Thursday, November 20, 2014

Photos and editing will be added here after Nora and I take a tour of Mill Creek and, perhaps, a nap when we return.

November 17, 2014

It’s Not Good for Photographers to Live in the Past

Accepting that I could be stuck in the mud, formed by decades,  as a photographer, I should become open to explore and perhaps comprehend that  hidden truths may be captured and revealed with my images.
That is, open my approach to new, artistic  visions as explained recently by articles in Outdoor Photographer Magazine.
I don’t recall their titles offhand, but they were well written and challenging by obviously talented and thoughtful photographers in the March and November issues of 2014.
I propose now to view scenes as visual metaphors and use photographic tools to express personal concepts about them and, therefore, express truths about myself as a total human being, not as simply a photographer.
If possible, I will move beyond capturing images OF natural scenes, great blue herons or launching hooded mergansers; I will open myself to seeing images ABOUT my subjects, achieve a state of calm and flow, allowing a meaningful concept to color my vision.
More simply put, I hope, I will eschew snapping images OF subjects but search for concepts ABOUT them. To repeat, by contemplating deeply and seeing insightfully, I well create photographic visions about them, visions laced with  my very own personality.
I wonder if waking up to a flat tire on the vehicle or slipping onto my backside during a freezing fog will  color my very own personal artistic vision.
Surely for many days after a spanking new Nikon 600-mm lens -- I can only daydream -- arrives by UPS, an explosion of joy will permeate  my images.
As wells as my daily life, at least for a few days or hours.
Now, however, when releasing the shutter of my Nikon, I am imbuing an image with elements of myself, revealing that I am lazy, imitative, intuitive, bored, energetic, artistic or a number of other qualities.
I must come to terms with that reality and use whatever skills I have to generate the positive qualities of my character, of my state of mind, inherent in appropriately composed, focused, highlighted and processed images.
Or, if a seen so suggests, I should honestly reveal the negative qualities.
Well, perhaps?
Nevertheless, old dogs may learn new tricks. I say that after decades of working as an outdoor writer/photographer who fished, hiked, skied, snow-shoed, beach-combed, and toured hunting camps, parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges in search of subjects to report about.
Photos accompanied my weekly reports, as visual support, helping readers see what I saw.
When, as I passed a pond  below a trail and noticed in it the reflection of Eagle Cap mountain, for example, I dropped my pack, scooted down the slope and pondered the scene until I determined the best vantage point for capturing the scene. One goal (concept?), more professional than personal, occupied my mind: compose, focus and expose the most interesting photo possible for my readers.
I wanted an attractive, straight-forward photo that would represent the beauty of the scene truthfully.
I never thought the image could suggest what a wonderful, smart, insightful person I am.
Or even what a scofflaw and laggard.
Also I don’t recall feeling a special calmness or flow (beyond being alone with my faithful companion Nora the Schnauzer (after Sadie the Dalmatian) in the Eagle Cap Wilderness on a perfect blue-sky day with scattered clouds) before collecting the image.
This absence of a precise personal concept  reminds me of a quote attributed to Ansell Adams, one of the world’s premier nature photographers and photographic innovators:  (OP 11-20014) “There is nothing worse than a  brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.”
Oh, if only I could produce images accurately imitating his.
Since Adams held sharpness, clearness and definition in  high regard, he may have felt some concern for the opposite.
If that’s possible.
I’m concerned about the criteria that Adams and others employ to claim photography is an unique art form:  Photographers may create a view of the world with a sharpness and detail not  possible with any other medium.
This postulates that what photographers see and record reality through a lens. Painters and sculptors start with nothing but a blank canvas or block of  granite and produce something from nothing.
Nature photographers record the real world, the living reflective light that records images on film or a digital sensor.
Painter and sculptors done?
To me, this is a minimal distinction, if a viable one. Eduard Monet lugged his gear (paints, brushes, easel, eye sight and canvas rather than a camera and a tripod) out into the natural light and recorded reality first hand from the impressions made on his senses.
His preoccupation with light reflecting on lily ponds lasted for about 20 years.
He belonged to a movement bent on the expression of perception before  nature. He painted the same scene hundreds of times in order to capture the changing of light and the passage of seasons.
This images took form through his vision, his skill and his tools.
Painters also employed models, human and otherwise, and relying on light and color, produced images of them as realistically or as impressionistically as their skill, equipment and vision allow,  much as photographers do. To say they create something from nothing ignores reality.
An in terms of an accurate, detailed rendering of reality, many painters and drawers render bird and animal images for field guides  and stamps that challenge photos with their realism.
An ocean-side scene as “the sinking sun flung a carpet of gold across the sea” from a story P.G. Wodehouse illustrates:

