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.

Experiencing a Place

Lately I started doing something different on my photographic road trips. Staying somewhere for a while. Somewhere quiet with only sounds of nature around.

I don’t mean like backpacking or camping which I like to do a lot. But sometime whether is not very enjoyable for those activities. Rain or snow makes backpacking rather a serious ordeal.

Instead I just drive into remote enough location, open the back of my SUV and sit in the back, looking outside, enjoying sounds of nature, reading a book or typing this blog.

Right now I’m in Steptoe Butte park in the Palouse. It is snowing lightly with sun breaking thru the snow. It is a beautiful winter day. I’m sitting in the back of the car and typing this blog.

I’ve tried to get to the top of the Steptoe Butte… unsuccessfully. The road is not maintainable in winter with lots of snow on it. The temperature is just right for packed slick snow under the tires. Even with all wheel drive I was sliding down instead of driving up.

So, I backed down to the small parking at the bottom of the butte and decided to just enjoy this beautiful winter day.

As I sit and quiet down I start noticing signs of coming spring. The sun is warm and pleasant. Birds are chirping outside. Somewhere under the white cover small streams of melted snow can be heard running briskly and happily.

I’ll probably take a few pictures later but for now I’m just enjoying the place.

My Backyard

Life is full of experiences, exciting and mundane, surprising and routine, spending time with loved ones and grocery shopping and paying bills. It is not always that I can find time to go on a trip to some exciting location.

I dream. I dream a lot. I dream big. I dream of a life in a wilderness, photographing, painting, being creative all the time. But…

To be honest, as much as much as the dream of being in the wilderness all the time seems to be attractive it is not all that makes me happy. Having someone I love and who loves me back fulfills my life with happiness that I cannot draw from the wilderness. All the exciting and quiet moments shared together fill me with joy.

To be honest, as much as I want to photograph all the time, I have a limit to my creativity. After the first few active days on a trip I find myself exhausted and numb to everything around me.

To be honest, if I truly want to be creative, all I need is to take my camera and step out into my own backyard. Because that is all it takes to find this…

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

Freezing Temperatures

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

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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.

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