Chasing Winter in Oregon…

Phoenix is world famous for it’s scorching Summer heat.  It’s borderline uninhabitable here during the Summer months, but our Winters are nothing short of amazing for beautiful weather.  However, that means we don’t really get a traditional Winter with frigid cold, crisp ice and beautiful soft snow.  I grew to appreciate the Winters around Reno and Tahoe for the short time I got to spend up there with Merelyn before she was transferred to Texas.  I missed the snow and the cold.

In December, Sedona got it’s first snow of the season and I dropped everything and ran up there to enjoy the snow and capture some photos with a fellow shutterbug.  After that amazing trip, I wanted more snow.  I wanted to really get some quality Winter time in and I knew January was going to be full of opportunities.

Since my wife works retail, we don’t get to travel on Christmas.  So in January, we headed up north to Oregon to visit my brother and his family.  My mother also came out to visit and we had a late family Christmas together at my brother’s new house.  Merelyn had never been to Portland and I was excited to get her on the plane for a new adventure in Northern Oregon.  It helped that a storm had been rolling in and there had been fresh snow throughout that part of the country.  I just hoped the freeways were clear as we crawled into the SUV with my brother for the drive across the state.

Winter in Oregon - Multnomah FallsMerelyn and I had been sitting for hours and were looking at another long sit in the car, so we had asked if we could stop and check out any short hikes along the Columbia River.  My brother suggested we check out Multnomah Falls.  None of us had ever hiked it before and the falls is located just off the highway so it seemed like an easy choice.  It was cold and rainy and Merelyn wasn’t feeling well, she’d caught the seasonal crud like everyone else.  But she curled up in one of my new Columbia shells and braved the weather with my brother and I.

Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high, making it the second highest year-round waterfall in the Country.  The trail sets off from the lodge and crosses a couple of quaint, picturesque bridges before turning into a series of paved switchbacks that offer views of the Columbia River before reaching the top.  There was some trail maintenance going on at the top so the end of the trail along the edge of the water was nothing but thick, sticky mud.  My brother and I slogged through the mud to the overlook which offered a view straight down the 620 foot drop.  Nothing spectacular, but I would recommend anyone do the hike at least once if you’re in the area.

Weather was clear for the rest of the drive, and we arrived at my brother’s place in the dark.  We had a great time with the family and I was finally in cold and snowy conditions allowing me to put some of my Winter gear to the test.  Columbia had sent me a battery powered Winter jacket just as the weather turned warm in Arizona and I hadn’t had a chance to use it all year.  I was finally spending a week in weather down to 4 degrees allowing me to test it’s functionality.

I really just enjoyed the cold.  I was outside every chance I got, even if just to walk out onto the back porch while it was snowing to play with the dogs.  I’ve always preferred the cold over heat.  How I ended up in Phoenix of all places sometimes eludes me.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

All of us took one particularly cold afternoon and visited the Oregon Trail Center in Baker.  While most everyone was happy to stay indoors and casually meander through the displays, I breezed through the covered wagons and educational videos and headed outside to the snow covered trails.  My footprints were the only ones out there besides the birds and a few cats.  I was bundled up and I had my camera to capture some really nice shots of the sun flooding through the stormy clouds over snow-covered valley.  It was a really nice area and so different than the scenery in Arizona.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

My mother left early to try to make it out of the valley before the next storm hit.  The next day we all bundled up and headed out early for an afternoon on the slopes.  I had never snowboarded before and was anxious to try it out.  On the way out, we stopped at the Elk Feeding Station outside Baker City for a quick tour of the Elk.  Operated by T&T Wildlife Tours for the last 22 years, they use huge draft horses to haul people down the hill to the feed operation where you can watch the Elk feed only a few yards away.  They also offer a wealth of information about the animals and the feed operation.

Winter in Oregon - Draft horses pulling the carriage at the Elk Viewing

After the Elk we headed up the hill to Anthony Lakes to try out some snowboarding.  We got our passes and rented the gear we needed for the afternoon.  Merelyn, feeling a little better by now, rented skis and I got boots so I could strap into a borrowed snowboard.  The kids were off for some lessons at the you-don’t-belong-here slope while my brother tried to talk me through the basics.  We joined the kids at the tiny we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing area where I was surrounded by miniature skiers and snowboarders who already knew more than I did.

