Walking up a Creek

Another stop on a long winding road along Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park. Deep temperate rainforest of Olympic Peninsula is on the side of the road. It is dark under its canopy of tall hemlocks. Trying to walk through it up the steep mountains would be a tremendous feat. Every now and then big trunks of the fallen trees create obstructions that are often too tall to climb over. Soft damp ground cover of needles and ferns can hide holes or loose rocks that can easily make you lose your footing. I’ve never been able to walk more than a few meters into it before meeting an obstacle that was too hard or too risky to get over.

Every now and then there are openings in the woods created by creeks running down the mountains. Some overgrown and barely visible while others wide and open. Most will dry by the summer but it is spring now and they are filled with water from melting white snowcaps of the mountains and frequent rains.

That’s probably the only “safe” choice to work through this forest following a creek bed. That’s why I stopped next to one of them. My curiosity urged me to follow one of them deeper into the forest and see what it is hidden in its depths.

I put my backpack on, grab my tripod and cautiously head off into the woods. Every twist and turn of the creek bed reveals new details. At first it starts as a rocky opening wide enough that two sides of the trees cannot join their branches to block the sky. The water is nowhere to be seen but I can hear its restless murmur. It is hiding under the rocks.

As I get further up more and more water can be seen rushing over the rocks in small cascading waterfalls or relaxing in a small quiet pools. Slowly the creek bed narrows and the canopy of trees closes up over my head. It gets darker and quieter. The rocks become more mossy and slippery and the footing more unstable. I wish I had my micro-spikes with me. It did not occur to me that they might come useful for walking on slippery rocks.

From time to time I stop to enjoy lively silence of the forest, let myself lose myself in it, become part of it. Sometimes I get my camera out, take pictures, have my dialog with the creek, be attentive to it.

It gets darker even more and I realize that it is not just because the thick canopy of the forest anymore: the sun is probably getting closer to horizon. Time to turn around and go back down to where I came from.

The walk down is easier, more familiar and less strenuous. I’m deciding to cut one of the twists and shorten my path down. The rocks look drier that way too and might be easier to walk on. After walking down a little while I run into large hemlock trunk crossing my path. It is over a meter thick and covered with moss. For a moment I ponder retracing my steps back and going down the way I came but I decide to scale it and promise myself never cut the creeks turns again. Following back the way I came is the safest way to go.

As I descent it gets lighter; the canopy opens up back to the sky. Finally, I’m back at the road. The sky is warm with the late evening sun light. I turn around to face the creek one last time. I bow to it and thank for the experience it gave me.

 

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Fascination with Lofoten

I’ve spent 3 amazing days in Lofoten and I fell in love with it. It is a chain of islands in Norway above arctic circle connected by bridges and tunnels.

I had such a misconception from my childhood about life above arctic circle. I imagined Lofoten to be ice and snow, and rock not covered by ice and snow, devoid of life.

It turned to be something completely different. Lofoten was vibrant and lively with green grass, blue sky, sunshine, white sand beaches, emerald ocean and mild temperatures. It was not even nearly as cold as I imagined it. I found it hard to believe I was above arctic circle.

I wanted to stop and touch every tree, touch the grass, the sand and water. It was so far from what I expected that it felt surreal, science fiction. I had to touch it all to check that it was real and not a figment of my imagination.

Sitting in the car watching ripples of water run up and down while sandy beach made me feel like I’m in Hawaii. It was a bit colder than Hawaii when I was getting out of the car. 🙂

You know what was even more surreal? Having no night. It was a beginning of arctic summer, when the sun shines round the clock. It was surreal to hike at midnight and have daylight.

Driving thru the small towns at “night” felt eerie. It was bright as day but there were no people, no movement. It was like in science fiction or horror movies when you wake up one day and all the humanity is gone.

There is so much to photograph there: snow capped mountains, waterfalls, ocean, sandy beaches, rocky beaches, mountain rivers, green meadow, lakes, tiny islands. And best of all I could hike pretty much everywhere. There is very little private land. I spotted a waterfall up the mountain while driving, I just stopped where I could and went up. This was such an enjoyment to roam the land, to wonder around.

