I’d left Ely (pronounced Eee-lee), Nevada, around 6:30 a.m. for an hour’s drive to Great Basin National Park. I was about 30-ish miles south of Ely when I rounded a corner and started heading down into this wide, flat valley. The wind turbines, ribbon of road that looks like it goes way up into the mountains on the other side of the valley, and the sunlight highlighting the veil of haze captured my photographer’s eye and I just had to pull over and get a few photos.
In reality, that long road going up into the mountains is actually a dirt road on someone’s private property (lucky them). This paved road takes an almost sharp turn to the left and parallels the mountains before rounding the corner to the right.
And those wind turbines made a great geographic marker for me on the way from the park back toward Ely on the day I headed back home to Washington state. I’d left the Baker area at 2 a.m. so it was dark heading toward Ely. Distances are difficult to discern in the dark because you can’t see the landscape. However, when I saw the synchronous blinking red lights, I knew I was driving toward and past that small wind turbine farm and that Ely was closer than I thought.
Nevada has some amazing landscape and geology, and the roads are very good, but the stretches of road through the state are long and out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly far away from civilization (and gas stations).
It’s been almost three decades since my last visit to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Since moving back to Washington state, I’ve been thinking about a little return trip there to see what has changed in the ensuing years. I figured a May day visit to celebrate 41 years since the volcano’s eruption would be a great opportunity to field test a couple of new cameras (Sony Alpha 1, Fujifilm GFX 100).
It takes four hours to reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory from where I live in central Washington. In my case, it took a little longer, since I stopped at various view areas along the way. There are actually two ways to get to the volcano. There’s the slightly shorter route to Windy Ridge, on the northwestern side of Mt. St. Helens, with a great view of Spirit Lake (the road which is still closed due to snow). And then, there’s the slightly longer route along Spirit Lake Memorial Highway up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, slightly northeast of the crater.
The first view area at which I stopped was the Hoffstadt Bridge area. There are 14 bridges built along the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway leading up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. This bridge pictured here is the tallest of them and is located at the edge of the blast zone in this area, about 22 miles away from the volcano. The trees and green foiliage you see in the images have grown since Mt. St. Helens’ eruption 41 years ago.
After photographing the bridge, I noticed this lovely leading line of a trail creating a yin-yang feel to the scene, with the bare white tree trunks on one side and the heavier, green foliage on the other side. No, I didn’t take the trail, so I don’t know where it ultimately led. I was trying to get closer to the volcano while decent morning light remained.
I stopped at a couple more view areas, including the one above, with a side view of Mt. St. Helens and what I assume is Castle Lake to the center right of the composition. FYI, it’s reaaaalllly windy at this view spot as well as the Elk Rock Viewpoint, a stop before the Castle Lake Viewpoint. I was glad my tripod was heavy but still worried about camera shake because of the wind. I was also glad I had ear flaps to my Tilley hat, otherwise it would have blown off my head and far away.
All along the road up to the observatory, there are great stands of trees all about the same height, with signs denoting the type of tree and when they were planted. Most were planted between 1983 and 1986. This stand of noble firs was planted 1983, three years after the eruption.
The first really good, head-on view of Mt. St. Helens, imo, is at the Loowit View Area, probably a mile – more or less – down from Johnston Ridge Observatory. As you can see from the image above, even at 8 a.m., good morning light doesn’t last very long, as the vista was becoming hazy with a slight blue cast to it. Take a moment to note that contrail in the upper left corner. Every single plane I watched flying over me made a beeline to the mountain. I imagine pilots include this view in their flight plan for the benefit of the plane passengers?
This view area (as well as the observatory area) was totally devoid of the chilly wind I’d experienced on the way up, which was a nice change. No real tripod shake and I didn’t have to worry about my hat flying away.
It was interesting to see the growth that’s occurred in 41 years, yet still see very obvious signs of blast devastation. The cliff walls near the top of the image tower over the Toutle River (or what is left of it, after ash and mud spread out, flooded down, and clogged parts of the river.
