Autumn in the Columbia River Gorge

This past autumn, I spent some time photographing close to home, in the Columbia River Gorge. Despite the region not being thought of as an autumn color destination, I find that autumn is one of my favorite times to photograph there. Yes, springtime is fantastic – the fresh, vibrant greens of the rainforest are truly incredible, but when colors begin to change in the autumn, many common scenes seem to take on a new life as they burst out into shades of gold, orange, and copper. The vibrant palate of colors, in combination with the already photogenic nature of the area, make for truly wonderful autumn photographs.

Starvation Creek Falls, Oregon
Nikon D800 camera, Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens set to 14mm, 0.8sec at f/16, ISO 200, Polarizer

Photographing autumn foliage was not easy in the Northwest this year, to say the least. A heavy early-season snowfall made things difficult in the high country and alpine areas of the Cascades, while a prolonged drought led to rather lackluster foliage in the lowlands, Columbia River Gorge, and along the coast. Despite these inconveniences, I still managed to find some pockets of nice color in the eastern reaches of the Gorge, and tried to make the most of them during my visits.

Autumn Spirit, Columbia River Gorge, Washington
Nikon D800 camera, Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Autofocus Lens set to 32mm, manually blended exp. of 1.6 and 0.8 sec at f/11, ISO 100, Polarizer

Spirit Falls, a favorite location of mine, puts on an excellent display of autumn foliage. The water is naturally blue due to glacial deposits in the water, very similar to many of the photos from Iceland that have been posted here by others. For this image, I was attracted to the colorful curves in the stream, and the way they seem to be framed by mossy rocks. Freezing motion in the stream to capture the dynamic nature of the scene was a must. So, after making my first exposure, I took a second exposure with a shorter shutter speed, and manually blended it into the first exposure using layer masks in Photoshop CS6.

If this is what a poor year for autumn foliage in the Gorge was like, then I can’t imagine how nice a good year must be. I hope that I can work things out so that I am around when conditions are a bit more ideal!

Author: Alex Mody

An emerging talent in nature photography, Alex Mody—winner of the Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice International 2009 Youth Photographer of the Year Award—specializes in landscape photography. Alex, based in Olympia, Washington, is a full-time college student and professional photographer. His nature images have been featured in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Nature’s Best Photography Magazine, Elan Magazine, N-Photo Magazine, as well as on a number of websites including Discovery and Additionally, Alex offers both private and full-group workshops near his home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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