Would You Drive 400mi to Take One Picture?

Posted on June 19, 2011



Recently, when I had some time on my hands I ended up going to the Olympic Peninsula five times in four weeks, when I hadn’t been there but twice in 20 years.  I even applied for a job to write a guide book about it! (In fact, one of the reasons I started the blog was because I needed a place with recent writing and photo samples, since I lost most of my stuff in the fire.)

I got two good shots my first trip which I wrote about previously. One of these photos may be the technically best negative I’ve yet to expose, which is good because I’ve been working a lot on that lately. I have been making bad negatives for far too long so it was about time.

There was just one thing…

See the tree branch that “touches” the falls just above center and the two “wings” that stick out from the falls on either side? Well those are bright green algae from high flow times.  Okay, sorry, old ground if you read the other post, I know. Anyway, I could bleach the print in the darkroom, or I could get in the car and go retake the shot with a green filter to lighten that aspect of the shot. (Filters pass more light of their color and block other light, especially complimentary light.)

So, two weeks later when a friend suggested a trip to Neah Bay, I jumped at it.

From here to Neah Bay

The trip is 163 miles, one way. To actually get to the photo on the way back added about 100 miles. So of course, off I go. I have to say, it was a tough day. First, for some reason my camera keeps missing shots with my 140mm lens, which has lately become my go-to lens. Second, my camera back popped open not once, but twice during this trip, toasting most of my shots. Third, after hiking 40lbs of gear back up the trail to the falls, setting up and opening up my pack, my wide angle lens, which I’ve only used once in five years to take the previous falls picture is not in my pack! I was so stunned, I actually went back to the park office to check the lost and found for it. Sigh.

Well, all was not lost. I took three shots: one with a yellow, one with an red, and one with a green filter.

Which shot has the highest local contrast change between the falls and the "wings"?

Okay, they weren’t great shots, probably because of that little thing with the door coming open, among other things (I’ve found that the mist in a waterfall shot can really mess with focusing, for instance). At that point I was just taking the shots to answer the one burning question: would filtration give me enough local shift in contrast to make retaking the shot worthwhile? They all have the same exposure (well, same exposure corrected for the filtration).

So, based on the fact that filters pass light of their own color and block other light, especially complimentary colors,  can you figure out which shot was which filter? The whole reason I wanted to shoot it over with green was to lighten it against the rock more than I had (green filter would pass more green light so green things will show up darker on the negative and lighter in image). Here’s another hint: water and evergreen trees have a lot of blue light in them, so a shot with a red filter would block what? Right green/blue light, making things that were green/blue what? Darker (less exposed). Which is one reason, by the way, that the infrared shots in the first post were so dark.

For instance you can get pretty trippy sky images with a red filter. It blocks the blue light and makes the blue parts of the sky, what? Right darker, often black if you choose exposure correctly.

Red filter, black sky

Damn scanning crap. This shot was taken from my porch one night after work. But you get the point.

Note the hills

This shot was taken in Alaska. In this shot, even the hills, covered in evergreens, got blacked out from the filter/exposure combo.

In the end was it worth it? And more importantly, now that I have all of my data, would I drive back, again, to get it just right with the right filtration and the right lens? You know, if the experiment proved that it was the best possible image of the scene, of course I would. Hell, when the light is right, I’ve left work, driven 80 miles one way and climbed Mt. Pilchuck three times, once with separated ribs, to get one good shot of this stump:

The Kraken

I think on the next trip, with a circular polarizing filter in my kit,  I’ll really nail it. However, in looking at the negatives of the falls, I still think bleaching is the best option for that print, because the green filter didn’t have enough local effect for the overall effect it had. Especially since I found that lens on my desk and it’s not waiting for me at the ranger station.

Thank god.

POST THOUGHT: Now I get it. When the back popped open prior to these shots, it flashed the film, lowering the contrast (another post, I promise), and obviating the whole exercise. So, would I go back, twice? I guess that question just answered itself. Oh, poo. Now I’m off to do pre-exposure tests. Sigh.