Jun 092016
Palouse wheat fields from Steptoe Butte, Washington. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Palouse wheat fields from Steptoe Butte, Washington.

My photographer friends are reporting that the conditions in the Palouse area of southeast Washington are fantastic right now for photographing the rolling hills of wheat and pea fields.

If you’re up there now or planning to go and are using my book Photographing Washington as a guide, there is an update posted on the publisher’s website at www.phototripusa.com/updates/index.htm#link6.

As noted in that update, a classic old barn on Glendale Road that had been the subject of many photographs collapsed a few years ago.

The update also includes the locations of two more very photogenic barns that are not mentioned in the book: one two miles east of the town of Colfax on Highway 272 (morning light is best) and one on Shawnee Road at Highway 195 south of Colfax (afternoon light).

Photography workshop participants on Steptoe Butte at sunrise, Palouse wheat country, Washington. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Dawn patrol on Steptoe Butte. Don’t worry, there is plenty of room for your tripod, too.

Washington photographer Don Geyer of Mountain Scenes Photography just returned from the Palouse and chides me for not singing the praises of Kamiak Butte sufficiently. While it doesn’t offer the expansive views of wheat fields that Steptoe Butte does, the summit of Kamiak Butte is a fantastic location for wildflower photography. In Don’s words, “Kamiak might be one of THE finest flower hikes in all of Eastern Washington!” 

Be sure to also check these previous posts about photographing the Palouse:

Are you there?  Are you going? Let me know what you find and feel free to leave links to your photos in the Comments below.


May 232016

Slideshow Title Slide

Thanks to the King City Camera Club for inviting me to give a presentation on the best locations for nature photography in the Pacific Northwest. Great group and a good Q&A session after the slideshow.

I’m always happy to share my photos and knowledge of the many great photo locations in Oregon and Washington with camera clubs and outdoors organizations. If your group would like to book a presentation, just shoot me an email.

May 202016

Sea stacks at sunset, Bandon Beach, Oregon coast. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

I super excited to announce that I’ve been invited to join the pros at Muench Workshops and will be co-leading a photo workshop on the Oregon Coast with Marc Muench.

The dates for this workshop are November 9-12, 2016. We’ll base in Brookings, Oregon, with daily photo excursions on the dramatic southern Oregon coast and into the California Redwoods.

Itinerary and details for this all-inclusive photography workshop are available at www.muenchworkshops.com

Please join us!  Muench Workshops tend to fill up quickly, so don’t delay in registering.

Mar 212016
Waves crashing on cliffs at sunset, Cape Kiwanda, central Oregon Coast. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Waves crashing on cliffs at sunset, Cape Kiwanda, central Oregon Coast.

Cape Kiwanda and the beach at Pacific City are unique among locations on the Oregon coast for several reasons. And each of those unique attributes makes an excellent subject for photography.

First, unlike the volcanic rock that forms most headlands on the coast, Cape Kiwanda is largely sandstone. As typical of that soft rock, it gets eroded by water and wind into pleasing formations.

Second, Haystack Rock, a volcanic remnant, is the sole sea stack jutting out of the ocean in this stretch of the coast. The similarly named Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is more well known, but this one is bigger and is one of the largest monoliths in the world.

Third, there is an active fishing fleet based in Pacific City but because there is no safe harbor the fishermen use small, flat-bottomed dories and launch them right from the sandy beach.

Surf crashing on the sandstone bluffs makes for dramatic landscape photography. Try to time your visit for an incoming tide with a good swell to get the best wave action. To get these photos requires climbing up the tall sand dune on the north end of the beach. It’s a steep climb in loose sand, so a bit strenuous when carrying photo gear. Please do not be tempted to get right to the edge of the bluffs for a better photo angle or a daring selfie. The cliffs are fragile, crumbling and slippery, and can be very dangerous. Six people have died here in the past couple of years when they fell into the turbulent waters below. Be smart, stay safe and enjoy the fantastic view.

Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda at sunset; Pacific City, Oregon Coast. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda at sunset; Pacific City, Oregon Coast.

Haystack Rock is best photographed with a receding low tide so that the rock is reflected in the shallow water over hard-packed sand. Sunsets will silhouette the big rock; dawn light and sunrise can also work quite nicely here. You may want to walk south on the beach a ways so you can compose a photo that includes both Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda.

The fishermen launch their dories early in the morning on the north end of the beach, towards the sand dune. In the afternoon they come roaring in, timing their approach with the waves and gunning the engines in order to run the boats as far up on the beach as possible.

