Scouting the Eastside canyons

May 31, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

After last Monday's debacle of ranger-borne testosterone poisoning, I at least had this Monday's planned outing with Haily, Gin and Ginger to look forward to. But, I wanted to get out and preview the locations we planned to visit, in order to see what snow levels were like, especially since the road would literally open just three days before the shoot.

We'd talked about several possible spots, ranging from Chinook Creek in the north to the Grove of the Patriarchs in the south. I knew the latter would be more off-the-beaten-path, and the former would probably benefit more from morning light, so I started at Chinook Creek, hiking in at the Deer Creek trailhead. The rivers were full, and the air was cool, but the sun was out so the hiking was quite comfortable.

I found snow at the bottom of the canyon, just in patches along the creek, and the little waterfall that I've photographed so often looked really beautiful in the morning light. I experimented with different lenses and shutter speeds; at half a second, the water looks beautifully streaky, while at a full second it turns ethereal and dream-like. But the latter was right on the edge of technical possibility, because even as early as 8:30 in the morning at f/22 and ISO 100, a full second was almost too much light. I need to remember to take neutral density filters next time.

Of course, shooting with a model, I also have to balance shutter speed with the ability of the model to hold still, so a full second exposure is probably too long anyway. I set up the tripod on the trail bridge and set my camera for intermittent photography and made some self-portraits to see what the compositions would look like from different angles using different lenses. I found that while my Rokinon 14mm lens makes magnificent landscape images, any human figure in the image is almost too small. The 35mm lens seemed to work better--less expansive in scope, but a better match between the landscape and figure.

So, yes, figure self-portraits exist; but no, you won't see them here, at least not while I'm pre-retirement, unless you're a close friend. If you're in the latter category and are interested, feel free to ask.

From the waterfall, I headed three quarters of a mile downstream to the first major bridge on the Eastside Trail, hiking through snow most of the way, though I think it'll only be a week or two before it's all melted. That trail bridge is a magnificent spot for photography, since you can photograph the river from the height and perspective of the bridge, and there are also some great spots on the rocks along the river itself from which to photograph the rapidly-flowing water and the bridge itself. There's even a small waterfall on the downstream side of the bridge, so looking back from the edge of the canyon you can bet both the waterfall and the bridge in the same frame, with several logs cutting angles across the frame where they've come to rest at the bottom.

Figure photography at this spot would be magnificent, and I could probably spend a few hours shooting in this one place. I spent probably an hour and a half just taking reference photos. I was a bit pressed for time, and my camera batteries were running low, so I didn't try any self-portraits here. And I have, in fact, shot at this spot before, with a model who went by the name "Flora and Fauna," several years ago, with great results -- but later in the spring, with less flow in the stream.

Headed back, I stopped to check the light one final time at Chinook Falls, where my last battery died completely. Fortunately I still had my cell phone, good enough for scouting, so after hiking out I made my next stop at Panther Creek. Here the temperature was probably 20 degrees warmer than Chinook Creek! The river's edge, reached by a half-hidden waytrail, was in full sun, and the blue-gray rock looked so inviting for sunbathing, next to the turgid green water of the Ohanapecosh River rushing past. By picking your way around on the rocks, you can find at least some degree of privacy here pretty easily, and I'm sure I will be back again this summer to take advantage of a place to sit naked in the sun, if not for photography. But unfortunately I was still short on time due to an afternoon appointment, so I didn't linger, but continued south to my third and final stop.

The Grove of the Patriarchs is, officially, closed this summer, as it was last summer, due to damage to the suspension bridge that crosses the Ohanapecosh River to the island that contains the famous ancient trees and the boardwalk that loops through them. It's hard to imagine the river so full that something floating on its surface could slam into the bridge like a battering ram, given that under normal circumstances the bridge is a good 15-20 feet above the river; but clearly that is indeed what happened. The bridge is twisted like a braided donut and half knocked off its foundation on one side, so it's been fenced off to prevent visitors from attempting to cross it.

And so, I am not going to divulge how I managed to reach the island. Let's just say I have a magic carpet and leave it at that. If you want to shoot with me in this location, I'll give you a ride.

Suffice it to say that there are some very beautiful patches of forest with some very beautiful trees, with carpets of lush vanilla leaf underneath and little streams flowing through the marshy low spots reflecting the sky. The boardwalk in the Grove itself is covered with a thick layer of hemlock needles and cones, and in one place a tree about eight feet thick has come down across the trail, forcing a stomach-crawl to get underneath it to complete the loop. But the space is serene and quiet, almost surreal in its solitude. I found a child's shoe sitting in the middle of the trail, dropped ages ago by some unknown passer-by before the bridge was closed.

Best of all -- and surely a temporary blessing -- there were almost no mosquitoes out at all. It's that paradisiacal time of year when it's warm enough to expose skin but it hasn't been warm long enough for the first round of mosquito larvae to emerge from the water as winged monsters hungry for blood. I only saw a single mosquito the whole time I wandered through the forest, despite exposing a good deal of skin.

And then I had to scurry off back to the real world. But this was just a preamble, remember, to an upcoming photoshoot. Which location(s) would my models choose? What shape would those photos take? Would there be mosquitos? Bears? Or--worse--bear rangers? Tune in next time to find out!


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