Friday, January 30, 2015

Number 23

Living so close to the Grand Canyon enables me to get up there for a quick weekend.  This was the case when Kristi's aunt & uncle came to visit from Boston.  At the end of the day we decided to see the sunset from Pima point.  A handful of people were there soaking in the last rays of the day, and clicking away.  I was set up on one side of the point trying to capture the sun as it was skipping off the top of some rocks and a juniper clinging to the cliff edge.  It all happened so quickly, but suddenly a California Condor emerged from the depths, buzzed our heads and promptly jetted off into the sky.  I had fired off two shots with a wide angle, then recomposed with a zoom as he was getting away.  There were other people there that were lucky enough to get close-ups with their zooms, and after sharing each others images we soon realized which condor we had captured.

For those who are not familiar with the Grand Canyon California Condor story, it's a success story for endangered animals that had been captured before extinction.  They have been endangered for some time, mostly as a result of mankind.  The combination of loss of habitat, shooting, egg collecting, poisoning by cyanide traps set for coyotes, power line collisions, and especially lead poisoning began to take a heavy toll. The condor is particularly susceptible to lead poisoning due to the fact that they are scavengers.  Related to the vulture, the condor commonly feeds on carrion.  With the combination of hunters shooting and killing and not retrieving the animal, as well as leaving some portion with the bullets in the animal's flesh it has been enough to impact the condor population.  They find themselves eating the flesh along with the lead.  It doesn't take much to overwhelm their systems and result in their demise.

The success story starts with the California Condor Restoration Project. The US fish & Wildlife service teamed up with the LA Zoo and the San Diego Wildlife park to begin the restoration. By 1982 the condor population had dwindled to as few as 22 animals, and by 1985 the number dwindled so low, that they decided to capture the remaining 9 condors left in the wild.   A few challenges that they had to face was their ability to reproduce. They only mate and lay one egg once every two years, and they can't begin to reproduce until age 6. In response to this, the breeders developed techniques in which eggs are removed as they are laid, sometimes causing the captive condors to lay a second and sometimes a third egg. The eggs are incubated and the chicks are raised by caretakers using hand puppets mimicking a condor head. The puppet head prevents the chicks  from imprinting on people, a phenomenon in which a bird will misidentify a human as their mother. Condor chicks can also be allowed to be raised by the captive parent birds. As a result, of this amazing project the captive condor population has increased to  177 or so. The amount of California condors today totals around 400, more than half of which are in the wild.

Number 23,  identified by the wing-tag, is the hero of the California Condor Restoration Project. Along with his mate, they were the first released condors to successfully raise a chick on their own. Today Number 23 flies alone. Two years ago, his mate was discovered dead succumbed by lead poisoning.  If you are lucky and in the vicinity of Pima point you might be able to catch a view of this amazing bird when he frequents the area.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Eagle Creek, Colombia River Gorge

I just love waterfalls. I don't know what it is. No, yes I do.  Waterfalls are a display of power and force. They represent our life blood.  You can smell the moisture in the air, and see the verdant green that commonly surrounds them.  The pools at the bottom are good for swimming and bathing, and the sound lulls you.   I'll hike long distances to visit one.  And I love photographing them.  They are a terrific subject for photography.

One of the most popular trails for waterfalls is in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon; the Eagle Creek Trail. It follows the creek for about thirteen miles, and features some of the most spectacular waterfalls and temperate rainforest in the northwest.  The trail proceeds through the forest and along paths carved high in the basalt cliffs.  There are no guard rails, just safety chains along the cliff walls. The trailhead boasts a campground, and day use parking. Also popular with backpackers the trail can be made part of a loop, connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail and points beyond.

 Kristi and I decided to make a day hike out of it. If we hike to Tunnel falls and turn around, it's a nice 12 mile hike. After about two miles the trail reaches Punch Bowl Falls (500').  The water here spills 100 feet into a blue green pool set in a large grotto.

