Portland Mountains


Mt Hood from Portland, OR – 95mm, 1/45 @ f/8.0

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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 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!