Many Views

A common expression in corporate conversations is “taking a 30,000 foot view” or some such derivation that might also be expressed as “looking at the forest instead of the trees.”  Often, the follow up comments include something along the lines of, “but the devil is always in the details.”

When you look at a map, you can lay out a course that takes you in the most direct line to where you want to go.  But when you get on the road, street signs are missing or roads are closed and sometimes you find yourself well off-course in spite of your plan.  Even with technology, sometimes the GPS thinks a private road is a public one and advises me to drive through locked gates.  As it turns out, the most direct route is often not the easiest.

On my recent trip to Portland, we went on a little venture to the Washington coast and Astoria, Oregon.  We stopped at overlooks, visited lighthouses, and went up to the Astoria Tower.  Each of these vantage points provides a different view.  The ocean forms waves that slide smoothly up onto the beach while they batter and splash against craggy coastline cliffs only a hundred yards away.  From our thousand foot view (give or take), neither looks particularly harrowing or dangerous, but because we’ve been up close to both situations, we can readily guess which one would be the best place to, say, try to land a boat.

I am reminded of a presenter who once talked about the tendency to rely on historical information when deciding what to do next.  He said, “you can’t drive while you’re looking in your rearview mirror.”  I’d like to think we all check our mirrors every once in a while.  Without metaphorically checking our rearview mirror, we might think we could land safely amongst the rocks.  And without a map, we might not know if we went 100 yards further, we could land smoothly in the sand.

As we stood on the grounds of the Astoria Tower, I imagined Lewis and Clark for a second time that day.  I imagined being the creator of the map for previously uncharted lands.  I imagined explorers standing and staring at the river below as it makes its final turn before colliding with the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered if they were able to predict how long it would take to get from where they stood to the river shore.  I wondered how many surprises they encountered once underway.

I suppose life has not changed much if you look at it from 100,000 feet.  In spite of the myriad of gadgets that make navigation easier, we still must each create our own map for our lives.  The endless number of choices we now face can overwhelm even the most intrepid explorer.  When you come down to the 100 foot level or so, the main difference between then and now is probably that we do far more exploring from a seated position.

Pelican Jarts

While birds are pretty darn fascinating to watch, there is no bird like a Brown Pelican for entertainment.  I don’t know what it is about watching their repetitive pattern of rising over the water, nearly hovering as they reposition their bodies for a dive, and their sudden transformation from giant seabird to giant feathered jart as they dive, leaving behind a splash that probably wouldn’t get them a gold medal if this were the Olympic diving competition.  But, I could watch them perform this dance between feast and famine over and over again.

On the Washington side of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which, if I were inclined to bet, I would bet is called “Megler,” we found a park where we could sit and watch the Brown Pelicans in their unique approach to dinner.  It’s amazing to me that such a large bird can so completely disappear under the water for several seconds after diving head first after a fish.  I feel certain the military could learn a lot from these birds.

The Brown Pelican is, in fact, the only pelican who dives from the air after its prey.  If I were a White Pelican and I watched the Brown Pelicans I shared my territory with snatching up fish from below the surface of the water this way, I would probably want to give it a try–it looks awfully fun.

Through the Glass

There is only one thing disappointing about the Astoria Megler Bridge:  there’s no place for pedestrians.  I guess it would be expensive to add a pedestrian walkway to a bridge that spans over 4 miles, but the views from the bridge stretch over the bay to the distant mountains in Washington and back to the South in Oregon.  Plus, the pelicans and gulls fly over the bridge at eye level.  It would be a great place to shoot.

I decided to try shooting through the windshield.  I have a lot of experience shooting through car windows–one of the sadder ironies in life is that wildlife tends to be more afraid of humans walking in the woods than of cars racing down a freeway, often to their own demise.  This leads to me trying to capture images of moose, elk, bears, etc through car windows more often than on foot.

On the positive side, I have learned a few tricks.  First and always applicable, get as close to the glass as possible.  This puts all the crap stuck to the glass completely out of focus so it doesn’t show up in the photos (the spots in the last image are actually birds that were flying too fast to be in focus).

Second, if you can’t roll down the windows and stick your head out, shoot through the front windshield if you’re shooting wide angle.  There is just nothing appealing about a composition that looks like this:

Third, if you’re shooting with a long lens, it’s easier to shoot out the side window, but watch for the blasted rearview mirror.  Shoot tighter, sit cross-legged to get up higher in your seat, roll down the window and prop the lens on top of the rearview mirror (not recommended in a rapidly moving vehicle).  Do something to get that mirror out of the frame.

Fourth, don’t forget about reflections.  If you have a polarizer, you might be able to get rid of them that way.  Unfortunately, sometimes you have to live with them (like in the first photo in the gallery).

Fifth, if you’re shooting though the windshield of a car going 50+ MPH down the road and you’re trying to get lots of depth of field, you can focus on whatever spot is in front of the car and then shoot, even though the spot you just focused on is gone by the time you push the button.

Finally, if you are shooting while the car is in motion (hopefully because someone else is driving it), remember that the speed your moving affects the shutter speed you want to use, depending on whether you want sharp or blurred images.  Oh! I just had a great idea for shooting the drive down the far side of the bridge (yes, I just smacked myself in the forehead since I am not planning to be back in Portland again for a year).