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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 405
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My First Visit to Portland's Japanese Garden
Sunday 5 April 2015   —   Category: Outings
In yesterday’s article I reported that I have visited nearly 100 different locations in Oregon while on photo outings over the past decade. Yet only a relatively-small number of those outings (five) have been in the Portland metro area, which encompasses 25 cities, has a population of 1.5 million, and covers hundreds and hundreds of square miles. For me, Portland has been a place for shopping and air travel, but not for photography.
With a lifetime supply of natural beauty to explore in Oregon, I suppose it is not surprising that I have avoided and neglected the metropolis during all these years. However, I have sensed a small but growing desire to explore the Portland region photographically. Earlier this year I went on photo outings to Portland’s Council Crest Park and River View Cemetery.

Besides all of the interesting things to see in Portland, one of the attractions for me is that it is not out in the middle of nowhere. When I think about what I just wrote, it seems like a very strange statement in light of my love of silence and solitude. Wouldn’t that make me want to avoid Portland? Until recently it has!

Unfortunately, when I hike out into the silence and solitude of Oregon’s wilderness, I have to carry a lot of heavy water, food and other supplies in a pack on my back. My middle-​aged body seems less and less able to support that kind of weight while walking miles and miles for hours on end.

So I have been learning to appreciate the advantages of photo outings in civilization. Instead of using my larger Kata pack stuffed full of water bottles, lunch and snacks, and other wilderness supplies, I can use my smaller, beloved Tamrac Evolution 8 pack. Any food or water I might want I can buy during the outing.

To encourage myself to make the trip up to Portland more often, last month I purchased an annual mem­ber­ship at the Japanese Garden. Not only does that cover the $10 entrance fee each time I go during the next 12 months, but it also waives the $5 per visit tripod fee! Furthermore, I can enter the Garden at 8:00 a.m. — a full two hours before it opens to the public. What a deal!

The Japanese Garden also has a Photographer Membership plan, which allows entrance at 6:00 a.m. one day a month, permission to sell the photos you take, and other photo-related perks. However, seeing that it would be a pain to get to Portland that early, and that I am not planning on selling the photos I take there, and that the Photographer Mem­ber­ship costs nearly three times more than a regular mem­ber­ship, it wasn’t hard to pass on that option.

About a week ago I left Albany a bit after 6:00, hoping to get ahead of the morning rush-hour traffic. And I did, because I arrived at the Japanese Garden parking lot at 7:30 with minimal fuss. Because food and drink (except water) is banned in the Garden, I had a second breakfast after my long commute to keep me going the rest of the morning.

I was showing my membership card at the gate slightly after 8:00. The lady at the window had to write my membership number down on a scrap of paper for later data entry because she had not even turned on her computer yet! After grabbing a brochure map and taking a quick bath­room break, I was eager to pho­to­graph­ically explore the Garden.

At first I was tempted to consider the low fog an enemy, but I reminded myself that it could actually enhance some of the pictures, and that it is usually possible to find interesting shots in almost any kind of weather. So rather than bemoan the lack of sunlight, I wandered around with my photographic eyes wide open to the many possibilities.

When I set up my tripod by the multilevel waterfall and was able to take pictures for as long as I wanted, alone and un­in­ter­rupt­ed, the value of having access to the Garden two hours before the public became apparent. That is a benefit which is definitely worth paying for! It would be almost impossible to use a tripod during the public hours in the tourist season.

I put quite a bit of time and effort into photographing the numerous koi, with their wide range of skin patterns and colors. This turned out to be much harder than I had first imagined. Often they were swimming well below the surface, but the autofocus would target the top of the water. The constant motion of the fish made it difficult to get good results with manual focus.

Furthermore, the somewhat-poor lighting under the foggy conditions forced me to use slow shutter speeds and high ISO, resulting in unwanted motion blur and image noise. After many futile and frus­trat­ing attempts, it suddenly dawned on me that I was paying too much attention to the fish while neglecting the rest of the Garden.

I completed my slow meandering through the 5.5 acre Garden by 10:00 — it was smaller than I had thought. However, by this time the fog was dispersing and the sun was illuminating many parts of the Garden. Because I was literally seeing things in a new light, I decided to make a second round of the scenery. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, at this point the gates opened to the public, so the remainder of my time there was definitely more crowded and less peaceful.

After about 15 more minutes of photography under the new lighting conditions, I realized it was time to put my primary camera away and take my new pocket camera — which had arrived only the previous day — for a spin. I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep it, so I wanted to take plenty of test shots to look at more closely once I got home. I also wanted to evaluate how well the camera handles and operates.

For the next half hour I went through the Garden again, this time snapping shots with my new pocket camera. With its 30x zoom (720​mm equivalent), I got some great shots of the tallest buildings in Portland looming through the low-​hanging fog which had already cleared from the hillside location of the Garden.

I had already taken 162 pictures with my primary camera, of which the best 49 can be viewed in the Portland Japanese Garden, Mar. 2015 album. I also took 65 photos with my new pocket camera — the best 25 are presented in the Portland Japanese Garden, Stereo 2015 album.

As far as my first impressions of the camera and its image quality go, that’s a whole nother story that you can find in the article Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — First Impressions.

Although I left the Japanese Garden just before 11:00, my day was hardly over! While I was crossing the Willamette River on the upper level of the double-decker Fremont Bridge, I was desperately wish­ing I could take pictures of the stunning view and drive at the same time! Wisely, I kept my hands off my camera and on the steering wheel. Here is a photo of the bridge I took last month from The Fields Neighborhood Park after my cemetery photo outing.

For lunch I treated myself to a delicious wood-fired mushroom and white sauce pizza at the highly-rated Life of Pie. It was washed down with a satisfying Lompoc Proletariat Red Alebrewed in Portland, not in Lompoc, where I went on some photo outings at the beginning of the year.

Next, I stopped for an hour at my son’s new location in Metzger, a tiny com­mu­ni­ty that is geographically part of Tigard, although not within its official city limits. Then it was time to slowly make my way back to Albany.

Well, I suppose this article is long enough without going into the details of my after­noon! Because the places I stopped at on my meandering, three-and-a-half-hour return trip — as well as the photos I took there, including the patio trellis image to the right — deserve their own article and album, I will save the rest of the story for another day.

Although I plan on taking pictures at the Japanese Garden once a month for the next year, I hesitate to state it publicly because of my past failure to live up to a similar commitment. Will the fact that I paid money for a membership help keep me on course? Only time will tell!

In addition, there are numerous places around Portland I want to photograph besides the Japanese Garden. I could easily trek up to the metropolis twice a month. But would such a schedule burn me out and make me fed up with photography all over again? Only time will tell! Perhaps the ancient advice of the wise is best: moderation in all things!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 405
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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 405
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