I started a recent blog entry with the words, “I always hike with the hopes that there will be a story to tell.” Well, here’s a story that I was never hoping I would have to tell. It’s one in which my trusty old Canon 5D camera was sent plummeting off of a 200-foot cliff to its death.
The day started off like many other photography mission days. It was a beautiful Spring morning, and my loving wife had given me clearance to spend the entire day hiking, biking, skiing or doing whatever I wanted to do. I noticed some great cloud formations stretching across the northern skyline, so I decided to take my trusty friend into the desert canyons near Crooked River Ranch to take pictures. I had scouted these areas several times earlier in the year and I was calculating that the deserts should be pretty close to reaching their peak (i.e., as green as they get and full of balsom root flowers). Based on the positioning of clouds, I figured my first stop should be Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River. This deep desert canyon has lots of interesting hoodoo formations and traditionally good flowers about this time of year. Add in a good collection of cumulus clouds overhead, and its pretty hard to beat. Unfortunately, when I hiked into the waterfall, I found that the balsom root and Indian paintbrush were still on the early side . . . and, there was a fierce wind moving through the valley, which meant that I had virtually no chance of capturing any decent photographs of flowers anyway (because they would all be blowing around like mad).
I did the best I could with the situation at hand, and then decided to move a few miles farther downstream to the Camp Scout Trail. The Camp Scout Trail is a recently opened section of trail that descends through a steep, rugged canyon to the lushy confluence the Deschutes River and Wychus Creek. I’ve been there a few times since it has opened, and I think it’s one of the best desert hikes in Central Oregon, especially in late-April and early-May. After a level half-mile section, the trail opens up to dramatic, big-Western-style views.
As I followed the trail downstream from the fork, I was pleased to see that the balsom root flowers were much farther along in this area than at Steelhead Falls. I scouted around and took about a dozen photographs that I was very excited about, but then the wind started gusting again and it became clear that I was not going to get any more good photographs from this area. Rather than hiking the entire 3-mile loop, I decided that I would wait and bring the family back here a different day for a more extensive photographic experience.
I hurried back the Jeep, and then drove a few miles down the road to some other new trails along the Crooked River canyon. The Lone Pine Trail, Otter Bench Trail, and Opal Canyon Loop Trail are located just past Crooked River Ranch. Like Steelhead Falls and Camp Scout Trail, they offer incredibly scenic views, but parallel the Crooked River instead of the Deschutes River. My plan was to hike a short ways up Lone Pine Trail for a few quick photographs and then come back and mountain bike the 7-mile Otter Bench/Opal Canyon Loop network.
I left the Jeep and started up the Lone Pine Trail on foot, oblivious to the tragedy that was about to happen. At the first good viewpoint of the canyon, I dropped my backpack and unloaded my camera and tripod as I have done hundreds of times before. I started to compose the shot through my viewfinder, but then realized that the photograph I really wanted to get was going to require me to move a few more feet to my right . . . which, unfortunately, was going to put me dangerously close to the edge of a 200-foot cliff. I nervously inched toward the edge of the rock knowing that the cliff dropped off immediately behind me and to my right. With barely enough room to turn around on, I leaned over to check my lens and saw a bunch of debris clinging to its center. I carefully maneuvered around the tripod leg and started to reach for my backpack to get a clean lens cloth when a surge of wind came gusting up the canyon. The strong wind caught the lip of my cap and as I reached both hands to my head to keep my cap from blowing away, I saw that the wind had also caught hold of my camera. I looked back just in time to see my dear old camera and tripod go somersaulting off the cliff.
It was like one of those moments you see in the movies where everything is moving in super slow motion. Imagine a slow frame-by-frame scene with me on top of the cliff lunging for the foot of my tripod as it tumbles out of view and my mouth opening wide to scream “Nooooooooooooooooo!” That’s pretty much how it happened. After witnessing the unfathomable, I just dropped to my knees in disbelief and hung my head . . . unable to look up. After a few moments of dumbfounded silence, I rolled to my side and then crawled over to the edge to see if I could catch a glimpse of my camera’s corpse on the rocks below. I expected to see it and my tripod in a mangled heap of carnage at the bottom of the cliff, but I didn’t see it anywhere below.
