Warner Lakes Wetlands, Oregon

Oregon Desert Photography

Oregon Desert Photography 

Warner Lakes Wetlands, OregonWarner Lakes Wetlands, Oregon #60942  Purchase

Oregon Natural Desert Association is a grassroots organization that promotes awareness and protection of unique environments of the Oregon Desert. Several years ago I was approached by Jim Davis, one of the founders of ONDA, to contribute photos for their yearly promotional calendar. Until then I wasn’t even aware of ONDA, but I quickly jumped at the chance to have my photography help with their conservation efforts. Being a lifelong landscape and nature photographer I always look for opportunities to give something back to the environment, and also help others appreciate the natural world we live in.

So when ONDA asked if I was interested in sharing some desert photography tips for their blog I didn’t hesitate to join in. The post has numerous tips from a variety of photographers that have contribute to the ONDA calendar. Many tips can apply to all landscape and nature photography subjects, but some are specific to desert environments.

You can check out the article here: How to Take Better Images of Oregon’s High Desert 

Below are a few more tips I’d like to share.

Oregon Desert Photography Tip: Lighting

Full moon, Warner Lakes Wetlands, OregonFull moon over Warner Lakes Wetlands, Oregon #60939   Purchase

The two photos above illustrate two important tips for all landscape photography. The first being, make sure to scout out locations with potential for good compositions in advance. That way you’ll know just where to go when the light gets good later on. Here at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge I wanted to find a good spot to make some photographs of Warner Lakes. While spending the afternoon hiking the slopes of hart Mountain, I looked an elevated view along with a foreground that included some features native to the area. Here I included ubiquitous sagebrush and basalt boulders.

Secondly, photograph in the best light. There are many types of lighting conditions to work with and not all are suitable for every subject. I already photographed both of the above images the previous evening. However clouds had diminished the quality of light. The next morning I awoke early, ready to work in the soft saturated light present during the Blue Hour. Many photographers pack it in as soon as the sun goes down, but it’s worthwhile to keep working. The hour following sunset can offer a soft colorful glow with low contrast. Not all Blue Hour light is equal though. Wispy high clouds directly above can reflect warm light down on your subject. However, those same clouds can cancel out any color if they are situated on and below the horizon where the sun set or rises.

Oregon Desert Photography Tip: Be Patient

Owyhee River Canyon Sunset OregonSunset over Owyhee Canton, Oregon  #56352   Purchase

The photos above and below illustrate another important tip, be patient. Watch the weather, and wait it out until the light is gone. In both photos I experienced good light at the last minute. The weather had been dismal and grey for the entire day, and it didn’t look good for evening light. Both locations were very remote, especially Owyhee Canyon. Meaning there was no cell signal, so I couldn’t check weather forecasts. With nowhere else to go it just made sense to wait and see what happened, in these instances I was lucky.

When photographing the immensely popular Painted Hills, I was the only photographer that stayed. Everyone else gave up on the light and left. I also had my doubts until a tiny clearing in the clouds opened up on the horizon. Fortunately this clearing was were the sun would be setting. When the sun poked through this clearing I had less five minutes of good light to work with, but it was enough.

Painted Hills OregonPainted Hills, Oregon #44747   Purchase

Oregon Desert Photography Tip: Midday Light Creativity

Another tip, and one that many photographers scoff at, is don’t neglect midday light. While not as common, making good photos during the middle part of the day is possible. Interesting cloud formations or approaching storms can add an often overlooked dimension to a landscape. Also, this is a good time to get a bit creative. Experiment with minimalism, low saturation or black and white. The image below of Alvord Lake may not have the dramatic qualities to make it on the cover of Landscape or Outdoor photographer, or garner thousands of likes on Instagram or 500PX. However, it does illustrate the barren aspect of the Alvord Desert.

Painted Hills OregonPainted Hills Oregon  #44704   Purchase

Alvord Lake OregonClouds over Alvord Lake, Oregon  #60973  Purchase

Oregon Desert Photography Tip: Enjoy Your Surroundings!

If you’re photographing in the Oregon Desert, and especially the southeast corner, check out the many hot springs. After a job well done there’s nothing like a soak in a natural hot spring. Just sit back and enjoy the view!

Willow Creek Hot Springs Willow Creek Hot Spring, Oregon  #61026

Oregon Desert Photography

 

 

 

 

 

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

Bisti Badlands New Mexico

Bisti Badlands New Mexico

Egg Factory Bisti Badlands, New MexicoThe Egg Factory, Bisti Badlands New Mexico  #57385  Purchase

Bisti Badlands New Mexico is one of those places that has an otherworldly beauty and mystique to it. Situated in the Four Corners area of Northwestern New Mexico, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a land of layered sandstone, silt, shale, mudstone, and coal. Years of erosion by water and wind  have turned these layers into strange and whimsical rock formations, hoodoos, wings, fins, and mushroom shaped spires, seemingly straight out of a fantasy or science fiction story.

