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The Columbia River Gorge is a massive canyon river system that spans 80 miles from Portland to the east of Oregon, bordering Washington State. This unique area is populated with hundreds of minor creeks, smaller rivers, and tributaries, which at some point all flow into the Columbia River. The unique geology of the River Gorge means that a lot of these creeks descend from the plateau above (2000-4000ft) into the river (sea level) which means that this area has one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the world. The area also transitions from temperate rain forest, to dry woodland, to grassland, all within a short drive and all having multiple vistas and points of interest along the way. The perfect place to host a photographic workshop!
This time around Ellie and myself hosted a group of 8 photographers and had plans to take them to some of the most beautiful places we have discovered and shot over the years. The beauty of this place is the sheer diversity of places there is to shoot. Waterfalls are abound, yes, but there are tons of other things to shoot as well, as our group found during our two day adventure.
The weather report for the weekend looked a little suspicious for this region. No clouds? Weird. This place is usually full of them! No matter, Ellie and I always have tons of other ideas in the pocket just in case mother nature throws us a curveball. So we woke everybody up nice and early to go photograph an awesome attraction not to far from our hotel. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill has been around since 1876, and has near-always been grinding grain since its construction. An absolutely fabulous spot for a group of photogs to come in the early morning while the sun is still low. We spent the time working compositions from above and below, getting the students feet wet (not literally) with compositions involving water and use of polarizers. As the sun crept a little higher, it was time to move on to a place where we could take advantage of the bright mid-morning sun. Cathedral Park in Portland is a massive public park on the Willamette River. Spanning overhead is beautiful the St Johns Bridge which has Gothic Arches that support the span, leading to the park getting its namesake. Ellie and I led the students around, pointing out photographic opportunities using the bridge and its surroundings until our stomachs started to grumble and it was time for our midday break.
After a midday nap, some food, and some needed post post processing instruction from yours truly we headed back out to Latourell Falls. Latourell is one of the few waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge to be shielded from the afternoon sun by a natural basalt wall. The waterfall is recessed in just enough so we can photograph without the harsh sunlight shining in through the trees. We had the group work several compositions on and off the wooden footbridge, and in and out of the water. The conditions couldnt have been more cooperative. It was getting close to sunset, so we decided to travel up the Historic Columbia River Highway to get a view of Crown Point for sunset. With longer lenses, the Vista House is perfectly placed in our shots with an amazing view down the river and gorge, and the last light of the day bathed the surrounding area with a magnificent warm light.
>Again the weather report was looking fishy. Clouds until noon? Yay! Off again in the early hours to Dougan Falls. A massive 100 foot long waterfall with a cascadely 20 foot drop. But thats not the interesting part of this waterfall. Its the massive whirlpool in front of it, which is only visible with much longer exposures. The way down the water is particularly slippery, so we took caution and carefully navigated down to the waters edge. Ellie and I passed out neutral density filters for the group to try out some seriously long exposures for daytime! At 15-30 seconds the foam churned up by the Dougan cascade makes its way around in a nearly perfect circle, making our foregrounds look awesome! But hey enough time here! Lets get to another waterfall! Panther Creek Falls, is pretty different from the other we visited on this trip, massive 136 foot falls, with a huge 100 foot width. The only way to safely photograph it is from the wooden platform above the falls, where the trees do a perfect job of framing every bit of the gargantuan cascades. But wait, theres more! Along the right side of the falls, Panther Creek itself roars by, and the rapids here are equally as impressive. Until the sun starts to poke through. Quick get yer last couple of shots in! After a little over an hour working the falls and rapids, mother nature decided it was time for us to head back. So we made our way back to the hotel, but not before a quick stop in Stevenson for some chow!
After our break, Ellie and I went through a little more post processing talk, and really got a great chance to look over everyones images and give them pointers on how to improve them in Lightroom and Photoshop. Feeling hungry again? Good! Off to Hood River we went, this time to take a break from waterfalls, (since the light wouldnt allow it) and take in this quiet little hamlet. Hood River has a lot of really great stuff! While waiting for our table for our group dinner, we went by the waterfront and captured some local kite-surfers doing their thing, getting big air, backflips etc. The atmospheric pressure differentials east and west of Hood River create a wind tunnel effect, thereby generating constant 35+ mph winds necessary for the wind and kite surfers. With our longer lenses, these guys and girls were putting on a big air clinic!
With a dinner break complete, we headed further into the Hood River valley to photograph some of the scenery throughout the orchards. Nearly every vista in the Hood River valley has an amazing view of Mt Hood and all of its 11,249 feet. So we stopped first at little pear orchard that has a view of a really pretty red barn. Using the orchard rows and some longer focal lengths, the barn can be placed right next to Mt Hood, giving some telephoto compression and just generally looking awesome! We spent some time here working the space, using graduated filters, until the sun started get a little low, and was time for one last stop. Perched on a hill overlooking some more orchards, there is a perfect spot to enjoy the rolling hills, tree lines, and Mt Hood in all its glory. The sunset wasnt to die for, but everything else here makes up it. We spent the better part of the sunset just taking it all in. It was a perfect vista to end with.
Until next time...
Scott, Ellie and the rest of the Aperture Academy team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.