Walking up a Creek

Another stop on a long winding road along Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park. Deep temperate rainforest of Olympic Peninsula is on the side of the road. It is dark under its canopy of tall hemlocks. Trying to walk through it up the steep mountains would be a tremendous feat. Every now and then big trunks of the fallen trees create obstructions that are often too tall to climb over. Soft damp ground cover of needles and ferns can hide holes or loose rocks that can easily make you lose your footing. I’ve never been able to walk more than a few meters into it before meeting an obstacle that was too hard or too risky to get over.

Every now and then there are openings in the woods created by creeks running down the mountains. Some overgrown and barely visible while others wide and open. Most will dry by the summer but it is spring now and they are filled with water from melting white snowcaps of the mountains and frequent rains.

That’s probably the only “safe” choice to work through this forest following a creek bed. That’s why I stopped next to one of them. My curiosity urged me to follow one of them deeper into the forest and see what it is hidden in its depths.

I put my backpack on, grab my tripod and cautiously head off into the woods. Every twist and turn of the creek bed reveals new details. At first it starts as a rocky opening wide enough that two sides of the trees cannot join their branches to block the sky. The water is nowhere to be seen but I can hear its restless murmur. It is hiding under the rocks.

As I get further up more and more water can be seen rushing over the rocks in small cascading waterfalls or relaxing in a small quiet pools. Slowly the creek bed narrows and the canopy of trees closes up over my head. It gets darker and quieter. The rocks become more mossy and slippery and the footing more unstable. I wish I had my micro-spikes with me. It did not occur to me that they might come useful for walking on slippery rocks.

From time to time I stop to enjoy lively silence of the forest, let myself lose myself in it, become part of it. Sometimes I get my camera out, take pictures, have my dialog with the creek, be attentive to it.

It gets darker even more and I realize that it is not just because the thick canopy of the forest anymore: the sun is probably getting closer to horizon. Time to turn around and go back down to where I came from.

The walk down is easier, more familiar and less strenuous. I’m deciding to cut one of the twists and shorten my path down. The rocks look drier that way too and might be easier to walk on. After walking down a little while I run into large hemlock trunk crossing my path. It is over a meter thick and covered with moss. For a moment I ponder retracing my steps back and going down the way I came but I decide to scale it and promise myself never cut the creeks turns again. Following back the way I came is the safest way to go.

As I descent it gets lighter; the canopy opens up back to the sky. Finally, I’m back at the road. The sky is warm with the late evening sun light. I turn around to face the creek one last time. I bow to it and thank for the experience it gave me.

 

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End of Year 2018

The end of the year is a good milestone to wrap up projects, reflect on a year of life, and think of inspirations for the year ahead.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks besides enjoying time with friends and family during the holidays: wrapping up projects I worked on in 2018. More than that I’ve been working through my backlog of projects from 2017 and uploading them to my website. I’ve uploaded 19(!) completed folios from 2018 and 2017. I hope you’ll make time to look at and enjoy them.

There is still much work to do. And that’s probably the first observation and resolution for the next year. I got a bit carried away with traveling and capturing images and did not spend enough time finishing the images. There were hundreds of images that I had not even looked at yet. My resolution for the next year is to finish projects before starting new ones.

Another observation I have had as I worked through the backlog of the images is that my photos are too alike. It might be consistency or style but I wish there was more discovery and exploration in my images, a sense of wonder. So, my next resolution for the next year is to fail more often. Success is a rewarding experience that is very seductive. Failure is a learning experience that can be rewarding it a completely different way.

And the last observation I had is that I have quite a few odd shots, just one offs that don’t fit into any theme. Not a shot that I made exploring some place, working for some project but some shot because something caught my attention or just because I was somewhere and felt obliged to take a picture. It was not an interesting venture into some new area either because I did not follow up with more images of the same place or subject. I delete many of them get deleted while keeping a few, even though I’m not sure what to do with them. In either case it cost me a lot of time at the computer dealing with those images. So, my last resolution for 2019 is to be more mindful at the time of capturing an image, focus on the projects I’m working on and sometimes just putting camera away and enjoying the scenery.

Freezing Temperatures

Pacific Nortwest of the US rarely experiences freezing temperatures in low elevations making for more exciting winter photography.

***

It has been my long time dream to go out to Olympic coast around winter solstice. The sun is at the lowest point of the year making shadows longer whole day. Unfortunately with all the holidays preparation I hardly could get out and photograph during this time of a year.

This year I could finally get out and photograph. I was hoping for heavy clouds, moody skies typical here this time of the year. Instead it was kind of like summer: clear blue sky; the sun shining bright. The only difference was that it was very cold and I needed layers of clothing to keep myself warm.

Such conditions made images including lots of sky quite boring. At the same time the temperature dropped below zero which made it a good time to visit some old favorite places and see them in the new way.

Accepting Failure

Today I’ve been going thru some of unfinished prints trying to get organized and prepared for the next year of art fairs.

Several prints have never been finished. They are odds and misses. Something is wrong with them. Maybe size does not match the frame, maybe there is a specle of dust caught in the coating. And yet I keep them.

I’ve asked myself why I keep them. The answer was not immediate and not obvious. What I came to realize was that it was hard to accept failure. I had failed those prints but I could not face it.

