Bokeh or Bust

Flower Power, Draper Girls Farm, Parkdale, Oregon

Dahlia in full flame-on last summer at Draper Girls Farm in Parkdale, Oregon. I added a little Photoshop PFM to enhance.

Within the last few years, I have begun learning the ins and outs of macro photography.  I don’t have one of those lenses that can be used to count the hairs on a dust mite, but I can get up close and personal with flowers.  It all started when I bought a 90mm Vivitar Macro lens from Blue Moon Camera at the owner’s suggestion.  Jake said that it was an outstanding lens, despite the Vivitar branding.  It turned out he was right.  I used that one for a couple years until I accidentally left a camera bag on the back of my car and drive off.  Now, it sits on my bookshelf as a reminder to never do that again.  Now, I have two lenses: A 90mm Tamron Macro, and a 28-105mm Nikkor-D.  Both do a decent job, but the Tamron, surprisingly, is the superior lens for macro work.  The Nikkor vignettes at wider apertures.

The image above was taken with the Tamron.  I like the bokeh that I get with this lens.  It’s creamy and lush.

As mentioned in the caption, this picture was taken at Draper Girls Farm near Parkdale.  If you live in the vicinity, stop by.  Bring your camera.

Advertisements

The Historic Columbia River Highway

Rowena Crest, June 2016

Rowena Crest in the Columbia Gorge. I shot this shortly bfore I injured my left knee in the Oneonta Gorge. Sometimes, it’s OK to shoot in the middle of the day. Camera: Hasselblad 500CM Lens: 50mm Carl Zeiss Film: Kodak Protra 160.

The Old Gorge Highway is still closed between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth due the aftermath of the Eagle Creek fire.  It’s  been a heartbreaking 9 months since the fire started.  Parenthetically, a small part of the fire re-ignted earlier this month.  It’s not out yet.  The deep places can smolder for a long time.  Multnomah Falls is open, and they opened the Pacific Crest Trail near Cascade Locks last week.

The HCRH has been the lifeblood of my photography since the mid 1990’s.  It’s been my little roller coaster in the Gorge, depending on how bad my brakes were.  Many times, I started at the Corbett exit, and stopped at the Portland, Women’s Forum viewpoint.  From there, I hit Latourell, Sheppard’s Dell, Bridal Veil, Wahkeena, Multnomah, and Horsetail before turning back toward Portland.  I didn’t understand at the time that the HCRH doesn’t end at Ainsworth.

Sections of the highway still exist, and are open to car traffic all the way to Biggs Junction.  I’m not talking about the ones opened up recently for bike traffic.  A section continues from Ainsworth to the John B. Yeon Trailhead.  From there, it mostly doesn’t exist apart from short stretches going through Cascade Locks and Hood River.  Starting at Mosier, however, it opens back up in earnest., and continues through The Dalles, and on to Biggs Junction.  From Biggs, you can drive East for a short way before a line of gravel blocks the roadway.  At one time, you could drive to Pendleton on that road.

It was only when I “discovered” Mosier about 10 years ago that I started to drive up to Rowena Crest.  A few years after that, I learned that it was actually a segment of the HCRH.  There are no tall waterfalls on this stretch.  There are, however, views as stunning as there are farther west.  Rowena Crest is one of those.  Dry Creek Canyon is another.  A little farther west is the Memaloose Overlook, and a short walk from there you can see the Columbia River’s Mosier Gap with its synclines, anticlines, and the Coyote Wall on the Washington side (you can see it from the overlook, but I like the view better from a few hundred feet west).

It’s the dry side of the Columbia Gorge beyond Hood River, so the vegetation changes.  Oregon White Oaks are the dominant tree, and the hills become grassy, and less rugged.  After June, the grasses turn golden, and the creeks run low, or even dry.  Below is the view from Rowena Crest.

Hope Springs Eternal in the Columbia Gorge

WPA Stairs, Bonniville # 2
WPA Stairs, Bonneville, Oregon # 2

Driving through the Columbia Gorge, as I do back and forth to work every weekday could have a tendency to make the spectacular into the mundane.  I think about this sometimes when the light isn’t quite right, and I decline to get out a camera because because the stunning vista before me looks a little gray.  I wonder at these times how someone from somewhere less dramatic would see it, and at that point I get out the camera.

My commute is fairly long:  About an hour each way.  I live in Hood River (a fact that I’ve mentioned a few times on this here blog).  I best describe it as the place closest to the concept of paradise to be found in the northern hemisphere.  I work in a place called Gresham, which is akin to where Dante’ ended up after leaving paradise (with apologies to Gresham residents).  Fortunately, It’s only the First Circle.  Work is about 52 miles from Hood River as the crow flies, unless it finds some delectable squirrel jerky on the way.

Always, to my mind in the last 27 years since moving to Oregon, the Columbia Gorge was the Columbia Gorge:  Timeless beauty with lush greenery, waterfalls, and monumental cliffs.  I wonder what it would be like to soar like an eagle off of a high ledge, and be held aloft be the wind, and to see that landscape under me (and to not be looking solely for rodents, and other fauna that goes “squeak!”).  I’m certain I would want to have a camera.  This “always”, and “timeless” was put though a test late last year.

It was called the Eagle Creek Fire.

The Summer Solstice was long gone, as were the short nights.  Darkness was creeping back into my commute.  Labor day came, and the trails were filled to the gills with hikers.  One of them was packing fireworks.