It’s legal to drive on the beach at Pacific City, but if you want to give it a try make sure you know how to drive on sand and don’t get caught by a rising tide! The local towing company does quite a business here.

Cape Kiwanda is at the south end of the Three Capes Scenic Route, which makes a great day trip or even a week-long explore between Lincoln City and Tillamook. Campers will enjoy Cape Lookout State Park a few miles north of Pacific City. The campground has sites for both basic tent camping and full hook-ups for RVers, and there are yurts for rent. Lodging is available in Pacific City, right across the street from the beach, at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda. Pelican Pub offers an oceanfront view and fresh-caught seafood paired with one of their award-winning ales.

If you have any tips to share about visiting and photographing this part of the Oregon Coast, please include them in a Comment below.

Feb 262016

Topaz Labs just released a pretty major upgrade to their already excellent digital noise reduction software, DeNoise. There several new features in DeNoise 6, which you can read about on the Topaz Labs website. What caught my eye right away is that they have added presets for specific camera and ISO combinations. I jumped on that and gave it a test with this photo:

People on cobblestone street at night in the San Blas district of Cusco, Peru.

Evening street scene in the San Blas district of Cusco, Peru.

On a visit to Cusco, Peru, I wandered the cobblestone streets of the popular San Blas neighborhood one evening. I was looking for photo ops, but for this night, I left the tripod behind and just carried my Nikon D750 and 24-85mm lens (a great combo for walk-around travel photography).

The new Nikon DSLRs are remarkable for their low light capability, so I didn’t have any hesitation about shooting at a high enough ISO setting so that I could get a reasonable shutter speed for handheld photography. With the available street lighting here, I set the camera for ISO 6400. I knew I would get some noise at that ISO, but I knew software could minimize the noise when I processed the raw NEF file.

The photo above was processed in Lightroom CC, with no noise reduction beyond Lightroom’s default of 0 for Luminance and 25 for Color. I exported the photo as a 16-bit TIFF, then opened that file in DeNoise 6.

Going to the Presets panel in DeNoise, I clicked on Nikon and was presented with a bunch of presets for the Nikon D810, D800, D750, and Df, with a range of ISO settings for each camera. I selected the preset for the D750 at ISO 6400 and let DeNoise do its magic.

Here are a couple of comparison images showing the digital noise without applying noise reduction, and the results with the DeNoise6 preset. Click on the images to see a larger version representing a 100% view.

Comparing two photos for no noise reduction and Topaz DeNoise 6 using the Nikon D750 @ ISO 6400 preset.

Comparison of no noise reduction and Topaz DeNoise 6 using the Nikon D750 @ ISO 6400 preset.

Digital noise is most visible in shadow areas of photos, and becomes even more evident when increasing exposure of dark areas, as I did here using Lightroom’s Shadows slider.

Comparing two photos for no noise reduction and Topaz DeNoise 6 using the Nikon D750 @ ISO 6400 preset.

Comparison of no noise reduction and Topaz DeNoise 6 using the Nikon D750 @ ISO 6400 preset.

As you can see in the comparison photos, there is still some noise in the images. I could have modified the preset, or gone to total manual mode in DeNoise and adjusted all the settings to try and eliminate more noise.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that a little noise is not a bad thing, especially in scenes like this. Maybe that’s because I started my career shooting Kodak TriX 400, and loved the grain in the prints produced from that classic film.

In my experience, removing all noise usually causes too much softening. DeNoise lets you precisely control the amount of noise reduction and detail recovery, and even lets you add a bit of grain for that natural film look.

Lightroom can do a pretty good job of noise reduction by itself, but Topaz DeNoise gives you total control over all the factors and lets you view the noise, and preview your adjustments, in several modes – RGB, Luma, Color, Red, and Blue.

I love the camera-specific presets, but it’s great to have the option to fine tune the noise reduction with the individual controls. At this time, Topaz provides presets for several models of cameras from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus. There are “generic” presets, and you can create and save your own presets.

Topaz is making DeNoise 6 a free upgrade for anyone with an earlier version of the software. If you don’t already have the program and want this degree of control in your photo processing, DeNoise 6 is on sale ($30 off) from now until March 20th, 2016. Use the coupon code NOISEFREE when you order to take advantage of the discounted price of $49.99. Here’s the link to Topaz Labs DeNoise 6.

