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A Chat with the Photographer Behind 'Finding Oregon', a Knockout Video

I love hiking and exploring in Oregon. In the future if anyone asks me why, I can start by showing them this splendiferous video created by a foursome of arty, athletic lads whose company goes by the evocative name of Uncage the Soul Productions.

As a fan of Oregon's many lovely locales, the video raised lots of questions in my mind. (The company offers numerous facts about the clip on its Vimeo page.) My inquiring mind just had to know more. So Ben Canales, the principal photographer on the project, graciously took the time to provide some detailed answers via email:
REI: What peak is shown beneath the moonrise beginning at 1:21?

Ben: Believe it or not, that isn't the moon—it's Jupiter! As for the peak, it is our beloved Mount Hood. This was shot in September, so the snow had all but disappeared at this point.

It was freaky, because I was there just to shoot stars passing, not expecting a galactic spotlight to rise from behind the mountain. Before it crested the ridge line, a glow began to build and then as it came over, it was seriously so bright and emitting a glow through the passing clouds that I really thought it was a vehicle's lights coming over the mountain! The insanity of that is no vehicle can drive around up there at 9,000 feet. But it was really that bright.

It confused me, because it was so bright I figured it had to be the moon, but I picked that night to go shooting because the moon was going to set earlier in the night and in the opposite spot of the sky. So, I had this argument going with me, myself and I on the side of the mountain whether it was the moon, a planet, or a UFO shining its bright light across the sky! I questioned my sanity through the experience.

Later, online, astronomy fans informed me it was Jupiter, not the moon, and probably not a UFO. Dang it—no ET in this timelapse…

REI: I'm guessing it's a fire lookout that starts showing at 1:31. Is it?

Ben: Dixie Butte Firetower, in Central Oregon. It's beautiful up there.

REI: How did you pan UP the tree at 2:02?

Ben: Amazingly, it was all done with the simple Dynamic Perception Stage Zero kit. If you're getting serious into timelapse but on a budget (who isn't?), the Stage Zero kit is the way to go! Ours has been all over the state, lugged in backpacks, bounced on the back of ATVs, dropped off rocks, etc. It's still going strong.

REI: You show a snowy campsite above Crater Lake at 2:49. Where in the park is that site found?

Ben: Ha, I get asked this question a lot after a picture of mine from the trip won a National Geographic competition. [The photo is displayed at the end of this post. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at what went into creating that photo.]

But truth is, I am not completely sure. I say that because I was there in May in a record snow fall year, so even in May the park had only just opened up and was still BURIED in snow. The Park Service had just begun plowing the Rim Road, and from the top of the snow bank to the asphalt there were 18-foot sheer walls of snow. And that's not piled snow, that's a cut through the snow.

So, all that's to say: The place I scouted and picked as the location looks completely different with 5- to 20-feet of snow on it as it does in its summer state. When I returned later this year in the fall, I was excited to show my girlfriend the location I used for the shot, but I honestly could not locate it!

With the snow gone, I couldn't tell what was what. The best I can say is it is a point between Discovery Point and Watchman's Tower. But really, covered in snow, there is no such thing as a bad spot in that park.

REI: Is that Mount Jefferson at 3:07?

Ben: Once again, that is our beloved Mount Hood from Lost Lake. We love Mount Hood, and everyone should see it on a calm, windless water reflecting day at Lost Lake.

Note: I did ask Ben about some other locations seen in the video, but understandably he opted to keep them filed away in his "secret vault."

REI: I love the streaky effect you achieved with the stars. Is that tough to accomplish?

Ben: Many hours of post processing! We strive to be innovative and creative in our work, so this effect was a way we could stand out from the usual star timelapse. But, it definitely cost me two all nighters of editing to figure it out and get it looking good!

REI: Was more than one MSR tent used? 

Ben: Every tent shot is of my personal MSR Hubba Hubba. I bought it at REI :-)

REI: What was the most challenging moment during this 6-month filming process?

Ben: The biggest challenge is the timing, lining up to be in the right place at the right time. These starry night timelapses have a surprising amount of requirements to get the bright, beaming epic payoff. First, the moon should be around the New Moon phase (no moon) so as not to outshine the stars.