There was a payback for all that “night” travel as I was red eyed from lack of sleep but it was totally worth it. If you’ve never been above arctic circle in summer, make sure it is on your “bucket list”.

Waiting for the Light

April 18

Summer is here. Well, not official summer, not astronomical summer, but a northwest summer. I like how summer starts all of the sudden in pacific northwest. One day it is cold, rainy and gloomy and the next day it’s sunny and warm. And it does not get back to the way it was all winter. The trails get crowded with happy faces. Finding isolation becomes harder. No complaining here.

Today is such a day. I woke up and realized that. Birds are singing to the rising sun. Trees have put their green summer clothes. They are not quite the dark green of mid summer but a fresh bright green shimmering in the morning breeze.

As it became my recent habit I went to another hike I have not been to. Just to walk the woods. The parking lot at the trail head was packed. Well, that’s summer. I found a spot, got my backpack ready and hit the trail.

This time I had spent some time researching trails around. I was looking for trails that would cross creeks. It is a good time to walk those trails. Snowcaps are melting filling creeks with water. Many of them will dry up by the middle of summer.

The trail was going to Mason Lake and Bandera Mountain. The trail indeed crossed several creeks. One of them was really full of water and had an impressive waterfall. I’ve composed the frame and it was turning out to be even better than I thought. Except one thing: there was a bright light spot from the sun breaking thru the trees in one corner of the frame. It just did not work. I decided to try it again on the way down.

On the way down I stopped by the waterfall again and the light completely changed. The waterfall was in full light. Which did not work either. Oh, well, maybe some other day.

April 26

One week later. It looks like winter has come back. It is cold, overcast, and gloomy. It might be a good time to visit the same waterfall I visited a week earlier. Overcast might be just the right weather for it. The scene might be more evenly lit with less contrast between light water and dark rocks.

Here it is. The overcast might have worked better then sunny. I still wonder how it looks like in twilight. Maybe some other day.

And here is a little bonus. A small creek I crossed on the way to the waterfall.

Emotional connection

How do I judge which of my photos are good? The answer dawned on me on my recent hike.

***

Whenever I drive a highway with a forest all around it I always wonder what it would be like to step into it. The forest seems magical. Just one step and I would be in a place not touched by human, filled with beauty waiting to be captured in images.

Lately this urge makes me walk new hikes randomly picking one without knowing where it leads. I’m looking for a sense of exploration and discovery. And yet walking those trails had not given me as much satisfaction as I expected.

What else could I try? How about stepping off a trail? That was what I did on the last hike. I was walking contemplating the above when I realized I was beating with my boots the same path that many people before me had walked. Then I stepped off the trail.

Now in hard to walk northwest forest I really felt like an explorer. And it was magical. I heard a noise of a water stream giving life to the forest. I followed the sound of it from a tree to a tree trying to find it. When I found it I walked along trying to see where it went until I reached a cliff below which the stream disappeared.

On the way back along the stream I found this nice and cozy spot which I really liked. As I considered making a photo of it my first thought was that there would be nothing special about this image. That was the moment when it dawned on me that impressing others with my photos had become a measure of how good a photo was for me. And that was not very satisfying after some time. Feeling emotional connection to the place I photograph would be much more satisfying.

Entanglement
Entanglement

Melakwa Lake to Pratt Lake

This is a kind of interesting blog post: a trip report. Something that I have not done before. Another thing that is unique to this blog post is how fast I did post-processing of photos. Typically, it takes me days if not months after an actual trip. This time I’ve done it in a day.

Yesterday with a good company I went on a one way hike starting at Melakwa Lake trailhead and finishing at Pratt  Lake trailhead. It was an interesting and challenging hike, slightly over 14 miles long (not counting the side trips we took). Just walking it would take us 7 hours. 5 more hours we spent photographing and taking side trips. Overall the trip took us 12 hours. We started hiking at around 6am and finished around 6pm.

Not far from trailhead the trail passes under I-90 viaduct with its nice curve:

In 40 minutes we got to the first waterfall without a name. We just passed by since we tried to get to Keekwulee Falls by sunrise. It was another 30 minutes before we got to Keekwulee Falls and we missed sunrise which turned out to be not a big problem since there was no beautiful sunrise and the light was not aligning with the waterfall either.