Disclaimer: That link to Topaz is an affiliate link. It won’t cost you even a penny extra if you make a purchase after clicking on it, but Topaz will reward me handsomely. 🙂

Feb 192016
Ocean and Mokulua Islands at sunrise from Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

Mokulua Islands at sunrise from Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

Anyone visiting the Hawaiian Island of Oahu will certainly want to photograph all the postcard scenes like Diamond Head, the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace, and cultural attractions like Byodo-In and the Polynesian Cultural Center on the windward side of the island. For those with a real interest in nature photography, there is a lot more to Oahu than just busy Waikiki and the historic sites of Honolulu.

Oahu is also an island of great natural beauty and there are plenty of opportunities for nature and landscape photography. Here are my favorites — places that I photographed repeatedly when I lived in Hawaii, and that I revisit whenever I return to Oahu.

1. Lanikai Beach. One of the most beautiful beaches in the world is a fabulous place to just kick back, maybe do a little kayaking, but its biggest draw for me is watching the sun rise over the Mokulua Islands (photo above). Take the loop road through Lanikai and about halfway back on Mokulua Drive, look for one of the public beach accesses between houses. With the help of The Photographer’s Ephemeris, you can position yourself to capture the sun coming up between the two islands.

Sunrise and Mokoli'i Island, Kualoa Regional Park, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

Sunrise and Mokoli’i Island, Kualoa Regional Park, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

2. Kualoa Point. This is another great spot for sunrise photos, located about halfway up the windward coast at the north end of Kaneohe Bay. Mokoli’i Island, also known as Chinaman’s Hat, sits just offshore from Kualoa Beach Park. Just after sunrise, turn and point your camera to the vertically-eroded ridges of the Ko’olau Mountains. The park includes a campground and the gate is closed at night so you’ll have to park along the highway and walk a few hundred yards to get the best view of Mokoli’i Island if you’re there for sunrise.

Coconut palm trees and man photographing sunrise at Punalu'u Beach Park, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

Coconut palm trees and sunrise at Punalu’u Beach Park, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

3. Punalu’u Beach Park. Further up the windward side, this is another of my favorites for sunrise and early morning photography. Depending on the tide and recent storms, the beach can be practically non-existent, or littered with flotsam-jetsom, but this is one of the (surprisingly) very few places in Hawaii with mature coconut trees right on a sandy beach.

4. Keaiwa Heiau State Park. You likely won’t find grand landscape photo compositions here, but the historic heiau (temple) site is very interesting and Aiea Loop Trail is a very enjoyable hike with opportunities for photographing the native and exotic flora of the Koolau Mountains. The further up the trail you go, the more you’ll be into native koa and ohia rainforest. Hawaii State Parks.

Waterfall in Waimea Valley, north shore Oahu, Hawaii.

Waterfall in Waimea Valley, north shore Oahu, Hawaii.

5.Waimea Valley. Years ago this historic valley was controlled by a private company that tried to develop it as a major tourist attraction. It is now owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and while it is still a paid-admission park, the purpose is now much more aligned with cultural education. Of major interest for nature photographers is the 150-acre botanical garden which contains more than 5,000 kinds of tropical and subtropical plants, including native and endangered Hawaiian species. One of the prettiest accessible waterfalls on Oahu is located here. www.waimeavalley.net

6. Foster Botanical Garden. Just blocks from the highrises of bustling downtown Honolulu, this city garden is a special treat. Different sections of the garden feature orchids, bromeliads, cycads, palms, as well as many species of flowering tropical plants and trees. FBG is one of five botanical gardens in the City & County of Honolulu park system, all of which are well worth exploring. Honolulu Botanical Gardens

Bamboo forest along Moleka Trail on Mt. Tantalus; Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

Bamboo forest along Moleka Trail on Mt. Tantalus; Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

7. Moleka Trail. This is one of a network of trails in the Makiki-Mount Tantalus-Puu Ualakaa State Park area just mauka (towards the mountains) of the urban core of Honolulu. I particularly like Moleka Trail because it passes through a lovely  bamboo forest. Check this link for additional trails in the area: Honolulu Mauka Trail System.

Halona Cove at Koko Head Regional Park on the southeast shore of Oahu.

Halona Cove at Koko Head Regional Park on the southeast shore of Oahu.

8. Koko Head and Koko Crater. The landscape and flora of these two ancient volcanoes at the east end of Oahu are much different from the rest of the island – much more arid, and where the slopes of Koko Crater meet the sea, the lava flow has eroded in shapes that are reminiscent of the sandstone formations in the southwest USA. Check out the famous Blowhole, and look for the little sandy coves just west of Sandy Beach.

