Nov 182015
Cape Arago Lighthouse at dusk

Cape Arago Lighthouse, Oregon Coast.

Last week I went to the southern Oregon coast to photograph the giant waves crashing on the rocks at Shore Acres State Park. Driving through Sunset Bay State Park, I pulled into the viewpoint for Cape Arago Lighthouse and I was reminded of why it’s always important to stop and photograph what you see and not just think “Oh, I’ll come back another time for that photo”.

I’m sure glad I made this photograph when I did several years ago, because it would be impossible to get this image now. The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, so it’s signal beam no longer shines. The trees on the little rock island on the left side of the photo have all died, leaving bleached white sticks. The State Parks Department erected a fence barrier at the viewpoint and vegetation between the viewing area and this cove has grown to partially obscure the view.

So when you come across a good photo opportunity, or you have a certain location in mind to photograph someday, don’t put it off. Work it right away or get there as soon as you can.

Nov 092015
Vine Maple tree with leaves in fall color

Vine maple Fall color on the McKenzie River Trail at Clear Lake, Oregon.

Earlier this fall a friend posted a photo on Facebook of vine maple trees on the shore of Clear Lake up in the Cascade Mountains. The trees were vibrant with fall color and the wonderful blue-green color of the north end of the lake added to the beauty of the scene.

I knew the area where my friend’s photo was made, so on the next day with suitably overcast weather I headed up to the McKenzie River Trail for the short hike to the lake.

It was a pleasant little hike and the maples were doing their thing. I didn’t want to imitate the photo I’d seen, but I envisioned something along the same lines – looking across the lake to a nice grouping of colorful trees on the opposite shore. But after a couple of hours walking up and down the trail, trying various compositions, I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t seeing well. I just couldn’t find a composition that I liked. So when it started to rain, I decided to pack it in.

And then I saw this one small vine maple right next to the trail. Despite the rain I got the camera out of the backpack, set up the tripod, and started shooting, getting closer and closer with a wide angle lens, trying to make the brilliant leaves a really dominant foreground with the lake and trees on the far shore as the background. But again I became frustrated, just not liking at all what I was seeing on the LCD.

Finally, I stepped back, took a look and suddenly found an image I was happy with. Not a wide angle landscape like I’d planned, but a telephoto close-up, emphasizing the color of both the leaves and the lake. Backing away from the tree and using the 70-200mm lens I was able to frame a nice arrangement of branches and leaves. The shallow depth of field from using the telephoto lens made the water mostly out of focus, although you can see soft white spots all over the background – which are actually the glint of sun on raindrops hitting the water.

Once again I found that my best photos result from really working a scene. The pre-conceived idea doesn’t always work, and I need to be open to seeing in a new way. I need to try different angles, different approaches, and sometimes, both literally and figuratively, step back for another look.

What is your method? How do you work a scene when what you see in person doesn’t match what you thought you would find?


Nov 042015
Lamar Valley and the Absaroka Mountains in autumn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Lamar Valley and the Absaroka Mountains in autumn; Yellowstone National Park

In late September I had the pleasure of co-leading a photo workshop in Yellowstone National Park with Terry Donnelly. One of the areas we took the workshop participants to was Lamar Valley. This part of Yellowstone is more known as one of the best places to view bison and wolves, but it is also a great fall color location thanks to several stands of cottonwood and aspen.

I’ll return to Lamar Valley next summer to lead another photo workshop for the Yellowstone Association. I’ll be co-leading this workshop, with Tom Kirkendall, and we’ll concentrate on wildflowers and waterfalls. The July 3-5, 2016 date is timed for the usual peak of wildflowers in Yellowstone. If you’re interested in this workshop, email me or leave a comment below and I’ll let you know as soon as details are available from the Yellowstone Association.

Oct 092015

I am very excited to announce that I’ve teamed up with SNAPP Guides to produce photographers guides for Oregon on their very innovative app platform. Take a look at this video to see what it’s all about:

These guides, for locations all over the world, are going to be a great resource for photographers. No matter if your interest is nature and landscape photography, travel photography or even street photography, detailed information will be at your fingertips.

