Home Town Tourist

Standing on the fringes of a millionaire’s mansion, we looked out over the city.  Mount Hood stood across from us on the horizon, acting as a counterpoint for the rising September moon.

 It was the evening of the third day of the photography workshop.  On this day we didn’t go so far afield. Our venue for the day was Portland, home for the classroom sessions, home for the instructor, home for me.  What would our instructor feature from his stomping grounds?

Neighborhood brewpubs? This is Portland after all, known in some circles as beervana, and for its microbrewer to resident ratio.  Yep, we’d been hitting those for lunch, and enjoying Portland’s foodie reputation at the same time.

(And no, I didn’t provide my classmates brew from my homebrew stash, because come September it’s depleted – I don’t brew in the summer months ’cause I can’t keep the fermenter cool enough.)

We opted to work the downtown area in the afternoon.  But while we were carrying cameras, most of us were landscape photographers.  We just played tourist.

We stopped into a theater – the Gerding, sometimes called The Armory.  Why? That was its original use.  Built in 1891, the shell remains, of ancient (by Portland standards) brick, providing an old-time flavor.  But the only picture I took that seemed interesting is rather abstract.  Architecture photography isn’t really my thing.

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Any Guesses?

If you’re a book nerd, and I suspect many WordPress bloggers/followers are, you may have heard of the Gerding’s neighbor – our next stop.  It’s Powell’s City of Books.  The headquarters store claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. It takes up an entire city block, including multiple floors.  It has over 68,000 square feet of floor space, nine color-coded sections, and over 3,500 sub-sections.

It can be a little overwhelming.

In the interests of pretending to focus on photography we went to the photography section, but sooner or later all we various folks wandered about.

This may be the only time I’ve gone to Powell’s that I didn’t walk out with a stack of books.  (Sci-Fi, usually.)  I didn’t take pictures there.  A picture just doesn’t do the scope of the place justice.

After the trauma of being overwhelmed by books, it was time for a snack.

Donuts.

If you’ve ever researched things to do in Portland, chances are the name Voodoo Donuts will come up. Travel shows have featured it, and the crazy number of donut variations you can get there.  Bacon Maple anyone?  Voodoo doll with a pretzel stake in its heart?

But we didn’t go there.  Too touristy, too often a line.  Locals looking for something more “boutique” go to Blue Star Donuts. I had the blueberry bourbon basil.  Sounds weird, but tasty.

Maybe there is something to that “Portlandia” satire.

I attempted a street photography picture or two outside of Blue Star, but that’s really not my thing either, so still no pictures.

The main event, photographically, for the day was a plan to shoot a cityscape, with Mount Hood and a rising moon on the horizon.  That day the moon came up as the sun went down, so it was an evening event.

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Our perspective was from the grounds of the Pittock Mansion.  Originally owned by the guy that started the Oregonian newspaper, the mansion is now a museum.  At one end of the grounds, we found a view overlooking the city and the mountain.  On a clear day it’s an impressive view.  Our day was semi-clear. Not great for the mountain, but decent for city lights.

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Remember the old TV show, Twin Peaks? We have our own version.

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They’re part of the convention center, a place I most recently frequented for a home brewers convention last summer.

But it takes a panorama to show scale.  Even this one’s had the ends clipped.  Click on it (or any other shot) to see more details.

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There’s a difference between serious photographers and guys like me.  Serious photographers get up at god-awful early hours in the morning to depart for some potentially awesome viewpoint, so they can be there for early blue hour and sunrise.  The light is softer, the colors less harsh.  Blues and oranges and pinks are more common. Some guys don’t even bother shooting midday, they’ll just use that time to scout places, so they don’t stumble over their feet in the dark the next morning or night.  Evening/sundown is another favored time, again for the best light.

I tend not to plan much and make do, due either to limitations of a trip I’m on, or being too lazy to get out of bed.  The best light is a luxury I don’t often enjoy, not being motivated to pay the luxury tax.