9. Makapu’u Point. The view from the pullout on Kalanianaole Highway just as it crests Makapu’u Point never fails to enthrall me. Black lava cliff falls into the incredible blue waters of Makapu’u Beach, with an amazing vista of the Ko’olau Mountains and the Windward Oahu coast. Manana Island (also known as Rabbit Island), an important seabird sanctuary, sits just offshore.

Waimanalo Bay Beach, Koolau Mountains and Rabbit Island at sunrise, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

Waimanalo Bay Beach, Koolau Mountains and Rabbit Island at sunrise, Windward Oahu, Hawaii.

10. Waimanalo Beach. If you haven’t guessed already, I love sunrises on the windward side of Oahu. This is another great location for capturing the morning magic. I wish there were palm trees instead of ironwoods lining the coast here but the views north towards Kaneohe or south to Makapu’u Point from this long stretch of sandy beach are beautiful.

One more spot if you’re visiting Oahu in the winter:  check the surf reports and if there is a great swell, head to the North Shore to capture the immense power and beauty of the big waves.

Be sure to check out my similar posts for the other islands of Hawaii:
Top 10 Locations on Kauai for Nature Photography
Top 10 Places on Maui for Nature and Landscape Photography
Top 10 Places on the Big Island for Nature Photography

Feb 062016
Sand dunes at Umpqua Dunes, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oregon Coast.

Sand dunes at Umpqua Dunes, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

I recently posted this photo on my Facebook page and one of the initial comments was from a photographer wanting to know the location because he was surprised that there were no ATV tracks in my photo.

The federally-designated Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches for many miles along the central Oregon coast. Many visitors just make a brief stop at the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area a little south of Florence. Or they may visit several state and county parks and USFS recreation areas developed primarily for the enjoyment of ATV and OHV users. Those sites can be frustrating for nature photographers and those just interested in enjoying the beauty and quietude of this unique environment.

Fortunately, there is one vast section of Oregon Dunes NRA where motorized recreation is prohibited. Even better, that area includes the tallest and most dramatic of the sand dunes on the Oregon Coast.

This area is covered in my book Photographing Oregon, but here is what you might want to know if you don’t have the book:

The Umpqua Dunes are best accessed via the John Dellenback Dunes Trail. To find the trailhead, travel US Highway 101 on the central Oregon coast and look for the USFS sign near the town of Lakeside. There is a nice picnic and parking area on the west side of the highway.

Alternatively, go to the USFS Eel Creek Campground, and follow the trail connector from the Day Use Area. This is a great option for those who like to travel in RVs or just enjoy camping. It is probably also a bit more secure for leaving your vehicle than in the trailhead parking area.

Starting at the trailhead, you’ll have an easy half-mile hike through coastal forest of shore pines, salal, madrone and manzanita before breaking out into the open sand dunes. At this point, just keep walking west towards the ocean. Depending on recent storms and wind patterns, the best photo ops may found by heading a bit south or north and then west towards the ocean.

Your best photos are going to result from a time when the sun is low on the horizon – sunrise or sunset – and immediately after a day or so of strong winds that will smooth over the footprints of previous visitors.

These conditions can happen at any time of year, but spring and fall are the most reliable. Two considerations for serious photographers: late afternoon through sunset is the best light, but starting the hike a sunrise gives you a better chance at footprint-free dunes and the enjoyment of a quiet, soul-satisfying experience.

For those interested, here’s the data on this photo: Nikon D750, 14mm Rokinon lens at f/11, 1/640″, ISO 400,  Induro tripod, RRS BH40 ballhead, remote electronic release, mirror up mode. Processed with Abobe Lightroom CC, with photo merge of five captures for high dynamic range in recognition of the extreme scene contrast.

More of my Oregon Dunes NRA photos

You are welcome to add links to your own Oregon coast sand dunes photos in the Comments below.


Jan 052016

Looking over the photos we’ve made in the past year is always an interesting and informative exercise. Time to reflect on places we went, what we observed, and what we experienced. Here are 15 of my favorite photographs from 2015.

Sunrise at Mount Pisgah summit on January 1st, with people taking selfies at the Jed Kesey memorial sculpture, Lane County, Oregon.

Sunrise at Mount Pisgah summit on January 1st.