I hope you see the potential here, and that you’ll help get the ball rolling by backing the Snapp Guides Kickstarter campaign. Even a $5 contribution will help, but check out the bonus offerings if you kick in a little more (or a lot more!) before the October 22 deadline.


Oct 082015
Aspen trees on Steens Mountain

Aspen trees in fall color at Jackman Park on Steens Mountain, southeastern Oregon.

If you’re looking for a good place to photograph Fall Color, Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon is looking good right now.

Overall, I’d say this is not a great year for fall color in the Pacific Northwest, due to the lack of rain and unusually warm temperatures we’ve had going back to early spring, but on a visit to the Steens earlier this week I found plenty of colorful trees to work with.

Driving the Steens Mountain Loop starting at Page Springs Campground just east of Frenchglen I found multiple groves of aspen, and those from Fish Lake up to Jackman Park are at the peak of color.

This being a somewhat odd year for the leaves, some trees are still green, while others are bright yellow. In a few places, especially near Jackman Park, you’ll see groves where the leaves have turned orange.

My guess is that the color will be good for at least another week, and there are currently no storms in the weather forecast that will blow the leaves away. In fact, the weather is predicted to continue to be unseasonably warm, so a roadtrip to southeastern Oregon will be a delight.

Somewhat surprisingly, the cottonwood trees around Frenchglen have not started to turn color yet, and the aspens over in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge are just beginning to turn.

Keep in mind that this is hunting season, so be sure to wear bright colors when you’re out in the woods or the sage. On another note, the Steens Mountain Loop Road is in very good condition now; yes there are many places with minor washboarding, but there are no deep ruts and a regular passenger car can make the whole loop.

For more information about photographing Steens Mountain, and the surrounding area, see Chapter 12 in my book Photographing Oregon and the BLM page for Steens.

Roadtrip anyone? If you go, let me know what you find.


Jul 242015

Topaz Labs, makers of photo editing software for Lightroom and Photoshop, announced a few days ago that they’re running a special on the newest version of their Adjust plugin. I’m a fan of plugins in general, and have found other Topaz products to be pretty cool, so I downloaded Adjust and have been exploring and testing. Here are some examples of what the plugin can do, using a photo of an old church from my recent visit to San Blas on the Riviera Nayarit coast of Mexico.

raw image file in Lightroom

RAW file in Lightroom 6, Adobe Standard camera profile.

The photo above shows the image just as imported into Lightroom (v6/CC). The sensor in my Nikon D750 did a great job of handling the contrast in this scene – the histogram shows no clipping in either blacks or whites, just a nice mountain range from shadows to highlights. In Lightroom’s Camera Calibration panel I tried the Camera Standard profile, but chose Adobe Standard instead because the histogram looked a little better in the shadows.

image with adjustments made in Lightroom

Basic Lightroom adjustments applied.

I applied several Lightroom adjustments to bring the image more to my liking. These included light to moderate movement of the sliders on Color Balance, Exposure, Whites, Shadows, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. I wanted to bring up the shadows a bit, add a little mid-tone contrast, and bring back the slight amount of warmth from the late afternoon sun.

photo with Topaz Adjust Light Pop Smooth applied

Topaz Adjust Light Pop Smooth.

Next I opened the photo in Topaz Adjust. My first test was to try the presets in the HDR Collection. I’m not really into the heavy HDR look, but I often find that I like what happens when I apply a very small amount of HDR processing. Judging from the quick previews that Adjust provides, the Light Pop Smooth preset looked like it might be suitable. I like what it did with adding a little more definition to the clouds, and also that it opened up the deep shadows in the bell tower a little.

photo with the Simple Pop preset applied

Topaz Adjust Simple Pop.

