The Struggle of Indian Beach

It was Monday, and without even looking at the forecast I told my wife I was thinking about heading to the coast on Tuesday to shoot sunset. I hadn’t been in a while and didn’t really care about the conditions. I’ve just been shooting as much as I can lately. There was a beach I really enjoy, Indian Beach, and the last few times I went the road was closed after being washed out. I had heard it was open again so I thought it would be a good option as its about as close as you can get to Portland. That night just before bed, I checked my trusty sunset predictor, and it looked to be an all out firestorm on the coast. Sweet!

I woke up Tuesday morning and realized I wasn’t really excited for the solo car ride. It’s been a pretty rough few months for my mom, so I thought it would be fun to invite her as I know how much she loves the coast and she’s great company. I shot her a text around 730, and she was up for it, so the plan was made. I called the park and the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce to make sure the road was open, as I didn’t have the hike in me. I did it the last couple times and I wasn’t quite in shape for it. I didn’t imagine my 71 year old mother was either. Though I knew she could handle it!

Two o’clock came around, my mom arrived from Scappoose, and we were on our way. We made it to Indian Beach around four o’clock. I had informed her that my plan for shooting may be beyond her reach. The best place to shoot was up over a hill that was a tough hike for me, so I wasn’t about to let her do it. But Sea Lion Rock was magnificent. The sunset was timed perfectly with low tide, so I did have a small hope that we would be able to walk around. Upon arriving, it was pretty clear tide wouldn’t go that low, but I knew my mom would be completely content hanging out for a bit while I made the hike.

Beaming Through

“Beaming Through” I shot this image of Sea Lion Rock my first visit to Indian Beach in 2014.

So you can see why its worth it. It’s amazing. I made my way slowly over the rocks leading to the climb. I was having a little trouble as I had recently started wearing contact lenses while shooting to help avoid glasses fogging up, and my depth perception was a bit off. I also didn’t have that much time to spare so was in a bit of a rush. I hate rushing when it comes to photography. Actually, when it comes to anything. It wasn’t too bad getting to the top, much easier than I remembered actually. For some reason I stopped and snapped this shot of my feet on the top. Not really sure why.

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I also snapped this shot of the destination. So many possibilities. One of those places where its really hard to pick a spot to get situated on because there are so many compositions. But its not a great idea to run around during sunrises or sunsets, as they come and go shockingly fast. In fact the first time I was here, I was shooting next to a very odd duck who was literally running around hiding behind rocks shooting. No tripod. Thats a story for another day….

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I started the climb down, and got really freaked out. I’m not sure if it was my depth perception or what, but I found myself literally sliding on my butt. Inch by inch. I slowly started to panic.

I’ve recently been in some conversations online about photographers going where they shouldn’t for “the shot”. As I age, I think its stupider and stupider. Being a professional photographer does not mean you are a professional climber. If you actually are, great. But I am not. Nor are any photographers I know. And these days popular photographs of difficult to reach places cause problems. People post photos, and others want to mimic it. So even if you are qualified to go where you are going, its doubtful that the people that will follow in your footsteps are.  I have a pretty modest following. However you never know when a post will go “viral”. I think generally the big name people I follow realize this, and are careful about what they post. But in my situation, I try and remind myself, there is a one year old girl and her mother at home, who’s life would be turned upside down forever if something happened to me. Don’t push it Jarred.

About halfway down the other side I realized this was stupid as hell. Many that have done that trek would read this and think I’m blowing it way out of proportion. But screw them. It’s all about personal boundaries. That shot above was taken in 2014. I was 36. I felt way younger than I do now. I had a wife, but not a daughter.

I made it to the bottom. My heart was racing. I was shaking all over. I was crawling across rocks that I could have easily stepped across. My reality was totally skewed because I was petrified. So what if I’m a wuss, and so what if my photos suffer for it. I’m also going to throw this in, and I don’t want it to seem insignificant. My 71 year old mother came out here with me and was sitting by herself on the other side. I wasn’t worried about her safety, but she’s good company! I pulled my phone out to check the time and saw this photograph of my daughter. No. I don’t care what time it is. This is stupid.

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Fuck this. What the hell was I doing? This was tough coming over, how the hell would I ever make it back in a quarter the light? I would have max a half hour after I was done shooting to make the whole trek, including the 15 minute hike from my mom to the car. And of course how much time had I wasted? If I go back now I may not even make the sunset. So I honestly started hoping the sunset was a bust and started trekking back up the hill. If I missed it shooting, oh well. Whatever. I had a great time with my mom that day and I would be much safer this way. I was comfortable slowing down a bit and figure out if there was a better way back. Of course going up over the hill was much easier than coming down, but I had zero regrets. I got to the top and saw my mom sitting in her chair and new I made the right choice. I was back to her by about 5:40. I gave her a quick “that was stupid as hell” and proceeded to look for a spot to shoot.

I saw a rock that would get me something decent. I hoped. It took me three times longer than it should have to get to it, as I was still really nervous with my messed up depth perception and thousands in gear hanging around my neck, but I made it. It was covered in crazy cool barnacles that would make for good photos but my composition of the ocean and sunset would be awkward. I had very little options in movement, and time was out. If I tried to find something else I would miss the sunset or be too rushed to focus on what I was doing. This is what I saw. The sun was setting.

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So here I stayed for the rest of the evening. I’m going to share a bunch of photographs that were shot without moving more than a foot or two, but luckily I had the rock and barnacles to make for some interesting compositions. And now I could just hang out, on my knees, very uncomfortably, but I was safe. The chances were much higher that I would be returning home with no broken legs.

I shot a crazy amount of photographs over the next hour. My mom got pretty close behind me and started snapping shots with her iPhone. It was hard composing, especially after it got darker. But hot damn. It all worked out.

