The first Saturday of each November is time for the annual sausage dinner at Visitation Parish in Verboort Oregon. So what does this have to do with a photography blog? With all kinds of activities, people doing interesting things, and a good bit of historical context, there are plenty of opportunities for a little photojournalism.
Verboort, Oregon is a tiny hamlet, with a population probably not pusing 100. The sausage dinner is a fundraiser for the local Catholic parish/school, and now entering its 75th year, is also a certified tradition.
To make 13 tons of (and they have capacity for 20 tons!) of sausage, takes a lot of work from a lot of volunteers. The Saturday prior to the dinner, a call goes out for all hands. I decided to check it out this year to learn more about the event and just do something fun and rewarding. As for the photos? I wasn’t even sure if they’d allow me to take photos (some thoughts of a secret sausage factory entered my mind). I got to work at around 7am, and spent about 5 hours feeding “casings” (ok, they’re pig intestines… there, I said it.) onto metal rods so they’re primed & ready for the grinder, which forces the ground sausage into the casings (kind of like inflating a balloon). The sausage is then wheeled over to the smokehouse room, where its hung on racks and smoked over the next couple days.
Volunteering gave me the opportunity to learn a bit more about how the whole process works. It gave me time to walk around and see the operation, get to know some of the people involved, ask if I could take some photos, and think about what kinds of photos I wanted to take. One of the basics of photojournalism is simply to document the event… and that’s always my primary goal with these types of events; just get some basic shots that show what happened. If I’m able to work a little and improve the composition, lighting, or timing of the various shots, that’s just a bonus. So, I set to work just documenting each part of the process.
I started with my widest lens – a 15mm fisheye. I went methodically through each part of the process, and used this lens to do what I could. The 15mm fisheye can show a lot of activity all at once – perfect for a situation like this. But, the price to pay is the distortion of the lens. For photojournalistic shots with the 15mm fisheye, I tend to just ignore the distortion. Using non-standard angles (i.e. tilting the camera) can help make these distortions less apparent. If the horzontal and vertical lines are bent, they might as well be tilted too… hopefully the main subject of the image will be interesting enough to make the distortion less apparent.
After the fisheye, I worked my way toward longer focal lengths; 24-70mm, then 85mm. As I already had some “overview” shots with the fisheye, I could then focus on particular elements that added interesting details.
Very often, it takes a lot of shooting to get what I want. For example, one of the more difficult parts of the process to photograph was the job I spent 5 hours doing – loading the casings on the metal rods. The casings are small and dark, and peoples hands are constantly in motion, often covering the subject. The elements of the process include people, the casings, tubs of water… and it’s hard to get all of these in a single shot – and to have it composed, focused, and lit decently (this is one situation where a video would probably be a more effective format). After dozens of tries, I was able to get the image shown on this page.
I returned the following Saturday to witness (and eat) the actual dinner. Unfortunately, a heavy rain limited how many shots I could add to my portfolio. All the outdoor shots pretty much had to wait until some other year. But I did add a few things, and will be back next year to get whatever I missed.
The autumn color around town was looking pretty good, and it seemed to be near peak in the lower mountains as well. So I took a hike up one of my favorite autumn destinations - Siouxon Creek (That’s pronounced SOO-Shawn creek).
The Siouxon Creek trailhead is located just south of Mt. St. Helens, in southwest Washington State, about a 2 hour drive from Portland. Interestingly, the road is paved the whole way… which is unusual for this kind of hike. Typically, you’ll encounter gravel the last few miles of these roads. The road had been washed out about 6 miles before the trailhead for much of 2009, but was recently repaired.
Siouxon Creek is a pretty straightforward hike along a creek… fairly flat, with a loop at the end. If you include the loop, it’s about 9 miles. But you don’t have to do the loop to have an enjoyable experience, and encounter many photographic opportunities along the way. The trail never strays far from the creek, so there are plenty of places to get down close to the water for some creek in the foreground.
The weather forecast was “mostly sunny”, which is usually not ideal for a trail like this, as bright dappled sunlight through the forest creates too much contrast for a pleasing image. But, this time of year, the sun never gets very high, and Siouxon Creek is in a canyon, with the trail being on the south side. So, the trail itself sees little sun.
It was indeed sunny most of the day. While this didn’t interefere with many shots, I wasn’t able to do justice to the really nice fall color on the opposite side of the creek. The bright colored leaves in full sun were too saturated, and inconsistantly lit (leading to a mottled appearance). I just had to shoot around the sunspots. This cut-down on the number of possible shots & angles, but in a place like Siouxon, there is always plenty to shoot.
So, I spent most of the trip focusing on smaller interesting subjects, like mushrooms. I also managed a few decent shots of the creek, but only in locations where the sun wasn’t a factor. A few clouds did roll by, and that allowed me a few extra opportunities. The sun also moved quite a bit during my ~5 hour visit. Shots that were in shadow on the way out were in sun on the way back. This was a good example of why you don’t want to “save shots for later”. If you see a good photographic opportunity, take it. A good deal of what makes nature photography work is timing, and if you wait… there goes the timing.
This trail is open to mountain bikers, so be aware of that. On one occasion during this hike, I had crouched down really low to get a macro photo of a mushroom, when a couple mountain bikers zipped by. If I’d been in the trail, it would have been ugly, as they couldn’t have seen me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any shots of the bikers. A couple semi-blurred “motion” shots would have been nice, but it was too hard to predict when a biker would come by, and such a shot takes a bit of planning.
There was so much going on in the first few miles, I ran out of time to include the loop at the end of the trail (which includes a couple more waterfalls). I’ll have to go back… but probably next year, as the leaves have fallen, and the snows are coming!