Monthly Archives: September 2011

Spending Your Nights In The Historic Lodges of Glacier National Park

In 2008 and 2009, I traveled from Texas (where I currently live) back to Glacier National Park, Montana.  I’m a Montana native, having been born some 20 miles from the park.  Something I’d always wanted to do but never had the time (after moving away) and could never really afford (until my job in Texas) was to stay at each of the lodges within the park.  I had not returned to Glacier NP for about 10 years and it was time for me to once again breathe in not the chlorox fumes or gas flare that I normally inhale on the way to work in the mornings, but rather the cool, crisp, pine-saturated air of the park’s mountains.  While I will be adding future posts regarding my Glacier National Park photo trips, what follows here is a description with photos of the lodges in which I stayed over the course of those visits in ’08 and ’09.

The National Park Reservations site http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/glacier.php?gclid=CJHkvuuwkqsCFec65QodfTivwg lists quite a few lodging options within and outside of the park.  The lodges to which I refer in my post title are the lodges I remember seeing and hearing about while living in Columbia Falls: Village Inn at Apgar (not exactly what I would consider a rustic lodge, but still within the park boundary), Lake McDonald Lodge, Rising Sun Motor Hotel (a little more “rustic” than Apgar), Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Inn, and Glacier Park Lodge (aka The Great Northern Hotel).  It is those lodges to which I returned during my visits to the park.

The very first place in which I overnighted within the park was the Village Inn at Apgar, which is accessed via the West Glacier entrance (or, via Going-To-The-Sun Road from the eastern part of the park heading toward the west entrance).  West Glacier is about 20 miles away from Columbia Falls.  Apgar is located approximately 2.5 miles inside the west entrance to the park.

I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of my room for that night – sometimes I remembered to photograph my lodging and sometimes I forgot.  Since 2008 was my first time back to the park in 10 years, I guess my excitement to get out and photograph the mountains eclipsed my self-appointed duty as a room reviewer to capture the interior of that night’s stay.  I vaguely remember there being a screen door, and the bed was comfortable and the room was clean.  I’m not too terribly picky about my rooms, except that I do expect them to be clean.  I don’t require a television, which is a good thing, since the rooms I stayed at in the park were not equipped with TVs or air conditioners (AC? In the Montana mountains??) or radios or even WiFi (come to think of it, though, there might actually have been WiFi in some of those places – I just never gave it much thought as I was perfectly happy to be away from the world wide web and could always tether my Blackberry to the computer whenever I found cell service – which is slim to none out there in the mountains).

The view from the south shore of Lake McDonald at Apgar Village is what I was really after during my first evening in the park:

There’s a little restaurant as well as a cafe and snack shop along the road next to the lodging, so I ate my dinner and breakfast there before heading on to Lake McDonald Lodge, a few miles further up Going-To-The-Sun (GTTS) Road.

Lake McDonald is a real lodge with large wood logs and beams and local stonework, with a rustic atmosphere and decorations.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_McDonald_Lodge

I really wanted to stay in the main lodge, but nothing was available, so I spent the night in one of their “cabin-ettes” (my term) – one of a number of small cabins near the main lodge, which have been divided into two separate units, each with their own entrances and parking areas.  Furnishings in my unit consisted of a queen-sized bed, a desk, nightstand, two chairs, a heater, lamps, and a bathroom with an extremely small (can you say “closet-sized”?) shower.  It was clean and comfortable (really my only two pre-requisites for a decent room) and I didn’t stay much in the room anyway.  I naturally did not get a photo of that room either, although I proceeded to capture a gazillion shots of the main lodge lobby.

Oh, before I forget: if you stay at any of the lodges within the park, make sure you bring along a 3-prong-to-2-prong outlet adapter.  Some rooms in the lodges have 3-prong outlets, but the majority of the rooms have only 2-prong outlets, thus making it a bit difficult to plug in a laptop or any other electrical appliance with a 3-prong cord.  I was clueless about this, though, until I wanted to plug in my laptop.  So just remember to visit your local hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) or discount store (i.e. Wal-Mart, Fred Myer, Target) to purchase one of these adapters.

At Lake McDonald lodge, one of my first tasks after dropping all my luggage onto the bed was to grab the cameras and tripod and march into the lobby for some interior photos.  I think the Lake McDonald Lodge lobby is my favorite of all the lodges (the Glacier Park Lobby comes in a close second – though it’s cavernous size makes it not as warm and inviting).