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This was over a very short period. But the sky changed so fast. From the tones of the blue background, to the fire of the sun hitting the clouds. Blue. Purple. Orange. Red. I shot non stop, not taking enough time to enjoy it with my own eyes. But I’m used to that! From the moment I arrived on this rock, I saw a barnacle that I was obsessed with. I shot it over several stages of the experience, but wasn’t sure how the composition would make sense larger. I was in a really awkward position shooting it and couldn’t get a great view on the screen or in the viewfinder. Well, it worked out. Everything had worked out. And I was safe.

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Suddenly I realized I had better get off my ass and get my mom back to the car safely. The colors were still going. They had been for a long time. Time was running out. Tide was low. I extended a leg of my tripod as a “feeler” stick and checked around the rock I was on. Turns out I was so paranoid about slipping on the rocks, and I could’ve just walked on out here. When I shoot the coast I wear waders and boots and can get wet up to my chest. Oh well, at least the trip back would be quicker!

I got to the beach and my mom and I started hustling. I stopped and turned just as the light was fading and got a final capture of the colors fading over the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.

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We got back to the car safe. That lady is tough as nails. I’m excited to take her out with me more. I think she really enjoyed seeing how I do what I do, and she absolutely loves experiencing Oregon. As do I! She actually showed me some pics she shot with her phone, and I was like “shit I should have stayed with you on shore”! But after seeing my photographs when I got home, I was pretty content.

I don’t know if it’s age. I don’t know if its health. I don’t know if it’s having a beautiful wife and child that adore me, and completely rule my existence. Or maybe I’m a becoming a wuss. Thats cool. What I know is every time I’m questioning something that I’m doing, all I have to do is look at whatever current photo of Olive lives on my phones wallpaper. And it puts everything into perspective. Maybe it means the photograph I’m trying to shoot will be less than it could have been. In this case I doubt it. But if it was, so what? I could have sat on that beach with my mom that night and not shot one photograph and it would have been a night I would never forget. Almost daily I’m reminded not to take life for granted. I know its hard sometimes. Not sure why. But it is. I’m convinced we can find a balance. And maybe we can’t. But I’m completely content trying as long as at the end of the day I get the hug from my girls that makes everything okay. Getting the shot is great, but that’s much greater.

 

 

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A Cold Central Place

We got totally ripped off in Portland as far as snow goes. Schools were closed, and started late several days. In North Portland where I live we never got more than a 1/2″. This happened twice within a couple weeks of each other. I waited in anticipation. Let down.

My friends Dean and Becky live in between Warm Springs and Madras. They have 800 acres of gorgeous desert landscape that I try to visit at least a few times a year (I believe I’ve actually written about it before). The first storm of the year hit them pretty good but I wasn’t able to make it before the melt. But the second, oh buddy. It kept coming and wasn’t leaving anytime soon so I headed that way for a few days.

Being a Prius driver I borrowed the in-laws AWD and headed out not really knowing what to expect. As much as I love shooting in the snow, I haven’t had much experience doing it living in Portland for my entire photographic career. I haven’t had AWD so my winter travels have been somewhat limited. Getting over Mt Hood was a breeze, but descending into the Deschutes Valley into Warm Springs, it became obvious really quickly that I had taken the appropriate vehicle. I don’t think the Prius would have even been able to get off Highway 26 onto their road. It handles well in snow, but has really low clearance.

My first afternoon was pretty chill. I explored the backroads around their place a little bit before checking in with them. After a couple beers and catching up I did a little exploring up above their place. I kept it mellow, as I had an early day planned for the following, and wanted to get some rest. But I did end up getting a couple shots I liked!

After sleeping very little due to improperly stocking the cabins wood burning stove with logs, I woke up at a fun 4am to head to Smith Rock for sunrise. Normally its about a 30 minute drive from Dean and Beckys, but I knew it would be a little slower and take me some time to find my sunrise shooting spot. Sure enough it was 2 degrees, a total white out of fog, and the roads were solid ice. It took me about an hour to get there, but I was fine taking my time. I was the first person there. There was fog building, and I knew my window could be pretty short so I got right to it. It was a whomping 3 degrees at Smith Rock. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was in no way prepared for this. My hope was to do some snow shoeing around to find my spot, but I was in pain after just 10 minutes out of the car. I shot for a few minutes and started seeing headlights from other cars arriving.

I jumped in the car to warm up and decided to move spots and try to get a better perspective. My whole idea coming here was to snow shoe around and get some unique compositions of a very photographed spot in Oregon. But the cold, the amount of snow, and thickening fog killed my spirits. I parked and hustled to the pretty standard viewpoint, and got what I could before the fog took over completely. I didn’t even have time to find any decent foreground subjects, as the snow made it difficult in the time I had. But I ended up getting a couple great shots. As we have all seen in the past few weeks, our normal iconic spots look quite a bit different when covered in a white blanket of snow. Smith Rock in the Snow

I was pretty bummed that the fog was taking over just as the sun was beginning to come over the horizon. It seemed pretty obvious that the other couple photographers there were too. I turned around and quickly noticed that it was making some beautiful colors through the fog, just not on the rock. So I decided to hop in the car and explore the area a bit as the sun came up. The light was becoming truly amazing incredibly quickly, and I was trying to find something without a house in the shot. I came back around past the main parking area for the park, and saw this out my window.

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I pulled up around the next bend and it just kept getting better. But changing very quickly. I hopped out of my car and as I was shooting this, noticed one of the other photographers struggling with the fog in front of the rocks. I was shocked that he didn’t turn and see what the light was doing behind him! watermark-7

The next hour ended up being my favorite shooting of the whole trip. As the sun rose and the fog thickened and thinned, it made for some amazing scenes with the fresh blanket of snow over the entire area. I drove around casually shooting, never needing to go further than 10 feet from my car, so staying warm in the process of capturing my images.

