Head and Tail of the Gorge

I was supposed to go to China; that’s why I was in Victoria, BC.  This past weekend had two big regattas scheduled for Vashon Island:  the Head of the Charles in Boston, and the Head and Tail of the Gorge in Victoria.  My step-daughter probably would have gone to Boston with the rest of the varsity junior women’s quad, but that crew had an opportunity to go to a special regatta in Beijing.  They were going to let me tag along as the photographer, but the whole thing ended up being rescheduled and then cancelled outright due to interference from the Communist Party of China.  That’s how we ended up at the Victoria regatta while the other half of the Vashon Island Rowing Club went to Boston.

The weather was crummy, and the water was roiling.  We heard it was in the 70’s and sunny in Boston.  Not so in Victoria.  It was raining and cold and windy pretty much the entire time.  Here you can see the tide disagreeing with itself as the water flows in two directions at the same time.

The Head of the Gorge races took place on Saturday.  The course started almost as far south as Victoria Harbor.  Due to a very narrow point in the course, where only one boat can pass at a time, all boats had to launch at the same time (so there was no two-way traffic).  This was a mess of a traffic jam and took forever to accomplish, but the real hardship was on the rowers who had to wait at the start until their scheduled time.  Some of the rowers had to sit in their tiny, uncomfortable boats for up to two hours just waiting.  They sat there in the rain and cold and tried not to cramp up.

After about 2Km of rowing, the boats came to the narrows.  With rocks on both sides, and a stone bridge overhead, it was a treacherous passage.  A man called the angle of the narrows stood with a loud-speaker, telling the crews how to navigate.  In spite of this expert help, several boats ended up on the rocks.  When incredibly expensive, fiberglass oars and racing shells smash along big, sharp rocks, it makes a distinctive scraping sound.  It sort of sounds like tearing a cardboard box open, about 100 times louder. Fortunately, none of the Vashon boats suffered this indignity.

One of our junior women’s double boats was impacted by another boat being on the rocks though.  They were behind an eight that got stuck on the rocks and had a hard time getting unstuck.  The eight spent so much time stuck in the narrows, that our double, that was right behind them, actually had to stop and wait, right in the middle of this timed race.  Vashon ended up with a second-place finish in that race, because of this stoppage.  Not bad at all for the two girls, but they were still kind of robbed.

Have I mentioned yet that there were exactly zero coaches along on this trip?  They were all in Boston at the Head of the Charles.  For this regatta, a small collection of dedicated parents and masters organized the transportation (international transportation) of all the rowers and the boats off of one small island (Vashon) and onto another, much larger island (Victoria).  These same parents, with a lot of help from the masters, managed the lodging and feeding of the junior rowers and even managed to get them to the races on time.  We got them all out on the water and then packaged up again without leaving one rower, boat or a single oar behind.

It would have been a challenge for the rowers to negotiate the narrows under calm weather conditions.  Remember, this was at a point where the water was flowing in two different directions at the same time.  It wasn’t easy just keeping the shells upright, let alone perfectly between the rocks.  I was just trying to keep my lens clean, but these athletes were actually in a small amount of danger.  As a bonus, later in the day, the bridge overhead flooded and let a cascade of water fall down onto the already soaked rowers.  It was wild.

Above you can see some of the boats launching for the afternoon races.  Several of the crews dressed up too, as is tradition.  If you look closely, you can see Wayne and Garth rowing a double.  It was nice to see the kids honoring something that was popular when I was in high school.  Party on guys.

Nothing in life really prepares you for seeing eight Marge Simpsons rowing by in a downpour.

. . . or Marilyn Monroes (MonROW?) going past you in the rain.

That Marilyn Monroe boat is followed by a rainbow.  It took me awhile to figure that out.  If you watch the clip, you can see how several boats follow one and other into the narrows.  If any of them had a problem, the next boat would also have a problem.

Dressed up only as the champions that they, themselves, are, here is the varsity junior women’s quad from Vashon Island.  This is the crew that would have gone to China.

The Tail of the Gorge races took place on Sunday.  It was a different course than the Head.  It was further north, going southeast and contained no narrow passage.  Still, all the boats launched at the same time.  After carrying their oars for them, I was able to get this picture (with my phone) of the junior women’s quad as a rainbow came out.  We were promised better weather on this day.  Although there were some sun-breaks, it was still cold and rainy, with the added feature of strong wind gusts.