But since this was a workshop, you know there had to be at least one morning we got up early for a sunrise.  We scouted the spot on Portland tourist day, after lunch and before going to the theater.  We’d be shooting across the Willamette River towards downtown. The next morning was the time for red-eye.

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We all set up on tripods, getting squared away for panoramic sequences.  As the sun came up and the light evolved we shot away, hoping for a combination where the light was good and the winds were calm, allowing for interesting reflections.  I did ok, don’t ‘cha think?

Of course, I cheated.  This is actually a composite of two panorama sets, an earlier one with better reflections, and a later one with better sunlight on the buildings. It’s pretty obvious if you look closely.

And no, they didn’t teach that in class.  Good thing there wasn’t a grade.  But ultimately, this was about creating something artistic, not a documentary or a photo contest.

After the sunrise, we met for breakfast and headed off to our last day’s excursion.  But that’s a story for another post.

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29 thoughts on “Home Town Tourist

  1. Well I just learned that most of those awesome Milky stars photos I see around are composite photos of two or more shots put together… sounds legit to me!
    That Powell’s bookstore seems great. It’s very telling about a city when a place that big is so well known. More libraries less malls please.

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    1. Well, full arc milky way shots are panoramas, stitched together. Some shots have items in the foreground artificially lit. Those are composites too, with foreground and background sections. Powell’s main store is like Mecca for a book fan. Maybe you’re due for a hadj?

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  2. I like the composites – – seems like it’s harder to think of these techniques as any kind of cheating, when it’s a recorded by a digital camera and I’m looking at it on a LCD screen. And that shot of Mount Hood with the moon is just great, it has a nice mystical feel.

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    1. I don’t really think of panoramas as cheating even though they are stitched together composites. The sunrise cityscape was kinda cheating cause I took the results from two different panos from two different times and used the best bits from both. But if you look close, where are the lights causing the light reflections? The Mt. Hood shot turned out ok, although I had to enhance it quite a bit as it wasn’t very clear in the haze.

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  3. Hi Dave, “Beervana” made me smile. I have driven through Portland and next time we need to make it a destination. Powell’s is definitely world-renowned along with the Donut places. Your night photos and sunrise photos are stunning! Impressive on the two panorama sets. There is no right or wrong with art:)

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    1. Interesting folks like the moon shot, it almost didn’t make the cut. Maybe they just like saying “moon shot”. As for the abstract, I think the “moths” are reflections of the light in a red lamp on the glass of the lens, probably on the cheap UV filter covering the expensive bits.

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  4. Portland really is a beautiful city and beings how the traffic is so bad (at least when we were there) you get a lot of extra time to view it. 😉
    I loved Powell books! That was probably my favorite stop, though just walking around and checking out the restaurants was pretty cool too. You chose a nice place to live. 👍

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    1. Yeah, traffic in Portland can be scary bad. It helps to have an idea of when it’ll be bad where, and the flexibility to avoid the bad bits. Retirement has its perks. Powell’s is kind of a Mecca, isn’t it?

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  5. I’ve never taken a photography course for all sorts of reasons but I can definitely see how it would be advantageous, especially to learn how other photographers see things. Likewise am not a cityscape devotee though I do take my fair share of photos. Landscapes, textures and close-ups are more my interest.

    Powell’s is my favorite bookstore. I go there whenever I’m in Portland and always leave with at least one book, typically more.

    Personally I don’t see what the fuss is about Voodoo or Blue Star other than the weird combinations. But the city is justifiably famous for its food scene, the Japanese garden—and POWELL’S.

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    1. I haven’t been to Voodoo for at least 10 years (when visitors were in town) and we rarely do donuts from anybody. I think my last trip to Powell’s was the only time I haven’t walked out with a stack of books – I way behind on reading in any case. Workshops are nice, but basic photo classes are almost as good – just less expensive and more boring. Ultimately if you like your results, it doesn’t matter. Just comes down to what you enjoy doing.

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  6. Pingback: Silver Falls – Plying Through Life

  7. I like the way that last one came out. It’s a good exercise to have an open mind and wander around your home town as if you were a tourist. You never know what interesting things you might encounter, for photography or otherwise.

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