I was thrilled. I didn’t get what I had envisioned of Smith Rock, but it’s always exciting to shoot what I feel is actually better, and significantly more unique. It can be a struggle to captivate people with unfamiliar places vs well know spots, but I feel many will appreciate the beauty of what I captured more than they would of the same old scene. I hoped at some point the other folks shooting were able to see what was going on with the light that morning. As I headed back towards Terrebonne, the nearest town, Smith Rock was completely invisible in the fog so I decided to call it good with the area. It was still only like 730 in the morning, and I was ready for breakfast.

I have recently fallen in love with Sisters, Oregon. So next on my list was to drive that way. There was a couple things I wanted to shoot, the beautiful Ponderosa Pines that surround the town, and there’s a short hike to a great vista at Eagle Rock. On the way I stopped at Cline Falls to check it out. I couldn’t get to the falls with the snow, but got a nice view of some ducks bathing in the rising sun on the Deschutes River.watermark-12

I carried on to Sisters and started off at a local cafe with some breakfast. I headed to the Eagle Rock trail after, but un plowed roads prevented it from happening. I drove around for a bit looking for the ponderosa scene I was seeing in my head, with no luck. I decided to call it and head back north to where I was staying.

I got back to the ranch and just strolled around for a while. Something about this trailer covered in snow caught my eye. Maybe it was the mud tones on the front, or seeing the two windows as eyes gave it an interesting look. watermark-3

After this I decided to take my drone for a flight and check out the landscape from above.  I hadn’t flown in this cold weather before, so I wanted to do it in a safe place in case the battery instantly depleted. It actually did pretty good. Seeing the view of the vast landscape covered in white, had me excited for the snowshoe hike I would be doing for sunset. This ended up being another one of my favorites from the trip.Cold Springs

Clouds had taken over what looked like a sky with some potential for a sunset. They have an epic view of Mt Jefferson, but it appeared it wouldn’t be seen today. I decided to carry on, and had a great time with the new snowshoes hiking up the hill to a nice vista. I had such a calming, amazing couple days, and this was my last hoorah. The conditions didn’t really pan out, but I still had an absolute blast, sending my wife this selfie, feeling on top of the world. Not the most flattering photo, but I think it shows how happy I was. It had been a long time since I had felt this. My travel had been limited with the birth of my daughter, and I didn’t know how I would take being away from her. As you can see, I was able to enjoy it more than I thought. Though I did look at photos of her on my phone every hour or so!IMG_2012

 

watermark-16I hung out next to the fire for hours that night scrolling through my work from the past couple days. Its been a long time since I have been that relaxed and rested. I had a blast, but was ready to get up early and get home to my beautiful family.

The next morning I made my journey. The snow stopped on Mt Hood for long enough to send the drone up one more time. I had been wanting to get some forest shots in the snow for a while, and now I knew the drone could handle a bit of cold I went for it. I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for, but was still proud and wanted to share.

Success! I had gotten away, had some amazing relaxation time, and some great exercise hiking in the freezing cold. And I had some new work I was really excited about. I was ready to get home and see my girls, but also now knew that I could emotionally handle taking these trips that are so necessary to my sanity. It gave me an overwhelming desire to live somewhere that experiences snow at least once a year, but I quickly reminded myself that I can visit Mt Hood (or Dean and Becky) anytime I want and not have to deal with the stresses of living in a snowstorm. It also reminded why I truly love photography. Having not been on a trip in a while, or really alone in a while, it felt great. I am about as lucky as they get, my life is wonderful, but sometimes I need days like these. With nothing to think about, except peace, tranquility, and how ridiculously lucky I am to be surrounded by the people and places I am surrounded by.

Do Social Media Algorithms Destroy Your Art Or Just Your Attitude?

Some may relate to this. Some may think I’m out of line. I’m trying to decide whether or not I care.

Theres more of us than I can count. People who have picked up cameras over the years and found a passion. Friends and family tell us “You have such a great eye, you should pursue photography!”. We get a little attention, and decide we want to pursue it seriously, as in to make money. Its the artists dream right?! Not just photographers…. Get paid to do what you love. Part of that is the enjoyment of doing the work, but part of it is also the gratification of knowing other people value your work. If a photo that I took means enough to someone that they are willing to spend their hard earned dollars to have it on their wall, that’s huge. And part of that means they like your photo more than the other one.

My entire photography career has had a love/hate relationship with social media. I imagine every photographers does. It can be incredibly time consuming with no rewards. Sometimes little time is put in, with massive amounts of attention received. Posting is an art form in itself. Which platform do I use? Which will help my business the most? When I have asked myself these questions, I find I do what I do with most things I’m curious about these days, ask the internet. So I’m met with blog after blog, written by people who claim they know how to crack the code. Ive tried it all. Sometimes it seems to work a little bit, but most the time, not at all. Does it mean my work isn’t good enough? Judging by some of the other stuff I see out there, I’d say no. Is about a game you have to play? Id say this is more likely. But is the game worth playing?

Upon a friends direction, I posted an image on reddit.com years ago and got a huge response. It went straight to the main page. Thousands of upvotes. It got me featured on a major blog, thisiscolossal.com. The hits on my website went bonkers. I sold one $45 print from it. But it got me excited. It motivated the hell out of me to shoot, shoot, shoot. My job is seasonal, so while I worked I would come up with these plans in my head about how I would push my work in the next off season. Much of the off time, I would gain momentum, but the second I would go back to work, and post less, the momentum would hit a wall. This would push me into massive bouts of depression, and destroy most of my inspiration to shoot, and before I knew it, my off season was being wasted just trying to understand it all again. But I don’t know how else to push my work. I’m a photographer, not a marketing genius.