Then I went back to my basic Lightroom-adjusted image, opened it in Adjust again, and played with some of the presets in the Classic Collection. Most of these are designed to make minor adjustments and improvements, which is what I was looking for. A click on Simple Pop produced an image very similar to the HDR Light Pop Smooth, but on close examination it appeared that mid-tones in the latter were slightly smoothed out and toned down compared to Simple Pop. Both versions added a little bit of punch to my photo, which I think improved it over what I’d produced in Lightroom.

photo with Topaz Adjust preset Warm Tone I applied

Topaz Adjust Warm Tone I.

Going beyond just some improvement in your basic photo, if you want some help in producing an image that will get across your feelings or your interpretation of the scene you were photographing, or if you just want to get, as a photographer friend of mine likes to say, “Artsy-Fartsy”, Topaz Adjust gives you some excellent options.

photo with Topaz Adjust Vintage Grunge IV preset applied

Vintage Grunge IV.

I had fun hitting my basic LR-adusted file with some of the many additional presets in Topaz Adust, just to see what happened. I’m fairly conservative in my image processing, so went Yuck! on some of the previews, but several of the presets generated a Like! A nice feature of Adjust is that you can save the presets you like, and even ones you create yourself, to your personal Favorites collection.

In my tests, I just went with the default slider settings for each preset. Adjust does give you the ability to modify the preset (and save as your own) and fine tune your photo to a very fine degree. I’ll be working on that more in the future.

Some photographers make the argument that it is possible to do anything that apps like Adjust can do in Photoshop or Lightroom. I’m not so sure about that. I think the folks at Topaz know some special voodoo. Okay, expert-level Photoshoppers may be able to produce similar results, but personally I’m a big fan of plugins and presets that quickly and easily improve and enhance my images, especially when I can run my mouse over the preset options for an instant preview.

Topaz Adjust can be used with both Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, Topaz plugins require a separate little app, Topaz Fusion Express, that generates a TIF for editing. I do most of my processing in Lightroom these days, so I access Adjust by going to Photo > Edit In > Topaz Fusion Express; at that point I select options for working on the original file or a copy (always a copy!), then open in Adjust. It’s a little simpler and quicker working from Photoshop, just go Filter > Topaz Labs > Adjust.

Topaz has a very good intro video on the features and use of Adjust that will get you up to speed with the plugin in no time.

Two things I’d like to see Topaz work on for the next version of this program:

(1) The preview images don’t look sharp if you have the zoom set to Fit and the size is something like 16.7%. Viewing at 50% and 100%, the images were sharp. Depending on your monitor size and resolution, you may be able have your preview at something like 25% and get a sharp image.

(2) Topaz Adjust only works with TIFF files, so if you usually save your files in the PSD format, you’ll have to convert or save a copy in TIF format.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with Topaz Adjust and I’m happy to include it in my set of tools for photo editing. If you’d like to explore the possibilities yourself, download the free trial here:

Topaz is running a special promotion on Adjust through July 31, 2o15. They’re offering a discount of 40% off ($20 discount), reducing the price to just $29.99. That’s a darn good deal. Use coupon code: JULYADJUST.

Disclosure: that link just above is an affiliate link, so if you decide to purchase Adjust, Topaz will reward me handsomely. But it won’t cost you a cent more, so go ahead and click the link. :)

Jul 182015

Covers of Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington books

Trying to decide where to go and what to photograph in the Pacific Northwest? Here’s a great deal: through the end of July, I’m selling my award-winning guidebooks with no charge for shipping. That’s the equivalent of more than 20% off for a personally autographed copy of Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington.

Note:  This deal is only for orders placed via the “Add to Cart” buttons on this page and it is only good for books to be shipped to U.S. addresses via standard USPS mail.

If you don’t already own both books, now is a great time to get them at a very good price. These guidebooks to the best scenic, landscape and nature photography locations in Oregon and Washington also make great gifts for photographer friends and family members.

Don’t wait – this deal ends on July 31, 2015!


Jun 242015
Historic Dahmen Barn in Uniontown, Washington

Dahmen Barn, Palouse Country, Washington.