Very calmly she moved to the edge of the cliff, arranged  her camp stool, and sat down. Neither of  us spoke a word. I watched her while she filled a little mug with water from a little bottle, opened her paint box, selected a brush, and placed her sketching block in position.
She began to paint.

She records the westerly view from Lime Regis in England through the lens of her eyes onto her sketch block. She interprets it as impressionistically or realistically as her concept and skills allow.
Wodehouse uses words to describe the scene as it fades away:
To the westward the sky had changed to the hue of a bruised cherry. The sun had sunk below the horizon, and the sea looked cold and leaden.

The distant blackbird whose earlier song had been the only thing to break the silence “had long since gone to bed.”

I’ve heard that those who argue that a picture is worth a thousand words can’t read, can’t write and can’t think, but be that as it may.
I intended to experience that calmness and flow that will elevate my photography to the next level.
As Monday’s outing began with a clear blue sky, a refrain played through my mind “On a clearrr day, you can seee foreeeeverrr,” but by the time Nora the Schnauzer (she enjoys daily treks) and I arrived at Rooks Park, haze hung heavy on the horizon and a leaf removal crew’s mulching machine rent the air with irritating grinding sounds.
I slipped Nora into her red Ruff Wear coat against 15-degree air. Wearing several layers with two hoods, I pulled on mittens with a flap over my finger tips until time to press the camera’s release button,.
I carried the Nikon D3S with the 24-85 zoom lens, capped with a circular polarizer, and a Manfroto tripod and ball head.
With the jaw-tightening grinding in the background and shadowy men moving beneath dark trees, I stopped at the children’s playground, still covered with a thin blanket of week-old snow.
A sense of  loss pervaded the scene, absent of children and darkened by shadows from the trees, with a growing  haze low to the south.
A sadness of  the scene lay on me for several moments as I pondered and pondered, circling the scene and studying composition options.
Eventually my mood lightened as the presence of the sun, directly in my face, forcing light through the haze and the still limbs of tall cottonwood trees, dawned  on me.
I saw the light.
 I set up the gear, composed the scene to include the sun, lowered the shutter speed, stopped the aperture down to f/22. Although checking the histogram proved nearly impossible in the shadow-facing the sun and through tears in my eyes, caused my the chill, even when I turned my back to the sun.
I wanted the sunlight  to form a bright optimistic star in the tree, but I couldn’t tell for certain.
I realized, however, that I underexposed the first few images and made an effort at correction.  I couldn’t tell if I succeeded, and moved on.
We crossed the bridge over Mill Creek and climbed the trail overlooking the stream above the day. Three deer browsed among the  thick grasses, shrubs and the rust-colored massive metal devices holding cables to prevent logjams from damaging the dam during spring runoff,  and I pondered the scene for a concept.
The deer of course, would be barely visible (if at all) with my short zoom lens wide open, but it occurred to me that this Corps of Engineers flood control project miniaturized the deer and, perhaps, all of nature.
Anyway, feeling I’d had a concept, and with the light behind me, I captured the image.
To cut back on a story that promises to get way out of hand, let me summarize: On a trek of about three miles to Bennington Lake and back, I seeped my personality into many scenes and felt the calmness and flow.
I especially pondered over images of  Nora waiting in a trail and looking back patiently for several minutes to be sure I followed; of rolling wheat-stubble fields sheathed in shallow snow and as she waited in a dark thicket where fallen tree smacked of  both natures power and the endless impacts of time.
Of loneliness suggested by the dark sky above the barren field with a winding snow-covered service road running through it. Finally, back at the park, the symbolism of the bridge connecting to sides of Mill Creek, with the stream washing away troubles beneath it and an cold-barren ice covered bond surrounded by still warm-feeling golden grasses.
And Island of weeds in the rushing stream, with warm  ducks nearby,  
With a four-point buck looking down form 60 feet above the stream, and finally, a noble herron enthroned on a rock and wearing a a feathery cloak spotted with frozen crystals.