Eye of the Waterfall

“The Eye of the Waterfall”-The first photo that got me some attention via Reddit.com

Last year I became acquainted with a photographer who has a massive instagram following. Over 50k. I couldn’t see his business doing anything mine wasn’t, even with my measly 1k I had worked so hard to get over several years. In fact my print sales may have been higher. I also met another guy with around half that many followers that spoke about the algorithms. Basically the game that the social media networks play. They have their own way of spreading out your posts, and they decide how many people see them. Much of it is out of your control, and just frustrating. I recently I shot a photo of a local bridge with a few snow flakes falling. It was decent, but nothing special. Somehow it got around 5 times the likes of my usual work. This didn’t lead to many more followers. It didn’t lead to any print sales. And I have absolutely no idea how it got so much extra attention. I could read someones blog telling me why, but at this point I don’t have any reason to believe those people have the slightest clue what they are talking about. I have also posted to a couple facebook groups regularly. I used to get a tremendous amount of support there. Suddenly it stopped. Now I am lucky to have 15-20 people like a photo in these groups on average. Is this because people aren’t seeing them? Did I do something out of line in the groups? A couple times Ive found myself shooting next to other group members, and they will post a photo a very similar representation of the scene, a half hour later, and get 1k likes in a matter of minutes. Even if the technical side of their shots were sub par.

St Johns Blizzard

“St Johns Blizzard”-This photo received 5 times the likes of my normal work.

I don’t get to shoot that often these days, so they are usually a little more thought out. I’ll get really excited after a shoot, and make a post. Two hours later after no one noticed it, I find myself incredibly upset. But after meeting people that have huge followings and don’t really have any obvious gains out of it, why does it upset me? Why do I care if the other guy who shot that sunset is getting significantly more attention? My art is supposed to be for me. Thats supposed to be why I do it. Thats why I started after all, not in pursuit of a new career. The more I try to push it and expect a response, the more frustrated I get and the less I want anything to do with it. Part of it has something to do with the amount of time I have invested in trying to build followings, with small outcomes. But at the same time I must be clear, the few hundred people that like my instagram posts are very important to me. They rarely purchase anything, but they spend a second of their day acknowledging that they appreciate the work I took the time to post. The artist side of me really appreciates that. The business side of me not so much. But they don’t unfollow me when I post a picture of my child amongst my dramatic landscapes. Though instagram strongly frowns upon that and I do lose followers when I do. If I have 1k followers, why do I average 200 likes per photo? Are only 200 people seeing it, or 800 people not impressed enough to double click?

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“Russian Circles”-My posts of any work I do besides landscape work tend to get 1/4 of the attention.

So how do I balance this? If I spend more time in a week messing with social media than taking photos, what is that doing for my art? What is that doing for my business? Does a true artist deal with his day job and just make art to make art? Ignoring the business aspect? Even if I could do that, how do I post online and not over analyze the reaction to my posts?

I don’t know if I will ever have an answer to the many questions I asked here. I don’t know if there actually is answers to many of the questions. The battle I have to fight is really figuring out what my priorities are. I find it hard to believe any photographer out there will say my time is better spent trying to figure out instagram than practicing my passion. But for some reason, it’s just not that easy. Believe it or not, the point of me writing this isn’t to complain about the world not being fair. It’s me trying to figure out how to have a discussion about how I move forward and . I’d love to hear your thoughts…

You can also see me speak about this on YouTube here.

You can see more of my attempts at happiness at http://www.jarreddecker.com 🙂

 

Tamanawas Falls

I love shooting in the snow. I love playing in the snow, basically doing anything in the snow, for short periods. One of the perks of living in Portland is I usually have the choice. Its an hour away, but I don’t have to deal with it in the city.

This year we had a decent storm. But my home in North Portland only got about a half inch. Eastern Portland and the Gorge got dumped on, but with the weather came day care closures so I wasn’t able to get out. On top of that my social media was suddenly drenched with photos of Multnomah Falls in the snow, and it killed my desire to head to the Columbia River Gorge knowing it was flooded with photographers. Photographing something while standing beside 25 people photographing the same thing is something I’m working to avoid. So I stayed home and took photographs of my daughter:)

The following week after the crowds had died down I decided to head up to Mt Hood for the day and break in the new snow shoes my wife Elizabeth had given me for Christmas. Theres a great website called http://www.outdoorproject.com that has awesome ideas for places to go with maps, photos, and descriptions of what to expect. I found a pretty fun looking snowshoe hike to a waterfall called Tamanawas Falls. I was pretty out of shape, but decided I could handle the four mile in and back hike.

I packed up and headed to the trailhead bright and early. I wasn’t sure what crowds would be like on a Thursday, and I was the first one there. Im still relatively green at snowshoeing and dressed to be comfortable. I was also breaking in some new boots I had grabbed recently at the Columbia outlet store. I started up the trail, and though it had gotten a few inches the night before, the trail was pretty packed down. Would I need the snowshoes?

Nope. Im pretty sure that at 4 or so of the 6 or 7 times I’ve been snowshoeing I’ve ended up carrying them. I have some micro spikes on the way, and should probably start with them next time. Luckily the shoes were pretty light, so I strapped them to my bag and carried on.

The views along the trail were magnificent. Most of the way up the trail the Cold Spring Creek is right along to your left. The deep snow beside the trail had me a little nervous about getting to the bank though. I was able in a few spots pretty easily. I probably could have strapped the snow shoes on and gone in anywhere! But I wanted to play it safe. Since I had dressed to be comfortable at the trailhead, now that I was working out I started to get really warm really quick. My comfort was diminishing rapidly, as my new boots were starting to chafe and my glasses would fog up every time I looked through the viewfinder of my camera. I was learning a lot really fast. Microspikes, dress lighter, don’t break in new boots on a trail, and use some damn contact lenses. These lessons are good for me. Next time I would be much more prepared, and luckily this hike was only 4 miles. In the long run I would much rather dress lighter and be a little chilly, than be hot and feel like I’m dragging tons of extra weight through the woods. Regardless, I was really enjoying myself. Peace and quiet, the beauty of the snow, and I could sense the falls at the end would be well worth the effort.

At one point I wiped the fog from my glasses, and without any notice (usually the sound of a large waterfall lets you know you are close) I was confronted with the view of what I had been working for. Tremendous. Larger than I had expected, and just gorgeous. I had reached Tamanawas Falls.