Winter in Oregon - Anthony Lakes

Winter in Oregon - my brother and I on the liftEntirely frustrating at first, once I learned how to stand up without immediately falling back down I started to have fun.  My brother had little patience for this, as did I, so as soon as I could stand up he suggested we get on the lift and try a real hill.  “You’re not going to learn anything on this”, he had said at the bunny slope.  He was right.

Of course I did my fair share of falling, but not as much as I expected.  I really only toppled over a few times and recovered quickly.  It was also not nearly as exhausting as I expected it to be and we managed to get a couple of runs in on one of the longer intermediate slopes.  Our second time out the whole family went up and while my brother helped his youngest with his snowboarding, Merelyn skied circles around me.  Still, I had a blast and wished we could have done more.  I was just starting to get comfortable on the snowboard when it was time to go.  I look forward to getting more opportunities to learn.

Winter in Oregon - Merelyn and I on the liftOn the way back we grabbed sushi and the six of us had a great dinner together.  I downloaded the images I managed to get off of my new GoPro for everyone to check out.  The next day I took the GoPro out again and got some video of the kids sliding around on the icy roads while we walked to their grandmother’s house.  Those kids love to be on camera and really ham it up.  I loved it.

Leaving was bitter-sweet.  I hated to go, but I knew I’d be heading to Salt Lake City and Idaho within a week or so of getting home and that would be another fun adventure in awesome Winter weather.  It was snowing in Portland as we left and I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be when, one day, we can live where the Winters are white.

Somewhere like, oh…I don’t know…maybe TAHOE!

 

Winter in Oregon Gallery…

Photograph of the Week: Sunrise in Utah…

I spent the end of January doing a lot of traveling and trying to photograph as much as I could.  After an amazing trip to Salt Lake City for the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, a small group of us were rounded up before dawn and shuttled off to parts unknown in Idaho courtesy of GeigerRig.  The thick morning storm clouds were beginning to open up as the sun came up behind the snow covered mountains just north of Ogden.  Any good photographer would have wanted to stop and set up for the shot, but I didn’t have that luxury.  As we sped along the slushy freeway, I rolled down the window and snapped off a few shots hoping I could keep the camera steady.

Unedited Photograph…

Sunrise in Idaho-Original Photograph

You can see it was a dramatic sunrise.  The clouds were great, and the snowy mountains were picture perfect.  I knew taking the shots out of the window would give me a blurry foreground (hard not to at 60MPH) and would require cropping.  I framed the shot accordingly, knowing I would crop the road out later.  This sort of shot wanted to be a panoramic format anyway.  Problem is, the raw image muted a lot of the color and intensity of the scene.  So when I got back to the cabin I loaded the image into Photoshop and played with it.  I wanted to get some contrast into the image and bring some of the colors out without losing the clouds.  I did my typical edit of higher contrast, and pushed some light into the shadows and then intensified the blacks.

Photograph edited in Photoshop CS4…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Photoshop

I was initially very happy with this image after I worked it over in Photoshop.  I got the blue sky and intense sunrise colors I was looking for.  Certainly better than the raw image.  After time, I became less happy with the image.  I had lost some of the detail and drama in the clouds and the mountains still seemed a little muted in the color scheme.  The sky just didn’t feel as “big” as it should and the mountains looked pale.  After looking at it I also felt like I had over-cropped the image.  I needed a little more foreground, even though the foreground wasn’t anything amazing it still gave the story context.  Context is an important part of telling your story in writing as well as photography.

Photograph edited in Lightroom 4.3…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

I started from scratch in Lightroom with the raw image.  I played the same game of lightening the shadows and filling in the blacks while playing adjustments to clarity and contrast.  Once I felt I had the nuts and bolts of the image dialed in I worked on coaxing more color out of the clouds to set them off.  The differences are subtle but I managed to keep the clouds intact, bring more weight to the mountain shadows and still bring out some brilliant colors in the sky.  I fine tuned the yellows and oranges to keep the pallet warm but not “sunset warm”.  I cropped the image to include more of the foreground which seemed to maintain the “big sky” feel that the original image had.

Ultimately, I now feel I’ve got an image that has retained the integrity of the original shot but with a much more dramatic story to tell.  This just shows you what minor tweaks to the development and cropping can do for an image.

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/200, F/7.1, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Photograph of the Week: Point-and-Click recovery…

Back in 2007 I spent a month rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon on a private boat trip from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead.  I was very nervous about bringing my DSLR on a month long rafting trip so I took my Olympus Stylus I purchased just for that trip.  While a great little bomb-proof adventure camera, the images were not great.