 The trail follows Eagle Creek under heavy forest 1.6 miles to High Bridge (560’), which then crosses the gorge 150 feet above the creek. From High Bridge the trail heads southeast 1.4 miles, and continues 0.4 mile to the junction with Eagle Benson Trail.

From the junction the trail climbs the last 0.8 mile to Tunnel Falls (1,240’), where the trail passes behind the falls through a tunnel.  Here we had lunch and spent some time trying to capture the essence of such a beautiful falls.

Being a photography and not just a travel blog, some mention of equipment and technique has to be made.  Part of the appeal of waterfall shots is that nice smooth water that flows like silk and fans out into deep pools of blue. So how exactly do you get such an exposure?  Firstly there's the tripod. You absolutely need a tripod.  Okay not absolutely, I've made images of Oak Creek, setting my camera on a rock.  This method isn't ideal unless you're a contortionist, since composing a shot this way requires you to lay on the ground, or have a tilting live view screen. But take my word for it, there aren't always rocks to set a camera on, and you won't always like the view from there. On a twelve mile hike you'll want a light, yet sturdy tripod.  I have a nice carbon fiber four sectioned tripod that weighs around three pounds. It packs well strapped to any backpack or day pack, and I've learned to deploy it in approx. 28s. You have to pay special attention to the head of the tripod, and make sure it will hold the weight of your camera and heaviest lens.

 If you have an "L" bracket it not only helps the speed in which you can change from landscape to portrait orientation, it can offset the necessity for a heavier ball head.  An Arca-Swiss style ball head pares well with "L" brackets and offers a quick change solution to screwing in the camera to the tripod. Believe me it's likely you will not be hiking alone, so the less time you take deploying your gear, the less time your hiking partner will have traveled down the trail without you.

  Filters.  You will need at least two filters, depending on the lighting conditions.  It is likely that you will be shooting during the day, and those filters will enable you to darken the scene, so a longer exposure time will help make that silky smooth water.   The first filter you will need is a good circular polarizer (CPL).  The old school polarizers don't rotate, which besides messing with your meter on the camera, will produce unwanted results if you can't rotate it. You will need to view the scene in the viewfinder while rotating the filter. One direction the scene will take on a blue tint to it.  What you are seeing is reflections of the sky in the foliage, or water.  The other direction will start to eliminate those reflections, and restore the scene to a richer, more balanced color. Another benefit of the CPL is that it has a grey tint to it.  It will help by darkening the scene about  two stops. If you happened to be shooting waterfalls during a rain storm, the clouds help darken the scene, allowing you to achieve those magic lower shutter speeds. It was raining pretty heavily that day on our hike, which helped even out the lighting and reduced harsh shadows. A neutral density filter is another filter that can help create longer shutter speeds.  It is especially necessary if you are shooting in direct sunlight.  These filters come in different densities, and some are even adjustable on -the- fly!

 Now, for that silky effect, what you really need is time, what those filters are doing is buying you some time. During daylight hours I like shutter speeds from .3s to 1.5s.  It is fun to play with the different shutter speeds to see what effect each speed has on the water. Of course if you are fortunate enough to be on location after sunset, the filters won't necessarily be needed, and if combined with some moonlight you can shoot up to 25s.  Closing your aperture down can be done, but can also introduce diffraction and soft focus areas to the edges of your image. A cable release, or delayed timer is also a necessity.  If you touch your camera to trigger the exposure it will surely introduce some vibration.  This vibration will show up in your image and either make it look like you're seeing double, or you'll have the motion blur.  Remote controls work well for this too.  Mirror lock-up is an added function that helps reduce motion blur, by moving the internal parts of the camera prior to the actual taking of the exposure. It requires two button presses, one to lift the mirror, the other to make the exposure. This method is highly recommended for making those crisp sharp images you spent all that money on to take, if you don't have a cable release or a remote you might as well not bother. At the very least you can use the delay timer. You brought that tripod do keep your camera from moving, why not go all the way.  If you have it, use it.