The Destination

“The Destination”

Most of my gear was still in my pack, and rather than stop and setup with ND filters and what not for a shot, I made my way in. A woman had caught up with me on the trail, and at this point she was past me. Wearing micro spikes, she wandered right up behind the falls. I decided that would happen for me next time. But there was a small pool a short ways downstream from the falls so I decided to set up there for my main shots. It was a bit tricky. I shot a ton. Im still somewhat new to using Sony cameras 100% of the time, and their tiny histograms make me nervous shooting in the snow. The scene was in the shade, so it was pretty dark, and I really didn’t want to blow out the snow while trying to expose to get the whites white.

I shot here for a good half hour or so. I walked up the hill to the right a little bit, but started slipping, and really feeling the blistering happening to the back of my feet from the new boots. So I decided to head back, with my camera still on the tripod so I could stop for some more shots on the way. I struggled. Within 10-15 minutes I was in excruciating pain (I still can’t wear shoes and I’m writing this 3 days later). I stopped as often as I could, but found I was getting frustrated as most the spots I veered off the trail to the bank, I couldn’t find a composition that I liked. I did get a few that ended up being some of my favorite shots from the trip, including these-

It was a really long trip back. I was cursing out loud every time I came around a bend expecting to see the trailhead. Fortunately the majority of it was downhill. My glasses seemed to be permanently fogged up, and my feet were just killing me. But I made it. And it was 100% worth it. I texted my wife that I was safe, and jumped in the car. I hadn’t eaten in hours, so hauled butt back to Hood River for some much deserved beer and chow. Mission accomplished!

Every time I do a trip like this it makes the next one better. Comfort for one. But also because I learn more and more about getting my camera to do what I want. Sometimes its a struggle when you realize something was just a bit off, but next time you go out you try and remember. With the crazy technology of todays equipment, there’s always new things to learn. But one thing I know every time, is I am incredibly lucky to live somewhere where in an hour from my house I can be on the side of a mountain. I struggle living in Portland often, after being here for 25 years. But these trips remind me why I stay here. It truly is an amazing place. And soon I will be able to share it with my daughter….

Up, Up, and Away

The only thing I like about flying is it forces me to be bored, which sometimes I need. Something about sharing the inside of a giant metal tube with 200 strangers going 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet in the air just isn’t right in my mind. But sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. It didn’t bother me as a kid, maybe due to a couple long flights to Australia and back. My father flew small planes and for a long time that didn’t bother me either, but slowly it started to. Maybe as I developed an excruciating fear of heights. So when my brother started taking flying lessons, my reaction was not “Oh boy this is going to be fun!”

One of the hardest things about being a photographer is finding new perspectives of the subjects we shoot. I discovered infinite possibilities when I started doing aerial work with a drone. Its amazing how much different something looks from a couple hundred feet in the air. But drones are still very limited. As I grew to appreciate the work of a couple photographers who do aerial work, such as Chris Burkard, and Michael Shainblum, I started thinking about the kind of stuff I could get shooting from a plane. Could these ideas overpower my issues with flying?

January 1st of 2019 I decided it was time to go up with my brother. We had a quick window in Portland winter weather, and were expecting a great sunset. This would be a trial run, more focused on how comfortable I was than shooting photographs, but I decided to take my camera along. As a licensed sport pilot he’s limited to daylight flying, so we would land when needed to and figure out some times in ratio to sunset for future planning. It was an incredibly foggy day, and was taking its time burning off in Scappoose where he lives and flies from, so fingers were crossed. I got to the airport at 3pm just as the fog finally started to clear.

The first thing to figure out was whether or not I could even fit in his Skyreach Bushcat. This thing is tiny. And I’m 6’5″. Its a light sport aircraft so its very light, and can take off and land on rough terrain in very short distances. And one of the coolest things is the doors come off. For me I’m im going to shoot quality photos from this thing, I don’t want to shoot through windows. But one step at a time. It was tight. Very tight. Especially with a 70-200mm lens on my camera. But I would make do. Skyreach Bushcat

We hopped in, went over some stuff and were on our way. As we lifted off the ground I was surprised how at ease I was. On commercial airliners, Im squeezing the heck out of the armrests on takeoff, landing, and through any turbulence. Usually accompanied by closed eyes and deep breaths. But this was different. Maybe its because generally you know nothing about he pilot, and I knew Travis’ primary goal was my safety. We were also traveling much slower than in a 737. Whatever it was, I was very glad. It was really fun, and absolutely gorgeous views.

 

 

We flew north along the Columbia River to Rainier, Oregon. On my brothers side I could see beautiful patches of fog through the hills west of the river. We went up and turned around and flew back, giving me a much better view of the fog on my side. Lucky for us to be up here and witness these conditions. As we flew back to Scappoose, the sun started to go down and we were given a nice show of color. I was actually able to pop off a few shots I was pretty happy with, even though I was shooting through the windows.

 

Even the landing was easy for me. Thats typical the hardest part, but we just seemed to plop on the ground and stop almost immediately. Travis really knows what he’s doing. We taxied back to his hangar, parked and got out just as my back was really starting to bother me because of the cramped space. I could see this being the only real drawback for me. So we would just need to keep the trips short. Or take the doors off so I can stretch!

As we sat at the airport we witnessed one of the best sunsets I have seen in a long time. These shots really don’t do it justice. But you get the idea.

 

Taking this flight really has me rethinking the possibilities. Being able to go places most other photographers can’t go. Perspectives that are otherwise impossible to get. Hopefully our future flights are as smooth, and the conditions are as perfect. Photographers generally spend a significant amount of their time shooting when the conditions don’t work out, that’s why when they do the shots they take are so special. Its not easy. Fortunately, even if the photography conditions aren’t perfect, I will still be taking part in something incredible.

