Oregon's Columbia River Gorge is a premiere destination for photography. The abundance of waterfalls and landscape vistas is only equaled by its many brewery's and countless quality eateries. Either way you slice it, the greater Portland area is a perfect place for an amazing photo vacation, just be sure to bring your appetite for awesome imagery! Every year, we at the Aperture Academy host a plethora of eager photographers vying to see the gorge and tap into its secrets. Mike Wardynski and I, fresh off of our first Gorge Workshop, welcomed a smaller group this time, to Troutdale, The Gateway to the Gorge.
Weather always plays an important factor when going out on a landscape shoot. And although the Columbia River Gorge is famous for its waterfalls, one cannot successfully shoot them unless we are gifted some overcast skies from the weather gods. On our first day, we weren't so lucky, so, knowing beforehand that the skies would be clear, we decided to wake the group before dawn, and head into Washington for a special treat. We needed a place tucked deep in the woods so we could have the time to setup and successfully shoot for over an hour more. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill provided us with the perfect opportunity for that. Nestled deep in the woods just northeast of Portland, the mill is surrounded by large trees that provided cover from the ever creeping sun. With our group giddy to begin, we led them out into the area, and showed them around to our favorite spots while also allowing them to explore and get the most out of this beautiful little scene. After a couple hours of shooting, we gathered everyone up and drove back into Portland where the clear skies warmed us up for our next shoot; Cathedral Park. The Saint Johns bridge spans the width of the Willamette river, and its Gothic inspired columns make for an interesting compositional element while shooting underneath the length of the bridge. We stayed in the park for a while, and Mike and I helped everyone with different little scenes to fill up everyones cameras. After a long morning, it was time for a break to let the midday sun get a little lower in the sky.
In the afternoon we headed east to Starvation Creek, our first waterfall. This is a challenging waterfall to shoot as the brink of the falls lies some 230 feet above the cascade to our feet. But with patience and work, there are many little places one can shoot the lower cascades to make some quality images. After spending a while working the falls and the cascade, we headed into Hood River for a quick bite to eat before setting up for our sunset shoot. The Full Sail Brewery is a choice spot with fast service and a fantastic menu. It also beats trying to get food in Troutdale after 10pm! With sunset hour approaching we set out for a little spot in the Hood River valley. Overlooking a the gently folding fields of orchards in front of us, we setup and took in Mount Hood in all its glory. Some clouds were overhead but sadly the sun was obstructed and the real good light never quite made it over the mountain into our little scene. So we packed up and headed for home. Eager to see what was in store for day two.
We started bright and early this morning as well, before dawn, and on our way to Washington again for a look at too very special, and different waterfalls. Our first stop was to Panther Creek, where a glorious 130 foot waterfall fans out over 100 feet wide. There's a short walk to the observation deck where one can get a premiere look at the entire falls, without the danger of getting wet! The creek leading up to the falls is equally as pretty, as it bends and flows over and around rocks and tree-fall. We had favorable weather today, overcast skies which meant we could take our time and get every last drop of good imagery that the waterfall dared to give up. After shooting to our hearts content, we loaded up and took a break at a local coffee shop in Stevenson Washington, before heading to our next location. Dougan falls is a special place in the gorge. Its not just the waterfall on the Washougal river thats impressive, its also the swirling pool of bubbles and foam, churned up by the waterfalls force. Just off the side of the road, this place is used by the locals as a swimming hole when the weather reaches into the triple digits. But on an overcast day with a long shutter speed, magic happens. We took our small group down to the pools edge and setup with polarizers and neutral density filters. This allowed us have decently long shutter speeds to make the foam in the pool spin in circular motions. Totally unique! After everyone grabbed a bunch of different shots from different vantage points, we hung up our spurs and headed back to the hotel for a nice break and some post-processing instruction.
After our post-processing lesson, we headed back out to shoot a couple more waterfalls. First on the list was Bridal Veil falls. We spent our time there shooting the cascades of the creek and the wooden foot bridge which spanned it before going to one last waterfall. Latourell falls is a gigantic 250 foot straight drop waterfall in a beautiful basalt amphitheater covered with yellow moss. As our group was small, and the day was fading, we basically had the place all to ourselves, which felt pretty special as this waterfall can get crowded during the midday. We shot all over, and Mike and I helped find little scenes in the water, and under the foot bridge. As daylight was beginning to run out, we packed up and drove to a sunset spot overlooking the western section of the gorge. From the bluffs above the Columbia River, we could see for miles down the gorge and placed ever so perfectly right in the middle, was the Vista House, one of the last vestiges of the bygone era of the historic Columbia River highway. Some clouds were present and they lit up just enough for us to grab some shots before the sun was obstructed behind us. All in all it was a great way to end the shooting. After returning to the hotel, Mike and I joined everyone in our troupe for dinner and drinks at McMenamins Edgefield, one of the best places to enjoy Portland's awesome food and beer scene. We would like to thank our awesome photographers for a memorable workshop, you guys rock!
Until next time,
Scott, Mike, 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.