Brian's Photo Blog — Article 118
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Silver Falls Summer Solstice
Thursday 21 June 2012   —   Category: Outings

Because today’s summer solstice was a not-to-be-taken-for-granted sunny day, I decided to celebrate the longest day of the year by revisiting Silver Falls State Park and hike the nine-mile Trail of Ten Falls.

It was just the day for such an outing, because the nine-month-long Oregon rainy season is not yet over — the forecast for the next four days is rain, with daytime highs from the lower to upper 60’s. The summer solstice may have arrived, with the days now becoming shorter, but summer weather has not yet made it to this part of the planet.

The last time I had taken a photo outing to Silver Falls — nearly an hour’s drive from my house — was way back in 2009. You can see the pictures from my previous trips in the Silver Falls 2006 and Silver Falls 2008-2009 photo albums. This was way before I got my first SLR in 25 years in March 2011. So I thought it would be nice to see what kind of shots I could get with this level of equipment.

I got up bright and early at 4:40, left half-an-hour later, popped into the local McDonalds for a quick breakfast, hit the backroads, and arrived at the north parking lot around 6:30. After using the facilities and changing into my hiking boots, I was on the trail by 6:40. It was twenty minutes before the official opening time of the park, but I figured it was highly unlikely that a ranger was going to chase after me down the trail and give me a citation!

As a trial run on the relatively-easy Ten Falls trail, this was the first time I had taken (mostly) all of my camera equipment on a hike in my new Lowepro Pro Trekker 600 AW photography backpack. Seeing that I have a lot of equipment — plus I need to carry sufficient water for a long walk — a large pack like this is what’s required.

For camera equipment, I had my Sony α77 with vertical grip, a holster case, a lightweight Sirui carbon fiber tripod, and my collection of lenses: my versatile, general-purpose 24-​70​mm zoom, as well as a massive telephoto zoom, a wide angle zoom, and a macro, plus a 2x teleconverter. Add to that miscellaneous items like spare batteries and lens-cleaning equipment, plus the 8.4-pound weight of the backpack itself, and the total weight of all my camera equipment came to a hefty 25 pounds!

But I wasn’t finished packing yet! Numerous quarts of water, food, a jacket and spare socks, a first-aid kit, my iPad (for topographical maps) and other miscellaneous items brought the total weight hanging from my shoulders to around 40 pounds! As I had mentioned previously, I've been making some efforts to get into shape, but this trial run made painfully clear that I've not made as much progress as I would like to imagine. Truly, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!

Every time I hefted the pack onto my back, I would exclaim to myself, “Oh my gosh! This thing is HEAVY!” And I did have to take the pack off and put it back on again many, many times during the day, because each time needed to change lenses, I had to dig around in the backpack. After hours of this it became such a hassle that I simple took pictures with the lens that I already had on the camera, or just skipped taking the photo altogether. It seemed such a pity not to use the equipment I was hauling around, but I was getting really fed up with the weight and the hassle. This sense of weight only increased as the day wore on and my body fatigued during the nine-mile hike.

Obviously, I’m going to need to rethink my approach to photography, especially in relation to hiking. It doesn’t seem like dragging around 25 pounds of camera equipment is really going to work. Once I have had some time to chew on this, I’ll address it further in a future article. One thing is for sure: I am NOT going to carry that much equipment on my body ever again!

After hiking for about six hours, I was ready to call it quits. But I was only between Lower South Falls and South Falls, and still had a good two-and-a-half or so miles to go before I would be back at my truck in the north parking lot. I was worn out. My body, especially my shoulders, but also my feet, ached. I was hot and hungry. I was fed up taking photos! All I wanted to do was take this 40-pound pack off my back, and go home and rest!

After finding a rare shady spot by the river to sit down and eat my picnic lunch, I hefted the pack once more and set off resolutely for my truck. For the remaining hour-and-a-half of my 2.5-mile hike, I didn’t take any further photos — I just didn’t care any more. Only ONE thing mattered: making it back to my truck before I collapsed! Fortunately, most of the path was in the shade, so the 80-degree weather wasn’t too unbearable.

Because I had already been on a number of photo outings to Silver Falls, I tried to avoid taking the usual, run-of-the-mill pictures, or taking shots like I already have in my existing Silver Falls album. Instead, I kept my eyes open for unusual scenes and details which caught my attention.

The sun was constantly moving, highlighting different aspects of the landscape as the minutes passed. For one scene, by the time I figured out the best camera settings to capture the beauty being displayed, the light had passed, the magic had slipped away, and the scenery sank into mediocrity. Snooze ya loose!

Photographing in this locale is very challenging in good weather. The tall, steep canyon walls are often simultaneously bathed in intense sunlight and covered in deep shadows. The human eye can deal with such a wide dynamic range, but camera sensors cannot. It will take all of my photo-processing skills to produce good-looking pictures from of some of the scenes I captured.

In the end, this outing was not as enjoyable as I had imagined it would be, but I learned a lot of lessons which will make future outings a lot nicer. Now I've got my work cut out for me trying to figure out what changes I need to make in my equipment.

I also need to process the 235 photos I took today — but I can’t do that until I finish processing the 2,000 photos I took last month during my outing to the southern coast of Oregon. Eventually, today’s photos will end up in a new Silver Falls Summer Solstice 2012 photo album.

Until I get a handle on these tasks — and the rainy season finally ends! — I’m going to have to put any further outings on hold. For that, my back, and my entire body, will be extremely grateful!
UPDATE: For some reason or another I didn’t make it back to Silver Falls for another four and a quarter years! For all the details, see the article Silver Falls Autumn Equinox and the accompanying photo album Silver Falls Autumn Equinox 2016.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 118
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