Always an optimist, I decided that I would gather up the rest of my gear and then try to find a way down to the bottom of the canyon to re-collect any pieces of my camera gear that were still intact. It didn’t take long for me to locate a game trail that worked its way down a steep rocky outcropping and into the rattlesnake-infested area at the bottom of the cliffs that I had been standing on a few minutes earlier. As I approached the scene of the crime, I noticed a piece of carbon fiber legging that once belonged to my tripod. A few feet from that piece, I found the rest of my tripod. The tripod was no longer usable in any way, but all things considered, it had actually taken the fall quite well. One piece of the leg was missing and the ball head had broken off upon impact, but otherwise, it looked much better than expected.
My next task was to try to find the camera. Given that the camera is much heavier than the tripod, I figured that it had probably ricocheted farther down the slope. After a few more minutes of searching, I spotted my camera wedged underneath a twisted section of sage brush about 50-feet below the place where my tripod had come to rest. The entire right side of the camera had split open during the fall, and my $1500 lens had disengaged itself somewhere during the tumble. I knew there was no way that my lens would be salvageable, but in trying to give myself at least one small nugget of hope, I thought that maybe, perhaps, through some small miracle, that I might be able to at least re-use my polarized filter, which was attached to the lens before it fell. I searched high and low, under each and every brush pile looking for my lens, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Using my best CSI skills, I backtracked and zig-zagged the entire area between where I found the tripod and where I found the camera, trying to cover every imaginable scenario. Just as I was about to give up, I caught a glimpse of that signature “L series” red circle. At nearly the same moment that I spotted my lens, it dawned on me that the lens cap was in my pocket before my camera blew off the cliff, which of course, meant that there was no way the polarized filter was going to survive the tumble. Sure enough, the filter was scratched beyond belief.
I then thought about all of the nice photographs that I had taken earlier in the day at Steelhead Falls and Scout Camp Trail, and let out a little smile thinking that since I had found my camera, I would at least be able to get those photographs off of the memory card. But even that small feeling of relief was short-lived because as I looked closer at my camera, I realized that the memory card had also ejected itself sometime after impact. I spent another 30 minutes looking for that tiny (but precious) memory card before I finally had to admit that it had been nearly a complete loss. With one fleeting moment of indescretion, I had lost my camera, lens, filter, memory card, and tripod.
And so with that, I packed all of the different pieces into my backpack and started hiking back to the Jeep, thankful that I still had a perfectly good lens cap in my pocket. . . and that it wasn’t me that had blown off the cliff instead.
Posted by Troy McMullin
After living in Central Oregon for about a decade, Mike Putnam and I have managed to compile quite a collection of photographs for our Pacific Crest Stock photography company. As 2010 starts, it’s fun to look back and think about some of our favorite photographs from the last ten years. The New Year also marks the end of our first year of being in business together. It was an exciting year to say the least, and thanks to readers like you, our blog site has steadily grown through the months to the point that we are now getting nearly 4,000 visitors per month. We are very grateful for all of the clicks you’ve given us through the year, and for all of the other support and feedback that we’ve received from our friends, families, and customers. We truly appreciate it.
Although it’s nearly impossible to pick out our true favorites, the following photos have a certain level of sentimental value as they often represented significant milestones from our early photography careers. We hope you enjoy them.
1. Summit Sunrise
2. Strawberry Mountains
3. Sparks Lake Sunset
4. Skier on Three Fingered Jack
5. Mount Jefferson Wildflowers
6. The Monument at Smith Rock
7. Aspen Leaves
8. Mount Hood from Lost Lake
9. Basalt Columns
10. Oceanside Sunset
Thanks for all of your support through the year, and we’re looking forward to another exciting year in 2010. Cheers!
Posted by Troy McMullin
Landscape photography is an unpredictable adventure. Sometimes, everything goes as planned and other times, nothing does. This story is about the latter.
It was late summer in Central Oregon, and while the flowers in many of our lower meadows had already burned up, I knew that I could still find some huge stands of monkey flowers in the higher elevation meadows on the north side of Broken Top Mountain. I had been to the meadows a few years earlier, but had problems nailing the focus on this dramatically vertical shot. Armed with a new camera and a wider angle lens, I figured I could go back and perfect the photo if I was given a second chance.
I carefully studied my topography map, and calculated that the quickest way into the meadows would be to find the streams running out of Broken Top Glacier somewhere near the Park Meadow trailhead and then follow them cross-country until I got above the tree line. Based on the sun’s recent positioning, I also figured that I should be able to get some decent evening and morning light, and therefore, I planned on hiking into the meadows in the late evening and setting up camp so that I would be there for sunset and sunrise.