I think I spent a good 45 minutes there before heading on up to Johnston Ridge Observatory. The observatory is closed, to date, and there are no restrooms or water, but the parking lot and view points are open. The last place for restrooms and water are at Coldwater Lake, some 8 miles back down elevation (or, if you look at a map, further north in distance) from the observatory.
It was after 9 a.m. by the time I reached the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The volcano was in my face as I walked up the paved rampway.
As you can see from the image above, the atmosphere around Mt. St. Helens was hazy and had quite the blue cast to it. Regardless of lighting conditions, to see up close this volcano and the devastated area around it is truly impressive.
There is a paved walkway in both directions from the observatory’s main view area, so I walked up to this view of what remains of trees that were 150 feet tall. These blasted stumps are what is left of trees blown by the power of the eruption back to the valley you see in the background.
Before I left to head toward Longview and attempt an early check in, I walked the paved trail in the other direction from the image of the blasted trees. Lo and behold, right there on the hillside where the observatory building stood was a trio of mountain goats. I’d been given a heads up by a local photographer that I might see elk, so I’d attached my Sony a1 to my 100-400mm lens. I did see elk along the route to Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (aka Hwy 504), but they weren’t in the national monument proper and I was trying to get to the volcano while there was still decent morning light. I’d switched out lenses while photographing at Loowit View Area, so I had my 24-105mm lens attached, with which I ultimately had to make do for the photos I captured of the mountain goats. This image has been cropped from the original and it was the only one showing this goat’s front end (rather than the butt ends of the other two goats on the hill).
I was able to get early check in for my reservation at the Quality Inn & Suites in Longview, a little over an hour’s drive away from the observatory. In retrospect, I wish I would have stayed at the Comfort Inn, right next to the Three Rivers Mall and closer to places for take out options. The hotel at which I stayed is in Longview’s industrial section and is a bit dated. My room had cracks in the sink and the toilet, plus my room’s door wouldn’t automatically lock after shutting. Thankfully, that issue was fixed promptly, or else I would have asked for a different room. The hotel staff was very friendly, which was a plus to an otherwise meh hotel stay. I only stayed one night, so the room was fine enough.
I returned to Mt. St. Helens later in the afternoon and the lighting was considerably better. I also noticed steam rising from a couple of vents in the lava dome that I had not detected early that morning. That was pretty cool.
I made my way from the Loowit View Area back up to the observatory (see image at the very top of this post). Once again, as I was getting ready to return to my vehicle, I saw the same three mountain goats I’d spotted earlier that morning. And of course, my Sony still had the 24-105mm lens on it. The goats were closer to the paved walkway, but I didn’t want to get too near as one of the three was rather aggressive and I sure as heck didn’t want to be on the receiving end. So, I did what any good photographer would do with a wide-angle lens on their camera instead of a telephoto lens (left back in the car): I made the wildlife a part of my landscape scene.
What did I think of my cameras? I love them both! That GFX 100 is the landscape camera of my dreams, although I sure wish they had a wider selection of lenses. Fujifilm apparently figured the GFX 100 would be used only for portraiture and architecture. That’s probably true for what the current majority of photographers who own this camera use it. But with the advent of the GFX 100s, I would imagine there are a great many more landscape photographers out there who will use this medium format for their work. Hopefully, the people at Fujifilm will take note and create more lenses.
The Sony a1 is an exceptional camera, as is the rest of its line. This one combines the resolution I like for my landscapes, along with a shutter frame rate (up to 30 fps) perfect for wildlife and sports photography. I’m hoping to get more wildlife action from this camera during an upcoming visit to Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite national parks. Yes, I’ll be keeping a long lens attached to this particular camera during that trip.
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Recently, I sold off quite a bit of my camera equipment that I don’t really use any longer, and managed to purchase the Fujifilm GFX100. I’d really wanted to purchase the GFX100s, but that thing is on backorder probably until 2022 (just kidding – sort of).
This morning, I took the GFX100 out for a spin around the yard. I’d already gotten it all set up, but had not actually taken any photos with it. I’m heading out to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument next week and figured I’d better do some test runs to make sure I understand how to get most of what I want from the camera.