For more information about light sport aircraft visit http://www.portlandlightsport.com.

watermark-6

New Years Day

Monday December 31, 2018, was forecast not only to have an amazing sunrise, but an equally amazing sunset. At least this was the case according to Skyfire, an app that forecasts colorful sunsets and sunrises. I haven’t shot much landscape photography in the last few months, so I decided I was going to go out with a bang and shoot both. My wife had to work, and daycare was closed for the holidays, so I arranged for Olives grandmothers to watch her so I could go out.

At 5:30 when my alarm went I had zero interest in getting out of bed. I somehow talked myself out of going out, and cancelled Nana coming over to watch Olive. I’ve been incredibly exhausted for the last 6 months, with very little sleep due to my child learning how to sleep, so it can be really tough for me to get up and going. Especially when there is never any guarantees about how the shoot will go. A bit later when I got up I noticed how foggy it was outside, which is my favorite time to shoot. Bummer. Snooze you lose! A couple hours later I checked the weather and they had pretty much cancelled the colorful sunset prediction, so I bailed on that too. Though my wife and I took Olive on a walk just before sunset, and it wasn’t half bad.

So I basically blew my last day of photography for the year. I checked Skyfire, and there was another good sunrise predicted for New Years Day. Elizabeth would be home from work, and could watch Olive, so this could work. I decided to go for it. I knew I would be up late on New Years Eve, and it would be especially hard to get up, but I needed to force myself.

Tuesday morning came and I hopped out of bed. I peeked out the window and saw that once again, we were fogged in. I had originally planned on staying close to home and shoot around the St Johns Bridge. But with the fog, I decided to go for something else. One of my more popular shots is of Portland taken at sunrise from the Pittock Mansion viewpoint. I shot this in 2016.Portland Sunrise

Though this is one of my favorite photos I have taken, I hadn’t been back to Pittock Mansion since. Its grown increasingly crowded. And honestly I think its impossible to grow as a photographer if you just shoot the same places all the time. I know a few that seem to go to the same couple spots over, and over, I guess hoping for the perfect shot. But that is very boring to me, and limiting to my artistic vision. Especially a place like this, where every day you are likely to be along the fence with a dozen other photographers. But over the last couple years I had seen some great shots of this view with fog rolling over the city lights, and thought this might be a good day to do some long exposure work. Who knows, maybe it will be quiet there with everyone being hungover from the night before!

I headed up to Pittock Mansion only to find the gate closed. It was 6:15, and the sign said it would open at 6. I did see a couple cars with people that seemed to be waiting for the gate to open. I almost went home. But instead, decided my two feet would take me past the gate just fine. So I grabbed my gear and hiked in. I was the only one there. Amazing. It was a little over an hour before sunrise, earlier than I usually show up, but it made me think it could be a quiet morning at the vista. A snapped a couple shots, but the fog was too thick to be able to do much with the city lights. The sky above it didn’t look like it was going to be especially great, but I was here so I would wait it out.

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“Peeking Through” 200mm, f11, ISO 200, 30 sec

A couple people started showing up, but no one was shooting. A woman did tell me that the day before the fog went all the way up so there was no view. I felt a bit better about not getting out. As the sky lightened, a couple photographers started showing up. I still couldn’t see much through the fog, but it made for a couple interesting shots.

The next 20 minutes were nuts. They must have opened the gate. People started flowing in. Suddenly there were 50-60 people behind me, and over a dozen photographers on each side. This was everything I don’t like about photography. But the sky was doing some wonderful things, and we all knew something special was on its way.

Though the fog was finally making way to expose the city trapped underneath, the lights had pretty much gone out so the shot I was hoping for had passed. But as each minute passed, the colors improved and the gasps of the crowd got louder. The crescendo of the morning light show arrived. For me its often not about when the sun rises, but the colors of blue hour, the period just before sunrise, and just after sunset. The view was amazing. Well worth the effort. A quick reminder of the excitement that can come from photographing the wonders of this world.

New Years Day

“New Years Day” 35mm, f13, ISO 100, 1/13 sec

As the pinks and reds faded, and the oranges grew stronger from the sun rapidly approaching the horizon, I zoomed in to check out the lenticular cloud formations sitting on top of Mt Hood in the distance. I ended up with a shot I really love, and one that is significantly different than the above photo in my opinion. Same city, same sky, just a few minutes later.

Rings Around

“Rings Around” 70mm, f16, ISO 100, 1/30 sec

Right after that shot, even before the sun came up, I decided it was time to go. I had no interest in waiting in line to file out of the quiet neighborhood the mansion lies in. I may have missed a couple decent shots, but I was pretty content with what I had just witnessed.

It had all worked out. If I had gone out Monday morning, and was disappointed, I likely would not have come out for this wonderful morning. Funny how that works. One of the hardest things about landscape photography is chasing sunrises and sunsets not ever knowing what you will get. Some will say its a thrill and exciting, but with my limited schedule it can be tough. But once every now and then it really pays off, and it totally makes up for every time I’ve gotten up and haven’t been able to get any decent shots. Every time I see a sunrise like this, it makes it a little bit easier to get up for the next one. The day I’m well rested again, assuming that day will come, I look forward to it getting easier yet. I get an incredibly amount of joy witnessing mornings like this, and its also very rewarding to be able to share these experiences with others. This is going to be a great year. Happy New Year!

A Quick Mess & A Waterfall

I hadn’t really taken a photo excursion since my daughter Olive was born in February. I was breaking a very important promise I had made to myself about focusing on a photo career, and had been working far too much in the film industry. While I made the promise once again, I decided to do one more film starting in late October. So the week before it started, I planned a quick trip away to Central Oregon, to see some fall colors. My daughter had been struggling at night as well, causing me to not sleep, so I was also hoping to get one good night in at a hotel. I forced myself to take two days off, and went for it.