At the time, I had little experience editing/enhancing photos in PhotoShop (or any other software for that matter).  So they collection of images sat around.  As I’ve been going back over older images shot with the DSLR I got to thinking about what I might be able to coax out of some of those old Point-and-Click images.  There were some nice shots in there that just came out flat and uninspiring, shots that just needed a little help.  Most were either blown out or too grainy to really do much with.  I did find a handful of images with enough potential to work on and was pleasantly surprised with how much I could do with them in Lightroom.

Photograph one: Sunset near Lee’s Ferry…

Lee's Ferry - Photograph of the Week

I believe this was our first night camping at Lee’s Ferry before we put-in for our trip.  It was on it’s way to being a chilly night and the sunset was crisp, clear and vibrant.  I got the camera out and snapped a shot thinking I had really managed to capture this brilliant sunset with it’s reflection in the water.  The actual image wasn’t as dramatic and I was disappointed.  Even looking at it again, I wasn’t sure if there was enough there to really get a nice image out of it.  But there is good contrast, potential for color and it’s a relatively clear image compared to the graininess in some of the others.

So I brought it into Lightroom and started playing with it.  I pushed in some fill-light to reduce the shadows and increased the clarity to get some detail out of the cliffs.  This already started bringing the colors out a little so when I got in to adjusting the saturation and luminosity the sunset came alive.  Without having to push artificial color in to the sky, the yellows and oranges burst out and the reflection in the water became more dramatic.  I pushed a little on the violet and purple spectrum and brought some color out of the cliffs.  I finished my editing with a minor crop to balance the composition and the final image now feels like the sunset I tried to capture on my trip.

You can tell I pushed a little too hard in some places and the image comes out little grainy in places, but the colors and depth are much improved.

Sunset at Lee's Ferry - Photograph of the Week

 

Photograph two: Canyon Walls…

Grand Canyon - Photograph of the Week

This shot was taken from one of the side-hikes we took into the Canyon off the river.  I liked this shot because it really represented the view we had from inside the Canyon – high, colorfull cliffs and endless canyon walls.  This shot had a good detailed foundation to work with and the colors in the rock are very washed out.  I thought it could handle the increase in contrast and clarity needed and I wanted to see if I could enhance the colors enough to bring out the cliffs.

As usual, I started with tonal adjustments and tried to create depth in the shadows.  Then it was a matter of fine tuning the colors, careful not to over-saturate the cliffs past the point of reality.  I managed to get some great color out of the rock, the detail in the cliff faces came out nicely and as a bonus, the sky brightened up and brought more attention to the clouds.  I wasn’t very happy with the lower details in the cliffs where they start to crumble and slope out, so I cropped some of that out to bring focus to the colorful vertical cliffs and the sky.

Grand Canyon - Photograph of the Week

 

When you revisit old images, do you ever think to try new software or new techniques to bring them back to life?  I might start looking at doing this more often.

 

It’s all about the juice…

ready to juice with the Hurom Slow JuicerThis is my juicer.  There are many like it but this one is mine.  My juicer is my best friend, it is my life.  I must master it as I must master my own life…

I’ve been talking about getting a good juicer for years.  Now that things are settling down a bit for me I can focus on my health and nutrition a little more and part of that process is juicing.  I’ve talked with a handful of friends and family about their experiences and none of them had anything but good to say about juicing.  They feel better, have more energy and, in some cases, have lost weight.

Over last few years I’ve transitioned to a more whole food, plant-based diet.  I still eat meat occasionally, but that is happening less and less.  These days, I have a hard time eating meat from big-box grocery stores.  Luckily, we have several very nice farmer’s markets and local growers and ranchers who provide quality food here in Phoenix.  This makes it much easier to have a well stocked kitchen with fresh food while supporting local growers.  We have almost completely pulled away from processed foods and I feel so much better about the food I put in my body.

I know there is a strong community of juicers out there who all have their favorite recipes and are always experimenting and developing new ones.  Hopefully, I will be able to share some of my favorites as I get more experience with my juicer.  I am very excited about finding recipes to use the pulp as well as the juice so less get’s tossed out.  Any of the pulp ends up in compost for the garden, so I’m not too worried about the scraps.

Anyway, I wanted to post about this because I’d like to hear about some of your favorite recipes!  If you’ve got a favorite juice recipe (or other recipe using the juicer) please share it with me below, I’d love to try it!