After my 15 minutes outside, I must say I am totally blown away with the results. Editing was minimal – just some light/dark adjust and a little increased color saturation. I didn’t use sharpening for any of these images. I’m still learning and during this upcoming trip will fine-tune things (hopefully). I’d like it all to be “camera ready” for my big trip in a few months to Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite national parks.
The photos above are of a hosta plant. With that last image, I tried to crop it at 100 percent but I’m apparently not that good with cropping ratios. I managed to get to 93 percent crop and the photo looks as if I’d captured it with my Sony mirrorless – it looks that awesome even at such a crop. This makes me think it’s a landscape photographer’s dream – at least, this landscape photographer’s dream.
So, a few first impressions here:
I turned off the focus point beep so it wouldn’t be intrusive. However, I guess I didn’t turn off any noise regarding the shutter click (still learning the menu system). That said, the shutter click noise is quiet (to me), which is nice.
The menu system is pretty easy to understand – far easier than the Sony menu system but not quite as intuitive as the Canon menu system. Still, it’s easy. There’s just a lot of menu items to go through in order to find what you want (like the command for formatting the memory card).
There are dual memory card slots. I must say, the door to the slots feels kind of flimsy – as if it might snap off if I am not careful.
An acquaintance of mine who has had this camera for far longer than I, told me that attaching and removing the lens was “backward” to his Nikon. That, of course, means it’s just like my canon, which for me, is easy. So, no problems there.
The GFX 100 does not have that mode dial that my other cameras have. I miss that, but it was definitely not a deal breaker for me. I see the GFX 100s has the mode dial. And, speaking of modes, I am a total manual settings person, but I have to tell you, trying to figure out how to set the camera to manual took me quite a while to figure out, even with the instructions. You’re given a few choices for programming the front command dial (I chose ISO) and a few choices for programming the rear command dial (I chose shutter speed) then to make it completely manual, you simply twist the aperture ring on the lens to choose your aperture.
The top LCD is always on, even when the camera itself is off. I don’t know how much of a drain that puts on the batteries, but the juice to keep that LCD on has to come from somewhere, right? The LCD itself is nice and clear and easy to read.
The rear LCD is a moveable one, but, if you have the camera on a tripod and it’s low to the ground, and you’ve got the LCD flipped so you can look down to see what the camera sees, that viewfinder sticks out and actually hides a good portion of the rear LCD. Sigh.
I’ve read about everybody complaining about the joy stick. There’s a 4-way controller in the rear, and that’s what you use to move and select your focus points, among other things.
I turned off the touch screen because it tends to make selections for me when I am wearing the camera around my neck and it bumps into my clothing. I’ve done the same thing with my Sonys.
A number of photographers don’t much care for the “clunkiness” or show reaction time to the camera. Sure, this camera is not a Sony Alpha 1 in terms of speed, that’s for sure. But the resolution and resulting images make up for that, where I am concerned.
While this camera is “boxier” than my Sonys, it still feels way lighter than my former Canon 1DX and 1DX Mk II. I have small hands and it fits my hands pretty well.
The colors do tend to be understated, but – as reviewer Ken Rockwell says – that’s because this camera was made more for “people, fashion, and product photos.” So I’ve had to bump up the colors during the editing stage. Not a big deal for me. I have read about quite a few photographers getting this and the GFX 100s for landscape and I wonder if Fujifilm realized this would be a game changer for that aspect of photography. If they didn’t before, I’ll bet they know it now.
This camera uses two batteries, so I had to remember to order two spares. These batteries are supposed to last a long time for a full day’s shooting, but I always like to carry spares around.
This morning, as I was walking around with the camera around my neck (which is how I carry it when I remove it from the tripod), I realized I needed to put that vertical shutter button on lock, because it kept bumping against me as I walked and clicking that shutter.
I have an l-bracket for this camera. Actually, I use l-brackets for all of my cameras because it makes it so much easier for both horizontal and vertical shots. It was difficult to find an available l-bracket but I managed to snag a used one on KEH.com.
