Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.
I’ve just returned from a trip to the Death Valley where I spent several days with a photographer friend photographing at various locations around the valley. It involved a lot of driving and hiking and of course photography. We woke up before sunrise and hiked in the dark to a location to photograph at sunrise every day. We drove quite a bit to remote locations where we photographed sunset, then drove back in the dark.
It sounds very tiresome but it was not because we’d have fun playing photographic jokes on each other, taking silly pictures, sharing and laughing at them. Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.
The morning in the backcounty of the Monument Valley started with rain. The sky was overcast. There was no sunrise.
We photographed anyway because we were there. It is better to do than do not. I photograph whereever I am and whenever I am. Who knows when is the next time the opportunity like that presents itself.
After about an hour of photographing we decided it was time to go back. As we packed up the sun broke thru the clouds. The was only one whole in the clouds and a spot of light was slowly moving across the valley lighting up its different features creating new and new images.
We’ve unpacked and started photographing the same place all over again. This time in a new light.
This is yet another of the posts in line with the previous one where I advocate for not falling into a trap of repeating cliché image of a place but instead finding your own point of view.
There is an alley not far from my house with a trees that turn beautiful red in fall. The alley is on private property – fenced and gated. The place is quite popular in fall with local photographers. There are a few photographers there every morning taking photos thru the gate or waiting for their turn to take the photos thru the gate. I did so to. Mine look at little bit like painting because I used Orton effect.
Then I stepped back yielding the place to another photographer and realized that there is more interesting image with the gate which tells completely different story. It is not about lines of trees and foliage anymore. It is about something unachievable, out of reach, another world behind the gate. It is about reality and a dream world and the gate separating the two.
Sunrise at Maroon Bells Lake
(A series of three stories – frustrating, scary and happy – with a common thread.)
At the dawn of photography back in 19th century there was this guy by the name Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr who was a big advocate for photography in general and travel photography in particular. He talked about taking a photograph as taking a “skin” of reality that was based on his interpretation of an old Greek myth. I don’t want to go too far into that direction as it is not the point of my blog post. The interesting part is that he also warned of possibility of overskinning some scenes. He was concerned that some scenes might be photographed to the point when the scenes themselves will be not interesting. I came face to face with that on my trip to Colorado this fall.
Pacific Northwest has very limited opportunities for fall colors. You’d need to scramble for interesting fall color compositions outside cities in evergreen forests. Going to Colorado and diving into fall colors was a long waiting dream of mine. This year I finally went there. It turned to be a lot of what I expected, a lot more than I expected and some that I’d rather not have. This three stories with a common theme of what photography is for me and what it is not.
Since it was my first time in Colorado I did not have any places of my own in mind; I mostly traveled to well-known places. One of such places is Maroon Bells Lake. It is considered an iconic place of Colorado. Another photographer who went there last year warned me to come an hour before sunrise as there are quite a few photographers coming there to photograph sunrise there.
I scouted the place I want to photograph a day before and showed up there about an hour before sunrise. There were about 20 more photographers along the lake. The place I had scouted the day before was not occupied. I set up my camera on tripod and started waiting. It was freezing cold but everyone was jolly with anticipation. Over the hour that followed number of photographers slowly grew to 70 but everyone was polite and asked if they’re in the way when they setup camera.
Everything was well right up to sunrise, crowded but well. Right before sunrise a guy showed up and put his tripod right in front of my camera. When I politely noted that I was photographing there and he was blocking part of my frame, he said that everyone else was photographing too and would not move. I was pissed but not sure what to do about it except to frame a different image. There was still no way to completely avoid him, so I removed him from a corner of my image in Photoshop.
Next morning I went there without much enthusiasm but with a hope to still take the image I wanted. When I arrived there were already about 50 photographers. The spot where I wanted to make a photo was taken. I got what I got. By the sunrise there were more than a hundred photographers. It was crowded and did not feel very friendly. A guy on the right was frustrated with his gear which he had too much of; switching it constantly in indecision what to use; getting tangled up in it. I was locked into taking one and only one composition. Anything else would mean getting a bunch of tripods in my frame or getting myself into someone else’s frame. Can I be creative in such environment? No.
Day 3. Morning
Sunrise is always tricky in the mountains. From our camp Prusik Peak was blocking our view toward sunrise which made it hard to make out how close sunrise was.
Josh and I took off back toward Leprechaun Lake while John stayed to photograph near the camp. Once Josh and I got out of Prusik Peak shadow we saw the sky burning red. It meant that we took off too late. Walking turned into running, trying to get to the area between Perfection Lake and Leprechaun Lake which was the only one opened to sunrise.
We did not get there in time to photograph sunrise but we got there in time to catch the first rays of son shaving the tops of the larches.
I have a pattern of being later. I always get too involved in photographing wherever I’m and end up being late for photographing sunset wherever I want to photograph sunset. Or I wake up just a little bit late and late to photographing sunrise.
Sometimes it plays out well though. Like in this case I was driving to photograph sunrise at mountain Rainier and I was late, I was too late.
On the way there I was passing a lake as usual. The morning was very cold and steam was rising from the lake. The sky had just a touch of pastel pink from a distant sunrise. I decided that this scene was worth stopping and photographing. Even though I was in a hurry. And that’s how I met the sunrise.
I’ve passed by Lake Crescent many many times. It is a large lake and one of the important features of Olympic National Park with its deep incredibly clean water. Over the years I’ve stopped at different places around it and taken several photos, but have not got any really interesting ones.
Eventually I gave up and was just passing it by on my way to the beaches of the Pacific coast. But as you know persistence pays off. So, this summer I was driving from the beaches back home and as usual my way back was around the lake. This time was different…
I saw this beautiful scene. Finally the lake opened up its soul to me. It was calm and serene. Mist was hanging over the lake hiding the west bank. Mountain ridges were coming down to the lake becoming softer and softer in the distance with shades of pastel blue. The water was like a glass perfectly reflecting the mountains and the pastel pink sky. Two trees were standing aside on the right bank. And one small next to them. Like a family that came out to the lake to have fun by its side.
Dawn at Lake Crescent
The first morning in Shelter Cove was filled with fog. And it was the kind of morning fog when the air is still and quiet. It was moving, swirling, raising and falling back to Earth breaking into myriad of due drops.
We chased the fog around but it was tough to find a good view point to get a good photos of Shelter Cove in fog. Eventually we found one:
After that we dived into the fog and went to Black Beach:
Day 2, After Dawn
Photographing Badwater is all about finding lines that are interesting a leading somewhere. Like in this photo I found a line that can be anchored in the bottom corners and goes into the image pointing toward a cloud in the sky. And there is a nice loop at the end of it that matches the cloud.
The goal on my last trip to Yosemite was to wake up before sunrise every day and be at a point of interest early before sunrise. First day I woke up at four in the morning before alarm even went off. I guess I was refreshed and eager to photograph.
Next day I missed it. The alarm probably went off but I did not hear it. (This type of things happen when there is a load river rushing down just outside your tent. I’ve learnt the lesson and put alarm next to my ear the next night.) So, what do you do in this case? Stay in a sleeping bag for a bit more and let yourself relax? Or do you get packed quickly and move to capture whatever is left of early morning?
At first I wanted to be lazy but then I thought that I came there to photograph and I would photograph. We packed quickly and went to Tunnel View again. And I was so glad we did! When we got to the Tunnel View (for the third time during the trip), we saw fog flowing into the Yosemite Valley and clouds falling down from El Capitan like waterfalls.