Summer is here! Before diving head-long into long days high in the mountains, alpine flowers, and, hopefully, incredible light show it's always good to take a quick look back on the past shooting season. Being an Oregon based landscape photographer, springtime means easy living-- flower fields in the eastern Columbia River Gorge fill with balsamroot and lupine, the epic green lushness takes hold in the central Gorge, and the long days afford plenty of time to get out and capture all of this beauty. There is no better place to celebrate the spring explosion than the Columbia River Gorge. So here are a few of my images from the past two months:
Early May brings an explosion of life to the eastern flower fields of the Columbia River Gorge. No time of year excites me more to get out and photograph local Portland locations than this brief window of peak blooms. This year the Pacific Northwest experienced a weirdly mild and dry late winter & early spring, resulting in balsam root and lupine poking up much earlier than normal. Because of this early bloom, photographer friends who had booked tickets from out of state had to cancel trips or find alternative locations to shoot. This particular image was shot on April 26th. Most years the flowers are still reaching toward peak on that date, but it was clear to me they were on their way out. The constant winds had thrashed them around, mangling their petals, the sun had done its best to dry them out, and even a late frost had taken it's toll. In short, not many of the blossom heads were very attractive to shoot. I was lucky enough to find this nice little patch seemingly in good healthy. As the setting sun dove for the horizon I knew this would be my last shoot out here this year. I was already looking forward to next year!
Shooting these eastern Gorge flowers fields can induce a good deal of paranoia, even outright fear. Ticks are a fact of life while walking through and crouching low to find comps. In five days of shooting out there I brushed off no fewer then twenty of the little suckers! Fortunately, none managed to embed themselves. I normally spend a night or two sleeping in my car to catch a sunset/ sunrise combo. It's all I can do to suppress the neurotic thoughts and mental images of tiny weightless vermin slowly crawling their way up my body scanning for a prime spot to burrow in and slurp blood. Two years ago one dug so far into the small of my back a doctor had to core it out with a scalpel....unpleasant.
One momentary benefit of this year's warm, sunny, early spring was many photographers were slow to realize just how fast the famous flower fields of Rowena were coming into condition. On this morning (April 14th) I expected to find the usual dozen or more vehicles parked in the parking area, but instead I was stunned to discover I had the place completely to myself. It was my own personal flower sanctuary. Alone, light winds, pure color, and coyotes yipping at the rising light --few moments over the past year have felt as special as this one. This level of solitude at Rowena is not typical. If you haven't photographed there yet but plan on doing so, be forewarned, the early bird definitely gets the worm, in this case, the best flower patches. If your tripod legs aren't planted on firm ground well before sunrise on peak weekends there is a good chance most of the best ones will be occupied. This wasn't the case just a few years ago, a trend pointing to just how quickly the sheer number of people taking up photography has grown in recent years. I actually don't mind the hordes that much-- it's Rowena, it peaks for only a couple of weeks each spring, I expect the main area to be overflowing, especially on weekends. On the upside, among the crowd are bound to be familiar faces of friends I haven't seen for a while, or those whose work I enjoy but haven't had the chance to meet yet.
Once the flowers are past prime attention turns to the wet heart of the Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge is a nearly sea level passage through the Cascade Mountains and encompasses a unique inland ecosystem characterized by high rainfall totals falling at low elevations. The result is one of the lushest, most vegetation dense spots in the Pacific Northwest. On warm windless afternoons right after a rainfall the place absolutely glows with otherworldly green. It is truly hard to believe just how lush and vibrant the place can be unless you've seen it for yourself. The Gorge is most famous for giant waterfalls spilling over basalt cliffs, making for the lower 48's great waterfall mecca. Over the past couple of years, though, I've been drawn to lesser visited location just off-trail. You can literally walk a a creek a hundred yards from a trail and find many phenomenal yet "undiscovered" scenes to capture. Case in point is the shot above. No trail leads directly to this section of creek, but it's within an easy 15 minute walk of a well known trail. Possibilities seem endless there...
As many photographers have found out, one of the most difficult shots to pull off is a forest scene. Organizing the chaos into a cohesive frame is a task which challenges even the most experienced shooters. I truly enjoy shooting the creeks and falls in the Columbia River Gorge, but I've found myself increasingly drawn to images purposefully devoid of water. Water scenes naturally contain visual elements which are easy to work with while composing: S-curve stream beds, bright water which draws the eye through the frame, and elegant lines of falling water. With these elements absent the forest becomes an unruly beast, difficult to arrange in a way which captures the viewer's eye. I don't pretend to have one single image in my portfolio which does the Northwest forests true justice. The image above is my best frame from about 6 hours of attempting to find something that works over the course of several outings this spring. The challenge and chase is the allure. When something clicks, even in a small way, the satisfaction I soak up from the experience easily exceeds that of capturing yet another image of yet another waterfall. It's what keeps me going back.