Interview with 2010 Photo Challenge Winner

After I announced the Photo Challenge winners two weeks ago, several people wrote in wondering where the winning photo was taken…and exactly how the photographer did it.

So, I thought I’d catch up with grand prize winner Miles Morgan and ask him the details on how he captured the winning shot. He wasn’t easy to track down! As a United Airlines pilot, Miles is always on the go. He most recently returned from a week-long trip in Utah and Arizona where he photographed many of the breathtaking canyons.

Scroll below for an interview with Miles and another look at the photo that earned him a check for $2,000…



Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

November 27, 2010
The Right Way to Travel


By Lori Allen, in Alexandria, VA

LORI: Hi Miles.  We’re getting a lot of e-mails about the photo that won you this year’s $2,000 Grand Prize and bragging rights for this year’s Best Photo of the Year.  Everyone wants to know: Where was this picture taken?  And did you scout out this location or did you find it on a whim?

(Editor’s Note: You’ll find the winning photograph on our website, here.)

MILES: I rarely find time for random wanderings, so this image was the result of prior planning, some luck, and the kindness of a fellow photographer.

I had seen pictures of this place before and contacted a local colleague to express my admiration for his photograph of these amazing falls.  Much to my delight, he offered to take me to the falls when the conditions looked favorable, as he wanted to reshoot it and felt it was safer to proceed with another person.

This particular spot is high up Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge, which is located just outside Portland, Oregon.  The proverbial Catch-22 comes into play here, as the side falls only appear after periods of extremely heavy rain.  This same rain, however, make the required multiple creek crossings extremely hazardous.  Fast-moving, freezing, chest-deep water with slippery rocks in the creek-bed below is the price of admission to this sanctuary.

LORI: How did you decide when to go?

MILES: We had planned our assault for a cold rainy day in March -- when the conditions looked good for creating atmosphere -- and were lucky enough to be rewarded with the foggy morning you see in the image.  I've returned to this spot several times since, but have discovered that the character of the place seems to wash away with the winter rains, as the leaves come in and fill the Gorge with its trademark green.

LORI: How did you take the photo?  (What was the time of day, what type of equipment were you using, what were your camera settings, how did you decide where to stand?)

MILES: I shot this image long after losing all feeling in my feet.  Finding a compelling composition here proved tougher than I envisioned. The few images I had come across were verticals, but the scene seemed to make more sense to me as a horizontal.  In order to get some foreground interest in the image, a wide-angle lens was planned, but when I viewed those first images on my LCD, I discovered that the side falls became too small and too close to the middle of the frame.

I positioned myself about thigh-deep in the creek and worked a longer focal length until I felt that I had a composition that highlighted the actual falls themselves.  Then it was a matter of shooting longer exposures to get the bubbles to streak through the creek at the bottom.

This image was taken not long after first light with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 17-40L lens, on a Gitzo 1325 tripod with a Markins M10 Ballhead (which has since expired in a dramatic and sandy death).  A Singh-Ray Warming Polarizer was used to tame the reflections in the water.  The settings I selected for this particular shot were:  ISO 100;  f11 (which is the sharpest for my particular lens);  4 seconds;  shot at 33mm.

LORI: It looks pretty soggy there -- did you do anything in particular keep your gear safe and dry?

MILES: Indeed.  Soggy is a perfect description of the conditions that morning.  About five minutes into the hike, I became much more worried about keeping myself safe than my gear; I gave up on the dry part immediately upon opening the car door.

Arriving at our final shooting location, I produced my typical camera protection gear- a Kata rain cover, a lens hood, and a small umbrella.  Shortly after determining that my fingers were no longer working, I ditched the rain cover, which can be rather unwieldy to work with, and used the umbrella as my main source of protection from the increasingly substantial rain.

I wasn't nearly as concerned with the long-term risk to my gear as I am when shooting in the salt water of the ocean, but I was definitely interested in keeping my gear dry enough to actually work.

LORI: How long have you been taking photos?  What’s your favorite thing to photograph?  And what's the next thing you'd like to photograph?

MILES: My father is a professional freelance photojournalist, so I've grown up around cameras, but I really didn't take it seriously until April of 2009 when I took a photography workshop.  It was then that I discovered that I absolutely love shooting landscapes, grand and intimate.

The ensuing year and a half has been spent traveling around the country photographing some of the most amazing locations on earth.  I will be forever grateful to photography for providing the impetus to get out and explore the beautiful landscapes that I've neglected to notice for so many years.

LORI: You mentioned you’re an airline pilot. How does this play into your passion for photography?

MILES: It certainly helps to be able to lose the cost of air travel, have a chance to get chunks of time off, and take advantage of some airline discounts on lodging and rental cars.  As much as I love photography, I have no intention of quitting my day job.

I can't thank you enough for the opportunity to enter such a fun contest, and please extend my warmest thanks to your readers for the honor of their votes.  It sure was a tremendous way to wrap up 2010.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]