Being One With the Place

Last week I just spent a few days in the Palouse and something unusual happened on that trip. I did not take pictures there. That’s right, I spent several days in one of the most sought after photographic destinations in the world and for a few days I did not take a single picture.

It’s important to mention that I had  been to the Palouse many times before and had taken countless pictures there. But not this time.

When I got there this time I realized that I didn’t have anything else to say about it; I have exhausted my visual language in photographing it. And instead of photographing it I decided to experience it. Simply being present there.

Instead of driving up to location for sunrise when an alarm went off after a night sleep in the car I was peering through the windows covered with a veil of snow white petals taken off the apple tree I was parked under by the gusts of wind whose rhythmic shaking of my car lulled me to sleep the night before.

Instead of driving around looking for photographic opportunity I was sitting at the top of Steptoe Butte, reading a book, doing some work, or just staring in the distance.

Walking among the trees of abandoned orchard I’d stop caught by the singing of the birds. I’d stand for I don’t know how long listening to them because the time lost its meaning and only the melody of the nature remained. I’d stand as quietly as possibly and just listen.

Next day I walked to the top of the Steptoe Butte proudly towering over the ocean of rolling hills. There’s a road there going all the way up. That’s how most people get there and that’s how I used to get there too. But, I wondered, what it would be like to walk that road instead. I drove to the top first, left my car there and walked down to the base of the butte. That way I would not chicken out and turn around half way to the top. I’d have to go all the way because that was where my car was. Following a spiraling road bound around the butte a few times down I went.

Walking it gave me a new appreciation of Steptoe Butte diverse natural beauty. A green carpet of grass with orange and purple and yellow and blue polka dots of wild flowers was covering the slope.  A multitude of plum and apple trees covered in blossom ranging from pure white to gentle pink were rising from that carpet. And isolated rock gardens not tamed by the vegetation yet.

On the way back I spotted a faint trail going up, more likely walked by wild animals than people. I took it. And just like that my walk turned into a real adventure. I found wild flowers I had never seen before, I experienced rich scents I had never smelled before, I saw a herd of deer that quickly retreated away from me and an ant mound that I carefully walked around at a safe distance.

A patch of trees that seemed insignificant from the road turned out to be a real forest where one could use ‘up’ as the only way to keep walking in the same direction. I had to find my way, sometimes walking around spiky bumbles, sometimes retreating and finding another way when facing especially dense vegetation. When I finally walked out of the forest onto the road I was rich with new experiences and much closer to the top than I expected.

In the end I did take a few pictures when the light was so dramatic that it was hard to stay away from the camera.

Camp Muir

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.

_DSC6589

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.

_DSC6604

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.

_DSC6609

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.

_DSC6624

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.

_DSC6640

_DSC6661

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.

_DSC6671

_DSC6677

_DSC6679

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.

_DSC6659

It took me five hours to get up to Camp Muir. It took me only one and a half hours to get down.

 

Believe in it

Recently I went on a trip with my girlfriend to Rowena Crest to photograph wild flowers. As we stopped by one of many meadows filled with bright yellow flowers I asked her a question.

“Look,” I said, “there is this meadow of flowers. I bet there are good photos here but I don’t see any. What about you? Do you see any?”

Her reply made me think for a while about my motivation: “You need to believe that the place is beautiful to make beautiful photos.”

I realized that I did not think that particular meadow was very beautiful. There were random patches of flowers. None really stood out.

The reason I wanted to take pictures was that it was a rare opportunity for me: those flowers were there for a short time a year and we had to drive four hours to get there. As such I wanted to squeeze every possible photo from every meadow we came across.

I still took a few pictures there but I did not have a goal of making beautiful pictures. I was experimenting with compositions, finding patterns in a chaos and leading lines in twisted tree branches.

I did make beautiful pictures on that trip in the places I believed to be beautiful.

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.

One Day in Kauai

The day started as any other Hawaiian day. The sky was cloudy at the northeast end of Kauai just as any other day of the last vacation. My first look out of the window at the clouds, palm trees, the ocean, beach, and mountains in the distance. Hey, there in the mountains something interesting was going on. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up one of the mountains in the ridge.

That was interesting. I setup my tripod in my hotel room, put my camera on, pointed it out of the window at the landscape outside and took a photo.

The fall weather in northeast Kauai is typically very unstable. In just a few minutes the light completely changed. I took another photo. The change itself had become interesting. Thus a day long project was born: the composition was framed and unchanged for the whole day but any time light changed I would take a photo.

Here is the final selection of the images from that day.

 

Only Mountains Can Be Better Than Mountains

When someone mentions Hawaii what do you think about? Sandy beaches? Blue ocean? Palm trees?

***

I go to Hawaii every year for the past I don’t know how many years. Over time I noticed a pattern: I’m more and more drawn to inland of an island. To the mountains, cold rough peaks, tropical forests.

Most memorable time of my last trip to Kauai was a hike thru a tropical forest in Waimea canyon. It was windy, cold, with a drizzle. And it was mesmerizing. I have not brought any images from the hike but I brought my best emotions from it.

Now that I’m reviewing images from the whole trip I noticed that I have not a single image of palm tree or a sandy beach. I have images of ocean but it is not blue and pleasant. It is rough and grey fighting with a rocky shore.

Next time I go to Kauai, I’ll likely spend even more time hiking inland.

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.

_dsc8079
Crescent Lake

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.

Two Problems

There are two problems in photography: too little good pictures and too many good pictures. I’m joking of cause. There are a lot of more important problems like soul searching. But that’s the problem that I face right now: there are just too many good pictures from the trip to Enchantment lakes.

Almost every photo is “golden”. Either I’m a good photographer or golden larches make every picture “golden”. The place is just too beautiful to fail to impress.

With that here is one photo that I really like.

Sunrise in Enchantments
Sunrise in Enchantments

Interpretations

There is an infinite number of ways to interpret that same scene, the same photo, the same subject. The interpretation very much depends on my emotional state.

My photographs are more a reflection of me than a capture of reality. This sounds cliché but it is true. I’m very much surprised but this myself.

Naturally my emotional state changes over time and images that used to speak to me seem to be silent now. The opposite is true. Sometimes I find gems in images long forgotten.

The changes of my emotions even change the way I interpret images in post processing. Look at these two images. The exact same scene the almost exact same photo.

First one is the image I captured. It is dark and grey. It is an image of depression, being lost with no way out.</p

Then the image after processing. When I process images I rarely have a plan; I’m exploring letting it take me wherever it wants to take me, looking for something that resonate with me. In this case I ended up with an image of hope.