Yesterday I went up to Camp Muir to check if I had altitude sickness and test my fitness level for a possible climb to the summit.
At Paradise I was greeted by thick fog. It was a hard decision whether to go or give up but I saw other mountaineers go and people who came down said the fog was clearing up at the higher elevations.
When I got to snow fields it was a white out. For four hours I kept pushing upwards surrounded by white snow and white fog. I kept following a rocky outcrop on my left to make sure I didn’t get lost. At the four hour mark the rocks that I used for guidance ended. There was nothing but white ahead. I didn’t want to risk going out into the white.
I was dismayed by the weather and ready to turn back when suddenly fog cleared out and I saw Rainier closer than I had ever seen it before.
But it’s only when I turned around I was really stunned. Majestic snow covered Tatoosh Range was below me, green mountain ranges and valleys were below me, and the endless sea of clouds was below me. Awestruck, tears of joy running down my cheeks, I tried to take it all in.
Right then I knew there was no turning back. I had to get to Camp Muir. In a mad dash I climbed remaining 800ft of elevation gain toward Camp Muir.
When I got there I was filled with joy, I wanted to dance, I was hi-fiving random strangers at the camp sharing my joy. And I was taking a lot of pictures.
It was getting late and I needed to go down. With byes from people in the camp in tow I started running down the snowfield. I was light on my foot letting them slide from time to time. When slope was steep enough I was glissading enjoying it the way the kids would enjoy.
It took me five hours to get up to Camp Muir. It took me only one and a half hours to get down.
I’m a perfectionist. I know this about myself. My friends know it about me. I know they know because I’ve heard enough grunts from them when I get stuck in one place endlessly perfecting a picture while they want to continue hiking.
This quality of mine can be a virtue as I constantly challenge myself to be better at my craft. It drives me on a personal quest to make the best of the scene to find the best of me. But sometimes it can also be misleading.
This morning I woke up very early as usual given my jet lag after flying from Seattle to Rome to go to Tuscany. I like my jet lag: I wake up deep in the night hours before dawn. I can explore Tuscany by myself while most people are sleeping.
I was staying at a farm near a small hill town Pienza. During day the town was bustling with tourist and shops and restaurants but at night I could have it all to myself. It was quite: a ghost town, a movie set, a place to wander aimlessly through its narrow streets. In warm street lights it was intimate and mysterious.
I could walk along its walls and enjoy the views of mist covered fields surrounding the town, listen to the quiet of the night, breathe its chilly air. The walls were empty during night but there were plenty of photographer every morning there as they offered grand views of the surrounding hills.
The walk to Pienza from the farm was about half an hour. As I was hiking along the road that morning I passed an olive orchard. Then I walked along a winery grape field. The grape wines were low enough that I could glimpse the hills that make Tuscany such a picturesque place. As I came to the end the second olive orchard I veered off the road and sneaked between the trees to come out to a wheat field where I finally got a clear unobstructed view of the valley.
I stopped to marvel at the thick fog blanketing the valley. The fog was slowly moving in waves and only tops of the hills were floating above it like ships in the ocean. I got my camera out and started taking pictures. The perfectionist in me was telling me to go to the town walls, that they would give me a bigger view, that it might be even better, that I would miss the sunrise if I stayed there.
And yet I stayed. I could not move. I could not abandon what I saw. And it dawn on me that the place, where I was, was the best place for me to be, because I was there alone, because I was the only witness to that particular moment, I was the only one there to capture it and share its beauty with others.
Every now and then I find myself making a photograph with very little in it, still, motionless. What is it about? It is about space, it is about simplicity, it is about tranquility.
Sometimes plans change and I’m glad about it.
My plan for the last weekend was to drive around and capture the last signs of fall. I planned to spend first day near Leavenworth. On the second day I planned to go to The Boardman Tree Farm in Oregon. I had never been there and wanted to take a look after seeing some amazing photos from there. After visiting the tree farm I going going to drive down to Columbia Gorge the same day and spend two days photographing along Columbia Gorge.
Everything had been going according to the plan up to the point I got to The Boardman Tree Farm. The place was simply amazing, magical in its fall glory. I did not want to go anywhere. Lines of trees with fall colors, scent of foliage in the air, quite and peace of a forest. I did not want to go anywhere. I was photographing and photographing and photographing. And when I was tired and could not photograph anymore I would just stand still and be part of the forest.
I’m back from Norway. Well, I’ve been back to Seattle for two months, enjoying my old friends: Olympic National Park, Rainier National Park, Enchantment Lakes and trails around Seattle.
One of the icon places in Rainier National Park is Reflection Lakes. In fact by far this is the place to photograph at sunrise. And pray the water is still as a mirror. I had not visited it for a while as it is over-photographed in my opinion. I had preferred exploring new places in this vast park.
On a whim of nostalgia since I have not been in the park for four months I went there to enjoy the classic view. It was the first freezing night of the season. Frost was covering grass, logs, and few remaining leaves. Fog was rising over the lakes and slowly moving over the still water.