I’m just back from leading a photo workshop in the Palouse country of southeast Washington state. I certainly wasn’t the only one leading a workshop or photo tour there, at the prime time for lush green fields of wheat, peas, and barley, but there’s plenty of room for everyone on Steptoe Butte and miles of farm roads to explore.

It was great to see friends Jack Graham and Bill Fortney on the Butte with their workshop, and to run into Jason Savage and his clients while photographing a classic red barn. Somehow I missed Andy Williams with Muench Workshops, Chip Phillips from PhotoCascadia and Photoshop guru Tim Grey with his group, but it’s great fun, and very interesting, to see what those folks are posting now on blogs and social media.

One of the locations that just about everyone visiting the Palouse goes to is the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown. This year, photographing the barn and the famous iron wheel fence proved to be a bit of a challenge for photographers visiting in June. The artists co-op that now owns the property tore down the old, very weathered, structure that was attached to the barn and replaced it with a new building that will provide better facilities for artists and events.

Many photographers were disappointed to see this when they arrived at the location because the new structure stands out like a sore thumb next to the classic Dahmen dairy barn.

I spoke with one of the members of the Board of Directors for Artisans at the Dahmen Barn. She assured me that the non-profit organization is well-aware of the issues for photographers and has plans to improve the situation in the very near future. The exterior wooden walls of the new structure, which do mimic the original, will soon be stained to a color very closely matching the old weathered wood. Furthermore, covers and other decorative embellishments will be added to disguise the new utility boxes, and there will be shutters and sliding doors to cover the new windows and doors.

I was very disappointed to hear from this Director that some photographers had actually yelled at her when they visited recently and discovered the changes. That is totally not okay, and totally unfair to a person representing a group of people dedicated to preserving this remarkable site. I too was certainly a bit annoyed to get there and find that I wouldn’t be able to make the photograph of the barn that I had planned on, but there is no excuse and absolutely no reason to be rude when you run into such circumstances.

So what can you do when you get somewhere and the view is really different from what you planned on, based on all the other photos you’ve seen of the location?  As Dewitt Jones so wisely says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. Take it as an opportunity, and a challenge, to make the best of the situation and come up with something that works, and will give you an image different from all the other photos you’ve seen published and posted before. Great creative with your composition, and maybe with your image processing as well.

My solution was to try to use part of the wagon wheel fence to block the modern elements of the new structure, at the same time using some of the wheels to frame the classic old dairy barn. I also went with a retro black & white/monochrome treatment to try and minimize the recently torn up bare dirt in the yard in front of the barn.

For the above image, I experimented with some straight black and white conversions, using the Lightroom presets that Michael Frye provides in his excellent tutorial “Landscapes in Lightroom 5” (not at all outdated by the release of LR v6 and CC), and then experimented with various filters and presets in Silver Efex Pro and OnOne’s Perfect Effects. Each gave me some great interpretations. The one I liked the best for web display, as above, was achieved using Perfect Effects 9 with the Tarnished Bronze preset in the B&W module, which not only does the conversion from the full color RAW image, but also adds the border effects.

Another challenge, and opportunity, that all of us faced when visiting the Palouse last week was what to do when the skies were just plain and blue. The kind of conditions that visitors bureaus love to promote, but where serious photographers long for dramatic clouds.

One of the great things about photographing in the Palouse is that you can use just about any lens in your bag, from super wide to super telephoto. And when the skies are boring, it’s time to bring out the long telephoto and zoom lenses. My photo workshop clients were able to capture some great images using their 70-300mm, 70-200mm and 200-400mm lenses, zooming in on focal points of grain storage silos, red barns, and the beautiful patterns of wheat fields and undulating hills of the Palouse.

A great thing for photographers shooting the Palouse (as well as many other locations), is the new Dehaze tool in the just-released versions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Give it a try in the Effects panel of Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. I see also some potential for using this tool to add apparent haze for an effect with some images.

