Photo Fridays, Episode 5

Hello and good day!

I am going to talk about our Photo Friday, Episode 5. In this week's episode, Randy ( and I head up Snoqualmie Pass to Franklin Falls - we discuss circular polarizers, a definite must for any landscape photographer. Along with that, it's the usual shenanigans of fun and adventure and the art of exploration to find new locations to shoot.

We met for sunrise along the t-dock located on Lake Washington in Seattle. We both really like this place as it is a beautiful location - the dock has a the perfect shape for shooting: it leads your eyes off to the lake with backdrop of the forest and the city with the Bellevue skyline visible. We had planned to meet here earlier in the week and of course, the day we arrive, the lake is socked in with fog. Definitely a bummer for getting a colorful sunrise, but the tradeoff was the ability to shoot some moody images with the dock falling off into an abyss of nothingness created by the fog. The start of the day is one of the prime examples of what happens in landscape photography - you plan for something and quickly realize you can't control the weather. You have two choices in these cases: pout and pack up or get creative and work with what you have. We opted to work with what we had.

From the t-dock, we made our way up towards Snoqualmie Pass. We had planned to hike Franklin Falls for one of our previous Photo Friday adventures, but I was ill-equipped and didn't have the right gear for hiking in the snow. Since then, I have purchased a few items that are far better for snow adventuring, including a pair of Outdoor Research Cirque Pants. These pants are fantastic for this weather! They kept me warm, and mostly they kept me dry. In addition, compared to my snow pants I use for snowboarding, these allow for much more movement making hiking a breeze - I highly recommend a pair for your hiking adventures. To keep warm underneath, I layered with my Airblaster Ninja Suit - I have used these for years with snowboarding and absolutely love them! What I love the most is that they are a one-piece; I always thought one-pieces were silly, but they create a seamless outfit with no gap meaning you will never get wind up your back - I was sold after the first time I wore one snowboarding. I've been using proper base layers for years thanks to snowboarding - the materials used for proper base layering are designed to keep you dry and warm. Conventional materials will cause you to sweat and when you sweat, you will get wet and cold which could result in hypothermia in these cold conditions. It's always best to be smart and wear the appropriate gear that's designed for being active. The reason I mention the above is that it's very important to dress appropriately for the elements. Often people, even including myself at times, are not dressed for the weather and it can result in a miserable day or worse if you aren't careful. Some of these items can be pricey, but your comfort and safety are worth the money spent, trust me.

We made our way along the trail up to Franklin Falls which was mostly snow packed from recent storms; some sections were a little slick, which just required a little patience and open eyes to avoid any hazards. Fortunately we were able to make it to the parking lot for the trailhead, so our hike wasn't too long. We arrived at the falls and carefully made our way down to a viewing area where we could shoot the falls fairly unobstructed. Typically you would hike down the rock ledge to get to the base of the falls, however, it was rather icy from spray coming off the falls and neither of us had any type of spikes. That said, Randy did find a path (by path I mean he hoped along some snow covered rocks) from our viewpoint down to the water level; I opted out as it just didn't look like something I wanted to chance (I probably would have fallen in the river). We setup our cameras and started to shoot and work on our Photo Friday video.

We decided to discuss circular polarizer (CPL) filters - often we get asked what accessories to buy and for landscape photography, a CPL is a must. What a CPL does is cut down on harsh light - there are two areas in which you will really notice the effects of a CPL: water and the sky.

  • Water: a circular polarizer cuts down the glare the sun creates on water allowing you to see into the water. If you ever see an image of water and you can see rocks and other objects beneath the surface, it was due to using a CPL. 
  • Sky: a circular polarizer can drastically change the color of the sky. Often when you shoot the sky it looks rather flat - if you use a CPL it will enrich the blues and make them much deeper, along with that, it will create a lot of definition to clouds letting them "pop" and standout against the sky. In addition, if you shoot the sky against the foreground scene, the CPL will help create a drastic separation between the sky and the subject - the best example I have is when I shoot mountains. Using a CPL will help with creating a defined edge of the mountains against the sky by letting you capture those deep tones. 

Other benefits of a CPL are that they can be used in place of a neutral density (ND) filter [at times] allowing you to get a longer exposure. In the case of our trip to Franklin Falls, it was dark enough in that area that our cameras were metering on the dark side, so we could put our CPLs on and get 1 to 2 second exposures without needing a ND filter. If you don't already know, a long exposure with water is what creates that silky look as it freezes the movement of the water. Typically you would want to use a ND filter to create this effect, but if the area in which you are shooting is already dark, just using a CPL can darken your image just enough to get the exposure time you need. 

Below are examples of what using a CPL vs. not using a CPL look like. You will be able to see the harsh light on the water in two images vs. being able to see the details below the water in the other two. 

After shooting the falls, we made our way back towards the car. Somewhere along the trail is a rather "famous" red cabin that people often photograph - it's rather beautiful to see during the winter months having the bright reds stand out against the snow covered, white forest. Sadly, that wasn't the case when we arrived as there was very little snow. However, the river is incredibly beautiful: crisp and clear with a ton of beautiful rock features and formations. Though we weren't able to get those postcard winter photos, we made the most of it by working with what we had (again, either pack up and pout or use your creativity and work with what you've got). We will certainly be heading back once the snow returns as this river is astonishingly beautiful when it's caked in fresh snow.

From the Franklin Falls area, we drove further up Snoqualmie Pass to get some snow. We were hoping to find some snowy rivers with pillows of snow sitting atop the rocks in the river, but that didn't happen as we had hoped. When we found a nice bend in the river along the road up here, one side was beautiful, untouched snow - the other...well it was brown, crusty clumps of plowed snow. We could have followed some of these rivers further upstream, but we weren't equipped for heavy snow travel (no snowshoes). Despite not finding any of that, we did find a section of frost covered trees up near Alpental that were quite enchanting. The trees sat above some black cliffs with a white, foggy sky behind them. Though everything was in color, your eyes almost processed the scene in black and white. I love snow, and snow covered trees mesmerize me and I could stare at them and run around in them for hours, honestly. I just love winter and snow and how snow can change the characteristics of the landscape. Some of the peaks I've seen along this drive all summer never really caught my eye, but now that they are covered in snow, their features really pop and create a far more dramatic presence. 

We wrapped up shooting here and made our way back down the pass towards Seattle. We made a stop along one of the forest service roads, as Randy had scouted it weeks prior, and found a beautiful runoff stream that we are intending to shoot on a later date. This was just another aspect of our usual Photo Fridays, or just photo adventures in general - driving around, keeping our eyes open for features that would go unnoticed if we weren't looking. That's one of the reasons I love photography so much - it's helped me open my eyes and see the big picture and be aware of my surroundings, constantly looking for the details. 

Please give a watch to the video from this episode - Randy puts a lot of work into these. We truly enjoy creating these and sharing out adventures with you all! 

TJ SimonComment