There were a few more photographers besides me there. All of them trying to get as close as possible to the water going for pure perfect reflection photograph. I on the other hand step back a bit and have edge of the lake nicely framing the mountain reflection. Here is my almost classic image of the mountain:
But then I thought that what was really interesting and unique about that morning was the first frost. So, I walked away from the lake to the point where I had seen two logs pointing in the direction of the mountain. To me these images are more interesting. The first one was taken before sunrise during twilight and the second one was taken right after sunrise.
There is some mystery in images in clouds to me when I can barely make out something in soft whiteness rolling over the mountains. Images like these leave a lot of room for imagination. That’s what I love them for.
The whole area has frozen. My car was the only one on the roads making a new track in fresh snow. After driving around at the bottom of a fog ocean I drove to the top of Steptoe butte. As I were reaching the top I emerged from fog. The whole landscape opened up to my view: it was an endless sea of clouds with peaks of mountains like islands seen on horizon.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. Snow sparkling in the sun. Roads disappearing in the fog. Pristine white fields in small openings of white fog.
It was just too much beauty around my senses were exhausted. I was taking photos seemingly random, on instinct. I need it a rest.
Back from the top I dove my submarine back into the ocean of fog. Bitter cold but happy.
The next morning I woke up early to photograph sunrise. I had a place and scene in mind. Except as always the Nature has its own plans. Everything was still covered in thick fog. it make everything feel more enclosed putting white wall around. Everything was white, fresh and clean: snow on the ground and fog in the air.
There was no hint of sunrise. The fog was too deep for that. So I started to photograph snow in the Palouse in fog. As I was going thru the day my image became more and more abstract and the theme has become clearer: white out.
The whole area looked frozen and deserted. My car was the only one on the roads making a new track in fresh snow.
White out – the land is white and the sky is white. There is only thin line where land meets the sky. And nothing disturbs the quiet stillness of it all.
Snow in the Palouse, cold, windy… I went there again to see it, to photograph it, to experience it. And I was blown away by the beauty of it again.
I arrived there at night on the longest night in the northern hemisphere. Most of the drive was in the dark and most of it was snowless. But the temperature drop was noticeably. As I was driving I was watching outside temperature on my car dashboard. I wanted to know when it drops below freezing to drive slower in case there are ice patches on the road. As I got to the crossing over Columbia river I was watching in awe how temperature was dropping down another degree every 10-20 seconds. It was unbelievable: how temperature could go from +4 to –7C in a span of just a few kilometers.
As I was getting closer to Colfax the snow started showing up. It was getting thicker and thicker. It felt like the Palouse was the only place that had snow, isolated island of snow surrounded by bare land. And it was all in deep fog. It was beautiful. I just had to stop and photograph.
I stopped at the entrance to one of the side roads that was covered with too much snow, not drivable. I went to photograph a small farm by the road. I stayed close to the main road as snow was too deep to wonder off. I was taking picture after picture with long exposure. A snow plow truck passed by cleaning snow from the road. Smashing me with the powerful spray of wet snow and dirt. I was not angry, I was strangely calm, nothing could disturb me soaking up the beauty around me. And after all I saw his tracks – he tried to drive the truck farther away from me but splashing me was unavoidable.
I spent several more hours just driving around looking at all of it, enjoying all of it. Finally, past midnight I stopped, climbed into the back of my car and fell asleep, tired and happy.
There has been a lot of discussion of ETTR (Expose To The Right) on photographic blogs, websites and all kind of other publications. With this method you expose as high as possible with histogram touching the right edge. Here is one article that goes in depth on this method: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml.
The idea is that this produces maximum quality digital negative. Often this produces image that looks overexposed and later in post-production supposedly you can lower exposure to get naturally looking image but with higher quality.
While it looks reasonable that this may reduce signal-to-noise ratio, I noticed that this results in images looking too flat and with washed out colors. On my last trip I took two images one normally exposed and one exposed to the right. The scene is extremely simple which helps illustrate the difference in result. In post-production I reduced exposure of the ETTR image to match exposure of the first image. No other adjustments were done to either image. Here are results side-by-side:
Guess which one is which? The one on the left is taken with normal exposure, the one on the right is taken with ETTR and then reduced back exposure to match exposure of the first image. As you can see ETTR image results in less color and less contrast, i.e. lower dynamic range. To confirm this here are the corresponding histograms:
Just by looking at histograms you can see that the range of tonality is greater in normally exposed image as well as greater separation of colors. This seems to disprove the statement that the article I linked at the beginning does that ETTR image has greater dynamic range.
I don’t know about you by I’d rather expose right than expose to the right. This is just another case to demonstrate my main principle in photography: do what you like, what feels right to you. And no matter how convincing a new idea you read somewhere sounds, try it before using it, get your own feeling for it. If you really like it, use it, just make sure it is because you got your own understanding of it not because someone else told you to do it.
UPDATE: I’ve got requests to include original ETTR image with histogram. Here it goes.