Those painted chandeliers you see were once made from buffalo hide.  Time and the effects of the light bulbs damaged the original hides, so graphic artists were called in to hand-paint the original designs onto a sturdier type of material for a longer-lasting light fixture.

After photographing the lobby, I marched back outside and down a path the short distance to the waterfront to snap a few photos of the view from the lodge shore.

From the boat dock in the photo above, I hiked back up the short trail to the lodge entrance to find a parked Red Jammer.

Red Jammer buses are these wonderful historic tour buses http://www.glacierparkinc.com/tour_detail.php?id=1 which are an iconic part of the park, offering a number of different tours along GTTS Road.  The roof of the bus even rolls back for riders to enjoy the fresh mountain air during clear, sunny days.

I generally ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge restaurants.  The Lake McDonald Lodge restaurant is pretty standard for park food (i.e. it’s nothing special, but generally OK although a little pricey – the local microbrews are great, though, and oftentimes these larger lodge restaurants also have a nice wine list).  The dining room is large, lovely, and staffed by seasonal employees from all over the U.S. and the world.  The waitstaff at all of these lodges are usually required to introduce themselves to the diners, who are always interested in finding out just how far the waiter/waitress travelled to work in the park.

The next lodge en route along GTTS Road is the Rising Sun Motor Inn.  GTTS Road bisects the park from West to East (or East to West, depending upon the entrance taken).  The entire distance from one end to the other is approximately 51 miles, with the midway point at Logan Pass.  Rising Sun Motor Inn is about 33 miles from the Lake McDonald Lodge.

The inn is a complex consisting of a hallway of rooms adjoining the General Store, a separate building housing the restaurant, and a number of cabins and buildings with motel-style rooms.  I stayed in a separate building with the motel-style rooms in 2008 during the photo workshop I attended in the park.  In 2009, I stayed in a room adjoining the General Store.  I naturally took no photos of my room in 2008, but had the foresight to do so in 2009.

There’s a nice long front porch the length of the General Store and adjoining rooms.  I remember sitting outside my first evening there in 2009 next to a table of four Germans, as the sky darkened from the rain/snow storm whipping through the mountains.  After flying to Montana from hot, humid Houston during that late August, I luxuriated in the feel of the crisp cold air as we all drank our local microbrews.

My very favorite lodge of all within Glacier National Park is the Many Glacier Hotel, approximately 25 miles from Rising Sun Motor Inn.

To get to the Many Glacier Hotel, you’ll actually leave GTTS road at the St. Mary entrance to the park boundary and travel north along Hwy 89.  Before arriving in Babb, you’ll pass by a funky little purple building: the Two Sisters Cafe, serving some of the best food around – I’m even told they bake an awesome huckleberry pie.  Unfortunately, every time I ate at the cafe, they had run out of that particular pie (huckleberry anything is a well-known delicacy of the region and I have wonderful memories of going huckleberry picking with my parents and Granny).  Anything you order at Two Sisters Cafe will be tasty, and there will be plenty of it, so make sure you bring a hearty appetite.

From Babb, you’ll take a left fork in the road to head into the Many Glacier portion of the park.  Warning:  drive slowly!  Not only is the road on open range (the Blackfeet Reservation) with cows that like standing in the middle of the pavement and alongside the road, but the road itself is not the best-maintained and there are potholes and gravel portions that would wreak havoc with your vehicle, be it a bicycle, car, truck, van, or bus.

I LOVE the Many Glacier Hotel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many_Glacier_Hotel

It’s my favorite place to stay in the entire park.  I love the architecture (modeled after Swiss chalets) and the location, which is – to me – the loveliest area of the park.  This, of course, means I have alot of photos of this place.

The rooms are essentially the same as at the other lodges within the park.  I stayed at the hotel in both 2008 and 2009, and in 2009 I got a room with a balcony!

The main dining room (The Ptarmigan Room) overlooks Swiftcurrent Lake and the mountain vista beyond.

The deck at the rear of the hotel has plenty of chairs for guests to sit and sip their brew while viewing the mountain vista beyond Swiftcurrent Lake.

A sunrise view from the shore of Swiftcurrent; the hotel was directly behind me when I captured this image.

During the photo workshop in 2008, I stayed a night at Swiftcurrent Inn.  http://visitmt.com/categories/moreinfo.asp?IDRRecordID=2482&siteid=1 which is maybe a mile or two up the road from the Many Glacier Hotel.  There is also a huge campground alongside the road between the hotel and the Swiftcurrent Inn.