Desert Beauty

Always on the search for new locations offering dramatic landscapes, and being a big fan of geologic oddities, I was drawn to Bisti’s beauty many years ago after seeing some photos of it in a magazine. However, it wasn’t until this spring that I had my first opportunity to visit and photograph this wonderful wilderness. I had put off visiting this and other sites in New Mexico to photograph other more famous Southwest icons, such as Zion, Arches, Joshua Tree, and the beautiful Sonoran Desert, to name a few. So it was with great excitement that on this trip I was finally going to see one of the greatest concentrations of badlands in the Southwest.

Bisti Badlands, New MexicoEvening storm over Bisti Badlands #57421  Purchase

Bisti Badlands doesn’t flaunt it’s beauty like many of the well known and sought after locations in the SW. It’s one of those places where you’ll drive for miles on empty roads in a seemingly desolate landscape. Only to arrive and wonder what the big deal is and where is all the scenery? It’s true that the Bisti Wilderness is in an arid, dusty, nearly flat and featureless high plain. Arriving at the main parking area you are greeted by not much more than a wide dry wash framed by a few interesting hillsides. But there is much more to see.

Like many hidden wilderness gems you have to get out and do some legwork. It’s easy to spend the day exploring hidden canyons buttes and washes. This is where doing your homework and researching literature maps and photos comes into play. There are several key areas of interest to discover. However, without some clues as to where they are you can spend many hours wandering about. These days many people rely on GPS technology to guide them quickly to the best spots. However, I feel this really takes away from that satisfying experience of discovering something on your own.

Desert Light

Another way in which Bisti Badlands keeps it secrets is the light. You can wander about for days checking out all the best the Bisti has to see. Although if all your time is spent during the middle of the day, you’ll miss out on the real magic. I was incredibly fortunate on my first trip to encounter some truly spectacular lighting conditions which made the badlands come alive with just about every adjective in the book. On my second day the weather was very cold and windy, with a solid grey sky that made even the most interesting hoodoos look dull and lifeless. Like a good photographer, I stuck it out and spent the time exploring and lining up compositions for when and if conditions were more favorable.

Bisti Badlands, New MexicoSandstone Wing, Bisti Badlands #57500  Purchase

To my surprise, the clouds began to break up in the west about an hour before sunset. The time many photographers refer to as the “magic hour”.  In the eastern sky was the remnants of a passing storm. Sheets of rain and snow flurries stood out against a dark grey background. As the setting sun broke through the clouds the eastern sky lit up like on fire. Truly an experience that I will always remember. Of course in the midst of all this drama I was working in high gear to find and compose as many photographs as I could reach before it all ended. The next evening was more tame. Waiting around until dusk brought some interesting light on the badlands as alpenglow softly illuminated the formations.

Bisti Badlands, New MexicoBisti Badlands #57505  Purchase

Bruneau River Canyon Overlook Idaho

Bruneau Canyon Idaho

Bruneau Canyon Idaho

Bruneau River Canyon Overlook IdahoBruneau Canyon Sunset  #56320  Purchase

Another location I visited on my recent photo trip to Idaho was Bruneau Canyon. Located on BLM land in a remote corner of the Snake River Plain in SW Idaho. This canyon is more well known to white water enthusiasts than photographers. I wasn’t even aware of its existence until thumbing through an Idaho tourism brochure I picked up in a rest area. Given the hot sunny and windy conditions and a long drive on a dusty gravel road I wasn’t sure I wanted to include it in my itinerary. However I soldiered on and was glad I did.

Bruneau Canyon is roughly 40 miles long, cut through layers of basalt by the Bruneau River. From the overlook  it is 800′ deep. Getting here in mid-day the canyon was a bit of a disappointment, the light was pale and featureless. Aside from the big gash in the earth there was absolutely nothing else around. Just flat plains as far as the eye could see. The only other cause for excitement was a government sign announcing to travelers they are entering an Air Force bombing range.

As always in photography light  means everything and as the sun dipped to the horizon things began to pick up. After sunset when alpenglow kicked in there was some nice warm even light on the canyon walls. The next morning look very promising with wispy clouds glowing in beautiful colors before the sun came up. Unfortunately the majority of them weren’t over the canyon, but it turned out well anyway.

If you decide to visit the Bureau Canyon make it part of a trip that includes other nearby spots like Shoshone Falls or the Owyhee Uplands. Make sure you’re ready to be on your own, although there are great spots along the rim to camp in solitude there is no water, cell phone reception or any other facilities. You also might want to bring a helmet for the objects falling from airplanes!

Bruneau River Canyon Overlook IdahoBruneau Canyon Idaho  #56299  Purchase

Air Force bombing range  warning sign SW IdahoAir Force Bombing Range Warning Sign  #56332

Car camping in SW IdahoCamping on rim of Bruneau Canyon  #56311