Here is the women’s quad in action, right at their catch.  If you look closely (or follow the link to a full-resolution version of the image), you can see that the boat’s name is Passport to Pain.  Appropriate for rowing to be sure, but it is actually the name of an annual bicycle race on Vashon Island that the rowing club organizes.  It’s a major source of income for the club and helped with the purchase of the boat that bears its name.

For the Tail of the Gorge, my shooting position was on an overpass bridge.  I looked forward to shooting directly down at all the boats, but the bridge spanned a fairly wide spot on the water.  I had to look across the road to see where the Vashon boats went under the bridge (usually easy to spot with our bright blue oar blades) and then guess where they’d come out on my side.  I was never directly on top of our boats, so everything is at kind of an interesting angle.  Here we have the master women’s quad.

The overhead bridge view was a pretty cool vantage point.  This time I was almost perfectly in line with the junior men’s double sailing underneath.  This is right after their release, midway through the recovery stroke.

Below is not actually a racing shot.  These boats are launching for the afternoon races.  It looks pretty, almost like nice weather.  But the sunshine was brief, and it was never what I’d call warm.  Again, the crews had to wait near the start for an hour or more.

Launching all the boats and then having them all row to the start seems like it takes forever.  Once they all get up there, some of the officials check the course for . . . I don’t know, sharks?.  That’s how we know that the race is about to start and that I need to get over to the other side of the bridge.

Here’s the junior men’s quad, at the beginning of their drive stroke.  I think the bow seat knew I was taking their picture.

This might be my favorite shot of the day (except for that rainbow launching shot I took on my phone).  There’s just something impactful about seeing this mixed masters quad powering through the rain and wind.  I know all these people, and some of them even volunteered as instructors for my learn-to-row class over the summer.  Hell, I could be down their next year.

Here’s one of our junior women’s double boats, looking sleek as they shoot out from under the bridge.  For every other regatta I’ve shot this season, I always wanted more reach than even my 500mm lens affords.  For this race, on both days at both shooting positions, I used the widest lens I have.  I was so close to the rowers, I could have high-fived their blades.  It was also the most I’ve ever worried about dropping my gear into the water.

Vashon’s last events of the regatta were both women’s singles (an open and a masters).  These poor women had to sit up at the start for almost two hours before getting to row 3Km in the rain.  This is not a sport for the weak-willed or casual competitor.  All of these athletes are dedicated rowers.

UPDATE:  The Vashon Beachcomber’s article about the Head of the Charles regatta

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Tail of the Lake Regatta

There was a one-day crew regatta this past Sunday at Gasworks park.  I had to drop off my rower well before dawn, so I had a chance to take some non-crew pictures before the sun came up.  There’s a great view of the Seattle skyline from the park.

I’ve always wanted to visit Gasworks Park, but this was my first time there.  As much as I wanted to shoot all the super cool structures, I was there for the regatta.  The only “gasworks” I shot were before there was any light in the sky.

That’s one of the trucks used for setting up the regatta tents.  The light is coming from one of those tents, the medal station I believe.  The long, 30-second exposure provided the movement for the clouds.  There was a tremendous amount of goose poop everywhere.

When the sun started to come up, the city looked a little different.

You can see that the wind was starting to move the water around a bit.  It only got worse as the day went on, but Pacific NW rowers aren’t used to competing on glassy water.

Here’s a shot of the real photographer on the course that day.  He got to stand on top of that boat the whole time and probably has much better views than I did.  But I got to talk to more people.

That’s our junior novice men’s 8 boat in the foreground.  They were waiting to cross the course to get back to the staging area.  It was a crazy, 4k course around Lake Washington.  After circumnavigating most of the late, the crews had to navigate a sharper-than-90-degree turn that put them on the final stretch.  This was a timed head-race, so once a flight started, there was a constant stream of boats in motion.  To get back to the staging area crews had to actually cross over the course at that incredible turn.

Also, there was commercial traffic still happening.

The lake wasn’t closed off to its normal activities, so the crews had to contend with commercial and private watercraft as well as the occasional waterplane.