As you can see from the website, there are cabins and buildings with motel-style rooms, which is where I lodged with the workshop for a night, after we had spent the previous night at the Many Glacier Hotel (we all wondered why on earth we couldn’t have just stayed at the hotel rather than have to pack up our stuff for yet another lodging for another night).

From the St. Mary entrance to the park, it’s about 50 miles to East Glacier, Montana and the Glacier Park Lodge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_Park_Lodge

This lodge is impressive in its size and architecture.  While none of my photos of the exterior turned out (I only took a couple, I think), the interior lobby photos look wonderful.

My room was on the second floor, which is reached by staircase.  I think they have an elevator, but it’s a service elevator which the porters use to transfer luggage to and from rooms.  I don’t have much to say about my room.  Of all the rooms in all the lodges at which I stayed, I must say the room at this lodge was a little on the dark, somewhat somber side.  The bathroom was really nice – it was newly-remodeled with a huge shower.  Plus, I got a room with a balcony (I’m a balcony-kind of gal), which afforded me a lovely view of the mountains beyond while I sipped my microbrew (by now, I am sure you know I like craft beers 😉 ).

The Great Northern dining room is also a little more upscale than the other restaurants, with perhaps the exception of the Lake McDonald Lodge dining room.  If you stay at the Glacier Park Hotel, make sure you order a huckleberry daiquiri with “extra huckleberry” (otherwise it will be a little on the bland side).  The drink is not cheap, but it sure is tasty.  If you choose to dine outside of the lodge, I highly recommend Serranos in East Glacier http://serranosmexican.com/ which serves awesome food at a great price and is always packed.  This place is a short drive or walk from the Amtrak train station, which is across the road from the lodge.

If you decide to stay at any of these lodges within the park, I highly advise you make your reservations at least 6 months ahead of time.  With so many visitors to the park each year, rooms are at a premium – even during the off-season.  And don’t go with the high expectations of staying in a 5-star luxury hotel.  The rooms in these lodges are clean, but  on the rustic side, with simple furnishings, no televisions (who wants to watch TV when there is a whole park to explore?) , no air conditioners, and no cell service (actually, my Verizon cell service worked just fine at Glacier Park Hotel, because it’s right on the outskirts of the mountains).  Each of the lodges host various ranger-led programs and there is always a helpful staff member happy to answer any questions you may have about the park.  The Red Jammers stop at each of the lodges, too, but for tour purposes and not for lugging you and your luggage from one lodge to the next.  Check out the site link I’ve listed in this post for more information, if you are interested in a tour.

If you’ve never been to Glacier National Park in Montana, then I hope this post, the photos, and the links provided help you plan your trip to The Crown of The Continent.

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Blown-Out Highlights: Waterfalls (and the Silky Water Effect)

Blown-out highlights.  No, I am not referring to a bad hair color.  I’m talking (writing) about photos you have seen or taken where the lighter colors of a photo (in particular the whites) are so blinding/glaring that you see no detail at all, even though you know there was detail within those light colors when you looked at the scene you ultimately photographed.

In this post, I’m going to show you what I do when attempting to recover some of the detail in a photo with blown-out (over-exposed) highlights.  Sometimes, these procedures work really well for me, sometimes not so much.  I know there are other methods out there I haven’t yet mastered (which is why I someday want to take one of those week-long Photoshop courses offered by Rocky Mountain School of Photography http://www.rmsp.com/ or Santa Fe Photographic Workshops http://www.santafeworkshops.com/ ).

In 2008, I went on my very first organized photo workshop – to Glacier National Park, MT.  In future posts, I’ll discuss my photo tour experiences (and post photos). One day during the workshop, we hiked the short trail from the road to a place called St. Mary Falls.  I’d never really photographed running (rushing) water before.  There are others out there who have water photography down to a fine art:  Darren White Photography, for one  http://www.flickr.com/photos/drwhite75/sets/72157610515657296/  I was definitely not one of those people.

Most people, when photographing waterfalls, are aiming toward what is called “silky water”.  Basically, the camera shutter speed is set to “slow” (for example: 1 second instead of 1/500 of a second) to capture more than just a passing glance of the rushing water.  The longer the shutter speed, the more “silky” the effect…and the more potentially blown-out (over-exposed) the image may become.

Here’s a (un-edited) non-silky water shot – well, relatively non-silky.

