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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I was helping my brother-in-law move some things out of his apartment in Portland, Oregon this last weekend. I had about an hour to spare before loading things up, so I took a walk up the east shore of the Willamette River near OMSI.
I’ve learned over the last decade to listen to my wife. She suggested I take my camera to Portland, and I told her several times I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have a chance to use it. But she talked me into it and I’m glad I had it!
What I did NOT have was my tripod. So I had to raise my ISO setting and brace my camera on the walkway or posts I found. It’s always a balancing act and a compromise between the “trinity”: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO speed. Fortunately, the EOS 6D is great for night time photos because the ISO can be fairly high without losing a lot of detail. A smaller aperture in this first shot required me to hold my camera against the edge of a dock to steady it during the 3 second exposure. Half my shots were still blurry or soft and had to be tossed out.
For the above shot, I tried hand holding the camera without bracing it against anything. I used a higher ISO and wider aperture to get more light for the faster shutter speed. Even with Image Stabilization, 1/15 of a second is stupid slow for hand held shots, so I pretended to be a sniper, breathing slowly out and squeezing the shutter very slowly. Just trying to avoid any shake in my hands or body. I did use a little noise reduction in Lightroom, but that’s a pretty nice looking shot for ISO 3200!
I did take some shots with my 17-40mm lens, but I found that the wider angle shots made the details too far away to truly appreciate, and 35mm allowed me to simplify my compositions enough to make them somewhat interesting. A strip of city lights across the middle of a frame just isn’t that appealing, but incorporating the bridges and getting a little closer helped a lot.
Here’s a shot I did use the EF 17-40 f/4L at 20mm because I wanted a little more sky and water. Interesting to notice the star pattern difference around the lights in this shot compared to the first shot with the EF 35mm f/2 IS. Different optics and apertures… This is one of those shots I was bracing the camera against the edge of a dock and managed to keep it still for 10 seconds.
This is kind of a basic of photography, but it’s still interesting to note that over a 10 second exposure, the water closer to the camera is more blurred and it sharpens up the farther away you look. It’s all really moving about the same speed. Which was pretty fast. I had my 7-year-old with me and told him to stay in the middle of the dock walkway. If he fell in, it would be a real trick to catch him and get him back to shore in the quick moving, frigid December water. Then we’d both have to deal with hypothermia. Just gotta think ahead and try to prevent things like that.
I want to do more of this kind of photography in the future. Preferably with a tripod, so I have more control over settings. But it means getting out there on location just before the “blue hour” so the sky still has some color and isn’t completely black. I’m very fortunate to have a patient wife who lets me take off on photo outings alone, or waits for me when I hold everybody up while I shoot something that grabbed my attention.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.