“I bet nobody can get a good picture here!”, said our photography instructor. On the face of it, you’d think he was crazy – we were along a stream bed in a lovely valley. But he had his reasons, apart from giving us all a challenge.
We had started the day early, on the Portland waterfront, to catch the sunrise lighting up the city skyline.
Then, after meeting up for breakfast with those lazybones who chose to sleep in, we piled into the van and headed south. Our target, Silver Falls State Park.
It was the final day of our photography workshop. Part classroom training, part whirlwind tour of area highlights, we’d been having a blast. We’d made a run up to Mount Hood, to check out Timberline Lodge and Trillium Lake. We’d driven up the Columbia Gorge to scope out the epic vistas, and waterfalls both towering and picturesque. We’d spent time downtown Portland, and taken in the evening skyline. No tour group could have done better, or had more fun doing it. Our swan song, Silver Falls State Park, would give us forest trails to hike, and for those who hadn’t gotten enough of waterfalls, more to enjoy.
The park is a bit more than hour’s drive south of town, tucked in between Salem and the foothills of the Cascade mountain range. But what’s so special about it?
By now, the clever amongst you are likely saying, “Well duh, it’s because there’s a nice waterfall there called Silver Falls. The post’s title is a dead giveaway. Not too mention the pictures you already showed us.”
And you’d be wrong.
Well, yes, I have shown you a couple pictures of a nice waterfalls. But it’s not called Silver Falls, it’s called South Falls. At 177 feet, it’s not too shabby. In fact, I featured it in a post about a year and a half ago, from a December trip when the water was much stronger.
The thing is, South Falls is just one of many. Ten, in fact, if you do the full seven and a half mile loop trail (with a few extensions), and you go at the right time of year. Some of them dry out in late summer, shaving down the number.
And none of them are called Silver Falls.
We were there in the fall, so all ten were not an option. And as some of our group were a tad on the older side (apologies to the 70 and 80 somethings out there), they weren’t motivated to do the full loop. So we split up; some went to a falls with an easier hike, and some went to a couple that had steeper ups and downs on the trail.
None of us were exactly youngsters. Photography workshops tend to attract an older crowd. They’re not inexpensive, and the older crowd is more likely to have passed that critical moment where it’s either hand to mouth and hope to survive on Social Security, or expect a comfortable retirement. They’re not busy raising kids anymore either. Disposable income and disposable time help a lot.
With that said, three of our group were a mother and her two daughters, using the workshop as an excuse for a reunion. Mom was in her early 80’s – she was a riot.
So we hiked out and back, each at our own comfortable pace. At times we’d stop and take pictures, at other times we’d just stop to huff and puff. We were lugging around a bunch of camera gear…
So what was that deal about the instructor challenging us to get a good picture at the stream bed?
As you might guess by now, it wasn’t exactly an arid, barely moving wadi surrounded by a bunch of sandy nothing. Picturesque wasn’t the problem.
Light was the problem. At the time it was early afternoon. The sun was high in the sky, and anything not in the shade was brightly and harshly lit. Shadows were strong too, making the difference between the bright parts and dark parts extreme. (High dynamic range.) While the human eyeball has evolved to deal with these extremes, camera sensors still struggle. Trying to take a picture of the river was a glary mess of blown out specular highlights and deep shadows. Ugh. There’s a reason photographers like to shoot in soft light, early or late in the day, or in open shade.
But still, I found a way.
What’d ya think? Did I pass the challenge?