Quite a few people in Eugene, Oregon, celebrate the arrival of a new year with a hike to the summit of Mount Pisgah. The Jed Kesey Memorial sculpture at the top of the mountain is designed so that the sun lines up with slots on the monument at the solstice.

Sea stacks at dawn from Face Rock State Wayside, Bandon, southern Oregon Coast.

Sea stacks at dawn from Face Rock State Wayside, Bandon, Oregon Coast.

Sunsets are frequently spectacular in winter along the Oregon coast, and sunrises can be awesome as well. No better place to record the magic than at Bandon on the southern Oregon coast.

Brittlebush flowers; Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Brittlebush; Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

In February, I attended the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) Summit in San Diego, and immediately after the meeting I spent a few days enjoying the sun and warmth of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California.

Inca Ruins at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, Peru.

Without question, the highlight of my year was visiting Machu Picchu, part of a trip to Peru with the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). At the top of my bucket list for years, Machu Picchu surpassed expectations. It’s still at the top of my list – I want to go back. I also really enjoyed the time I spent in Cusco, a wonderful city to visit and photograph.

Smith Rock and the Crooked River at dawn.

Smith Rock and the Crooked River.

A friend’s request for a print of one of their favorite places sent me to Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon. Dawn glow in early spring beautifully lights this amazing rock formation.

Olas Atlas Beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Playa Olas Atlas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

I have always enjoyed traveling in Mexico, so was delighted to visit Puerto Vallarta in May for the annual North American Travel Journalists Association conference. I soon discovered why this city has long been a vacation favorite for both Mexicans and international visitors. Beaches, warm weather, great food, friendly locals, plenty of cultural sites and activities – what’s not to like?

Food cart at the Mercado in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico.

Food cart at the Mercado in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico.

Many years ago Penelope and I spent a summer traveling around Mexico in an old van. One of our stops was the little Pacific Coast town of San Blas. After the NATJA conference, I rented a car and spent a few days traveling along the Riviera Nayarit coast. Not much has changed in San Blas, where you can still get great street food and stroll or just sit around the town plaza in the evening.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake at sunrise; Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake at sunrise.

One of my goals for 2015 was to do some new photography at Crater Lake National Park. I was happy to put a check next to that one on the list with a late spring visit that resulted in this photo.

Palouse wheat fields from Steptoe Butte, Washington.

Palouse wheat fields from Steptoe Butte, Washington.

I had the pleasure of returning to the Palouse in June to lead a photo workshop. The rolling hills of wheat were at their prime and we had beautiful light at both sunrise and sunset for several days.

three friends jumping in the air on the Oregon Coast.

Jumping with joy on Hobbit Beach, Oregon Coast.

In August we hosted Penelope’s brother and wife from Spain, along with three college students from Spain who were visiting as part of a month-long trip to the western USA. They had fun hiking through the forest to the beach on the central Oregon coast.

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

Vine maple at Clear Lake, Oregon.

Vine maples are the first trees to show their fall colors in the Cascade Mountains. A rainy day hike on the McKenzie River Trail led me to this scene near Big Spring at Clear Lake.

Upper Mammoth Terrace at dawn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Upper Mammoth Terrace, Yellowstone National Park.

In late September, I had the good fortune to co-lead a photo workshop for the Yellowstone Association with Terry Donnelly. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the workshop participants (and Terry) and am excited to be returning to Yellowstone this summer to co-lead another photography workshop with Tom Kirkendall.

Wildhorse Lake and the Alvord Desert from the summit of Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon.

Wildhorse Lake from the summit of Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon.

A slight detour on my return drive from Yellowstone took me to Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. The view from the summit never fails to amaze, taking in the Alvord Desert, almost a vertical mile below, and stretching south and east to mountains on the borders of Idaho and Nevada.

Storm surf and waves breaking on the rocks at Shore Acres State Park, Oregon Coast.

Storm surf at Shore Acres State Park, Oregon Coast.

Another of my photo goals for 2015 was to capture the power and fury of storm-generated surf crashing on the rocks at Shore Acres State Park. Truly a spectacular sight. For a sense of scale, note the size of the people on the right edge of the photo.

Sand dunes at Umpqua Dunes, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oregon Coast.

Sand dunes at sunrise, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

A sunrise photo seems about right to finish this recap because a new dawn also expresses my hope for the New Year.

Thanks for looking at my photos, and please let me know which are your favorites by leaving a Comment. If you have compiled your own favorites, feel free to post a link below in Comments. You may also want to check out all the favorites posted on Jim Goldstein’s Best of Photos blog post.