This is not a camera with a fast fps (remember “people, fashion, and product photos”), so it’s not anything a wildlife photographer would be using much. But for those of you landscape photographers out there who use a tripod (or, well, ok, use the burst method of handholding, which I sometimes do), then this will blow you away with the image quality.
There is in-camera image stabilization, but I keep that off since I use a tripod mostly. However, even with handholding, I keep the IS off because I’m using the burst method (aka “spray and pray”) which generally means at least one image out of the series of contiuous shutter clicks will be nice and clear. Sure, that uses up space on the memory cards, but that’s why you should always have extra cards handy, so you don’t have to waste time going back and deleting previous images to make room for new images.
There are all sorts of other pros and cons that I’ve read about things I haven’t actually needed or wanted to utilize – yet – and this post is just a sort of “first look” review. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts about this camera once I return from my Mount St. Helens trip. That’s when it will get much more of a workout.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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Each photo you take tells a story. I practically hammer that in to my readers in my monthly photo columns on the National Parks Traveler . But, I have some advice for you photographers who post your images out there on Flickr, Twitter, or Facebook:
Write a little bit about your photo, too. Add to that story.
People enjoy reading about how you captured the image, what you were feeling, what camera you used, even your settings. It adds to your story, fleshes it out, and helps others figure out settings for their own camera in similar situations. It also makes you more engaging, both as a photographer and a storyteller.
It drives me nuts to see an interesting image with no title, no commentary, no exif, no nuthin’. Now, I can understand why a photographer might not wish to indicate the location of the photo, since many places are loved to death, aready – no need to add to that. But, it’s a primary rant with me that many photographers won’t tell a damned story. Yeah, the sunrise over the mountains in that photo is gorgeous, and yeah, it looks a little cold, but surely there is more to it than that! What did you feel at the time you clicked that shutter button? How many miles did you have to hike to get there? Know anything about the ecosystem there; any sort of facts or trivia to impart to your viewers?
For instance, I took a couple of day trips this month (June 2020) over to Mount Rainier National Park, here in Washington state, for some photography. I was itching to get out with my cameras, but leery of things due to the coronavirus pandemic. When I visited, I practiced my social distancing, went to areas where there were few-to-no people, wore a mask where there were people, and thoroughly enjoyed myself – except for that one moment when a woman in a group not practicing social distancing came up to me, pointed at my mask, and told me I needed to take it off.
I posted some of those images on Flickr, and added commentary along with exif data (specific information about the image, including settings, etc.), because I want people to see the exposure information and to visibly see the difference visiting the same spot can make during different seasons, different times of the day, and under different weather conditions; in this instance, rainy and overcast versus a blue-sky day.
My first trip to the park since the coronavirus pandemic was June 8th, shortly after it reopened. My second trip was June 18th. The difference in weather is dramatic and you can see it in the images.
The first time I visited, I did not go via Chinook Pass to Tipsoo Lake because I knew things would be snowed over and, due to the rainy, overcast weather, I figured The Mountain would be hiding behind an iron curtain of gray fog. The second time I visited, I did drive by Tipsoo Lake, as you can see from the image at the top of this post.
I won’t make this post any longer, since attention spans aren’t what they used to be. But you should get the gist of what I am saying to you. If you post to a public viewing site, then write a little commentary / story to go with the image so people get a better flavor of the atmosphere and feeling around the photo.
FYI, in case you wish to quibble, photo essays are a little different, and there, you do need to be able to tell a story with just your photos and captions. Flickr, FB, and Twitter, however, are not exactly conducive to photo essays.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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Sunset and silhouettes on Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park
How about a sunset for your Sunday?
As most of you know, I’m a sunrise kind of gal (because I’m an early riser). Sunsets are a little more difficult for me because I’m usually tired and ready to call it a day so I can download and work on photos. I made an exception, though, while staying along the Pacific coast of Olympic National Park. I knew that the sunsets would be far more dramatic and dazzling than any sunrise would be. And I was glad I did stay up! I need to stay up longer more often when visiting national parks and national monuments.