On a bit of an aside, if you have my book Photographing Washington, note that in the reference to shooting the Palouse, I mention on page 285 a barn on the east side of Glendale Road. That barn collapsed sometime in the past couple of years. 

Did you get to the Palouse for the lush green fields this year?  If not, go for the golden and “amber waves of grain” around harvest time from mid-July to early August. And if that doesn’t fit your schedule this year, put this trip on your bucket list for a future date.

If you’re interested in visiting and photographing the Palouse in the future, email me, check my workshop schedule or check on this page for links to some of my other photographer friends leading photo workshops and tours in Washington.

Apr 162015
Kalalau Valley from Kokee State Park lookout

Kalalau Valley

The islands of Hawaii are not just one of the top travel destinations in the world, but also a paradise for nature and landscape photographers. Of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai more than the others is the vision that most people have of a tropical Pacific Island – lush green valleys, volcanic mountains covered in rainforest, and miles of gorgeous white sand beaches along the coast.

I visited Kauai quite a few times during the years I lived in Hawaii and got to know it fairly well. If you are planning to visit the Garden Island, here are my recommendations for the top ten spots for nature and scenic landscape photography.

1. Kalalau Lookout – Kokee State Park
The view of Kalalau Valley from Kokee State Park is one of the most stunning vistas in the Hawaiian Islands. Pu’u O Kila Lookout is worth the short hike, but the iconic image of the valley and Ka’a’alahina Ridge is best taken from Kalalau Lookout in Kokee State Park. Be prepared for fog, rain and chilly temperatures, and don’t give up if the view is totally obscured when you arrive – the clouds and fog often roll through with breaks to reveal the grandeur of Kalalau. The photo above was taken during a very brief break just as the sun was setting. If you have to wait, work on close-ups of ‘ohi’a-lehua and ginger flowers or the graphic fronds of the uluhe fern.

Waimea Canyon with rainbow

Waimea Canyon

2. Waimea Canyon
Some call this deeply eroded gorge “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Maybe it doesn’t quite measure up to its namesake, but there are some grand views from the rim of Waimea Canyon. As with much of the rest of Kauai, the rock and dirt here is a rich rusty red due to high iron content. There are several developed viewpoints affording panoramic vistas the canyon. The view is looking east, and mid- to late afternoon light works best.

If you are visiting in June or July, walk the 0.3-mile Iliau Nature Trail for photos of the iliau, an unusual plant, related to the silversword, that is found only on Kauai. The blossoms are quite spectacular. If you’re familiar with the desert southwest U.S. you will see the resemblance to yucca in both the spiky leaves and the flowers.

3. National Tropical Botanical Garden at Lawai
Both native and exotic tropical plants and flowers abound at this beautiful public garden in a valley to the west of the Poipu resort area. The south side of the island is the generally sunny, but overcast days are great for close-ups of flowers, leaf patterns and such.

4. Spouting Horn
Among the several well-known blowholes in the Hawaiian Islands, this is perhaps the most famous. Fortunately, it’s also fairly safe to visit and photograph. Waves enter a tunnel in the rugged rocky coast and then shoot up through a hole in the lava, sending a sudden powerful spray of water up to 50 feet in the air. This is also a good place for sunset photos fall through spring, when the sun is setting a little to the south.

Wailua Falls with rainbow

Wailua Falls

5. Wailua Falls
Waterfalls abound on Kauai, but the majority are not accessible to the public. This one is easy to get to, as well as being one of the largest. Depending on recent rainfall, the 80-foot drop will occur in two or three channels, or soon after heavy rain, a single mass of surging whitewater. Visit the roadside viewpoint early in the morning, both to avoid crowds (the prime viewing angle is extremely limited), and for a good chance of capturing a rainbow at the falls. It’s possible to hike to the pool at the base of the falls, but the trail can be steep, slippery and dangerous.

juvenile Great Frigatebird in flilght

Great Frigatebird, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

6. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Even if you’re not a serious birder, you’ll probably enjoy a visit to Kilauea Point. Red-footed booby birds, tropicbirds, ‘iwa (frigatebirds) and Laysan Albatross frequent this refuge, often flying close enough for great photos even with a moderate 200-300mm lens. Unfortunately, public access to the refuge is limited to 10am-4pm, but there is a nice early morning view of the lighthouse from the entry gate.

