Last Saturday evening Brian and I were hanging out in our living room after dinner when we noticed that the sky was getting dramatic outside our window. The photo above is a fairly conventional sunset view, pretty representative of what we saw with our naked eyes. But that’s not the first photo I made in the course of the few minutes of celestial drama. Continue reading
We may joke about it a bit, but winter in Pacific Northwest forests is surprisingly green. Continue reading
A week ago we Bellinghamsters were freezing our patooties off in 15° weather and braving several inches of snow to get around. It seemed like a great time to head out and get a few winter images, so I bundled up, put my truck in 4-wheel drive, and headed to town. I spent the first part of the morning at Whatcom Falls Park and then traveled down the creek to the waterfront.
Whatcom Museum, Bellingham’s old city hall, is an oft-photographed landmark. I like this waterfront view from Maritime Heritage Park. Continue reading
Whatcom Creek thundered over the falls in Whatcom Falls and Maritime Heritage Parks on Wednesday morning when I went out in the snow to capture a bit of our fairy wonderland. The creek’s name derives from the Lummi word Xwotʼqom, meaning “noisy water,” and it lived up to its name on this crisp winter morning. Continue reading
Last night when Brian and went to the kitchen for an evening snack we looked out the window to the garden and were surprised to see moonlight casting shadows. It was crisp and cold (mid 30s F), which is when we tend to get clear skies in the winter. I set up my tripod, mounted my camera, grabbed my puffy coat and a warm hat, and headed outside. The view above is from our patio, very much like what we saw from the kitchen window.
Brian and I hiked up the Pine and Cedar Lakes trail to Cedar Lake on Sunday during a break in our current rainy spell. It’s a steep climb, starting right from the trailhead on Old Samish Road and quickly gaining 1400 feet with 1000 of that in the first mile.
Last Saturday morning Brian and I decided to explore the new trail system on the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve overlooking Lake Whatcom near Sudden Valley. I’d never hiked there, and Brian hadn’t been there for a long time.
The trail system is newly expanded, thanks to the work of Washington Trails Association. The property is a Whatcom County Park, made possible in part by the efforts of the Whatcom Land Trust. It’s part of what’s known to some as the “reconveyance,” which put large tracts of forest into county ownership to provide both recreation and protection for the Lake Whatcom Watershed. We were there to recreate. Continue reading
I’m recovering from hip surgery I had in mid-March and my surgeon says walking is a great way to rebuild my strength and flexibility. Since I’m not yet physically up to steep hills and our mountains are still buried under deep snow, I’m finding places to walk that are gentle. That means they’re also friendly to families with kids.
Two of my favorite easy walks near Bellingham are along the north shore of Lake Whatcom and the forest of Stimpson Family Nature Preserve near Sudden Valley. They’re both great outdoor portrait locations, too. Continue reading
I love the convenience of my iPhone camera for spontaneous photos wherever I may be. If you’re among the 77% of Americans with a smartphone you probably make a lot of pictures with yours, too. Smartphone cameras have gotten significantly better over time, but they’re still not ideal for night-time photography. But you’ve got a camera in your pocket and you’ll shoot at night, especially the holiday lights on display this month.
Here are a few tips to help you make better photos of your favorite light display.
Your camera’s auto exposure system may not be able to figure out how to properly expose bright lights in a dark environment. You might get lights that are washed out or lacking much color or detail. The solution? Under-expose. With the iPhone’s Camera app, touch the screen to focus and notice the little yellow sun that appears. Now take your finger and drag up (to make the picture brighter) or drag down (to make the picture darker). What you see is what you get, so adjust until you have a nice balance of the lights and the environment. You’re usually going to want to darken the photo to hold detail in the lights.
My favorite time to photograph holiday lights is at dusk, 20-30 minutes after sunset. At the winter solstice in Bellingham, sunset is 4:15 pm so shoot at 4:35 to 4:45 to hold a little deep blue color in the sky.
Hold it Steady
Longer exposures are the norm when shooting at night, so you need to take extra steps to hold your camera steady. I like to find something solid to brace my camera on before I gently touch the shutter button. I’ve used walls, door frames, light posts, tree trunks, fences, the top of a trash can, a traffic control bollard, or the ground at various times for night photos with my phone camera. You can usually find something to brace your camera on.
Embrace Movement and Blur
Although I generally like my photos crisp and sharp, sometimes it’s fun to play around with moving my camera during the exposure. On my iPhone I use an app called Slow Shutter Cam ($1.99 in the App Store) for long exposures. Experiment with different shutter speeds and rates of movement. For the holiday lights on the Fairhaven Village Green I settled on a 2-second exposure to record just enough movement for an interesting effect. I like to start moving the camera and then press the shutter button for a smoother effect. Try both panning (sideways movement) or rotating your camera for different effects.
While there are lots of apps that let you add filters and effects at the moment you take a photo, I’m a firm believer in capturing the best possible exposure and then adding any enhancements later. I edit almost every smartphone photo I make before sharing it with anyone. My favorite editor is Snapseed, available free for both iPhone and Android. There are other apps with some of the same features, but I keep coming back to Snapseed. It’s powerful, flexible, and pretty easy to use. If you want to learn how to use it (and are afraid to play on your own) sign up for my iPhone photo class at Whatcom Community College (next offered February 27, March 6 & 13). You’ll be able to crop, adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, highlight and shadow detail. You can even adjust different parts of the picture selectively and edit out bits that don’t belong.
Print Your Favorites
Although it’s tempting to just keep your photos on your phone or share them on social media, prints are still a great way to enjoy and preserve your photos. You can print to your home printer or get prints made at Quicksilver here in Bellingham or at Costco. Both Quicksilver and Costco have apps that let you upload directly from your phone, order prints, and then pick them up a day or so later.
I made all the photos accompanying this story with my iPhone in the course of about half an hour walking around Fairhaven. I had fun playing and experimenting with my camera and then edited them when I was back home and curled up on my comfy sofa with a favorite beverage at hand. The point is to engage your playful spirit and have fun. Delete the experiments that don’t work, polish the good ones in your favorite editor, and then share as you see fit.
If you’d like some more tips, especially if you’re using a DSLR, read what I wrote about photographing holiday lights in December, 2013.
A few months ago my friend Tom Kilpatrick, who owns the Hilltop Restaurant on Guide Meridian just south of Axton Road, called me to inquire about a couple of new pieces of mountain art for the restaurant. I prepared a preview gallery and Tom picked a couple of favorite photos. I snapped pictures of the walls in the restaurant so I could show him how his choices would look and to help decide on the right size. We came to agreement on the size and price and I got printed ordered.
Today I took two beautiful canvas prints out to the Hilltop with my tools and got them on the walls.
At the back of the restaurant, where you can enjoy it from the moment you walk in the door until you leave, is a photo of Mt. Baker I made at sunset. It’s a panoramic image, shot on film with my Fuji GX617 camera almost 20 years ago. The finished print is 28″ tall and 80″ wide. Continue reading