I had asked a forum online a while back about ideas for this trip, and someone had suggested Mackenzie Pass. That was near Proxy Falls, which I had been wanting to visit for years, so I made a plan. Another had mentioned the Highway 35 path from the Columbia River Gorge to Mt Hood, conveniently on the way to Mackenzie Pass. The Gorge is known for being a great place to shoot autumn colors, so I decided to start there, go south behind Mt Hood, stop by my friend Deans place near Madras, and continue to Sisters, Oregon for the night. The next day I would go over Mackenzie Pass, and back up west to Portland, stopping by a couple other waterfalls on the way.

It was Wednesday morning. I took Olive to day care at 8, and hit the road. I had been working so much I had little time to pack and go over my gear, so I had just thrown some stuff together that morning. At about 10 am I had reached Latourell Falls in the Gorge. I hadn’t shot out here since the Eagle Creek Fire, so I was excited to see the conditions. The colors had not quite turned, but the Gorge is a beautiful place any time of the year.

Right as the trip began, I mad a horrible discovery. I had recently made the switch to Sony cameras, after shooting Canon for years. Most of my lenses were still Canons, most importantly my 24-70mm f2.8L ii. It was by far my favorite lens. And it required an adapter to work on my Sony camera. Too bad I left the adapter at home in my rush to get on the road! I still had a decent Sony lens with me, so I started shooting while deciding whether to go home and lose several hours, forcing me to abandon the Highway 35 route, or continue on without the lens. I decided I would proceed to Multnomah Falls with what I had, head home, and then start over taking a shorter route to Central Oregon.

Very frustrated and on little sleep I moved forward toward Multnomah Falls. A little over a mile before the falls, the road was closed. Shit. Well no big deal I would get back on the Interstate and get there that way. So I followed the only road, and it put me back on the interstate heading back to Portland! Shit. Well no big deal I would go to the next exit and turn around. The next exit had no on ramp going the other way. So I decided it was not meant to be, and I headed home to reassess the whole trip.

I got home, hung out a bit, and after having second thoughts decided I needed to push through and head back out. So I did. I went the short route to make up some lost time, and stopped at my friend Deans house in Madras to catch up. From there it was off to Smith Rock for sunset. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I knew the conditions would not be spectacular. But Smith Rock is still incredibly beautiful, so I had no problem hanging out for a bit to relax.

Smith Rock Sunstar

Smith Rock-Sony a7riii, Sony FE 16-35mm f4, 1/100sec, f16, ISO100

Off to Sisters! I made it about 5 miles before I got pulled over. Fortunately it was for a dead head light, and the very nice state trooper gave me a 20% off coupon for a new one, and sent me on my way. I headed to Sisters, and before checking in to my hotel, stopped by the local brewery for dinner. I hadn’t yet decided if I would sleep in, or shoot sunrise, but just in case I asked the bartender for a spot. I went back to my hotel and promptly crashed, though it was already past 10. I woke up at 4am out of habit. Bummer! But I did figure that left me zero excuse not to shoot sunrise. I was lazy about it, so I made it to the spot and had to rush a bit, but it was worth it. Once again, no clouds, but beautiful nonetheless.

North Sister

North Sister-Sony a7riii, Canon 24-70mm f2.8L ii, 1/60 sec, f16, ISO100

Leaving the sunrise spot I drove back through Sisters, seeing it in the daylight for the first time this trip. It is a wonderful town. I had driven through before, but never stayed, and am really excited to bring the family back here.

I headed up Mckenzie Pass. Lets just say I was confused. I was told to come here for the autumn colors, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Dead and Standing

Mckenzie River Pass-Sony a7riii, Sony FE 16-35mm f4, 1/40sec, f8, ISO100

I kept climbing the pass and eventually reached the summit and the Dee Wright Observatory. Very cool. As I made my way down the other side of the pass, I started to see what all the fuss is about. The trees were gorgeous. I made it down to Proxy Falls pretty early, so luckily there was just me and one other person. I put on my waders, made the hike in, and had a blast for the next couple hours.

The falls were very dry, compared to photos I had seen. I also had some struggles getting used to a new camera. I shoot with a histogram, basically a chart showing your exposure, and although while shooting it looked great, many of these first shots came out a bit overexposed. Fortunately I was able to get a few to a place I was happy with.

I continued up the path to Upper Proxy Falls. Once you reach the lower pool, the upper falls are still quite a dangerous trek, so I snapped a couple shots from the area around the lower pool and called it good. There was some good color on the path, and some gorgeous trees standing among it.

After Proxy Falls my next destination was Downing Creek Falls. Somehow I had stumbled across an article about these falls a while back, bookmarked it, and it happened to be located on my path between Proxy Falls and home. I drove until I had cell service again and then stopped to read the directions on how to get to the falls. The lighting was awful, but the drive was mind blowing. I was in a bit of a rush to get home at this point, with a big day at work tomorrow, so I didn’t shoot much. Im planning to go back next year with a tent and some time.

I read the article for the first time in several months, and it seemed the falls were a bit of a hidden gem. No people, but that also meant they were tricky to find. I followed the directions very specifically, and my trusty Prius got me up the logging road to where I needed to be. I had save the article on my phone, so although I had no service, I was able to follow the authors very specific directions on how to find the spot on this tiny trail.

Downing Creek Falls 2

Downing Creek Falls Trail- Sony a7riii, Canon 24-70mm f2.8L, 1/50 sec, f8, ISO640

I was tired. I hadn’t had a good night sleep in over a week. I was bummed out by the super sunny conditions, but more so that I had a huge day at work tomorrow, and was starting a job on Monday that I knew would kick my ass. Fatherhood has been the greatest addition to my life. But it has also seriously put me in check. I’m used to working long days, and I’m pretty proud of my capabilities. But I’m tired. Really tired. I had no idea where the closest person was. The only sound I could hear was the creek somewhere hiding behind the foliage. And that brought a peace upon me that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I missed my family. But I also miss this peace. I know I can find a balance. In due time everything will come back together.

