Saturday, July 31, 2010

Having Fun

Pictures are everywhere…even in parking lots.  I was in California
this past week, learning to cook Thai food (even photographers 
need a hobby) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t bring a camera along. 
Here, in the middle of the city, I still found myself looking for natural
subjects and one evening stumbled onto these palm trees lit by a 
streetlight just at dusk. The contrast of the golden light and the blues 
of the dusk sky were irresistible. Natural or artificial?  Who cares? 
Photography is about light, and discovery, and occasionally, just 
pure visual fun.  I will spare you the pictures of my Tamarind Prawns, 
even though they came out great.

Nikon D700, 35-70mm lens, Gitzo tripod

Environmental Milestone

Glines Canyon Dam, Elwha River

In June of 2011, work will begin on the largest dam removal and river restoration project in US history on Washington's Elwha River. The goal: to remove two obsolete but ecologically catastrophic dams and return this 72 km long river to something approximating its natural state. Ultimately the goal will be to restore what were once huge salmon runs, destroyed when the dams were built in the early 20th century. The majority of the Elwha watershed lies within Olympic National Park, making it possible to protect the river, and the salmon, forever.
Federal authorization for this project, which we actively supported, was passed in 1992, so it has taken nearly two decades just for the work to begin. The removal is expected to take 3 years. How long the river will require to heal itself - and to flush out the vast amounts of impounded sediment - is anyone's guess.  
This project may seem small and local, but it is anything but insignificant; it represents a major re-thinking of our relationship with rivers... and quite possibly the planet. It will certainly help guide future dam removals all over the world.
I hope to devote considerable time to documenting the river and its restoration over the next few years. Stay tuned.

For more information on this story, go to Elwha

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer on the Cool Coast

 Elephant Rock, Washington    
I feel a little guilty. The rest of the country is sweltering and I’ve been sitting in the fog, wrapped in fleece. Seattle is having very unfamiliar 80-plus temperatures all this week, but just two hours away, on the outer coast, it’s freezing. I got up well before dawn this morning to be in position for sunrise on this handsome rock off the Olympic Peninsula, with dreams of warm, dawn light. Not a chance. Four hours later, I was still fog-bound. Nice to be there, of course, and yes, there is a certain mystery to fog. But the flat, colorless sky was not what I had been hoping for. Weather is always a crapshoot: the sun was out all day just up the coast. Guess I’ll have to try this puppy again; someday I’ll get the picture I’m after...! 
Meanwhile, take a good look at the spectacular cover story on underwater caves in this month’s National Geographic. There are some stunning pictures there – and some terrifying ones – a fine piece of work by Wes Skiles, a man who dedicated himself to documenting, and protecting these unique environments. Look at the pictures, and then reflect on the man: Skiles was killed just this week in a diving accident. It is a terrible, and untimely loss.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens, 15 second exposure

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Roadside Attractions

Glacial Erratic, Columbia Plateau
I have often said that I find some of my most interesting pictures on the way to somewhere else. Case in point: a few days ago I was rushing to get to the Grand Coulee Dam in time to scout out locations for sunset, and was barreling across the Columbia Plateau, deep into a book-on-tape. It was all wheat fields and dirt for as far as the eye could see. Fine, no distractions...
Then I saw this thing. A quick look in the rear view mirror, and I slammed on the brakes, pulling onto a narrow, sloping shoulder. So what is this big rock in the middle of a farmer's wheatfield?  It stands about 25 feet tall, so it's obviously a little hard to move; Instead the farmer just drives his harvester around it when the time comes.
This chunk of basalt is a glacial erratic, a piece of rock carried to this spot and then dumped by a retreating glacier some 10-15,000 years ago. I studied Northwest geology in college and had read about these, and have seen them elsewhere, but this was a monster. It can literally be seen for miles in the middle of this endless, undulating landscape.
It was the middle of the day, so the light was nothing special. (A polarizer helped cut the haze) Happily, there were a few clouds in the sky so I was able to balance rock and clouds to create just the slightest bit of visual interest. But in the end, this simple picture is less about technique than about story: a vivid reminder of the effect glaciers hand on the Northwest landscape.  Works for me.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens, Polarizing Filter

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not exactly wildlife...

Laser Light Show, Grand Coulee Dam

Seattle has been buried in fog this past week, so to get my dose of Vitamin D, I took advantage of the local "rain shadow" effect, and went to the east side of the Cascades where the sun is predictably hot.  I shot some desert landscapes, some wheat fields, and a rather mediocre sunrise on Mt. Rainier. Along the way, I also stopped at the legendary Grand Coulee Dam, where, in summer, they put on a "laser light show" every evening.  With a hokey narrative and cartoon-like visuals, it was a colossal waste of technology,  squandering what may be the world's greatest IMAX screen on dopey 1970's graphics. On a whim, I tried photographing the show, though the constantly shifting images wreaked havoc with my six-second ISO 1000 exposure.s..  This is one of the few that worked - and actually makes the show look better than it was!  
What you can't see, however, are the mosquitos. To keep the grass lush and green in the middle of the desert, the Bureau of Reclamation has sprinklers on constantly... guaranteeing clouds of blood-sucking insects during the evening show.  Nice... 

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens, 6-second exposures, ISO 1000

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Gift of Light

Waterfall on beach, Oregon Coast

It was supposed to rain last night, but on a whim I staked out a spot on the coast where a small seasonal waterfall drops directly onto a cobble beach. It was a place that I had always wanted to photograph, but had never been nearby in the right weather, or at the brief time of year when the water flows. Happily, the clouds opened up briefly in the last afternoon and I got a couple hours of increasingly warm light until the weather arrived in earnest.

Even still, I'm not wild about anything I got here, to be honest.  Nice light, nice little cascade, but overall, an awkward setting. The fact is, not every natural landscape makes for a terrific picture. It may have all the elements, but still not lend itself to a compelling composition.

I may try this spot again some time to see if a different angle, tide or weather can make something happen. Either way, it was still a lovely evening in a beautiful place.

Nikon D700, 17-35mm lens