I drove up to the Three Creeks Area, and as I steered my Jeep onto the narrow, rutted road leading into the Park Meadow trailhead, I found three backpackers hugging the side of the road. Knowing that it was a long way to the trailhead (and guessing that they must be from out of town), I stopped and asked them if they wanted a lift. They were somewhat surprised to hear that they weren’t actually on the trail yet, so they happily climbed in. On the drive to the trailhead, I learned that they were here visiting for a few days from Idaho, and that they had read somewhere that Park Meadow was a nice hike. I tried to be polite, but I also felt somewhat compelled to explain to them that the Park Meadow trail is perhaps one of my least favorites in all of Oregon. While the meadow itself is beautiful, the approach is absolutely horrible. Hikers are basically stuck in the woods on a deep, dusty, horse-trodden trail for 4 viewless miles until they finally reach the meadow—which this late in the year probably wasn’t even going to have flowers.
I reviewed several other trail options with them during the drive, and explained that I had found a new way into some different meadows which were equally pretty. I invited them to tag along with me if they wanted, but I also warned them that the route would be almost entirely off trail and that I wasn’t actually 100 percent sure where I was going. They quickly weighed their options and decided that since they only had one day of their vacation remaining, a dusty viewless hike was probably going to be better than getting lost in the wilderness with some stranger. I can’t really blame them for that.
The Idahoans and I wished each other luck and then we parted ways at the parking area. I was still thinking about what a nice conversation I had with them when my views opened up from the back side of Broken Top all the way across to the Three Sisters Mountains. I had walked less than a half-mile, and I was already getting good views confirming that I had indeed made the right choice. In another mile or so, I found the stream that I was looking for and began my cross-country trek up to the meadows.
The stream was much prettier than expected. There were Indian paintbrush and monkey flowers flanking both sides of the stream and although this was not my primary destination, I knew that the scene was just too beautiful to pass up. I swung my backpack around, unloaded my tripod, and then tip toed across the water to a large collection of flowers situated in the middle of one of the upstream forks.
Recognizing that the sun was dropping low on the horizon, I snapped a few quick pictures and then started hiking briskly up toward the meadows. When I arrived in the meadow, I saw the same large stands of monkey flowers that I had found on my last visit. I hurried over to them so that I could get my camera set up before the light faded, but unfortunately, the closer that I got to them, the more confusing the whole scene became. The stands of monkey flowers were at least 3 feet across, but all of their blooms were gone. I just stared at them for awhile, dazed and wondering why in the world someone would pick all of the flowers from the bushes when it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t the first one to find the flowers. Deer had obviously gotten to the stands before me and they had eaten every last bloom off of my precious bushes. I searched around the area and found a few small stands of flowers that the deer had apparently left behind for a midnight snack so I did the best I could with the scene and then started adjusting my plans.
Knowing that it wouldn’t be worthwhile to spend the night in this area, I decided that I would hike across the high alpine meadows and then drop down into Golden Lake, which is a somewhat secret spot located above the Park Meadow area. The hike was longer than I remembered and by the time that I started my descent into the meadows around Golden Lake, the sun had already sank into the ocean on the backside of the mountains. I set up my tent in the pitch black darkness and quickly fell asleep, exhausted and somewhat frustrated that the day had not worked out as planned—but also hopeful that when the morning arrived, I would be able to shoot Broken Top mountain reflecting in a calm Golden Lake.
The next morning, I awoke with a chill. I stepped outside into the below zero temperature and shivered over to the lake’s shore only to find that my reflection picture was not going to happen either. The lake’s surface had frozen solid over night. Determined to find something worthy of shooting, I worked my way down the lake’s outlet stream to a spot that has been reliably good to me in the past, but again, I found that the normally abundant monkey flowers were mostly missing.
The light that morning wasn’t really as good as I wanted either, so I went back to camp, swallowed a few cups of coffee, and then started working my way back to the Jeep via the dreaded Park Meadow trail. The hike out was at least as bad as I remembered and by the time I reached the parking area, I began to wonder whether I had sufficiently described the disappointing nature of the trail to the backpackers that I met on my way in. Then, as I approached my vehicle, I could see something scrawled into the dust on my back window. As I got closer, I could see that it was the panhandle shape of Idaho and that it had a huge smiley face in the middle of it with a note that read “We had a wonderful time. Thanks for all of your help.”
