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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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.

Beauty is in Details

I’m still experimenting with this technique of multiple exposures over long period of time combined in one image and I like  results better and better. I think I’m onto something. Look at this image. Pretty trivial and  obvious composition. The first thing to note is that clouds look like they are painted.

Then I looked closely at different elements in the image and liked this technique even more. Here is a fragment of a field on the right:

And here is the tree enlarged:

Both elements look like painted. The road is the only element that remains looking as a photograph. This combination of photographic look and painting look creates quite an interesting effect. I’m eager to start printing this to see how it looks in full detail print.

Snow in the Palouse: The Night I Came

Snow in the Palouse, cold, windy… I went there again to see it, to photograph it, to experience it. And I was blown away by the beauty of it again.

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I arrived there at night on the longest night in the northern hemisphere. Most of the drive was in the dark and most of it was snowless. But the temperature drop was noticeably. As I was driving I was watching outside temperature on my car dashboard. I wanted to know when it drops below freezing to drive slower in case there are ice patches on the road. As I got to the crossing over Columbia river I was watching in awe how temperature was dropping down another degree every 10-20 seconds. It was unbelievable: how temperature could go from +4 to –7C in a span of just a few kilometers.

As I was getting closer to Colfax the snow started showing up. It was getting thicker and thicker. It felt like the Palouse was the only place that had snow, isolated island of snow surrounded by bare land. And it was all in deep fog. It was beautiful. I just had to stop and photograph.

I stopped at the entrance to one of the side roads that was covered with too much snow, not drivable. I went to photograph a small farm by the road. I stayed close to the main road as snow was too deep to wonder off. I was taking picture after picture with long exposure. A snow plow truck passed by cleaning snow from the road. Smashing me with the powerful spray of wet snow and dirt. I was not angry, I was strangely calm, nothing could disturb me soaking up the beauty around me. And after all I saw his tracks – he tried to drive the truck farther away from me but splashing me was unavoidable.

I spent several more hours just driving around looking at all of it, enjoying all of it. Finally, past midnight I stopped, climbed into the back of my car and fell asleep, tired and happy.

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ETTR or Try it before you buy it

There has been a lot of discussion of ETTR (Expose To The Right) on photographic blogs, websites and all kind of other publications. With this method you expose as high as possible with histogram touching the right edge. Here is one article that goes in depth on this method: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml.

The idea is that this produces maximum quality digital negative. Often this produces image that looks overexposed and later in post-production supposedly you can lower exposure to get naturally looking image but with higher quality.

While it looks reasonable that this may reduce signal-to-noise ratio, I noticed that this results in images looking too flat and with washed out colors. On my last trip I took two images one normally exposed and one exposed to the right. The scene is extremely simple which helps illustrate the difference in result. In post-production I reduced exposure of the ETTR image to match exposure of the first image. No other adjustments were done to either image. Here are results side-by-side:

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Guess which one is which? The one on the left is taken with normal exposure, the one on the right is taken with ETTR and then reduced back exposure to match exposure of the first image. As you can see ETTR image results in less color and less contrast, i.e. lower dynamic range. To confirm this here are the corresponding histograms:

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Just by looking at histograms you can see that the range of tonality is greater in normally exposed image as well as greater separation of colors. This seems to disprove the statement that the article I linked at the beginning does that ETTR image has greater dynamic range.

I don’t know about you by I’d rather expose right than expose to the right. This is just another case to demonstrate my main principle in photography: do what you like, what feels right to you. And no matter how convincing a new idea you read somewhere sounds, try it before using it, get your own feeling for it. If you really like it, use it, just make sure it is because you got your own understanding of it not because someone else told you to do it.

UPDATE: I’ve got requests to include original ETTR image with histogram. Here it goes.

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Capture

Lights in the Night

I’ve probably mentioned before that I love photographing at night. Ok, if I have not then I’ll say it now. I love photographing at night.

There are several reasons for that. First, I like element of surprise in night photography. Human eye cannot see that well at night (though you’ll be surprised to how well it can see once you give it time to adjust to low light). Thus I don’t quite see how photo will look like. After setting up first exposure just having a general idea, I take it and I get a surprise as I can see things that a human eye cannot see: details and shapes that are too dark to see, movement of clouds and stars at long exposure.

The second reason why I like night photography is because it gives me an opportunity to play with light: flashes, flashlights, gels. That’s where creativity really kicks in. Rather than capturing what’s presented to me in the best way possible, I create something out of my mind.

On this trip (just as on many others) I’ve dragged the whole gang out of cozy rooms into bitter cold two hours before sunrise to get some time for night photography. This time I played with flashes. I’d work on the ice and after certain number of steps would put a flash against the ice and fire it.

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Fishing For… Photos

Looking thru archives is like fishing. And sometimes you get a worthy catch. Like this image coincidentally about night fishing. 🙂

The Night of Fishing
The Night of Fishing