Mean Green JuiceMy First Juice:

This was a recipe I found over at MyJuiceCleanse.com

Mean Green Juice

6 Kale Leaves
1 Cucumber
4 Celery Stalks
2 Green Apples
1/2 Lemon
1 piece of ginger

FYI – The Juicer I bought is the Hurom Slow Juicer.

Photograph of the Week: The editing table…

I’ve recently become much more serious about my photography.  There was a time, back in the 90′s, when I was very passionate about photography and traveled a great deal in pursuit of interesting subjects to shoot.  I had a nice Minolta 35mm and a collection of lenses I traveled with.  I developed a nice little portfolio and had sold a handful of prints.

When it became apparent that film was on it’s way out I bought a DSLR setup and shelved my Minolta.  Shooting digital was a transition I wasn’t ready for.  I didn’t have the digital developing tools to process the images correctly.  I got frustrated.  I lost interest.  I lost my passion.

Over the last year or so I’ve sort of rediscovered my passion for photography.  It’s been a slow process (but seemed to happen very fast) and is in no small part due to the inspiration I’ve gathered from other outdoor photographers like Jabon Eagar, Vernon Wiley and Bret Edge.  The response to the images I’ve been producing lately has also urged me to fine tune and develop my eye and processing skills.  Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me to keep shooting.

My return to photography and the exposure that comes from Social Media has led to a lot of requests for tips or tutorials.  I don’t feel qualified to do that.  What I can do, is show you what I’ve done on more successful images and try to explain why.  I’d like to make this a recurring post topic (weekly) where I can post an image and explain where it came from, why I chose that shot and roughly how I processed the final product.  I’m still learning, but I can discuss some of the basics…so here it goes…

Photograph of the Week: Elk Viewing…

Elk Viewing in Baker, Oregon - Original Image - Photography

I took my Nikon setup to Oregon with me in January while visiting my brother and his family.  The weather turned incredibly cold during our visit and made for some really nice Winter images.  Toward the end of the trip we took time to visit a small Elk Viewing Tour operation outside Baker, Oregon.  I took shots of my brother’s kids, the snow covered valley and the horse-drawn carriage that took us down to the Elk.  We were brought within 10-20 feet of a group of nearly 200 Elk feeding in the valley floor near a small creek.  Unfortunately, all I had was my wide-angle lens so I missed the opportunity for any close-ups of the Elk.  I took some shots but was not terribly happy with what I was getting.

When I got back to the computer later in the evening to review the images, I just wasn’t happy with the Elk shots at all.  The colors were bland, the Elk seemed far away and I wasn’t happy with the composition.  They all can’t be winners, so I ignored them.

Lately, at the suggestion of Bret Edge, I began using Adobe Lightroom to process my images.  I’m pretty happy with the tools there and it’s encouraged me to go back and re-examine older images to see what I can do with them.  I’ve had a lot of success reworking older shots (even JPGs) to coax more color and clarity from the images.  Because of this, I decided to see if there was anything worth keeping from my Elk shots.

I quickly realized that a big part of what bothered me about the above image was the composition.  More than most, this shot needed to be cropped into more of a panoramic view.  Using the basic rule of thirds, I cropped the image to make the Elk scene fill the bottom third of the image.  Suddenly, the sky felt bigger and the wispy clouds seemed to have more character.  Also, the boring trees to the right seemed to gain interest.  The whole image, to me, began to feel balanced and I found myself wanting to make this one work.

Looking at the new composition, I started to look for colors to accent.  Where is my contrast?  How do I create drama?  The blue sky was nice, but there was nothing but the white snow and brown, dingy trees to offset it.  Nothing I could enhance or develop.  I began boosting the contrast and clarity, looking for something that would stand out.  Then it hit me, there was enough heavy blacks and light sky and snow that this might be a good candidate for black-and-white.  The lack of dramatic colors in the piece made that an easy choice.  So I dropped the saturation out of everything and played with the highlights and shadows until I had a super crisp, heavy contrast black-and-white image.

The sky retained it’s dramatic look, the tree now silhouetted nicely against the sky and the Elk scene took the role of the detailed foreground.  I can’t decide if the dark ribbon of background evergreens that essentially splits the image in half helps, or hurts, the composition.  Either way, I feel like this is now an image I don’t mind putting my name on.

Elk Viewing in Baker, Oregon - processed image - photography

When I shot film, I enjoyed shooting in black-and-white and often trips with nothing but B/W film in my bag.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to see the potential in this image, but I’m glad I took another look at it.

What do you guys think?  Thumbs up on this one, or should I have left it in the virtual trash can?

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/500, F/11, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.