That’s when I remembered just how lucky we are to live in Central Oregon. We have so many wonderful hiking options here that even some of the places that don’t rank among our favorites will still be considered beautiful by people who live in other areas of the country. I climbed smilingly into my vehicle and then realized that actually, I had managed to have a pretty good time too. I didn’t get the money shot that I was hoping for, but I was lucky enough to spend another night in the mountains and that’s nothing to complain about—even if it requires a hike down the Park Meadow trail.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: After my trip, the road leading to the original Park Meadow trailhead was closed. Hikers are now required to park along Three Creeks Road and walk down the rough, dusty road to the old trailhead. The new trailhead location adds about 2.5 miles of suffering to what is already a very arduous hike, and I suspect this decision will significantly reduce the number of people willing to hike on this trail (or ever recommend to anyone else). If you’re not happy about the new trailhead location, I strongly urge you to contact the Forest Service and let them know how you feel.
The stars recently aligned in a strange and unexpected way. My wife (Julie) and Mike Putnam’s wife (Debbie) both planned trips to take the kids out of town during the same time period, and in an unprecedented move, Mike and I actually got organized enough to plan a vacation of our own. It just so happened that one of our favorite musicians (Josh Ritter) was playing a concert at the Egyptian Theater in Boise so we talked a few more friends (Mike Croxford and Jake Bell) into joining us for a road trip across the Idaho border and then we all headed up north to the Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon. The Wallowa Mountains—also known as the “Oregon Alps”—are quite different from the mountains we have in Central Oregon. While the Central Oregon Cascades are formed by a chain of distinct volcanoes, the Wallowa Mountains are an honest-to-goodness mountain range, like the Rocky Mountains, Sierras, or North Cascades.
Although we had some idea of where we wanted to go when we got there, we didn’t actually formulate a complete plan until we were a few miles outside of Joseph, Oregon. After looking at the map and several guide books, we decided that we would start the trip by heading into Aneroid Lake via the trail along the East Fork of the Wallowa River. We started hiking from near Wallowa Lake in the late afternoon and arrived at Aneroid Lake just before sunset. Mike and I quickly dropped our backpacks and started scouting for sunset pictures. Unfortunately, the light was a little quicker than us and it faded before we found a decent location. We spent the rest of night swatting at mosquitoes and watching Jake catch trout with his newly purchased Snoopy Zebco fishing rod.
The next morning, Mike and I rolled out of the tent about 5 a.m. and headed off in opposite directions in hopes of finding good locations for sunrise photos.
Mike started circling the lake in a clockwise direction and I took the counter-clockwise approach. Mike shot the image above in a nice big meadow at the south end of Aneroid Lake and I took the image below from the north shore.
After the sun got higher, we spent a few more hours fly fishing and then we packed up camp and started heading for Tenderfoot Pass. The hike up and over Tenderfoot Pass went without a hitch, and after a short break at the top, we continued along the trail toward the top of Polaris Pass. I’ve been to a lot of pretty places in Oregon, but I think the view from Polaris Pass is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. The entire Wallowa Mountain range spreads out before you, with Cusik Mountain and Glacier Lake off to the left and Eagle Cap Mountain and the Lakes Basin off to the right.
It’s a spectacular sight, and one that is relatively easy to stay and stare at because, as it turns out, there isn’t really a trail down the back side of Polaris Pass. Oh sure, it looks like there’s a trail on the map and the guide books talk as if there’s a trail there, but don’t be fooled. There is nothing even closely resembling a trail, at least not at the very top. You can see that a trail starts several hundred vertical feet below the summit, but unfortunately there’s no obvious way to get down to it. Determined to find a route, the four of us started precariously making our way down the steep rocky slope, taking short careful steps and always keeping an eye downhill at the edge of the cliffs that were sure to be our death should we slip. We slowly zigzagged our way down the rock slides for the better part of an hour before we finally got to solid ground and were able to remove the handfuls of boulder-sized rocks that had collected inside our boots. The grade eased considerably once we got below the rock slides, but the trail was still fairly spotty and was frequently overgrown with bushes and a huge display of wildflowers. There were meadows clearly visible in the base of the valley a few thousand feet below us, but even after several additional hours of hiking, it seemed as if we weren’t getting any closer to them. The trail would run the entire width of the ridge, and then drop by maybe two or three inches with each switchback. It was unlike anything I have ever seen, and we all started thinking that we were never going to get to the bottom.
