On Location: April Showers in Oregon

BLOG: April Showers in Oregon – Images by Art Wolfe

What to do with April Showers? – Get an umbrella, grab your camera and get outside.

I spent 2 days photographing in the Columbia Gorge and along the Southern Washington Coast, in the rain, and I couldn’t have been happier. The previous 2 days were beautiful. Blue skies, sunshine, unseasonably warm temperatures – and I wasn’t at all interested in getting outside with my camera.

While I’m always open to any subject, on this trip I had very soft, high key, moody images in mind that I could render in black and white. The coastal and inland waters of the Columbia Gorge in addition to having one spectacular waterfall after the next are littered with old pilings from a bygone era of wealth and prosperity from the timber barons of the late 1800 and early 1900s. I have photographed these subjects in the past and knew they needed the right atmospheric conditions, namely fog, to be successful. Here in the NW fog isn’t all that predictable or persistent, but when you don’t have fog, rain can be an excellent (and even better) substitute.

The overcast skies provided the perfect soft box to light the subject, the falling rain softens the image and disturbs the water such that the long exposures necessary with my smallest apertures render the image as a high key, mysterious and quiet, yet powerful image. I knew I would be rendering these in black and white and positioned myself to maximize the white background where the sky was indistinguishable from the sea. I could have stayed with these as a subject for the entire day working different angles, focal lengths and exposures. It was food for my soul and I felt like I was at an all you can eat buffet.

I wasn’t going to overlook the waterfalls as this was the perfect time of the year to photograph them through the fine lines of the trees. The leaves have only just begun to come out adding a touch of color while not obscuring the view of the falls. Most people would say I was “too early” to shoot the falls but you’ll find in about 2 weeks time the trees will have leafed out to where the shots I was able to create with patterns of lines and positive and negative space would be impossible to replicate.

Lastly I met up with friends early in the morning to photograph the Portland Japanese Gardens. With an annual pass you can visit the gardens 2 hours ahead of the general public and photograph largely unencumbered. Again the time of year allowed for some subtle color in the maple trees as they had only begun to leaf out while not obscuring the fine details and patterns of the intricate under-story of their branches. Yes it was a bit too early for bushels of blossoms but when you look at the patterns in nature, the energy contained in a balance of positive and negative space, you’ll find there is rarely ever a bad time to photograph areas like the Japanese Gardens. And when you realize the potential you may never look at a rainy day the same way again.

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