Camera constant companion
I moved to Minam sight unseen, but I had an Oregon atlas. My friend Jessica and I used it as a reference and saw the three canyons where the Wallowa and Minam rivers join for a few miles before dumping into the Grande Ronde.
“Looks like some serious wildlife corridors,” said Jess.
Jess was thinking of bears, no doubt, and on my walks I’ve seen plenty of their scat, but no eyeball witnessing. I did see lots and lots of birds — migrating robins and bluebirds, part-time resident osprey, woodpeckers galore. It was a birding paradise.
I started freelancing for the Observer about a month after landing in Minam and it was a great way to get to know the county. I could write, but taking pictures for the stories was a real stretch.
When I was hired as a reporter a year later, the editor would ask, “Is there a photo to go with this?” To which I would stammer, “Uh … photo?”
I had freelanced for a publication out of Portland for a couple years and was told by that editor I was a lousy photographer. That sting remains, though I now know not to shoot a group of people sitting in a circle in front of windows — bad set-up.
My best pictures are taken outside on a blue-sky day of something sitting still, like a mountain. Recently I took pictures of a waterfall off the Hurricane Creek Trail and my mother said, “Oh, what lovely black and white pictures!” To which another friend commented, “No, it’s just a black and white Northeast Oregon day.”
Shooting football games? A friend at an Enterprise game who happens to be a great photographer said, “You need to get closer to the players to get a good shot.” Upon so doing, some kid ran me over. I left for the safety of a Joseph City Council meeting.
Gymnasium lighting is tough and so is shooting basketball. When my eye is up to the viewfinder, I can’t tell what’s going on around me or if some player is about to slam me into the wall.
My lack of skill has taught me to cheat, and hey! It is said that imitation is the best form of flattery. At rodeos I follow my friend Angelica Dietrich of Wallowa Valley Online around. I find my pictures are 75 percent better if I simply shoot next to her. Rich Rautenstrauch of the Chieftain has probably noticed I do the same thing with him — he’s been shooting for newspapers a long time and really knows how to get to the heart of a subject.
I don’t go anywhere without my camera out of the instinct of a 4-year old — I don’t want to miss a thing. One Sunday afternoon black smoke was belching to the south and east of my friend’s backyard, so we loaded up and followed it until we reached the Wallowa Valley Mountains U.S. Forest Service office fully engulfed in flame.
I’ve come across roosting bald eagles, car wrecks, bucks along Highway 3 with velvety antlers, elk posing in front of the Lostine River Ranch and rock chucks squirrelling around on the Caudle Lane Bridge. During chinook spawning season I sit on the banks of the Lostine shooting nest-making, hoping to find just one good shot when I get them uploaded on my computer.
I’m obviously not the only one who keeps the camera riding shotgun. Last summer an RV was stopped in the southbound lane of Highway 82. Its driver got out to shoot his first glimpse of the Wallowas, so taken in by their beauty he was clueless that he may be causing a traffic hazard.
A word to the wise? Please at least hit the hazard lights button when that emergency photo comes into view.