Vista House Inspiration

Along the Columbia River, Oregon

I’ve mentioned before how much I gain from Brian Matiash’s weekly OnOne “Perfect Inspiration” series (http://www.ononesoftware.com/inspiration/).  In each episode, Brian uses a shot that may not, all by itself, be jaw-dropping.  But he concentrates on adding an incredibly creative slant to the post-processing and some personal insights to achieve a really “inspirational” result.  Several episodes back, he featured a shot he’d taken of the Vista House at Crown Point along the Columbia River just east of Portland.

It just so happened that I was leaving for a 4-day trip to the Columbia Gorge the very next day after seeing the episode.   So I quickly adjusted the route since I was very taken not only by the setting and subject, but by Brian’s creative “Blending Fantasy with Reality” rendering of it.

For reference, the Vista House is located above the Columbia along the scenic, historic Columbia River Highway (GPS: 45.540067,-122.244294).  Vista House was designed by Samuel Lancaster as an observatory looking up and down the Columbia, and to make the wonders of the gorge accessible to the area’s visitors.  The opening panorama above is the view of the Columbia from the Vista House.

Brian chose his vantage from the nearby Portland Women’s Forum parking lot.  I couldn’t imagine that I’d find a better spot, so I shamelessly put my tripod legs in the same holes (although the one I used is from a slightly different vantage point in the lot).  You should watch his video (http://www.ononesoftware.com/inspiration/episode10/) to get the full impact of how he converted what would otherwise have been an interesting but straightforward HDR series of shots into a very cool final result.

He said that he wanted to, “…infuse [into the shot] a sense of fantasy and otherworldliness.”  If you’ve seen OnOne’s advertisements in many of the photo magazines, it will be familiar to you.  I just loved his final result and wanted to try for my own fantasy version.

So, deciding that I’d try the sincerest form of flattery, I shot a similar set of images at a slightly later sunset and used my image to learn from his tutorial.

It was a nice, warm summer sunset evening, but one that brought plenty of haze and very weak clouds upriver to the east.  It seemed to me that this was a very nice setting and reasonable lighting, but not so much so that I’d have much success.  Cars were in the scene, colors seemed muted, mosquitoes were biting, and I was hungry.  But I shot it anyway, then on returning home, I went to work following, essentially step-by-step, Brian’s workflow.

So here’s my result, using Photoshop, Lightroom, Nik’s HDR Pro2, and of course, many of the effects of OnOne’s Perfect Suite.  I used the HDR Pro2 for tone-mapping the 3-exposure (at 1 stop increments) series.  Then all of the stylizing effects and selective focus were from OnOne’s Perfect Suite 6.

No, this isn’t a push for OnOne’s products, although I clearly love them and buy them for the same price everyone else does.  But I also regularly use Nik Software’s filter system, and find that using OnOne and Nik tools mixed together with Photoshop and Lightroom makes for some interesting, if not unexpected results.

I’ve come to realize that just producing a good, literal and realistically processed image is not necessarily what excites me.  I’ve migrated somewhat toward being much more open to the interpretive, impressionistic results that we can now achieve with today’s software and hardware.

I often hear comments questioning whether something was a “real shot”, or whether it had been “photoshopped” (I really hate that term when used as a negative verb!).  It’s as though creating with the computer’s help is not valid, or is “fake”, or is necessarily less artistic than doing so with a paint brush and oils or a chisel and marble.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t pretend to be at the level of a photographic artist worthy of setting trends.  More often than not, I’ve followed them.  But lately, I’ve found myself much more attuned to the emotion and creative interpretation that isn’t bound by a strict, literal approach.  And, in the end, the most important thing is that the result means something to me.

So, thanks Brian, and others, for your “inspirations”.


  1. neighbor orps karen

    Wow, loved the stunning photos from your Alaska trip! You have captured nature at it’s best! Can’t wait to share the trip details with you!

  2. Looks very interesting and beautiful. Although we have been in the area, we have never seen it quite like that.

Leave a Reply