National Park in the Backyard

Camera – check. Batteries – check. Boots, backpack, tripod… I’m ready to go.

For a while I had been obsessed with an idea of finding interesting pictures in my backyard, in my neighborhood, in the parks nearby. I thought of it as my personal challenge: finding interesting images where I live without going far away to popular photographic destinations.

One of the outcomes of it was an ongoing project “My Backyard” with a new installment published to my website every year. This time I took it one step further though. I decided to treat a patch of wilderness in the middle of my neighborhood as a National Park. I got all my gear the way I would take it on a hike in a national park. I got water and snack and I went exploring.

There was a well developed trail around the lake used by runners, joggers, and walkers. Along it there were plenty of side trails just begging to be explored. I walked to that trail briskly. Once I got on the lake trail I slowed down watching out for the side trails that would get me closer to the water.

Some were well-walked. Others were barely visible and somehow more enticing: following them I would make my way through shrubbery and brambles to eventually get close to water. A wall of trees would isolate me from civilization creating a realm of nature with its own sounds, with its own beauty.

Just like that, following one of those side trails, I found a place that would be great for taking pictures at sunset. Perched up on the log I settled down waiting for the sunset. Time flowed past quietly unnoticeably and somehow the wait was over. The warm colors of sunset was filling the sky. The tops of the trees were still holding the sun by its last rays. And the lake was reflecting it all in the upside down world…

I got home well after dark. I was tired but happy that I went on an amazing hike in the patch of wilderness in my neighborhood.

Cold is a Good Motivator

I’ve just got back from a trip to Banff and Abraham lake in Canada. What an adventure! Not all of it was safe or easy. Winter roads can be quite challenging to drive.

My body was challenged too with the cold that I’ve never experienced before in my life. First day it was -31C. The day after it was -21C which seemed like an improvement but it was slightly windy which made it feel even colder.

On the third night I wake up earlier to photograph sunrise at Abraham lake. The place is popular for photography due to natural phenomenon. The lake freezes up deeply during winter and as freezes up methane bubbles rising from the lake bottom get captured any preserved in the ice creating fantastic three-dimensional structures.

As I got to the lake, to location I explored and decided on the day before. It was cold, very cold. The wind was howling outside rocking my car from side to side. Despite layers and layers of clothes I had on me, once I stepped outside I got cold within seconds.

I immediately got back in the car. I could not convince my body to go outside again. No matter how beautiful sunrise was going to be I could hike to the lake and back in such weather.

As I was faced with this challenged my first reaction was to just sit in the car and watch the sunrise. Then I thought that maybe I should get out of the box and photograph something else. I remembered the trees with a small frozen pond around them with ice shining like a mirror. I drove to that place. It was cold but it was quiet, still, no wind at all. I felt warm and cozy.

That ended up the place where I photographed the sunrise. There were no bubbles in the ice in my photos but the sky was nice and I liked the trees and the frozen pond around them.

In fact, I realized, I’m not that attached to the bubbles in the ice. I’m fascinated with the phenomenon and I like to look at them but I don’t feel emotional connection to the scenes involving them. Thanks to extreme cold and wind that drove me away from the lake I found something of my own, something that I enjoyed more photographically.

Tranquility

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.

New Year, New Challenges

I celebrated this New Year in Stockholm, Sweden. This was mostly a social and sightseeing trip but I still took my trusted camera because… just because that’s the way I am.

What was different this time though is that I did not take my tripod. I tried to challenge myself to capture fleeting moments, to be more mobile and to create a story with several photos.

This is very different from the way I am used to take photos. Many of my photos have long exposure, taken from a tripod and I spend a lot of time in the same spot, trying various angles, adjusting framing, micro-adjusting positioning of the camera to take the best image possible.

What I had not realized just how little light Stockholm gets in winter even during midday. I had to crank up exposure to 400-800 ISO just to get 1/40 sec exposure with fully open aperture during day. Nights were out of the question. So, I missed my tripod.

Finally on the last day of my stay in Stockholm something happened that made things a little bit brighter: snow. Rather then going into the city I went into kind of park and kind of forest. Turns out it does not matter where I go, I enjoy hiking in the nature. Nothing better for me. And hiking in the snow was a special treat.

There is a special kind of silence reserved only for quiet snowfalls. There is absolutely no sounds. Everything is still like a picture. And only snowflakes dancing in the air.

P.S. In retrospective it was a good decision not to take tripod on that trip. Even though I could not know way back that it would be a good decision. On the way back my luggage was lost and the airline has no idea where it is. But I have my tripod with me safely at home.

Moments of Quiet

There are moments in the Nature so quiet and peaceful that I’m reflexively holding my breath afraid that the mere whisper of breathing will destroy the magic of the place.

I love nature, I love wilderness not only for what it is but also for an opportunity to run away from the noise, chaos and often purposelessness of our civilization.

