Inspiration at the Headgate


As a professional photographer I think it is very important to keep moving forward, growing your skill, your craft and your passion. But, when those things are connected to a paycheck, somehow the fire seems to dim. Well today I got a little fuel added to my fire by Trey Ratcliff (see for his work). He has a series of tutorial videos for anybody interested in getting into photography, and the first one is free to watch so I watched it while I was eating lunch. As I was listening to him teach the very basics (and smugly thinking “I know that already”) it occurred to me that I wasn’t actually doing the entire process of photography, but am generally just pushing the button on the camera and if it isn’t Polaroid success then I just move on. Well, that seems to be the wrong approach, eh? You might say it is severely lacking inspiration.

So I decided to go outside in my own yard and poke around. I did my very own, solo photo walk. There are a bunch of side-by-side comparisons of the raw file before I did any processing, and then there is the way I have decided to finalize the images, at least for now. It is not unusual for me to revisit images a few months later for a fresh perspective.

The images following are the result of inspiration to do a particular thing, and that is take advantage of the depth of the raw file as much as possible, just using Lightroom. Because of that I ended up exploring the same subject from multiple points of view, and with a lens change as well. I was shooting with my Tamron 10-24 f3.5-4.5 at first, and later on switched to my Canon 28-135 f3.5-5.6.

In this instance I was using Trey as inspiration, but also trying to learn a little bit about how he thinks so that I can apply some of his techniques in my own process. I have to admit here that I have been too down on myself because of my aged equipment, which is no excuse. (For those interested, I’m shooting a Canon 30d and post with Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS3.) So take the images for what you will, and please ask any questions in the comments.

Backpacking: Bench Lakes & Fishhook Creek, Idaho

We're ready to go!

Last July (I know, long delay posting pics) Sylvia and I went on our first-ever backpacking trip! It was basically awesome and amazing, and a little nerve wracking. I had only been “backpacking” one other time, and that was more akin to camping 2 miles from the car. This time, we went into the Sawtooth Wilderness, where there are bears to eat our food and ourselves. Fortunately we saw no signs of bears and only saw the cute animals that aren’t likely to kill you. Things like deer and kuna (marten?), and horses with people on them.

On the first night we barely had time to set camp before dark because of a delay leaving. The landlord had hired a crew to paint the exterior of our apartment, and they decided to come on the very day we were set to leave for our trip. VERY upsetting as we had to stay there so they could paint our doors, which requires the doors being open. Anyway, we didn’t hit the trail until about 6:45 pm. VERY late to start a backpacking trip, but at least it was early July and we had the most daylight possible! Let’s go!

We started out on a beautiful little trail off through the trees and along a gurgling stream, which was actually more like a small river in the late spring runoff. I didn’t get a single picture of the stream for some reason. I was probably too excited about just going on the trip. I’d been itching for it for a very long time.

As we walked along, getting accustomed to carrying our food and shelter on our backs, I was paying careful attention to all of the ‘signs’ around me of possible danger. Where those scratch marks on that tree, or just ant trails left behind after the bark fell off? Was that scat nearby or just a clump of debris leftover from winter? I wasn’t taking any chances!

When we reached the edge of the officially designated wilderness area, there was a small wetland. We didn’t see any wildlife here, but it saw us. Mosquitos! I think we used up half of our bug spray right then and there.

As is evident in the picture to the right, we were running out of daylight pretty fast. In my nervousness I pestered Sylvia to walk as fast as she could and together we hustled on the rest of the way to what seemed like the end of the trail. We set camp in pretty good time considering we had neither one done it before. After a delicious supper of re-hydrated mac n’ cheese and something with an Indian flavor, we got the dishes done and set about tidying up for the night.

Good morning, sunshine!

The most difficult part was tying up the food. You would think that in the forest, surrounded by trees, you could get a line up and suspend your food without much trouble. Boy was I wrong about that. It must have taken 20 or 30 minutes to find the proper tree, figure out a way to throw the line through and get it around all the other branches. I had read that the food should be about 12 feet above the ground and six feet from the nearest tree, including the one’s suspending it. This proved to be very difficult for me to accomplish. I think I made it to about 9 feet and 3 feet.

We turned in for the night and waited for it to get dark. This was the most difficult part. Sleeping in a tent doesn’t provide much darkness from the brilliance of the long evenings in the north. It was nice to just lay there and listen to the stream, wondering what the stars looked like. My tent does have a full ‘screen’ body, so we could have removed the rainfly to see the stars, but I didn’t want to wake up in the night covered in frost, or worse, in rain.

Uneventfully, morning arrived. Brr… I didn’t want to get up until the sun was shining on our camp. That proved to be a very long wait. The mountains around us were tall, and the valley deep. It was probably around 8 am before we decided to get up and see what the day had in store. As I flung back the tent flap, to my surprise and joy I got my reward for walking up this one-way valley. The first sight of the morning was a deer outside the tent. What a way to start the day! The many flowers blooming, the greenery all around and the bright sunshine beckoned us to get moving and enjoy the day. We had a delightful breakfast of oatmeal and struck camp. We were headed to a new location, but back the way we had come the night before in order to get there.