I’m not sure any of this raised my photography to the next level or rather I care if it did or not.
I had more pleasant picture taking times along Mill Creek and around Bennington Lake with Nora the Schnauzer.
Maybe it's not really so bad to be a little bit stuck in the mud, after all.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Colors of Fall, with Wildlife

The Colors of  Fall, with Wildlife

Ah, Fall!
Here at last.
How I love it, and I'll count the ways, somewhat.
Take yesterday, for example, I woke to an ice-blue sky, that endured from dawn to dusk, with a mild breeze chilling the 65-degree sun patches that spotlighted the birds bobbing on the Mill Creek mirror's technicolor blend of burnished golds, ruby reds and lingering greens of the ample shoreline foliage, as well as the banks beside ponds at McNary Wildlife refuge at Umatilla.
We have the many winged visitors heading south, and stopping over to rest, along the Pacific Flyway: mallards, wigeon's, great white egrets, hooded mergansers, wood ducks, and shovelers, common mergansers, white pelicans, bald eagles, and any number of surprises.
Some like it here and remain.
The legendary variety of this stormy Northwest season adds a pleasant spice to dog walking with Nora the Schnauzer that eases the summer's abusive heat, and I welcome it.
As today's 10-day weather forecast predicts, this variety will  include 19-degree nights, as harbingers of winter, within a fortnight.

Deer also wander about Mill Creek (Rooks Park area) and Bennington Lake.  A woman in purple may paddle across the lake, viewed between yellow cottonwood leaves. And, at dusk, the sun sinks behind the dam.

Today, for another example, slate-gray clouds filled the front window pane at first light, and the initial backyard visit with Nora the Schnauzer revealed a thick, fluffy blue-gray canopy stretching toward each cluttered horizon, and by the second trip out a soft drizzle caused Nora to pause before venturing onto the rumpled carpet of yellow-brown leaves.
At colorful Pioneer Park, the melancholy tone of the day altered slightly to fit the spirit of the season.

I love the fall. It may be my favorite season.
Well, except for the spring when the flowers bloom, the leaves sprout and a plethora of migrating visitors head north again to breeding grounds.
Actually, I don't mind the winter, either. A number of  birds hawks, eagles, herons and Pelicans -- to mention a few -- spend winter months in the Walla Walla Valley and at lakes to the north (especially eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene, Lake Pend Oreille and Roosevelt Lake).
Traipsing around in the winter poses few problems for me, or for Darlene and Nora. We dress warm and head out.
Only during those beastly dog days of summer do we (except for Darlene) suffer beneath that blistering sun.
We look forward heading north soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sharp Images Then and Now----

October 25, 2014

With the recent mild fall weather, the Blue Darter dragonfly fluttering up from the narrow half-loop trail off of Mill Creek seemed normal.
Well, momentarily.
It fluttered, rather than zipped like a jet, which seemed abnormal.
I watched until it clung with wrapped legs against a twig 12 feet up, backed by sun-bright leaves vividly dressed with fall colors.
I aimed the 500-mm lens -- I had been pursuing images of launching herons on the stream -- which automatically focused, nearly filling the frame with the dragonfly and the belated muted fall colors.
I pressed off a short burst.
With a 1/1000 shutter speed I hoped to get sharp images,  but they appeared soft, yet pleasingly colorful, in the playback LCD.

I recorded a few more images, with lower expectations of sharpness (without a macro lens, a ladder and very tall tripod).
Anyway, the blue darter images would make interesting prints.
In addition, during that week, I had added several images of beavers, Great White Egrets and Great Blue Herons (launching) to my collection.
One of the two beavers, by the way, aggressively approached nosy Nora the Schnauzer, who inched toward the beaver  in the quickening darkness until I warned her away.