I know I wouldn’t have been quite ready to race in this one.  But our team did fantastic as always.  Here’s our Masters Men’s Quad:

One of our Junior Men’s Doubles:

And our Varsity Junior Women’s Double:

These two would go on to win gold when they raced with the two JV Junior Women in a quad.  Here’s the end of that run:

As usual, it was a pretty successful day for the Vashon Island Rowing Club, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Solar Eclipse with the Mayor

“Ever since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I shall do the next best thing: block it out.”―Mr. Burns

The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 was a magical time.  I’m from Portland, OR and my parents still live in the area, so it felt like my home town was getting something special.  Since the last total solar eclipse visible in Portland was in 1979, I guess the 2017 event was technically my second experience.  I have only a vague memory from 1979 (something about a pinhole in a shoebox), so 2017 would be the first really memorable one for me.

Since I currently live in the Seattle area, I figured it would be an easy trip down to Portland, where I could avoid the outrageous prices being charged for accommodations by staying with my parents.  Although not in the direct path of totality, the Portland metro area would enjoy 99.4% occlusion.  I figured that would still be great and decided the Portland metro area was good enough for me to view the total solar eclipse.

To avoid what was being billed as apocalyptic traffic, I drove down on the Saturday before the Monday of the eclipse.  There was no extraordinary traffic the whole way.  I spent the night at my parents’ house and then got up early the next morning to practice.  My dad is a photography enthusiast who also happens to be the Mayor of Fairview, OR.  He’s been shooting longer than me and planned to use an array of equipment to capture the event.

Here’s our setup, just at the end of the driveway in Fairview.

Our Imaging Array

That’s my D810 closest to the camera.  I was using a 200-500mm lens with a 2x teleconverter.  That gave me 1000mm of focal length and a maximum aperture of f/11.  Initially I was concerned about that f/11 max aperture but later discovered it was a pretty good setting.  The filter on the front is just the sheet of film you can buy from Amazon.  Nothing special.  Next, from the left, is my dad’s D600 with the same 200-500mm lens.  He wasn’t using a teleconverter though, so his max aperture was f/5.6.  I don’t know what he ended up using.  For a filter, he has a 10-stop ND plus a polarizer.  Next is an unfiltered D750 that my dad planned to use to capture the corona.  His thinking was that he wouldn’t be able to get his glass filters off fast enough, so he setup a second camera.  Last in line is an inexpensive video camera to capture the entire event.

It’s a good thing we went out the day before to practice.  We looked at where the sun would be the following day and found good shooting positions, but the main thing was getting our settings dialed in.  We would have been way off if not for this pre-trial.  In spite of how hard we tried to prepare, it seemed like everything went out the window as soon as we pointed our cameras directly at the sun.  I already mentioned that I had to shoot at f/11.  I wasn’t expecting that my other settings would be ISO 400 and 1/15 second, but that’s what they ended up at.

Focusing was another story.  Everything I read and watched told me to simply put my camera on manual focus and set it to infinity.  That seemed pretty reasonable with the sun being so far away, but it only produced a huge blob of blurry light for me.  Eventually I was using autofocus to get sharp focus and then switched to manual to lock it in.  I just used the edge of the sun as a focus point, and that worked perfectly.  The most important piece of equipment turned out to be a couple of black towels.  It was so bright out that our rear LCD screens were all by unviewable, so we draped the towels over our heads to see the backs of our cameras.  I’m sure we looked very cool to passersby, but I was with the mayor at the mayor’s house so I didn’t care.

You can see sun spots in these images, so I figure that I really nailed focus.  I’m pretty happy about that and was very excited for the big day and the ultimate moment.  We got up early, spent a couple hours watching the local news about traffic and the weather at various locations, and got even more excited about this total solar eclipse.  A little before 9:00 am, we went outside and setup our photo array at the end of the driveway to capture first contact.

The Mayor of Fairview

The next hour was very exciting.  We listened to the local radio station for updates and interviews from around the state.  We talked and drank coffee and asked each other if we “saw that” and waited for totality.