That’s why I so much like to go to Olympic National Park in winter. The weather is less than inviting most of the time that keeps most tourists out and I often have places crowded in summer to myself. They become something else allowing truly appreciate their beauty.

When I find such a place where I experience a sense of harmony with my surroundings I put  camera aside and just enjoy those moments of quiet and peace; following leisurely moving waves on a lake or slow floating clouds in the sky. And I feel like I belong here.

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Crescent Lake

Random Stops

My excuse to mostly travel by car is “to stop and photograph along the way”. I know it is only an excuse though because once I get on the road I keep going without stopping all the way to the destination.

One reason I don’t stop along the way is because I’m putting my tunnel vision goggles on. I’m imagining the photographs I’ll do at the destination and want to get there as fast as possible.

Another reason which is much deeper and scarier is that I’m afraid to fail. I mean I can stop somewhere and there would be nothing to photograph. No, that’s not the right way to say it. There is always something to photograph. But there would be nothing that I’d like to photograph, there would be nothing that connects with me, nothing that relates to me. And I would be just wasting my time.

It takes an effort – it still does and likely will always do – to overcome that and force myself to stop at random places. Sure in 99.99% of cases I don’t find anything that would meet my eye. But then in that very small percentage point I’d find something like this and my heart starts to sing.

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Winter Storm in Enchantments

Two weeks ago I went on a trip to Enchantment Lakes. This is an area not far from where I live. It is high in the mountains, isolated and beautiful. The last two are the reason why so many backpackers want to get there. In fact so many that there is limited number of permits given each year. It helps protect fragile unique ecosystem of the area.

For three years I’ve been trying to get a permit to backpack to Enchantment Lakes during peak fall color of larches growing there. Finally, this year I got it.

Right before going to the Enchantments I got cold. But that would not stop me. The forecast was for rain. That would not stop me either. I just got more rain gear with me.

As I was walking up to Enchantments I met many people coming down telling me that there had been snow the night before. Everyone was leaving. And I was getting more excited. Snow in Enchantments – it must be beautiful.

When I got to Enchantments the snow is mostly melted. The larches were beautiful – at the peak of fall color. I was the only backpacker there.

The first night was very cold but the next day was calm and warm. The second night I learnt what winter storm meant up in the mountain, up in the Enchantments. It was freezing. The wind gusts were so loud they would wake me up. There was heavy snowfall. I had to push snow off the tents walls, so my tent would not collapse under its weight. Finally by the morning it quieted down and I could get some restful sleep.

I worried about getting back the whole night. But when I got out in the morning and looked around it was amazing. I laughed like crazy, the beauty was overwhelming. Fresh white snow, not touched, not stepped on, all around. Yellow larches. Cloudy sky with glimpses of blue. I forgot about all my worries. I forgot about getting back. I beheld the most amazing sight in my life.

There are a lot of photos to work thru now but the most important thing I took with me is an amazing experience. For now here are some images of my tent as it went thru me stay there.

Day 2. MorningDay 2. Evening before the stormDay 3. Morning after the stormDay 3. Afternoon. The site as I left it

One Step Back

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.

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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.

Like a Pianist

Recently (four months ago) I bought myself a new camera. Just then I understood just how much my previous camera had become an extension of me. I did not even think about controls, I just thought about picture I want and fingers did all the work.

There was a lot to learn with the new camera. I’ve read thru the manual repeating all the steps that I thought were important to me. I started making photos. I stumbled over and over, had to think about what buttons to press, what dials to turn. Many pictures went straight to trash – they were technically very bad: out of focus, under-exposed, over-exposed.

I kept practicing. I had to re-read parts of the manual because I forgot how to make certain adjustments. At last during the trip to Alberta I noticed that my fingers do all the work automatically again. It was such a pleasant feeling to be in control of the camera again. I somehow think it is similar to how pianist is playing on a piano.

Here is the final set of images from the trip.

Never Can Take the Same Photo Twice

“No man ever steps in the same river twice” – Heraclitus

There is a set of small lakes near Banff called Vermillion Lakes. They are easier to access and a nice spot for sunrise photography. I visited them several times: on my way to Abraham Lake and on the way back. They are mostly frozen during winter that is if the winter is actually cold but there are a few of hot springs coming into them that never seem to freeze up.

I found myself a nice cozy place there which I kept coming back to photograph over and over. Initially, I wanted to repeat the photo I took the first time, just with a slightly different composition. When I came the second time though I discovered that the weather changed the look completely. After that the change itself was more interesting to me. So, I kept coming to the same place to see how it looks like at sunrise or sunset, how it looks in warmer weather and in colder weather.

Here are a few photos that I like the most out of my study of the same place.

Sunrise after snowfall:

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Twilight before sunrise with warm weather:

Sunset with clear sky when the temperature dropped below 0C again. I’ve waited for this one until gradient of color reaches its peak. (BTW, I love watching Earth’s shadow moving across the sky.)