Speaking of national park visits, I made reservations for a camping cabin (via Recreation.gov) for a week’s stay in Lassen Volcanic National Park this coming June. I’m stoked! I have been wanting to visit this national park for a long time. It’s about a 9-10 hour drive from where I live – far preferable than having to fly. I can actually take the photographic- and camping- equivalent of the kitchen sink, now! Woo hoo! I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
FYI about making reservations for a campsite or camping cabin (as in, no electricity or running water or toilet in the cabin) via Recreation.gov: It’s kinda tricky. I had to keep refreshing and revisiting that site and it was just a mess. I felt like I’d won an award when the site finally confirmed my reservation!
As a matter of fact, the National Parks Traveler wrote an article awhile back about making reservations through this site:
Grazing In The Snowstorm, Yellowstone National Park
If you enjoy photography in the national parks, then you should read my latest photography column published today in the National Parks Traveler. It brings together the techniques I use the most for my photography using images I captured during my recent Yellowstone trip for examples.
To read the article, click on the image above.
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Usually, I don’t travel to any national park with high expectations. I even wrote an article in the National Parks Traveler about the rewards of lowered expectations. I know it’s going to be rainy, overcast, snowing, probably the roads will be slick, and there might even be another f***ing government shutdown while I am there. Nonetheless, I am stoked to be returning to Yellowstone National Park in a few days for 8-1/2 days of fall photography. For a portion of that time, I’ll be staying at the historic Old Faithful Inn, and will definitely get some interior architecture images of that beautiful lodge. I so wanted to do this during my short summer stay (2-1/2 days) during my road trip move from Texas to central Washington, but the inn was full, the crowds were YUGE, and I ultimately needed to get back on the road again to my sister’s home.
I’ll be taking 3 cameras with me and an assortment of lenses: my Canon 5DSR, Canon 1DX Mk II, and Pentax 645z. I’ll take the Canon 16-35mm, 14mm, 24-70mm, 24-105mm, 100-400mm with a 1.4x extender, Pentax 28-45mm, and Pentax 55mm lenses. No need to tell me it’s going to be a heavy backpack I take onto the plane with me. I already know that. I had to pack one of my lenses into my laptop bag, which will also be carried onto the plane. Hey, I don’t know when I will be able to return to Yellowstone, so might as well bring as much as I can carry and that’s allowable on the plane, because I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Plus, I’ve broken lenses before while traveling (Hawaii comes to mind), so I’m being a little redundant with one of the lenses. I decided on this instead of trying to work around taking my Canon 500mm lens. As it is, I’ll probably forget something, even though I’ve written a list of things to pack.
Soon, soon, I will be back inside America’s first national park. Can’t wait!
The National Parks Traveler has published my latest photography article: Your Armchair Guide to Olympic National Park, Part 1 – The Beaches. I had to break this guide into 3 different parts because this park has it all: beaches, forests and beaches. If you are planning a trip to Olympic anytime soon, or are just interested in seeing the photography of this national park, then click on the image above.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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I can remember when photographing a forest was sort of an afterthought. Now, I love walking into the forests to photograph the myriad shades of green, the different patterns and textures, and perhaps, if I am lucky, to capture the inner glow of a forest.
The forests of Sol Duc are old growth. They are different from the mossy rain forests of the Hoh and Quinault in that they are taller – or, at least, they stand straighter, like toothpicks – and it’s a bit drier in the Sol Duc. That’s not to say there isn’t moss coating the trees, because there is, just not as much, I think.
I was heading out of the Sol Duc and on to Lake Crescent when I stopped to photograph the Sol Duc River. I spied some interesting scenes within the shadowed interior of the forest across the road and noticed there was a trail – the North Fork Sol Duc River Trail, I believe. So I took my tripod and camera and set up on different portions of the trail to photograph the tall trees and green fern-carpeted forest floor.
A tripod is the best way to photograph the shadowy forest interior. That way, you can use a low ISO (200) and a slower shutter speed (5 sec) while keeping your aperture relatively small (f/9).
I would imagine that with the onset of fall, things are probably getting a little wetter out there now. I think I went at just the right time.
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