I’m not sure why, actually, except that I enjoy it.
When I look back and compare older images with present ones, I don’t detect major or consistent improvement. I do understand techniques for proper exposure, focus, etc,. much better than even a few years ago.
And I have better gear, which may or may not account for whatever the improvement.
At least somewhat.
I have used the Sigma 150-500-mm lens for several years, and managed some strong images at the beginning (perhaps with luck), and I have some strong images with my first 300-mm zoom lens.
At least I have some idea how to use sutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance as well as manual mode and the other so-called professional shooting modes.
Nevertheless, I continue to bring home a few dozen redundant images nearly every day.
Now, if I snap 60 images, 50 of them, or so, will be focused and effectively exposed.
A recent as a year ago, perhaps 10-to-20 of them would meet such standards.
On a recent trip to the Columbia Gorge waterfalls, I assiduously used polarizing filters and  a tripod, rather than holding the camera by hand, for the first time.

I expected to see dramatic improvement in my photos of the falls.
I don’t see that degree of difference, however, when I, perhaps superficially,  compare the photos
with earlier ones posted at (10-28-10 and 8-14-13). Of course tripod photos may present a smoother water flow than the handheld shots.
Not that I’m a great fan of smoothing a waterfall so unnaturally, which has become a cliche.
Anyway, I have reasons to keep shooting the same images: 1) Eventually I may come home with 60 sharp, perfectly exposed images; 2) I walk with Nora from several miles a day (9.5 a few weeks ago at Big Sink) with an eight-pound camera-lens on one shoulder: and 3) she  loves the walks, can’t resist chasing the occasional rabbit or bird, and I enjoy her company.
Then we occasionally make a trek the MNWR near Burns, to the Columbia River Gorge, to the Oregon Coast, or to Twisp Washington.
And I aim to continue sharpening my focus.
Just in case.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mid-day and Evening Reflections

Reflections at Anthony Lake (9-21-14) and  Bennington Lake

September 23, 2014

Late Saturday afternoon, something of a relief  as Saturday’s go -- the aftermath of an exploding hot-water tank in the basement tends to create nervous tensions -- even two days later,   I shook myself, donned my walking boots, hooked Nora the Schnauzer to her leash, shouldered a Nikon and set out for Mill Creek.

The cool evening no doubt accounted for the streams of walkers along the stream and fostered my decision to amble to Bennington Lake and walk along the shore.

I stopped at the last east-end slot for vehicles along the parking area above the lake.  The low sun  already cast the dam’s shadow across the trail heading south, around  the lake, which we followed.
The sun shimmered on the water and reflections from the south and west colored the mirror-like surface.

Then, on the dark south side, a great-horned owl swooped silently through the shadows and perched  as a silhouette on a cottonwood tree's bony limb.
I captured the image, expecting it to be too dark for sharing.
It wasn't.

Finally, with a view from the steep south-side bank,  we shared the saturated  orange glow of the sun dropping behind the Bennington Lake Dam.

The view lifted our spirits, although Nora seemed more stimulated by the scents left by other dogs, rabbits and rodents along the dusty trail.

Then, still uplifted on Sunday, Darlene, Nora and I, rose early, dined in the truck on Egg McMuffins, cinnamon rolls, coffee and orange juice, and set out for a familiar Sunday drive: over Tollgate, through Summerville, Union, and North Powder to Anthony Lakes.
Nora and I walked along the lake-shore trail ogling the keen Gunsight Mountain reflections on the smooth water, the dragonflies cruising the bank (too swift to shoot), and an American Dipper tiptoeing on a boulder (too shaded-back-lit  to shoot).

We drove over the mountain toward Granite. At the bottom of the hill, however, we turned right, to Hilgard on I-84, left to Mission and a late lunch in the truck (again) at Subway ( bright sun and heat curtailed leaving Nora in the car while we dined) before returning to Walla Walla.

More photos at