After more than 10 miles of parched hiking with no fresh water source, we finally arrived at a stream and were able to re-stock our water bottles. Everyone soaked their sore feet in the stream for a while, and then we continued down the evil, never-ending collection of switchbacks until we eventually made it to Six Mile Meadow and set up camp for the night. The next morning, our group took a short hike up to Horseshoe Lake and while the rest of the guys hung out swimming and fishing, I decided to forge ahead for another 11 miles of hiking so that I could see the other parts of the Lakes Basin. I have wanted to see Mirror Lake and the Lostine Valley ever since I moved out to Oregon, and even though I was fairly exhausted from the prior day’s adventure on Polaris Pass, I felt like my trip wouldn’t have quite been complete if I didn’t’ get to visit this part of the Wallowa Wilderness Area.
The Lakes Basin definitely held up to the hype. The area contains a beautiful collection of granite-lined lakes and meadows, all set up against the base of Eagle Cap Mountain. Just past Mirror Lake, the trail either drops down into the classic U-shaped, glacier-carved Lostine Valley or returns via the Hurricane Creek drainage. I spent some time exploring each of these areas, and I’m not really sure which one is prettier. They are both fantastic.
After several hours of backcountry bliss, I started making my way back to Horseshoe Lake. I drug myself into camp just before sunset, and just in time to try out some of Mike’s freshly-caught (and Cajun-spiced) trout. While I was gone, Mike apparently set the world record for the most trout ever caught in a single day . . . while Jake’s Zebco was not quite as prolific this time around. Luckily, someone in camp stayed focused on our photography mission and Croxford was able to document the entire experience with his trusty camera.
We all turned in early that night, and then Mike and I got up the first thing the next morning to scout for sunrise photos around Horseshoe Lake. We split up again so that we could cover more ground. Mike set his sights on a nearby pond that had a nice collection of lily pads and I stayed along the main shore side trail. There’s no shortage of scenery in any direction within the Lakes Basin so it didn’t take too long for us to capture a handful of new stock photos for the Pacific Crest Stock site.
Then, we packed up camp and started heading back out to Jake’s truck via the long dusty trail that follows the Western Fork of the Wallowa River. Having covered more than 40 miles in 4 days, it’s probably no surprise that we talked incessantly that morning about what kind of food and beer we were going to have when we finally got out of the woods, and sure enough, our first stop involved a pitcher of Red Chair IPA and a couple of half-pound hamburgers from the Embers Brewhouse in downtown Joseph. We then made our way over to Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise, Oregon and finally to Barley Brown’s Brew Pub in Baker City, Oregon. After that, we did a little breaking-and-entering (not really, but we definitely surprised an unsuspecting house-sitter in one of our friend’s houses in Baker City), and then we headed back home the next day . . . putting an end to one of the best road trips I’ve had in a long time.
Posted by Troy McMullin
As I try to find new locations to add to my photography collection on Pacific Crest Stock, I’ve begun to realize that careful preparation and a good working knowledge of cameras and compositions can only help a nature photographer so much. Really great landscape photography seems to rely just as heavily on steadfast persistence (i.e., going back to the same location over and over again until the conditions are perfect) and/or a whole lot of luck (i.e., having great conditions on the first trip to a new location). On one recent trip to Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport Oregon, I got very lucky.
While driving over to the Oregon Coast, I mentioned to Julie (my loving wife) that I had been hoping to get some photographs of Yaquina Head Lighthouse for the last year or so, but that my timing had not worked out yet. I told her that the images I was hoping to capture would have a warmly lit lighthouse with big fields of flowers in the foreground and interesting cloud formations in the sky. I knew that capturing these images would require me to be there in early summer (when the flowers are peaking) at either sunrise or sunset (to have the proper lighting) on a day with no wind (so the flowers aren’t blowing around during long exposures) and great clouds (to fill up what would otherwise be dead space in the sky). I could easily prepare for the first two components, but the rest of it was really up to luck. Because Julie and I live in Bend, Oregon (a high elevation mountain town more than 3 hours away), there was really no way for me to know if the flowers along the coast were even blooming yet (much less, peaking), and there was absolutely no way that I could control other key factors, such as the wind and clouds. All I could really do was hope for the best and try to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.