Hanalei Valley from lookout

Hanalei Valley

7. Hanalei Valley NWR and Hanalei Bay Beach Park
There are actually three (or more) great photo locations around Hanalei, but I wanted to keep this list to an even ten. Almost across the highway from the Princeville shopping area, look for the roadside pullout and Hanalei Valley Lookout. The cliffside viewpoint overlooks verdant Hanalei Valley and its patchwork of taro farms, backed by the forested mountains central to Kauai. The north side of the island is often rainy mid-day, so try this view early in the morning (good chance of rainbows) or late in the afternoon.

If you’re interested in seeing and photographing native Hawaiian waterbirds, drive into the valley on the road along Hanalei River. Hawaiian stilt, coot and gallinule (all sub-species of birds familiar to west coast birders) can be seen along the edges of the valley taro patches. You may also find the Nene (Hawaiian Goose), the Hawaii State Bird, both here and at Kilauea Point NWR.

Hanalei Bay Beach Park isn’t so much a nature photography location, but you’ll definitely want to go there for the views of the pier, a panorama of the idyllic bay, to catch surfers working the waves, or, in summer, to photograph the sun setting along the coast to the west.

leaves of the red ti plant

Red ti

8. Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Like McBryde and Allerton Gardens at Lawai, Limahuli is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden organization. Here you can see native plants, introduced exotics, and terraced fields farmed with traditional Hawaiian agricultural practices. The garden also works to preserve and restore some of the native species unique to this area. Among the accolades this garden has received: Limahuli was named best natural botanical garden in the United States by the American Horticultural Society.

9. Ha’ena Beach and Ke’e Beach
The view along Ha’ena Beach to Mount Makana, the “Bali Hai” of the 1958 movie South Pacific, is probably the number one signature shot of Kauai. White sand beach, clear turquoise water and the distinct shape of the forested peak – it’s the idyllic vision of a tropical paradise.

The road ends at Ke’e Beach. Walk north a little ways from the beach access at the parking area, then look back for a fabulous view of the steep cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. When the surf is up (most common in winter), the wave action here is spectacular – the waves seemingly explode as they hit the reef. Ke’e and Ha’ena beaches are both great sunset locations.

waves and cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, from Ke'e Beach

Na Pali Coast from Ke’e Beach

10. Kalalau Trail
The 11-mile trek to Kalalau Valley is for serious backpacking only, but you can enjoy some of the best of it with a 2-mile hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach if you are an experienced hiker (parts of the trail are steep and rocky). Soon after the start of the Kalalau Trail, look back for a view of Ke’e Beach, then continue on the path for dramatic views of the Na Pali Coast. The beautiful white sand beach at Hanakapi’ai is great for photography, but extremely dangerous for swimming due to strong rip currents. From the beach, you can hike another 2 miles up the Hanakapi’ai River to a 300′ high waterfall. This is a moderately strenuous hike. Please note: I strongly advise you to NOT hike to Hanakapi’ai (beach or waterfall) in the winter. The trail gets slippery treacherous, the beach usually washes away and people have been swept away while trying to cross the river. You can, however, at any time of year, get some great views of Ke’e Beach and the Na Pali Coast just by hiking the first 1/4 mile or so of the trail from the trailhead at Ke’e.


Well, there you have my list of the best of Kauai for nature and landscape photographers. Do you agree? Let me know in the Comments, and feel free to add your own favorites.

For more great photo locations in the Hawaiian Islands, check these other blog posts:

Maui –

The Big Island –

See those little icons immediately below? They make it easy to share this post with your friends. Thanks for doing so.