Versus a silky water (way un-edited) photo (an example of silky water and blown-out highlights):

At the time of the workshop, I didn’t quite know enough about photographing water to realize that I did not even own what I really needed, which was a dedicated neutral density (ND) filter (this is why you take workshops – to reach beyond your comfort zone and learn about stuff like this).  I’m not referring to a graduated (split) ND filter, but an actual “all-over” ND filter, which is a round or square piece of gray glass or resin compound that fits over (or in front of) the lens.  The gray comes in varying shades or “densities” or “stops” (1-stop, 2-stop, 4-stop – meaning that’s how much the camera’s exposure is “stopped” down or lowered when capturing a scene with that filter attached).  ND filters are great for long shutter speeds to slow down motion such as running water in order to create that “silky” effect, while keeping the light colors of a scene from being blown-out.

If you are going to purchase a ND filter, then remember: you get what you pay for.  When it comes to camera equipment, get the best that your budget will allow.  Don’t short-change yourself or your photos.  I’m not advocating that you break the bank or starve yourself (or your family) in order to purchase the higher-end stuff (I know it’s difficult to maintain priorities, but sometimes camera gear doesn’t come first).  I’m just recommending that you get the best you can afford and not go onto ebay to pay $3 for something that you will ultimately trash upon viewing the results.  BH Photo  www.bhphotovideo.com and Adorama  www.adorama.com carry a wide range of ND filters and pricing to fit all budgets – and really, these photo sites I have listed carry good stuff.  It’s where I do all of my shopping for photo gear.

All I had with me at the time was a graduated (split) 2-stop ND filter and a polarizing filter.  So I screwed on both filters (watch out when doing this and trying to use your wide-angle lens because you will definitely get vignetting). Below is the original shot as it came out of the camera:

Attractive, right?  Well, it has the potential to be attractive after a little post-processing.

For one thing – I definitely remember standing at this spot, marveling at the lovely dark turquoise hue in the waterfall itself.  You don’t see much of that in the shot above.  Following are the procedures I took to eliminate as much of the blown-out highlights as possible and bring out the colors to achieve the end result pictured below:

Better, yes?

I am sure I will say this in almost every “how to” post I write, in case you don’t read any of my previous posts.  First and foremost, I am not an expert – by any means.  I am simply writing about what I know and how I do it.

Regarding photo editing applications – there are a ton of them out there and everybody uses something different: Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Aperture, Picasa, Picnik, Lightoom, etc.  What I tell you here can pretty much be applied to whatever post-processing software you use – different commands, different tools in the virtual toolbox, but the result will essentially be the same.  I personally use two programs:  Lightroom 3 (LR3) and Adobe Photoshop CS5.  I do some things in LR3 because they are easier for me to utilize, and I do other things in CS5.  I don’t know the total ins and outs of either of these very complicated programs like Scott Kelby  http://www.scottkelby.com/  or Rick Sammon http://www.ricksammon.com/Rick_Sammon/Home.html do, but what I do know, works for me, and I’m constantly learning new stuff in both of these programs.

So, I upload the photos to LR3.

I choose a photo (that first one highlighted) and click on the “Develop” link at the top right.

One of the first steps I always take is to scroll down to the Lens Correction panel on the right side of the screen and click on the “Enable Profile Corrections”.  This corrects distortions inherent in whatever particular lens you may be using on your SLR (I’ve noticed that this option doesn’t appear to make any difference on photos I upload from my point & shoot – a Canon G11).

Once that is done, I start to play around with the photo.  Since there are plenty of blown out highlights in the whiteness of the water, the next thing I want to do is bring back a little detail wtihin those whites.  I scroll up to the top right side of the screen and play around with the Recovery slider.  It’s an awesome little tool that works really well to bring back detail, although it tends to darken the rest of the photo.  I also utilize the Clarity, Vibrancy, and Saturation sliders to bring back the “oomph” to the photo and to add saturation to the colors.

FYI, Vibrancy and Saturation are oftentimes confusing.  Saturation boosts the color saturation of the entire photo.  Vibrancy is more selective (don’t ask me how it knows) and boosts only those colors in the photo that are undersaturated.  So, why not use just the Vibrancy slider and ditch the Saturation altogether?  It all depends on what you are after – what you want to see in your photo and what you want your photo to show you (and others).  I usually play around with both sliders, then either keep both, or set one or the other back to zero.  Be careful when using these two tools, as it’s quite easy to over-do.  You don’t want a fakey or fantastical-looking photo….unless that is your aim, of course.

The photo above still looks a little blown-out to me, so I use one of my very favorite tools in LR3: the Gradient Tool.