Instead of accepting the failure I was cheating myself into believing that I can still salvage them. A lot of effort went into making those prints. Even when I saw it not going well I would still push forward with it.

As I realized that something else dawn on me. The same thing often happens during postprocessing. Sometimes I come back from a trip and bring a lot of not so good images. It might happen for many different reasons: my mind was somewhere else, I did not feel emotional connection to the place, weather did not cooperate, I had gotten “out of shape” not photographing for a while.

Rather than saying – “oh, well, things did not work out” – I spend countless hours trying to make something of it, treaking myself with thinking that there must be something in those images. What I end up with is overprocessed images that I look at a few month later and think “what was I thinking”.

It is something I should watch for in the future. Be brutal if you wish in editing images.

Waiting for the Light

April 18

Summer is here. Well, not official summer, not astronomical summer, but a northwest summer. I like how summer starts all of the sudden in pacific northwest. One day it is cold, rainy and gloomy and the next day it’s sunny and warm. And it does not get back to the way it was all winter. The trails get crowded with happy faces. Finding isolation becomes harder. No complaining here.

Today is such a day. I woke up and realized that. Birds are singing to the rising sun. Trees have put their green summer clothes. They are not quite the dark green of mid summer but a fresh bright green shimmering in the morning breeze.

As it became my recent habit I went to another hike I have not been to. Just to walk the woods. The parking lot at the trail head was packed. Well, that’s summer. I found a spot, got my backpack ready and hit the trail.

This time I had spent some time researching trails around. I was looking for trails that would cross creeks. It is a good time to walk those trails. Snowcaps are melting filling creeks with water. Many of them will dry up by the middle of summer.

The trail was going to Mason Lake and Bandera Mountain. The trail indeed crossed several creeks. One of them was really full of water and had an impressive waterfall. I’ve composed the frame and it was turning out to be even better than I thought. Except one thing: there was a bright light spot from the sun breaking thru the trees in one corner of the frame. It just did not work. I decided to try it again on the way down.

On the way down I stopped by the waterfall again and the light completely changed. The waterfall was in full light. Which did not work either. Oh, well, maybe some other day.

April 26

One week later. It looks like winter has come back. It is cold, overcast, and gloomy. It might be a good time to visit the same waterfall I visited a week earlier. Overcast might be just the right weather for it. The scene might be more evenly lit with less contrast between light water and dark rocks.

Here it is. The overcast might have worked better then sunny. I still wonder how it looks like in twilight. Maybe some other day.

And here is a little bonus. A small creek I crossed on the way to the waterfall.

Emotional connection

How do I judge which of my photos are good? The answer dawned on me on my recent hike.

***

Whenever I drive a highway with a forest all around it I always wonder what it would be like to step into it. The forest seems magical. Just one step and I would be in a place not touched by human, filled with beauty waiting to be captured in images.

Lately this urge makes me walk new hikes randomly picking one without knowing where it leads. I’m looking for a sense of exploration and discovery. And yet walking those trails had not given me as much satisfaction as I expected.

What else could I try? How about stepping off a trail? That was what I did on the last hike. I was walking contemplating the above when I realized I was beating with my boots the same path that many people before me had walked. Then I stepped off the trail.

Now in hard to walk northwest forest I really felt like an explorer. And it was magical. I heard a noise of a water stream giving life to the forest. I followed the sound of it from a tree to a tree trying to find it. When I found it I walked along trying to see where it went until I reached a cliff below which the stream disappeared.

On the way back along the stream I found this nice and cozy spot which I really liked. As I considered making a photo of it my first thought was that there would be nothing special about this image. That was the moment when it dawned on me that impressing others with my photos had become a measure of how good a photo was for me. And that was not very satisfying after some time. Feeling emotional connection to the place I photograph would be much more satisfying.

Entanglement
Entanglement

Ask Locals

To Dmitri and Marina: Thanks to you guys for pointing some beautiful places in Banff.

On my trip to Alberta I met my friends Dmitri and Marina who live in Calgary. First, we met in Banff where they were celebrating 25th Anniversary of their marriage. They suggested to me a few places to see in and around Banff.

On of those places was Johnson Canyon. It sounded interesting and I went there. It is a small canyon with a stream running at the bottom. The trail is well-setup and quite active with hikers. There is a guard rail that keeps hikers of falling into canyon. For me it was an obstruction. I did not want to look at the bottom of the canyon from a distance. I’d rather be down in the canyon, close by water, to be participant not observer, to be in the scene and be part of it.

My only photo from the first trip was a photo of frozen lower waterfall:

A few days later I visited my friends at their lovely home. Sure enough we shared some photos. It turned out they went to Johnson Canyon too the next day after me. It looked to me like they were photographing close to water, just like I wanted too. I asked how they got their and they told me that there was one spot where one could climb over guard rail and get down to the bottom of the canyon.

The next day I went to Johnson Canyon again. That time I was closely watching over the guard rail for footprints in the snow and I found the spot my friends had talked about. The walk down was very steep but manageable. At the bottom I found a throve of photo opportunities. There was a small cave covered with icicles, there was clear snow not covered in footprints, , there was a stream in the snow.