On our first day at the beach house, I woke up early and stepped outside to check sunrise conditions. There were great cloud formations all around and no winds blowing. These were seemingly perfect conditions, except for the fact that I was standing outside our place in Pacific City and the lighthouse is located in Newport, which is about 45 minutes away. Although I really had no way of predicting what the conditions were going to be like that far way, I was fairly excited at the possibility of getting the lighthouse pictures that I had wanted and I quickly started weighing my options. As I contemplated whether or not to make the trip, I remembered that our kids had been very excited the night before and that they had stayed up much later than normal. I also saw that Julie was still sleeping on the couch with our 18-month-old daughter, and that neither of them moved a muscle as I clumsily banged around in the kitchen trying to fill up as many coffee cups as I could carry. All signs pointed to a late and lazy morning for the McMullin family, which was great for me because it meant that I should be able to get down to the lighthouse and back to the beach house before anyone even noticed that I was gone. I packed up my coffee and camera gear and started my sunrise drive down the Pacific Coast Highway.
As I left Pacific City, I noticed that the streams and fields were incredibly still (which confirmed there was no wind blowing), but that the cloud formations I had seen earlier were already beginning to change. By the time I drove through Lincoln City (about 20 minutes later), the skies had lost most of their big fluffy clouds, and I started to wonder whether it was going to be worth it to keep driving. Then, I figured I was already hopped up on coffee and that the worst thing that could happen to me was that I would end up taking a peaceful, quiet drive down the coast to a beautiful cliff-side lighthouse where the sun would end up rising in a cloudless sky. With that in mind, it seemed sort of ridiculous for me to turn around at this point, so I continued driving up and over the cliffs surrounding Devil’s Punchbowl toward Newport, Oregon.
As the highway dropped back down to sea level, I could see Yaquina Head Lighthouse off in the distance. The lighthouse appeared to be shrouded in fog and there were no signs of the cumulus clouds that I had seen earlier in the morning. That sight was a bit disappointing, but I’ve been around long enough to know that you just can’t predict what the weather is going to be like on the Oregon Coast, so I kept driving with the hopes of at least scouting out the flower scenes around the lighthouse. In my mind, I was thinking that if the flowers were in good shape, then I would see if Julie and the kids wanted to come back to the lighthouse around sunset so I could try again (NOTE: This is the persistence part of the equation that I was talking about earlier).
I arrived at the lighthouse shortly after sunrise and found exactly what I was hoping for . . . huge stands of wildflowers all around, great clouds overhead, and no wind. Pulsing with excitement (and perhaps a little too much coffee), I jumped out of the Jeep and started running around in circles trying to find as many interesting compositions as I could before the sun warmed the skies and the clouds faded away.
I had never been to Yaquina Head Lighthouse before, so I wasn’t exactly sure where to go first. I shot the images above within a few minutes of arriving, and then I backtracked and started scouting for more distant shots of the lighthouse.
Because Yaquina Head Lighthouse is a very special and popular place, there are only certain areas around the lighthouse where visitors are allowed to go. Most of the really great photographs would require one to climb over a fence and ignore numerous signs pleading with people to stay on the designated paths and cleverly pointing out things like “Our wildflowers grow by the inch, but they are killed by the foot.” As badly as I wanted to scout around on the other side of the fences for a unique composition, I knew that I couldn’t do it with a clear conscious and that I didn’t want to damage any of the wildflowers that were blooming so happily along the cliff tops.
I stayed on my side of the fences and shot a few more pictures of the lighthouse before venturing down to the rocky beach below. I quickly scouted a few hundred yards up the beach, but unfortunately, the clouds had already started migrating out to sea by the time that I found a scene interesting enough to photograph. Oh well, I have never been one to complain, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it on a day in which I had already been blessed with tremendous luck. The following picture doesn’t benefit from the great cloud formations that the others have, but I’m still drawn to it because I think it does a nice job of capturing the enormity of the scene and I like the way the ocean waves, cliffs, and lighthouse provide a nicely balanced composition.
Satisfied that I had successfully captured Yaquina Head Lighthouse in all of its glory, I hiked back up the cliffs and started my return trip. I glanced at my watch as I was climbing in the Jeep and noticed that I was running quite a bit later than expected. That’s also when it occurred to me that I had left in such a hurry that morning that I forgot to leave Julie a note letting her know where I was going or when I would be back. Julie and I have been married long enough that I figured she could easily guess that I was out somewhere on a photography mission, but I didn’t want her to be worried (or mad), so I figured that I better check in with her to see how things were going with the kids and to let her know that I would be home as soon as possible. When I called her, she wasn’t the least bit upset. In fact, Julie was genuinely excited for me. She told me that she couldn’t wait to see my pictures, but that everything was running smoothly at the beach house, and for me not to feel like I needed to hurry home.
