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Photographer leads viewers on an Oregon Journey

by: Contributed photo Photographer Bill Breneman

It's no secret to photographer Bill Breneman that Oregon is one of the most beautiful - if not the most beautiful - state in the country.

But the rich variety of photographic subjects - the coast, the forests, the mountains and deserts, the wildlife, the cities and the people - provided a challenge to Breneman as he traveled throughout the state, taking thousands of photographs in preparation for his first photography book.

'I figured out pretty quickly that if you keep shooting, you're never going to stop shooting,' he says. 'There's always going to be more stuff (to photograph), so at some point you're going to have to put a cap on it.'

The Gresham resident compiled his best images in the book 'Oregon Journeys: A Photographic Safari Through the Beaver State,' which was released in early March.

The 96-page book features more than 130 of Breneman's photographs, in both color and in black and white, printed on black paper. Readers visit Portland-area locations like the Columbia River Gorge, the Portland Japanese Garden and Sauvie Island, and then travel farther afield to the Oregon Dunes, Smith Rock State Park and Hells Canyon.

Breneman says his photography has been a hobby in addition to his career in marketing and sales. After researching other Oregon photography books and compiling enough worthy images, Breneman decided to put out his own book.

He started working on the book in 2005, taking advantage of weekends and long summer days to travel across the state. His cameras of choice were a Pentax Digital SLR and Nikon Coolpix.

'If I look at where I was in 2005 and where I am now,' he says, 'I'm a completely different photographer in how I approach my shots, how much patience I have when I do it, my attention to compositional integrity to make sure the picture looks good and that it's well balanced.'

Although a period of unemployment in 2009 and 2010 temporarily shelved the project, Breneman says he managed to complete the book, in which he also designed the layout and wrote the text, just before the publication deadline earlier this year.

Breneman recently took some time out from his new job as a lab technician for Gresham-based HM3 Energy to talk about some of his favorite photographs in his book (available in the print edition of The Outlook).

Portland Japanese Garden

Breneman took this photograph at the Portland Japanese Garden in late October 2010, about 15 or 20 minutes before the garden was scheduled to close.

'I was walking by (the tree) on my way out and I saw the color,' he says. 'The color was the first thing that got me; I was really struck by how vivid the fall colors were.

'The second thing that really caught my eye, because I'm really into contrast, was the trunk and how completely contorted it was and how stark the branches of the trunk are compared to the color of the leaves. There are dual, competing forces in the picture.'

To take the photo, Breneman retracted the legs on his tripod and set it on the sidewalk so that his Pentax was about 2 feet off the ground. Breneman then shot several photographs in order to capture as much of the canopy as possible while also including the grassy mound and the pond behind the tree.

'It took me about 20 to 25 shots to get it exactly the way I wanted it to look,' he says. 'The lighting, the composition, the angle, what part of the picture I wanted to emphasize.'

The 'Portland' Tugboat

With his Pentax camera, Breneman captured this photograph of the 'Portland' sternwheel tugboat as it emerged from the fog over the Willamette River on an early January morning in 2005.

'I love fog,' he says. 'The fog was so thick that morning that if you remove this fog, what do you see behind it? The Rose Garden, the convention center, (Interstate) 5, the Steel Bridge, the Morrison Bridge, the esplanade. You don't see any of that. The only thing you get is the river, the boat and the fog.'

A feature on his camera allowed him to convert the color photograph to black and white.

Several other photographs that Breneman took that day - including one of the Old Town water tower - also have ended up in the book.

'That was one of those days where I went down and I couldn't miss,' he says, noting he took more than 100 photos and kept about 15 or 20. 'Every shot that I took turned out great. Compositionally (this photo is) one of my best and one of my favorites.'

Cannon Beach

Breneman says the Oregon coast is his favorite place to photograph.

'I'm a sucker for water, I'm a sucker for the ocean,' he says.

Breneman took this photograph of a mother and her two sons as they strolled the beach at Cannon Beach, with the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in the distance.

'I had to hurry because the wind was blowing, and I knew exactly what I wanted out of that shot because they were walking into the image,' he says, 'There were people all around and I was terrified that someone would come into the image to ruin it. But fortunately they walked slowly and everyone stayed out of my way.

'Generally I try to have few people in my shots. The only way I include a person in my shots is if I know they will accentuate the environment that they're in.'

Smith Rock State Park

Breneman says getting this photograph at Smith Rock was 'an exercise in frustration.' An 8-year-old boy was skipping rocks into the river, 'and I didn't want the river to have ripples in it, so I had to wait until his mom dragged him away and the water got smooth so I could get my nice reflection shot.'

Although he had to wait patiently for one boy to leave, Breneman notes that 'there's probably about 50 people in that shot, but they're so small you can't see them.'

Elk

Breneman was returning home from a successful weekend trip to southwest Oregon, where he had shot about 200 photographs - half a dozen of which ended up in the book. Breneman decided to stop by the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, even though he had not seen any elk the last few times he visited.

This time, however, Breneman says he found a field crowded with female and juvenile elk, enabling him to get this photograph.

Breneman describes his style as 'hunter killer' (when he visits a location with the intention of photographing a specific subject), and 'meanderer' (when he captures great photographs through luck).

'That was the cake topper of the trip,' he says. 'It's really nice to come home after a long trip (with) that one photo. Everything else may suck, but getting that one photo that you know everyone will like makes it all worth it.'

Things to know

• 'Oregon Journeys: A Photographic Safari Through the Beaver State,' published by Lithtex Printing Solutions of Hillsboro, is available through Breneman's website, brenemanphoto.com, for $19.95. Breneman says he is working on marketing the book, and copies already have been sent to several local and regional gift shops and bookstores. He is waiting to hear from Made In Oregon, which is deciding if it will carry the book. He's also planning to exhibit at several upcoming festivals, including the Gresham Art Walk. Breneman also is working on a similar photography book for Washington state, which he hopes to complete early next year