I use this awesome little tool mainly for exposure control for parts of a photo.  However, as you see from the panel that opens up when the gradient tool is clicked, there are other slider options which may also be used with this tool.  All you have to do is drag the little plus-sign (which turns into lines as pictured above) through the areas you wish lightened/darkened/saturated/etc.

Note:  if you are going to drag a straight line horizon from top toward the bottom or from the bottom toward the top, remember to hold down the Ctrl key (on a Windows PC) as you hold down the left mouse button and drag the gradient up or down – otherwise, those lines will go every which way.  Just test it out for yourself to see what I mean, since I don’t think I am explaining that aspect very well.

I fiddle around with the blacks, contrast, and brightness sliders, too.

When I’ve achieved what I want in LR3, I do one last thing:  scroll down to the Tone Curve panel and use the Light slider.  This slider is more subtle than the Exposure or Brightness tools – it adds a nice glow to the entire photo.  CS5 also has a Curves tool, but I find I have more control using those sliders in LR3 and I understand them a little better in this program than in the more complicated CS5 – that’s just me, of course – you may find it easier to work with Curves in some other program.

I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do in LR3.  So I compare the before-after views before finally exporting the photo as a TIF which I will then open up in CS5 for further tweaking (because it still does need further work IMO).

I’ve saved the TIF file and now open it up in CS5.

One of the first things I do to a photo in CS5 is go to the menu bar, select Images – Auto Tone and take a look at what CS5 would do to the photo.

Some of the whites look a little to harsh to me, so I go to Edit – Undo Auto Tone.

I next choose Images – Adjustments – Brightness/Contrast and fiddle around with those sliders.

I’m still not sure I like what I see, so I go to Edit – Undo Brightness/Contrast and move on to the Images-Adjustments-Levels panel.

Sometimes I use one or a combination of the three tools I’ve listed above to achieve my results.

I noticed that my image, while looking good, has a bit more of an aqua cast to the entire photo than I really want.  I decide maybe I need to do a little color balancing.

Image-Adjustments-Color Balance.  I tweak the Red slider a little bit to eliminate some of that aqua (cyan) cast to my photo.

Much better.

As I work on this image, I see little spots here and there in the white: they might be water spots or dust particles on the image sensor.

I definitely wish to get rid of those, so I use one (or both) of the following:

The Content Aware tool, which is accessed by selecting that little lasso icon on the left side of the screen.

Use that lasso to outline the item you wish eliminated, right click, select Fill and make sure Content Aware is shown.

Click OK and voila!  Most of the time, this works like magic – sometimes, though, it does not, and you have to do a manual clone job.  Note: this Content Aware tool is only on CS5 and now on the latest iteration of Photoshop Elements.  So in all probability, if you don’t have either of those programs, you must use whatever clone tool is available in your program’s arsenol.

You will see a little empty circle on your screen.  You can adjust the circle size.  For CS5, you need to place the circle in an area of the photo which you would like to “clone” over to the part(s) of the image that need to have those spots eliminated, Ctrl-Alt to capture that area, then place the circle over the spot and click on the left mouse key.  Voila! spot(s) all gone!

My final act before I apply a little sharpening to this image is to use a bit of selective dodging and burning (lightening and darkening).  In CS5, you can switch between the two tools by left-clicking and then highlighting the option you wish.

I finllally apply a subtle bit of sharpening: Filters-Sharpen-Unsharp Mask and I’ve vastly improved upon the original photo.

You can take these instructions and apply them to any images with blown-out highlights: skies, horizons where it’s dark on the bottom and light on top (like mountain photos), any other photo with alot of light-dark areas in the shot.

Of course, the instructions above are not the only methods to achieve these results; many photographers more experienced with Photoshop use Layers for this purpose.  I don’t know a thing about Layers, in all honesty, which is why I never mentioned them in this post and won’t mention them in any other post until I myself am proficient enough to ponderously expound upon this issue 😉

I see this is another looonnng post.  Sorry.  As I attempted to describe my editing processes, I came to the realization that post-processing is not always simple or straight-forward.  I don’t think about it because I happen to LOVE photo editing.  Photography is an art, I’m an artist, the photo is the canvas and the editing software contains my box of paint  brushes. Oftentimes, it takes more than a single editorial”brush stroke” to create a Masterpiece.  It all depends upon how well your in-camera settings captured the shot (about which many photographers will brag online) and how much time you wish to devote to an image.

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Filed under Blown-Out Highlights, Lessons, Photography, Waterfalls