On our way out, the scenery was much different and more beautiful, at least to me, because of the time of day. The vividness of the spring colors really grabs your attention when the sun is shining bright.

After we passed back through the previous days terrain, we headed up a new trail toward Bench Lakes, so named because there are several lakes that rest on the side of a mountain each one progressively higher than the other. Sadly, we didn’t see anything like I’m sure you are imagining. The trees surrounding the lakes were enough that we really weren’t aware we were on the side of a mountain at all.

On our way to the Bench lakes, we walked along a large mountain lake called Redfish. The name comes from the endangered sockeye salmon that used to inundate the lake with their red bodies. The waters no longer shimmer red with the color of the fish, but they can still be seen there today.

Our journey was interesting to say the least. After climbing up what seemed like an endless ascent through the dry foothill forest, we finally reached the top of the knife ridge. To our left (east) we had a gorgeous view of Redfish lake, which was nearly straight down. And to our right (west) the mountains we were headed for.

The ridge trail trek was about 2 to 3 miles long, briefly descending into a gentle valley with a trailside creek, and then we started up again. This time it was on the nearly treeless face of the mountain we were to camp on. This last part of the trek was the hottest and most dry, but it was free from bugs and there was a little puff of a breeze from time to time.

As we climbed higher and higher, the view got better and better. And I think our energy got lower and lower. Of course I was fueled by excitement for the trip, but even that can run out eventually. At least we had good reasons to stop and rest: the scenery was too good to pass by and not take a picture!

Shortly after our last photograph of the surrounding mountains, we reached a turn in the trail and headed into the trees. Just a few hundred yards ahead lay a lake. We had made it! We thought that surely we would find a place quickly and set up camp, but to our surprise there were already quite a few campers there already. Most of these people were choosing to ignore the wilderness rule of camping at least 100 feet from the nearest water and instead were directly beside the lake. I suppose we might have been tempted to do the same if there were any good spots available, which there weren’t. We spent the next hour hiking around in circles trying to find a place that was free from snow, boulders, saplings and was somewhat level. When we finally got that accomplished it was time for some food! And time to go through the rigors of tying the food bag up in a tree. We made it, with even more difficulty, but no harm done. This was what we signed up for, right?

The only shot of the lake, barely.

When we finally lay down for the night, we opted to keep the rain fly off so that we could see the stars. While it wasn’t the most spectacular starry night I’ve ever seen, it was still worth the effort. Lying beneath towering trees watching the stars slowly appear in the ever dimming night sky is a treat not often enjoyed in our modern, city-oriented lives.

As we lay dozing off, relishing the bliss of clean air and silence all around, our silence was intermittently perforated by bumping and thudding and a sort of ‘whoosh’ sound. I was concerned about bears, but the sounds just didn’t seem right. I tried to remain calm and go to sleep but it was so difficult. I think it was Sylvia who sat up to have a look around at what was making these noises. To my great relief, it was only passing deer. We had inadvertently set up camp near a busy deer trail, probably leading down to the lake. We were interrupting their evening drink, and I suppose as they smelled us they would stamp and snort to alert others before moving away.

In the morning it was the same routine, and we decided to head home. Our first trip was a success, and we experienced both the beauty and the rigor of backpacking.

Summer is on the way, and we’re fully prepared to hit the highlands as soon as the snow will allow!

Happy trails!

Below are all all of the images from this trip, worth showing. There are a few repeats from above, but more than half are unique.

Oregon Road Trip

Sylvia and I went on a road trip to Portland, Oregon to see her mother. (Actually, she lives in Vancouver, WA but it seems like more people know where Portland is. That, or they get confused between Vancouver, WA and Vancouver, BC.) Along the way I had to stop at the overlook. It is really very high above the valley, but the conditions at the time and the lens I used really didn’t let that part of the story come through.

There was skinny trail through the grass leading off to who knows where, but all I could do was point my lens and make a photograph. I didn’t have the time to follow my nose.

We didn’t do a whole lot, but one of the fun things we did was to visit the Portland Chinese Garden. It was really very beautiful, even in the autumn. It was a cloudy day so I didn’t photography much worth showing. The lanterns were very cool, and the floor mosaics all over were amazing. Each of the different areas had a different theme, story, or meaning. The photograph of the large area with the jagged floor mosaic represents ice and the dark spots are berries or flowers. I’ve forgotten so much! It was either ‘winter’ because of the ice, or ‘spring’ because of the breaking up of the ice, and the flowers.

*I cannot sell any of the images from the Chinese Garden without special permission as everything inside is copyrighted.