yet another larch mountain sunset (panorama)

larch-sunset-2016-panorama

One of my favorite places in the Portland area is Larch Mountain. I’ve been photographing there for years at all hours of the day, and one of the things I love is spending a sunset atop the mountain. Despite the small platform at the summit, Larch often has a party atmosphere at sunset, especially during the summer. That’s where my pal Duncan and I first met the wonderful Hudson Henry, and I’ve witnessed marriage proposals, champagne toasts, and what seems like a million photographers while on the mountain.

When I first went to Larch, it bugged me that this big rock got in the way of the sunset, but once I discovered the wonder of the silhouette, I was hooked on looking west at least a few times while shooting Mt. Hood off to the east. And, despite the fact that a silhouette is a silhouette is a silhouette, I keep seeing different sides to them, as with this shot.

This is a three-shot panoramic merge of an iPhone 6s photo, and it’s better than anything I shot with my Sony A7RII that evening. A lot of tines, the phone will blow out the highlights in a sunset, but I seemed to get the light at the right time, while playing with the exposure.[1. While framing your image, click and hold to lock focus and exposure on the brightest spot, then drag down to lower the exposure a little bit.] I’m continually amazed at how many of my favorite shots from the past year have come from that pocket camera. (I’ll have another in a day or so.)

Click on the image above to see it bigger. See my other Larch Mountain shots.

the shot that was

hood-sunset-2015Sometimes, the shot you see in your head doesn’t show up until after you’ve packed up and headed back down the mountain. Last Sunday, at sunset, I shot the crazy clouds around Mount Hood for about an hour, before turning my attention to the actual sun setting in the west (see the previous entry). It was getting cold, and the light was draining from the sky, so I carefully packed my gear back into my bag and started walking down the stairs to the car. As I turned towards Hood one last time, I saw this scene and snapped a few quick shots with my phone, which I had in my hand.

Of course, once I got to the car and looked at what I had, I cursed quite loudly to myself. Why I didn’t take the time to set up the shot with my “real” camera, carefully on the tripod? Then, I certainly would have gotten the photo that was in my head.

Clearly, I’m not the photographer I think I am. Well, here’s the reality of that moment: it was dark; I was tired from the day’s 200-mile drive through the Gorge; my shoulder was screaming at me; I was chatting with a photographer I had just met; I wasn’t sure there was even a picture there; et cetera et cetera. So I clicked a few frames and moved on.

All of that angst was for naught, however: this is a good shot. And who cares that it was taken with an iPhone? Would another 12 megapixels made it that much better of a shot? No, because I would have lost the rapidly dwindling light of the blue hour, and would have taken too long to figure out which lens to use and set up the scene. And, the painterly quality of this photo gives it a glow that might have been lost with a 24-megapixel camera and fine Zeiss glass. (Plus, I got to put a version of this shot up on Instagram right away.)

I’ve been going up to Larch Mountain for more than 10 years, and what’s really funny is that I can’t find a single image in my photo library taken from this vantage point. It is probably the stairs, which are quite busy at sunset, but you’d think, after all the times that “Use the foreground!” has been pounded into my consciousness by photographers better than me, that I would have tried it once or twice. It took a cameraphone to help me think a bit differently about a place I’ve been shooting for years.

Now, of course, I’ll be checking this viewpoint every time I go to Larch. I’ll mark the photo in my library with the ‘revisit’ tag, but, like many of those images, the best ones are always the original.

larch sunset (2015)

larch-sunset-2015Sunday was my first time up Larch Mountain this year. It’s always a lovely thing to do, that 14-mile ride through the forest, followed by the short, slightly steep walk up to the top of the mountain. A lot of nights, it’s like a party, especially with a beautiful sunset like this one.

Of course, as much as I love the silhouette shots, it really makes me nervous to see the kids scampering up on the rocks, especially when they appear to have been imbibing (or smoking) something. One of the days, I fully expect to hear about a mishap up on Larch.

Click the image to see it full-size. And don’t forget about this guy, who I met first atop Larch back in 2012.

moonrise, mt. hood

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Over on his blog, Duncan has great post — ‘An Evening with Mt. Hood‘ — about our adventure the other night. It sums up the nature of the evening quite well, and reminds me that, while photography is primarily about light, it’s also about patience and practice.

I have a bunch of shots from the night that I like, but none of them as yet really jump out. The changing light on the mountain was beautiful, but there was still something missing; if the lenticular clouds had been a bit more full, or the sky a bit deeper blue, I might have gotten an image that moved into the portfolio queue. But over the next month, I’ll continue to work through my picks from this night, and I very well might find something that sticks.

For now, I like the one above. It’s a bit dark, and as I have tried to push the tones around, it all seems to fall apart. However, this is one of those images feels like it will work best in print: the forest ridges have just enough depth to them to lead you to the horizon; the moon is light and delicate enough to hang effortlessly in the sky; and Mt. Hood has just the right amount of glow on it as it sits above that cloud bank.

[see ‘Moonrise, Mt. Hood’ bigger]

The one below is also nice, even if it’s very similar to the ones taken by my friends on the mountain (click the image to see it bigger):

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hudson henry, larch mountain

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Larch Mountain is one of those places in the Columbia River Gorge that few people seem to know about, largely because it is a bit of a one-trick pony: there’s a single, small viewing area at the top of the mountain, a short 5-minute hike up from the parking lot. It’s out of the way if you want to do the Vista House/Multnomah Falls route, and, if you’re looking to make a day of it, there aren’t any simple hiking trails or picnic areas with sweeping vistas. (You can, however, go for the 14.4-mile ‘difficult’ trail from Multnomah Lodge, if, unlike me, you’re sufficiently in shape.)

However, the drive up the mountain is a beautiful winding ride (also 14 miles) through dense forest, and I never tire of it, especially on the bike. If you’re there on a clear day, what you get is a stunning panoramic view of five mountains in the Cascade Range: Jefferson, Hood, Adams, Rainier, and St. Helens. And, at 4,000 feet, the summit of Larch is also much cooler than the river floor, which is one of the reasons I head up here frequently during the summer.

Last night, Duncan and I decided to drive up to the top of Larch. A full moon was due about 25 minutes before sunset, and we were hoping that we might get a shot of the moon coming up alongside Mount Hood. (I was also itching to try the Nikon D800, which I’m evaluating to see if I’m up for the switch from Canon, but that’s a post for another day.)

Unfortunately, the moon came up about 40 degrees to the north of Mt. Hood, so epic moonrise shots weren’t in the cards, but it was still a lot of fun. The top of Larch was like a party, with a large group of folks hoping to watch (or photograph) a lovely sunset in a beautiful place while there was still a hint of warmth in the air. There were photographers with big-ass tripods and others with cameraphones. There were people with friends from out of town, and couples with glasses of champagne toasting the moon. Duncan and I had a great time shooting and chatting in the midst of all this, with the added bonus of meeting the photographer Hudson Henry, who was a blast to be around. And, as it turned out, fun to shoot as well, while he jumped on the bluff atop the mountain to grab some shots of the Columbia valley below. I grabbed the one above and the one below, and couldn’t really decide which one I liked better.

(You can see larger views of either photo by clicking on it.)

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[Duncan has a couple of great shots of Hood over on his blog.]

While you’re at it, check out Hudson’s shot of the Enchantments; it is quite beautiful.

(Yes, this shot is very similar to this one from a couple of years ago. I like that one too.)