I followed the sound of the creek until I came upon the falls. The short time I spent here made the whole trip worth it. It was so peaceful. Somewhere new. Taking photos of a place I had only seen one photo of, which always adds some excitement for new compositions. I had a blast. I’m also really happy with the shots that I came away with.

I stopped one more time. There was a moment when Mt Jefferson peeked through over the colorful autumn highway. It was a hectic stretch, so I had about a second and a half to get a shot, but I was happy with it. On this trip I wouldn’t quite say I got the relaxation that I needed, but I had a quick reminder that life is too short to spend it all at work. That photography connects me to a peaceful aspect of this world that is essential to my existence, especially with the current climate of our country. Next year I will get a little bit closer to the overwhelming happiness I see with my family and lifestyle I am moving towards. Im excited to share those times with you!

Mt Jefferson

Mt Jefferson-Sony a7riii, Canon 24-70mm f2.8L ii, 1/60, f20, ISO800

Rock ‘n Roll

 

As a musician for over 25 years, music was a large part of my life as I started dabbling in photography. To a certain extent, photography pushed music aside as my form of artistic expression. It was a bit odd, going from late nights in dark, loud, drunken rock clubs, to early mornings in serene, completely silent, peaceful landscapes. When I first started shooting, I was really into the idea of shooting shows. That presented quite a challenge for me with smaller clubs being very dark and difficult to shoot in, and me not liking the attention of walking in front of the crowd to snap the bands photo. So I played with it a little bit, but not too much. I have however always been a huge fan of high production light shows, and those who know me know my strong taste in very emotional dramatic music.

Since my daughter was born my travels into the wild have been few and far between. I spend hours looking at landscape photos on instagram, but it actually started to impact my desire to go out. Seeing 3,000 photos of the same scene, and many times the ones getting most of the attention were far from what I consider good work (not that my opinion matters). Even when I had occasional opportunities to go out, I didn’t find I had the desire.

In the middle of this, I treated myself to a performance of one of my favorite bands, Russian Circles. They put on a tremendous live show, and it got my artistic blood flowing a little, thinking about shooting them. I had developed an online friendship with a local photographer who had been shooting a lot of bands, and he gave me some tips on getting in. So I started researching. And about a month later I saw Russian Circles were coming back. So I said screw it and reached out to their publicist. She checked out my work, I assured her I wasn’t expecting free entry and had a ticket, and she agreed to put me on the photo list for their upcoming show. I was thrilled! Until the day of the show.

I found myself incredibly nervous. I wasn’t being paid, so I knew her expectations weren’t incredibly high, but thats a huge part of the reason I haven’t done much portrait work. People expect things. I would be in the photo pit right in front of the band. I had done hours of research on my cameras settings. But there was no way to practice, as the lighting in a larger venue is significantly different than a small one. And the band would be moving, as would the lights. Fog. Lots of fog. I didn’t know what to expect, and I’m somewhat of a worry wart, so it had me going. I didn’t even want to do it anymore. But I sucked it up, packed my gear, and headed to the Crystal Ballroom here in Portland.

I was way early, so I wandered around the beautiful club shooting some test shots. As time got near I made my way to the photo pit and chatted with the security a bit. The rule of thumb is you only get three songs. So I had a lens planned for each song. And I was saving the best for last. I knew these guys would do a short intro, and their songs tend to be in the eight minute range, so I made sure to ask whether the intro counts. I was told it did not.

Before I knew it the house lights went down. Security came and grabbed myself and the other couple photographers and led us in to the pit. The intro passed in what seemed like a few seconds and I frantically started shooting. I was half crouched, scurrying around the other photographers, with my legs literally shaking. After what I thought was a minute or two, the first song was over. And I knew their songs, so I was surprised how little attention I was able to pay to the music. Change lenses. Here we go again. Same thing, before I knew it, it was done. I looked over and saw I was the only one left in the pit. Sweet! I pulled out the lens I was saving for last, just as security came up and said “Time to go man!”. What?! “That was only two” I said back. “Those are long ass songs, time to go”. So off I went.

I spent the next hour walking throughout the club taking distant shots. My longest zoom lens isn’t great for low light being an f4, so my expectations for these shots were pretty low. I looked down at one point and noticed I had taken 1150 photos so far. Damn. One band, 1150 photos. There had to be some keepers in here! After the last song, and seeing I had totaled over 1200 photos, it was time to go.

Despite my early rise for work the next day I had to start digging in to the shots right when I got home. I went through about 200 that night, being happy with around 180. I was pretty surprised with the results. Understand that I would have 20 or so shots of the same scene, using burst mode on my camera. That would give me a lot of options, but also make editing and sorting take a really long time.

All my free time in the next couple days went to narrowing the shots down to 85 I would send to their publicist. At the end of the experience, I found myself incredibly fulfilled. A few weeks later would be my first landscape trip in a while, and I suddenly found my excitement for that had drastically shrunk. This had been a completely different animal. High speed, intense, and just a new experience. It was great. I feel like I need to start doing more of it, but most places won’t permit you unless you are shooting for a blog or publication. So the search begins!

Im writing this a few days after the shoot. My stomach is already starting to turn as in an hour I will be leaving to go back to the Crystal Ballroom to shoot my friends band All Souls opening for The Jesus Lizard. We’ll see if I feel the same about it tomorrow…..

 

 

Crater Lake 2018- A Battle With My Mind

I had a vacation planned for January of 2018 to travel to Maui to spend some time with friends. Kind of my last hoorah before the arrival of my daughter in March. There were some complications, and I realized that I wouldn’t really be able to relax with a seven and a half month pregnant wife at home. So I decided to cancel a week before the trip. In substitute, I decided to take a much shorter trip, to Central Oregon, staying much closer to home.  Continue reading

A Cold Journey East

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Eastern Oregon for the first time. It was the day after Christmas, and my mother, brother, and two and a half year old nephew were going to visit our friend Jeff at his place near La Grande. I love shooting the snow, and its been insanely warm this winter around Portland, so I thought I would go the distance.  Continue reading