MT. HOOD FROM THE EAST, ON THE DRY SIDE
In the next few weeks I will explore the photographic cornucopia of one portion of Central Oregon, centered around the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument. We had the opportunity to tour the area again with friends from Brooklyn, and believe me, it was fun to watch their alternate states of wonder and culture shock in their encounter with dry-side Oregon. We were not in hipster Portland - in fact, when you visit this area of the State, it's hard to believe that you are anywhere near anyone or anywhere. We drove through half a dozen counties which had less people than a mediocre crowd at Saturday Market. What the area lacks in population it more than makes up with spectacular scenery.
APPROACHING MITCHELL, OREGON - PRETTY CLOSE TO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
THE JOHN DAY OVERLOOK IN MITCHELL
This first image shows Mt. Hood from an unusual vantage point. It is taken along the side of the road near the beginning of the "Journey Through Time Scenic Byway", which we mostly followed for about half of its 286-mile lonely route from Central to Eastern Oregon. This is the Mt. Hood the pioneers saw as they assessed how they were going to get past the last big obstacle on their trip toward the promised land of the Willamette Valley. As we drove South from the Gorge we could see Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the Three Sisters from this road, all looming over grasslands with not much evidence of humanity except for the road we were driving on towards Mitchell, Oregon.
SHEEP ROCK, TYPICAL VERTICAL VIEW
Mitchell is not much of a place, with about 125 residents. It is the biggest settlement for about fifty miles on Route 26. This area is really made for camping or van life. The "Gateway to the Painted Hills" has a gas station, two hotels, one brew pub and one conglomeration of five Air BnB's on one street run by the same family. It's the kind of place where the fact that your lodging exists at all takes precedence over its quality or its price. Mitchell is so small that in a very imaginative move to keep its school alive the village developed a boarding school model for its school that takes in kids from around the world. Talk about culture shock!
STITCHING MORE OF THE SCENE INTO A 2:1 PANORAMA
This week I will concentrate on our first day, where we took in one of the three parts of the National Monument, which sprawls across an area so large that it can take over an hour to drive between the three "units" of the park which stretch along the John Day River.The Sheep Rock Unit contains the Thomas Condon Visitors Center, which contains a Paleontology Museum which easily is worth a few hours itself. There you can get an overview of forty million years of fossil deposits that constitute the whole of geology after the dinosaurs met their fate at the hands of a pesky "meteor extinction event." The monument contains fossils spanning the entire Age of Mammals. In fact it contains more of these fossils than anywhere else on Earth.
ANOTHER 2:1 DETAIL OF THE LEFT PORTION OF THE SCENE
Many of these images center on Sheep Rock, which looms over the visitors center. This view point is literally from the edge of the parking lot, and the big photographic problem is what you should include in the vast vista. The entire monument lends itself to the digital technique of "stitching" multiple shots into one larger panoramic image. In this way you can take in much more area than any wide angle lens you might own. If you are successful you can begin to reproduce the real-life views you remember because you are in fact scanning the entire scene by moving your eyes or even your head while you take it all in. Most post-processing programs these days can accomplish this stitching, as long as you follow several rules. The first is to set your focus, which will probably be near infinity anyway, and then change to manual focus. You don't want the camera shifting focus across your multiple images. The same goes for exposure - scan through your anticipated panorama, and pick an exposure that will accommodate the shifting light levels without ruining one part of the expansive scene. The only other thing to remember is to turn your camera opposite to the direction of your panorama, so if you are taking a typical landscape panorama you will be taking a series of vertical images. Since your panorama will be at least twice to three times as wide as it is vertical, this ensures that you will include enough "height" in your overtly horizontal view. All you have to do is to overlap your images by about 1/3rd, so you can give the computer enough information to stitch them together. All of this does not necessarily require a tripod as long as you are not over-caffeinated or near heat stroke.
A 3:1 PANORAMA THAT CONCENTRATES ON THE SEDIMENTARY LAYERS
The real value of the stitching technique, in my opinion, is not to produce an incredibly wide panorama. While places like John Day can sometimes support such a wide view, I believe that using the technique on a more modest scale like 2:1 or even to just produce a "wider" standard view is where this technique can really shine. Not only is software relieving you of spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a wide angle lens, but stitching together multiple near-telephoto shots ensures that your subject will not disappear into the wide angle view. You can achieve amazing levels of detail with all of the pixels your are including, and you can always get another cup of coffee while the computer does all of its magic.
IF YOU GO WIDER THAN 3:1 YOU CAN BEGIN TO TAKE IT ALL IN
If you are willing to be modest, you can achieve imagery that you cannot produce in the field - but that is absolutely "truthful" to the scene as you experienced it at the time. My camera can capture 18 megapixels but stitching can produce images with almost 1 Gigabyte of information. My lens widest field of view is equivalent to a slightly shorter than normal 42 mm, but the stitched images can stretch to the view of a 16mm wide angle lens. The modest solution is to use the technique to go just a little wider, but to achieve enormous detail that might not even register until you print a larger enlargement.
I MYSELF LIKE KEEPING IT TO 2:1 FOR THE GOLDILOCKS FEEL OF WIDE, WITH DETAIL
So you can use this technique even when you are capturing details, since you can include that "just a little bit more" than your telephoto can muster.
IT'S PROBABLY JUST WOOD, NOT PETRAFIED WOOD, BUT IT WAS CERTAINLY OLD AND DRIED
Next week we'll take in a hike in another part of the Sheep Rock Unit, into the Blue Basin. Come along and avoid the heat, the lack of shade, and the rattlesnake. Isn't a photo essay a relaxing way to partake in a forbidding but beautiful environment?