It was still great that we got there so early. The early morning sun was lighting up granite wall across the waterfall reflecting back soft warm light while waterfall itself stayed in shadow with water reflecting deep blue of the sky. Keekwulee Falls was a great destination for photography: it has so many intricate streams, cascading water, emerald pools, that provide endless opportunities for images.

We spent one and a half hours by Keekwulee Falls. I could easily spend there even more making more images. Once we left this waterfall we went on climbing even steeper higher to a pass. Doing this early morning with air still cool after night definitely made it easier. At some point we passed one more waterfall but it had no close approach. We could barely see it thru trees. Once over the pass we quickly got to the first alpine lake on our hike: Melakwa Lake with Upper Melakwa Lake just a short distance away. At this point the sun was high. The light was flat – the kind of landscape photographers don’t like. I was not discouraged by that since the main goal was exploration. Still I made it a goal to take at least one interesting photo on each lake. So here the go in the order of appearance.

Melakwa Lake:

Lower Tuscohatchie Lake:

Near Pratt Lake:

Pratt Lake:

Pratt Lake was the last alpine lake on our trail. Once we passed it the trail went up steeply to a pass that would get us over the ridge closer back to civilization. Unfortunately I must say I did not find lakes very picturesque. The all elongated north to south with approaches from south or  north end surrounded by tall granite walls on both west and east side. This means that there is no photo opportunity at sunrise or sunset.

Once we got to the top of the ridge I saw this tree covered with bright orange mushrooms. Just had to take a picture of it:

Over the ridge and on the way down to Pratt Lake trailhead the trail was uneventful: monotonically old growth forest. It was an easy walk down but I was not surprise to see tired faces of people walking up. For them it was long, steep and boring hike. There were occasional small streams but they were lacking enough water to become interesting. It has been a very dry week here and it was a sunny side of the ridge. Still there was one interesting waterfall which I’d like to return back to after rain:

Close by

Do I really need to travel far to make photos? Just last weekend I’ve discovered a hike which is only half an hour of driving from my house and yet it has some beautiful waterfalls, creeks and alpine lakes. Well, I have not got to the lakes yet. The two times I went to that hike I got caught up too much with the waterfalls. There are four(!) waterfalls in just the first two miles of the hike.

I still see several image to be made even with closer waterfalls and with the furthest I’ve got to so far I’ve just scratched the surface so to speak. Now I plan to make it all the way just to see everything that it has to offer.

I’m still in awe if the beauty of the place I live in.

A Dream About Water

I’ve wrote about light painting before and I’ll likely write more again as this really fascinates me in photography. For me it is a lot of fun playing with lights, a lot of creativity as I create something that was not there in the first place, and a lot of surprise as most of the time what I get is unexpected.

Here is an image that got me very excited about light painting again. I spent a day photographing fall foliage in Kubota Gardens in Seattle (I’m still working on post-processing those photos). At dusk as it got dark enough for exposures to go up to 30 seconds I started playing with light painting with two waterfalls I found in the gardens.

I found the upper waterfall to be more interesting of the two because it had red leaves caught in the stream and I could get a more dynamic image with foreground and background.

There were two new things I played with this time. First, I brought two different flashlights: one had cool light and the other one had warm light. So, I could do not only light painting but also color painting. The other thing that I played with was focus, shifting focus in the middle of light painting. This created dreamy effect.

For those interested in more technical details here is how I took this image. The camera was on a tripod, aperture wide open (f/4 for the lens that I used), shutter was 30 seconds. It was pretty dark already, my camera was not able to focus just using ambient light. First I would use very powerful warm flashlight. I would point to a rock in the middle of the frame and focused the camera using auto focus. I would turn off auto focus then. Turn off the flashlight, so it does not light up something accidentally, and release shutter. Then quickly with the same powerful warm light I would trace the waterfall and the creek back and forth a few times to ensure that individual spots or streaks of light a now visible. That was taking me about 5 seconds. Then I would turn off flashlight and defocus the lens. The rest of 25 seconds I was using weak cool flashlight to light up sides of the frame while the camera was out of focus. I did this ten times or more, every time getting a different image – I love the element of surprise. This I think is the best out of the series.

A Dream About Water
A Dream About Water