Some climatological notes: Unless you live east of the Mississippi, you should understand that the Dog Days of Summer in the west leave parched bones in the desert.  In the Pacific Northwest, fall, winter, and spring are wet (Portlanders joke about having webbed feet), but toward the end of June, the weather changes.  The dry time begins.  Lawns die, rivers run low, and trees with shallow root systems struggle to make it into fall.  Everyone who lives in the Great American West should understand that during the dog-eared, tongue-hanging-out days of late summer, YOU DON’T TAKE FIREWORKS TO THE COLUMBIA GORGE!

Ahem.  Now, where was I?

Oh, I remember.  This is about hope springing eternal.

Spring is indeed here.  During my weekday excursion up and down the Columbia river, I watch the trees.  I am fascinated by the way they change throughout the year.  In the spring, they bud, blossom, and burst out in brilliant greens, pinks, whites, and yellows.  The wreckage that is the Cottonwood trees, which always seem to be a month or so away from death in the winter, gather their sap, and join the world of the living for another season.  The spruces, and various pines stand resolute against the howling winds and driving rain, and well, they don’t change very much.  This year, it’s a bit different.  I have been watching the burned areas to see where the green is coming back. I keep an eye on the soils to see if plants are growing.  I look at the pines to see if they are putting on new needles where the fire stripped them.  I am reminded that life is tenacious.  I’m seeing green where I did not expect it.  The hills, especially around Cascade Locks, did not fare very well.  But, could it be possible that green is sprouting up on the hills, below the burned trees?  I will know it when the Forest Service allows me to hike the trails again.

The Columbia Gorge I knew until September 2017 will not return in my lifetime.  But, I can watch it come back.  Little by little, hope returns, life goes on, and the challenge is to reflect that in the way we live our lives.  Be the life you want to bring.  Be the change that you want to see.  As Ram Das said, be here now.

About the photograph:  I captured it with a Sinar Alpina 4×5 camera on Ilford Ortho Plus film, which I developed in PMK Pyro.  I stumbled upon this combination by accident, but it’s a match made in heaven.  The stairs are located just east of the Bonneville Dam, and were built by the Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA.

Working Girls Hotel, Pendleton, Oregon. January 2018.

Working Girls Hotel, Pendleton, Oregon

This is from this month’s trip to Pendleton. The city has a very interesting, and occasionally scandalous, history, which is evident in the names of some of the establishments. In the early 1900’s, Pendleton was a hub for military, farm, and railroad work, and had a thriving Chinese underground, and a brothel culture a couple floors up. It must have been an intereting place to live if you liked opium and syphilis.

I drove to Pendleton to reshoot some photographs that I took in 2013.  Back then, I shot only film, and processed everything but the color negatives in my home darkroom.  Something went wrong when I processed the negatives from that trip, and they turned out splotchy, and most of them were not usable.  It was a huge disappointment.  If you read my blog, you will know that I have no darkroom at this time.

I traveled lighter this time, bringing one 4×5 camera, my Hasselblad, and two Nikon digitals.  These days, I bring out the digitals first.  I use them to get a quick version of the picture.  Then I use the display on the camera to decide if the scene warrants getting out the film cameras, which I reserve for the best pictures.

One of the things that hurt my photography on the previous trip was the wind.  Coming from the west at roughly a begillion miles per hour, the wind made tripod work mostly impossible, because I couldn’t let go of said tripod.  I mostly hand-held my Speed Graphic, and leaned into the wind (avoiding incoming tumbleweeds, cows, and small cars swept up in the gales), and shot everything with a high shutter speed while my fingers rapidly lost feeling.  This time, the wind was much calmer, and the weather was mild.  The sun was shining through high clouds for most of the day, and as evening approached, the shadows crept along the hotels, and storefronts in the downtown.  All in all, it was a good day.

Thank you for reading.

The Eastern Columbia Gorge.  

Windmills, Maryhill Loop Road


I’ve been falling in love with the eastern Columbia Gorge for about a decade, so one would think that the falling would be done by now.  I grew up in the deciduous forests of central Pennsylvania, where summers were lush, and the thunderstorms rolled in at the end of the hottest days, and the grass there stayed green until the cold of December made the landscape white.  The great, arid expanses of the American west, specifically Oregon for me, are like an alien planet.  I’m fascinated by the undulating hills, devoid of trees, and teeming with grasses that turn golden in mid June.  There’s a stark beauty that dryness creates.  It’s alien to me because I’m an an east coast boy, but it’s familiar and evocative as a “Roadrunner and Coyote” cartoon (yes, it’s in my blood because of Looney Toons).  The old west beckons from the 19th century in the American Psyche via western movies, but the windmills are ushering in the 21st century.  I’ll take both centuries.  I’ll take the landscape.  I’ll take the dry grasses and White Oak trees.  Throw in Google, wind power, and a camera from 1946, and I’m in heaven.   

Infrared!

Grain Elevator, Biggs Junction, Oregon


Now that summer is around the corner, I’ve been shooting through the rolls of Infrared film I loaded last summer.  IR is useless in the winter, so if I don’t finish it by September, it will have to wait until spring.  

I have 4 rolls of Konica IR 750 remaining from a block of 10 I bought off of eBay a few years back. It expired in 1990, but it has been freezer kept, so fogging is at a minimum.  It’s my all-time favorite film, so naturally it’s been discontinued since 2005.   

I plan to shoot a bunch of IR this summer.  More to come…