and try to prevent becoming a stiff old man.  The same day I hiked up to three waterfalls, drove back across the Columbia River into Washington via the Bridge of the Gods, and hiked up and down Beacon Rock.

As I get older I am discovering that going up is easier than coming back down. My legs are strong and while I might huff and puff, I can still power up steep places.  Coming down is hard on my knees, and I actually had to stop a few times to give them a break. I saw people with walking sticks that looked like ski poles. I might have to research those, if they help take some abuse off the knees.

More on other falls and Beacon Rock in future posts!

The Power of RAW!

I did a post awhile back on why shooting in RAW allows you so much more editing flexibility.  I won’t go into detail here, but I’ll post some examples of un-edited photos along with the finished version so you can see what a huge difference there is.

Woodard Bay - No Editing

Woodard Bay – No Editing

This is an example of a scene with extreme bright and dark areas, because I was shooting into the sun.  I exposed mostly for the sky, so the trees are black in this straight-from-the-camera version. So I still have blue sky, but how much detail is in the black areas?

Woodard Bay - after post processing

Woodard Bay – after post processing

Some of the dark areas are still dark, because there IS a limit to the dynamic range of camera sensors.  But now you can actually tell the trees are green, and there is more detail in the water.  This is a huge advantage of using RAW files: you can darken light areas and bring out shadow detail and still have a photo that doesn’t look over-processed, pixelated, or burned.


North Point - No editing

North Point – No editing

Here is another example of a photo with some very dark areas, though the dynamic range is not so extreme because the sun has already set.

North Point - After post

North Point – After post

I may have over-done this one, just to illustrate what’s possible.  You can barely see part of the log in the first photo, but none of the rocks that show up after adjustments.  I’ve probably added a bit too much saturation in the colors, but point here is shadow detail.  Look at the far shore in both photos. There are actually buildings over there that don’t even show in the un-edited version.


Tolmie Bridge - No Editing

Tolmie Bridge – No Editing

This photo was taken when the sun was still up, but just passing below the tree tops to the far left. So we have more overall light than the last example, but we still have dark areas with little detail.  These lighting conditions fall in between the last two examples in terms of overall brightness.

Tolmie Bridge - After post

Tolmie Bridge – After post

The key is that the dark areas are still dark, but they have so much more visible detail than the unprocessed version!  You can edit JPEG images in a similar way, but you cannot push them near as far without them starting to break up, and get noisy and pixelated.

What you need to edit RAW photos from your camera is, obviously, a camera that can take RAW images, and a RAW editor such as Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW, or Apple Aperture. I actually learned a lot by watching YouTube videos and trying things out.