I hung up the phone thinking “How did I get this lucky?” Although it’s always nice to have fortuitous photography conditions, my phone conversation with Julie reminded me once again that none of it would be possible without the unwavering and loving support of family. Nature photographers spend a tremendous amount of time out in the field, and our families are often either left behind or reluctant participants in all sorts of crazy adventures. We couldn’t possibly thank them enough for their contributions or tell them frequently enough that they are truly one of the best kept secrets of our success. Like I said earlier, luck is one of the key ingredients to good landscape photography, and perhaps “lucky in love” is one of the best types of luck that any photographer can hope for. In this regard, I’m a lucky, lucky, lucky man.
Posted by Troy McMullin
I’ve often struggled with photos of our very own Three Sisters Mountains. Although they form the dominant and very scenic backdrop for the city of Bend and the Central Oregon area, I’ve found it difficult to make more of a thin panoramic out of this iconic Central Oregon Photo subject. A friend, Veronica, recently tipped me off that there were some nice lupines blooming along the shores of Tumalo Reservoir. I immediately took a drive there and she was certainly correct. I would like to thank her for the tip and if any of you readers have any other given locations that are particularly stunning, please let us know so we can quickly take a visit.
As you can see, the view of the Three Sisters is pretty stunning from this area of Central Oregon and the flowers aren’t bad either. As these are desert lupines, they are a bit small, but very attractive. There is some great hiking and horse back riding in this area and there’s no better time than now, before the trails get too dry and dusty, as they will later in the summer. Next up is an image from the bridge at the east end of Tumalo reservoir. My timing was good on this shot, in that there was some very attractive pre-dawn light filling the scene, and the shrubs in the foreground add some form and texture to the scene.
I’ve been to Tumalo Reservoir countless times but I’ve not seen a pre-dawn sky so pink and pleasant before. In the following image, you’ll seen a solitary grouping of yellow flowers which have a short but vibrant life along the banks of Tumalo Reservoir. After a bit of research, I’ve concluded that they are probably tansy leaved evening primrose. They are a small beautiful flower that will only be around for a short time before the harsh desert heat cooks the life out of them, so go visit them soon.
Finally is one last photo of our beloved Central Oregon volcanoes, the Three Sisters as seen with what I think are Tansy leaved evening primrose in the foreground. If any botanists are reading this blog entry and happen to know that I’ve mis-identified this flower, please contact me and let me know.
The above photo, another of the Three Sisters Mountains of Central Oregon, has nice balance between the floral foreground and the alpine background. All of the images in this blog entry and many others are available on our primary Stock Photography site, Pacific Crest Stock .
This winter in Central Oregon has been fairly unpredictable and uneventful for me in terms of photography. I’ve gone out with good intentions on several days, but I just haven’t been able to capture many landscape photographs worthy of including on our Pacific Crest Stock photography pages. After a couple of failed attempts early in the season, I decided to try out some advice that I received from Dan Bryant, a good friend of mine who works in the advertising world. Dan and I have been best friends since we were kids. Today, he owns make-studio in Portland, Maine. Make-studio has worked with some of the country’s best photographers and they have done advertising and branding for many high-profile companies like Simms Fly-Fishing, Orvis, Nike, Nikon, Nordstrom, BMW, MTV, Timberland, Telluride Tourism, and the American Skiing Company. Given that Dan has had a very successful career as an art director, I figure that I should probably listen carefully to any and all advice that he offers. In one of our conversations this year, he mentioned that I should start trying to incorporate the human element into some of my stock photographs.
This concept of putting people into my shots is not something that comes easily for me. I’ve always been a nature and landscape photographer, and in fact, I have often gone to great extremes to make sure that I haven’t accidentally framed any people into my photographs. But then again, I haven’t had any other luck this winter, so I figured that I might as well give it a try. Since I’m not really sure what I’m doing at this point, I’ve basically just started dressing myself in a red or orange shirt for every photo expedition, just in case the conditions or locations don’t lend themselves to nature photography. I realize that the whole red shirt concept is a little trite (kind of like the requirement that all canoes used in advertising need to be red), and even though I’m certainly not ready to be America’s Next Top Model yet, I am starting to have some fun experimenting with this idea.
