Snake River Canyon at Swan Falls, Idaho

Snake River Canyon at Swan Falls, Idaho

Earlier this week, a friend and I drove to Swan Falls, Idaho, for a short day-trip and photographic expedition. 

This gave me a chance to try out my newly-acquired Nikon D7000 (bought used from a friend), taking its first photographs as the new owner.  My previous camera, a Nikon D5100 was donated to my daughter's newly-found hobby.

First, some humor from the trip:

Typical Speed Limit Sign in Rural Idaho
Someone was probably going faster than 55

Now, onto more serious work. 

I took two sets of HDR photographs.  With HDR, I like to take five bracketed photographs with a -2ev, -1, 0ev, +1, and +2ev exposure compensation spread.  Then, with a photo editor, blend them into one image. 

Because of the wind, I knew the clouds were moving and they would cause artifacts in the final image and there would not be enough time to make all of the exposures.  Hoping for the best, I settled for a smaller three-image spread, using +/-1ev.  (See this Keyliner article for a discussion of HDR techniques: Stanley Forest Burn.) 

+/- 1ev HDR, looking West
Click for a larger view
(0ev) f11 1/25sec ISO 125  18-200 Nikon DX at 18mm, with polarizer and HDR

For reference, this is the picture taken at +0ev, non-HDR, before cropping and before editing:

Non-HDR, non-edited.
Note vignetting caused by the polarizer at 18mm

Nikon Cameras are capable of taking a three-shot-spread using a "Bracket" control, but being unfamiliar with the camera, I could not get the control to work.  Instead, I bracketed manually, using exposure compensation.  This meant about 20 seconds between exposures, while I fiddled with the controls. This was enough for the clouds to ghost, which they promptly did. 


This is not visible in the camera's preview (I do not use the camera's internal HDR), but I was confident of the failure as I was taking the photographs -- and this is why I only took 2 HDR series that day.

HDR Horizontal View

As expected, the second HDR, taken about 5 meters down the cliff side, had the same problem.

I decided to fix the problem.  At home, with the editor, I cut the sky from the +0ev, overlaying on top of the HDR.  This meant the bottom-half of the photo was HDR while the top-half was not.  This gave reasonably-good results and I might revisit and repair the first picture sometime this winter.

+/- 1ev HDR
Click for larger view
(0ev) f11 1/30 ISO 125 18-200 DX at 18mm, HDR

Colorized Black and White Version

Using a technique that Randal Davis, of Boise, Idaho, taught me, I thought it would be fun to make a black and white version of the photograph, then put the blue back into the river.  It seemed a shame not to colorize the beautiful sky.  The final picture was sad because if you didn't know better, the picture looks perfectly natural:

Colorized black and white
Click for larger view

Here were the assembly steps:

1.  HDR the original three images
2.  Cut and paste the sky from +0ev image; blended horizon
3.  Duplicated base layer
4.  Converted top-layer to B&W
5.  Erased the river and sky, letting the colors bleed through the layers
6.  Added a slight Neutral Density Graduation on the sky

Snake River Canyon and Swan Falls

The Swan Falls Dam and Power Plant, 40 miles South of Boise, Idaho, was built in 1901 to power the silver mines further south, in the Owhyee mountains and then later powered Caldwell and Pierce Park, west of Boise.  The site is now a museum, and picnic area.  The museum is open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., between April 15 and Labor Day, or by appointment.  Year-round, you can walk across the dam and hike various trails.  

Several years ago, my brother and I jet-boated from Celebration Park, in Caldwell, Idaho, to the base of the dam.  The area is popular for bass and sturgeon fishing.  Reportedly, some Jet-boaters like to hit submerged rocks and sink their ships while making this journey.

The Idaho Power "Swan Falls" power plant, seen from the rim

This area hosts the Snake River Birds of Prey Wildlife Conservation Area, which is where most of these photos were taken.  Seven miles before the dam you will find a short, well-marked trail that takes you to the rim, overlooking the river.  The trail is only a few hundred yards long and is accessible year-round.  Expect wind.  If you go, please find and recover my black baseball cap, somewhere over the edge of the cliffs.

In good weather, you can stand at the top of the canyon and look down at soaring raptors as they ride the updrafts.

Driving instructions:

From Boise, drive west on I84, taking the Meridian and Kuna exit, 44. 

At the interchange, drive South on highway 69.  As you approach downtown Kuna, Idaho, note the Visitor Center and swing left, onto Swan Falls Road.  Drive South for approximately 12 miles to reach the dam. The paved road is accessible year-round and the drive down the canyon is unusually steep.   If the weather is nice, consider climbing the dirt trail to the top of Initial Point, which is about mid-way there.