So that means we get a window of about 5 days a month. Next, weather must be cooperative with a dependable expectancy of cloudless skies. Here in Oregon, only the summer months have a good chance of clear skies. That means we have 3 months in the year, with a 5-day window each month to plan, with fingers crossed, for epic star-shooting conditions. That's only 15 days in a year.

Then, you hope that something doesn't come up in regular life to pull you away to other obligations on those few days. It is a maddening challenge to get all the factors to line up to be in the right place at the right time. But, when it does happen—it is such a satisfying feeling.

REI: Did a favorite event or location emerge after the project was done?

Ben: For our team, the trip to the Eagle Cap Wilderness was both literally and figuratively a mountaintop experience. Uncage the Soul Productions expanded this year when John Waller asked me, Blake Johnson and Steve Engman to join him and the company. Through the year, we here and there worked on things together, but never all of us at the same time. It seemed every week one of us was out of town on some outdoor adventure, that we were never all on the same project at the same time.

We came up with the audacious plan of a weeklong road trip around Oregon with the sole intention of capturing timelapse for this video. All 4 of us wanted to do the trip, but John and Steve could only join in for the final 2-night backpacking trip up into the Eagle Cap. So, when we met at the trailhead and began sorting camping and camera gear for the 7-mile hike in, it was exciting to finally be doing something together. It was so fitting that the first thing we did as a whole team was this 2-night trip up into a wilderness area to film the beauty of Oregon.

Due to a late start, we didn't make it up to Mirror Lake until after midnight, and when we got there we were completely buried in clouds. It should have been depressing to get there and find no stars. But we were all so sleep-deprived from the previous days of all-night shooting, and then the middle-of-the-night hike carrying 60 to 75 pounds each to the location, that we all gladly accepted the excuse of not being able to shoot. We pretty much collapsed and bivvied right where we stopped walking!

The next morning we debated whether the clouds the night before would happen again or should we believe weather reports? Should we abandon the picturesque Mirror Lake region in favor or climbing higher to rise above the chance of clouds?

In the end, we made the big gamble to stay put, stick with the beautiful location and cross our fingers for clear skies. We spent the entire day running all around the Mirror Lake area picking spots for the time lapses we would shoot that night. We had 3 separate cameras with us and we wanted 2 locations for each camera. We were kids in a high-altitude candy store!

We all are passionate about the outdoors and passionate about video- and now our two loves had merged on this trip and we were doing it for the first time as a complete team. All morning we were like 10-year-old kids pointing at a ridge with one person saying, "Maybe stars rising above that big gnarled tree?" And so we'd dart over creek, rock and trees to see the view from that spot.

This repeated with place after place. Like I said, kids in a candy store. By lunchtime we had 6 locations and compositions mapped out. We made lunch, Steve fly fished in Mirror Lake, we all washed up in the frigid glacial water (it took me 30 minutes to finally jump in the cold water), and then by 2 p.m. we were all passed out on rock clearings soaking up sun and catching up on sleep.

Night finally came, and thankfully our gamble paid off. It was a completely crisp, clear night beaming with sparkling stars. We started an hour after sundown and didn't stop setting up and checking on cameras until sunrise the following morning. Each shot worked out perfectly and turned out to be a keeper. In fact, 5 sequences are in the final video. On no other trip have we come back with so many winners and great experiences of us as a team doing what we love.

REI: Every viewer will come away with a different impression after watching your video.  What's the most vivid impression it created in your mind?

Ben: The diverse beauty of Oregon is staggering. I am originally from New Jersey, so finding the beauty of Oregon has been a life-changing part of my life. Over the course of filming for this video, I've been in all these places. Oregon has it all. It's incredibly beautiful and refreshingly uncrowded.

I've spent many hours in my teenage years wandering the REI stores dreaming about the places I want to see and explore. It is a thrilling honor to not only be seeing those places now, but also coming back with ways to share it with others.

Photo credit: The photo below by Ben Canales, as mentioned earlier in this post, earned first place from National Geographic for Best Travel Picture of 2011. You can view additional photos from Ben in this gallery.

Posted on at 2:42 PM

Tagged: Oregon, Uncage the Soul Productions and video

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