On my first “red shirt day,” I drove over to Santiam Pass in hopes of hiking into the slopes of Three Fingered Jack, but when I got there, the clouds were not cooperating. A large collection of fluffy clouds seemed stuck on the mountain’s pinnacles, so rather than spending six hours hiking through knee-deep snow just to get blanked by low-hanging clouds, I decided that I would take a shorter ski into the backcountry areas near Mount Washington. Once again, the clouds moved in and obstructed my views of Mount Washington, but since I was prepared with my nice shiny red shirt, I decided to set up my tripod in the snow and start experimenting with ways to incorporate myself into the shot. My favorite advertising photos are the ones where there is a hint of someone being there or doing something, but where the picture itself is not necessarily focused on the person. That was the main idea that I played around with while I was skiing, and although I didn’t get anything too magical, the chance to experiment with different positions at least opened up some photo opportunities that would not have otherwise been there on this particular day.
After skiing back to the Jeep that day, I decided to take advantage of the clouds—and our unique Central Oregon geography—by leaving the mountains and driving into some nearby desert rock formations for a few more shots. I found a nice collection of rocks above the Crooked River that provided open views back toward some of Smith Rock’s most dramatic cliffs. I balanced my tripod on one of the larger rocks, set the 10-second timer, and then scrambled out onto one of the other rocks overhanging the river. It took me about 11 seconds to get there on my first few attempts, but with some perseverance, I eventually got fast enough to get fully into frame. I didn’t really capture anything all that original in the desert either, but still, I wasn’t too disappointed since it was just my first day playing with this idea.
One of the nice things that I’m beginning to appreciate about this experiment is that it allows me to get out and photograph on days that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise tried. For example, I had some free time on one cold and rainy weekend in February, and even though there wasn’t really much of a draw to do anything outside, I decided to drive into Lake Billy Chinook and explore around some of the cliffs overlooking the lake. I knew that it was much too early in the season for pure landscape photography, but I loaded up my camera equipment anyway and went out with the idea of experimenting with the human element concept a little more. While I was there, I found several nice scenes that I would like to shoot later this year when the balsamroot flowers are blooming, and before I left, I took a few photographs of myself perched on the edge of one of the steep drop-offs. The composition isn’t quite as interesting as I would have liked, but then again, I didn’t trip and launch myself off of the cliff during any of my hurried attempts to get into the photograph, so I figured that was enough of a success.
One of the other good things about trying to include people in my images is that it opens up some locations that I would not have otherwise gone to because the scene itself would have felt too empty without someone in the picture. For example, there are several areas along the Middle Deschutes where I’ve always enjoyed hiking, but the scenes are not quite “full” enough for a good landscape photograph. They’re absolutely beautiful when you’re there, but they just don’t photograph that well unless you add something else interesting to the scene. The next two photographs were taken in one of those areas on the Deschutes River. I wish that I would have brought my fly rod with me (which I will do when I go back to re-shoot these later in the year), but I think these initial attempts are at least a good start, and they help demonstrate the value of adding the human element to an otherwise average-looking scene.
Sadly, this is just a small sampling of my winter failings. There were many more days this winter where my red shirt ended up being the only interesting thing in the scene. It happened again last weekend, when I tried once more to climb up onto the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack. After 4 hours of climbing up through deep, soft snow I ran out of time and I had to turn around. I was less than a mile from the top, but that last mile was straight up, and I knew there was no way I could make it to the summit and then back to the Jeep before dark, so I just took a couple of bad photographs of me and my red shirt standing in front of the ridge and headed back home.
That day at Three Fingered Jack would have been much better from a photography perspective (and probably from a safety standpoint) if someone else had been there hiking with me. The more I play with this experiment, the more I realize that it’s really difficult trying to be the photographer AND the model. My 40-yard dash time isn’t quite what it used to be, and there are many times that I simply can’t shoot the scene the way I would have liked because I can’t get to where I need to be in the 10-second time lapse before my shutter releases. If you live in the area and you feel like you would like to get in touch with your inner Zoolander, please send me an email. It would be really nice to have someone else to work with as a model. I suspect that it will involve a fair amount of suffering, and I can’t promise that you will end up on the cover of Outside magazine anytime soon, but I am fairly confident that we will at least have some fun. All you need is a red shirt.
Posted by Troy McMullin