Friends, I learned an important math lesson that day that you’d think I would have already known.  99.4% does not equal 100%.  At the penultimate moment of totality, we waited breathlessly for the corona to become visible.  The radio played a medley of sun-and-moon-related songs.  It got pretty dark, a weird darkness that was not like twilight.  The temperature dropped noticeably.  We continued to wait.  The songs ended.  Still no corona.  For some reason, people on the radio were cheering.  Seconds went by, and then one of us wondered out loud if the sun was actually getting bigger.  None of us wanted to believe it, but the truth was that the total eclipse had passed, and we didn’t see totality.  Close, but not quite.

So that was a little disappointing.  I thought for a moment about capturing the sun as the moon passed away and then considered another hour in the driveway, knowing I never got to see the greatest moment.  When I packed up my gear quickly, in a huff I said it was because I wanted to avoid traffic on the way back up, but really it was out of resentment toward . . . what?  The sun, for not being totally eclipsed in front of me?  The moon for not trying harder?

At any rate, this is the last picture I took of the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  I hope to be in Indiana in 2024 for the next one.

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A Day at the Beach

It’s been hot here.  Even before the BC wildfires enhazened our skies, it was hot and kind of miserable.  So, we went to the coast.  To get to the Washington coast from Seattle, you have to drive around the Puget Sound, and that takes some time.  Believe it or not, I’ve never done this; I’ve never been to Washington’s coast, except for right on the border with Oregon.  This was not to be the trip to break that trend because we went to the beach of  my childhood – Seaside, Oregon.

First we had to leave The Island.  Since we were going south, we did the Talequah crossing into Tacoma.  There’s a great view of Mt. Rainier on this route, and the skies were clear that day.  Here’s a morning shot of our beloved mountain from the water.

The drive from Seattle to Portland is peaceful, if a bit predictable.  We stayed at my parents’ house in Fairview for the night and headed out early the next morning for the Oregon coast, which is a straight shot.

To my surprise, it was hot on the beach.  In fact, I found myself calling it the beach instead of the coast.  It was actually sunny and hot on the Oregon coast at Seaside.  Which is why this shot of Claire was a little tricky.

It was right around noon, so the light was intense, and the shadows were harsh.  This was one of the few times I used my popup flash for something other than to control other flashes.  Fill flash saved the day here.  Also, Seaside Beach is big and roomy.  There were plenty of people there that day, but we were all spread out pretty good.  This desolate-looking image was made possible by using the widest angle lens I had available.  It makes Claire look like she’s the only person in the world.

One of my primary goals for this quick trip was to introduce Tommy to kite-flying.  As far as I know, he’d never even seen a kite before, much less flown one.  I figured I could buy something anywhere in town, and I was right.  But, man, was that thing ever cheap.  It wouldn’t have lasted another few minutes in the air.  It eventually did disintegrate, but we were able to have a good time long enough before that.  Tommy got to fly a kite for the first time in his life.

He loved it!  He loved the whole experience, and I think he even enjoyed letting go of the string so his mother would have to run and chase it.  The rest of the day included bumper cars, a carousel ride, saltwater taffy, a trip to the Tillamook Creamery and a visit to Cannon Beach.  After a fabulous dinner at Mo’s I really wanted to get out to Ecola State Park to capture the great sunset scenery that is there.  The idea isn’t to capture the sunset itself, but rather the view back on the beach in the sunset light.  A few things went wrong.

One, the best lookout points were closed off due to recent storms and the erosion caused thereby.  The other issue was the cloud-cover.  There’d been no clouds the entire day, but now we had a thick layer right at the horizon that blocked all of that gorgeous sunset light.  By the time I got out to the best lookout I could reach, I’d missed my only chance to get the shot I’d been hoping for.  To twist the knife a little, Gabbie informed me that I’d just missed some great light.  All I got was this crummy shot of Cannon Beach:

You can see areas where the sunset light is trying to get through, but mostly it was flat light.  To make up for my disappointment at missing the really good light, I took one last picture of Claire.

She’ll be one year old next week.

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How to Photograph Fireworks

It’s that day again!  The 4th of July is the one chance I get all year to shoot fireworks.  This year I’m going to a new spot, so fingers-crossed that it is a good one.  You’ll know tomorrow.

Until then, I just published a somewhat verbose tutorial on How to Photograph Fireworks.  I hope you find it helpful or entertaining or at least tolerable.

have fun and be safe tonight!


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