Related Articles:
Keyliner HDR techniques: Stanley Forest Burn
Tripod review


DX to FX Lens Conversion Chart

Reference:  DX to FX lens conversion chart

If you have a DX camera (Also called "Cropped" or APS-C-lenses), such as a consumer-level Nikon, or Pentax, the lenses have an implicit magnification factor when compared to the old-style 35mm film format. 

If you grew up with film, a 28mm lens was a moderate-wide-angle, a 50mm was a "normal" lens, and a 135mm was a short-telephoto.  Think of these as magnification or field-of-view.  But these same focal lengths on a DX camera act as 1.5-times those magnifications.

For years, I called these focal-lengths "old-school" vs "new-school" -- this may not be true for you.  If you are blessed with a full-framed digital camera, such as a Nikon FX (full frame), focal lengths are the same as the old days.  But most of us have less expensive equipment, cameras with the smaller APS-C sensor size, and because of this we have to do the mental gyrations when comparing focal lengths.

For example, on a newer DX camera, a 50mm lens behaves as if it were a 75mm short-telephoto.
Click for larger view

The math takes the new focal length time 1.5, which equals the approximate focal-length on a full-frame camera:

Or, going the other way, you can convert a 200mm DX lens to the old-style focal length by dividing 200 / 1.5 = 135mm.


Although a DX 18mm lens sounds impressively-wide, it is really a boring 28mm moderate-wide-angle.  On the other side, a 200mm DX is a respectable long telephoto, clocking in at 300mm -- almost good enough for some bird-watching. 

Why the 1.5x Magnification on "DX" lenses?

My Nikon manual is paraphrased the issue like this:  APS-C cameras have a smaller (and cheaper sensor, and the lens's circle of view is also smaller (making for less-expensive glass):

Some camera brands have different cropping factors.  Entry-level Canons are 1.6.  Some Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony have crop factors of 1.3 or 2.0.  Check your manual.


Carrot Soup - A recipe

Carrot Soup - A recipe. 

I had a bunch of carrots hiding in the refrigerator and a new Vitamix blender.  A perfect match.

This recipe works with a Vitamix blender, or with slightly different steps for a regular blender or an  immersion blender.  This is my first time making carrot soup.  Super easy and very tasty.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 - 40 minutes, depending on your blender

A Vitamix/Cuisinart cuts the cooking and prep time.  If you have an immersion or regular blender, see the bottom of this article.

6-8 Medium Carrots
3-4 Cloves Garlic
1 Finger of fresh ginger - about two inches long - (not dried ginger!)
4-6C Chicken Broth (or vegetable broth)
1 pint Half-and-Half
Parsley for garnish


1.  Chop carrots into big, bold pieces.  Do not bother peeling.

2.  Peel the ginger with a small knife.

If you have never worked with fresh ginger, this will be a treat.  As my friend Nick said, It is amazing.  You can find "hands" of ginger at the produce section.  Break-off as much as you need (a finger).  Dried or powdered ginger is not nearly as good - trust me on this.  Nick laughed when he first viewed this article: he doesn't bother peeling the ginger's skin.

3.  Peel garlic cloves.  No need to chop or mince.

(and again, Nick does not bother taking the paper off the garlic -- saying it 'whirls' so fine you'd never notice, plus extra fiber.  Nick is weird in this respect.)

4.  Toss carrots in Vitamix. 
     Starting at a slow speed, roughly chop until minced.

5.   Add garlic and ginger.
      Add 1C broth
      Increase speed, up to 8 or 10, until pureed, 
      adding broth if mixture is not liquefying.

I joked I was looking for stiff peaks

6.  Pour into a large, heavy sauce pan.
     Add remaining broth.  You want a medium-thick soup, not too thin.  I wing this.

     Bring to a simmer, stirring often, adding water or broth to keep from burning.
     Reduce heat
     Add 3-4 or-so Tablespoons of honey (wild guess is fine)
     Add a few large pinches of salt

     Cover with lid and cook on lowest heat for about 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

7.  Remove from heat and slightly cool before adding cream - you don't want to scare the cream.
     Stir in cream, adding as little or as much as you like, until the consistency and color pleases you.

8.  Garnish with course ground pepper and roughly-chopped parsley.

This is worthy of a second photo.

If you have an immersion blender or regular blender, make these adjustments:

A.  Cube the carrots into small 1/4" cubes.
B.  In a sauce pan, add broth.  Cook until al'dente.
C.  Add minced garlic and grated ginger.
      Add honey.
D.  Continue cooking until well past tender, which also gives the garlic time to calm down.
E.  Blend and follow the rest of the steps from above.

Admittedly, this article does not have much to do with photography.  All photos taken with cell phone.