Overskinned. Story 1

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.

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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.

Spring is Here

Finally, I’m done with processing my photos from my winter trip to Canadian Rockies. And all of a sudden spring arrived to Seattle. This means it is time for photographing cherry blossom. One of the most popular places for cherry blossom in Seattle is UW Quad. During weekend of nice weather the place is packed.

I typically go there early in the morning, somewhere around 6am. It is more deserted and with street lights it looks more interesting.

I noticed though that with each year more and more photographers come early too. On Saturday there were 20 photographers, on Sunday – 30. With tripods standing, bags lying on the ground and photographers walking around it becomes quite a challenge to have a clean photo. Well, it seems coming even earlier and on workday, I still can have the place to myself.

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Bubbles

The main attraction of the lake by the small town of Nordegg is bubbles caught in the ice. As the lake freezes bubbles of air float up from the bottom of the lake to the surface where they are captured and then enveloped by ice. Those frozen bubbles form amazing surreal three-dimensional structures.

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Tough Climate

I think these two quite different photos capture the same feeling of the tough climate of Canadian Rockies in winter. Deep freeze ice with temperatures well below zero kept clean by sweeping winds so strong at times that it is hard to stay in one place on the ice.

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Pastel Colors

I’m not sure whether it is a period in my life or my art but I’m more and more drawn to pastel colors. I remember seeking the brightest most vivid colors possible. I remember pushing colors as much as they’d go. Don’t get me wrong. If a photo has bright colors and it works I’ll keep it that way. But I see more and more photos in my collection with muted soft pastel colors.

Such as this photo. The is no awe inspiring sunrise or sunset on it but there is soft pink glow in the clouds that make my crazy about this photo.

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The challenge with sharing such photos digitally is that subtle variations of color in most cases are lost when viewing them on non-calibrated monitors which is vast majority of monitors. Well, not much I can do about that.

Red Morning

Photographing sunrises and sunset is hard on Hawaii. Being close to equator the Sun pops up and quickly rises in the morning and it quickly drops down in the evening. There literally second to photograph sunrise or sunset.

Additional challenge for me was that at the place where we stayed the sunrise was blocked off by a mountain and clouds that the mountain attracted. I would have a peak of great clouds and light over the mountain thru trees, wires and buildings, wishing I’d be there every morning. Unfortunately, the was no road there.

Then one morning the clouds over the mountain cleared out and the light of sunrise spilled over the whole sky. The sky turned red and cast red light on the ocean and the land. And the ocean and the land turned red. Good thing I was persistent in going out every morning, hoping for a great light show. Persistence pays off.

Red Morning

Persistance Pays Off

If you go over and over to the same place something interesting is bound to happen.

There is a well-known blowhole north of Napili on Maui. I’ve been to it and photographed way back on the first trip. The photos back then were just documenting an event of water blasting up from the blowhole. This time I went there at sunrise. I knew that it was not a great spot for sunset ahead of time from looking at a map. The location of it is such that sunset light is blocked by a mountain.

The wind was great. It was a soft breeze from the show to the ocean. It was blowing off water dust. I remembered last time I had been there there was a strong wind from the ocean and I could come anywhere close to the blowhole. It would quickly soak me with water.

This time I could come close to the blowhole. It turned out there was a nice niche by the blowhole where I could setup a tripod and stay out of the water’s way. It was also facing sunrise – a perfect spot.

The first time I went there the blowhole was putting out a great show but the sky was grey and uninspiring. The second time there was some color in the sky but the water from the blowhole was too dark in a shadow. My persistence paid off the third time. I waited a little bit longer and the sun broke thru the clouds and lit up the blowhole fountain. NOW everything was in place!

Enchantment Lakes [18]

Day 5. Wake up!

Josh woke me up way before sunrise as I asked him last night. He was the only one with an alarm watch. I was hard to wake up. Morning sleep is the sweetest sleep of all! Especially after night with wind gusts waking me up every now and then.

Over night clouds moved in. This was great for photography. It was our last sunrise at Enchantments.

I tried to wake up John but he refused. He was tired and sick. It was still dark but I saw some color in the sky and took a few long exposures. I saw on the back of my camera that the sky was already red. I showed it to John and that woke him up. He went on with his plan to climb back up to Core Enchantments. And on the way there he made one of the best photos of the trip.

I went to the spot which I found the night before. The sunrise was blocked off by a small ridge on the right but I did not count on it. I was counting on Prusik Peak lighting up and photographing its reflection in Lake Viviane. Unfortunately the wind was still strong and the lake was unrestful. There was no reflection and the sky remained dark.

I lost hope to get good photo. Suddenly a cloud above the Prusik Peak lighted up with bright red. I started taking one panorama after another not sure if I got it. Only when I assembled panoramas back at home I found out that I got it in one of them! (click on the image to see it larger)


Morning at Lake Viviane

Enchantment Lakes [14]

Day 4. Catch the light

The day before when Josh and I went to photograph sunrise to Leprechaun Lake, John stayed by the camp and photographed by Perfection Lake. At night we shared what we got and I liked what I saw in the back of John’s camera (here is the image that John posted on his blog). So the next morning I stayed by Perfection Lake for sunrise.

The night was cold, bitterly cold. There was frost on the ground. The first light that hit the granite wall was deep red:

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In just less than a minute it turned yellow. In fact the panorama above is the only image I’ve captured with that light. After that it looked like this:

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New eyes

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust

Have I been to Mount Rainier National Park many times? Sure, I have. It is the closest national park to my home. Have I got a lot of photos from Mount Rainier National Park that I’m proud of? Nope. After all the trips I still did not have emotional connection with that place. The photos, while technically ok, were lacking emotions, strong graphics, or something interesting happening to me. As a result I thought Mount Rainier landscape was just not for me and have not visited it for a long time. Until recently.

Recently a group of three local photographers – Andrey Cherepakhin, John Song and Protik Hossain – lured me to go to Rainier again. They had specific places in mind which I have not visited before. I went along. And I’m glad I did.

Was the trick in having new eyes or was it in visiting places off a beaten path? I don’t know. One of those or both did the trick. Finally, I got photos that are beyond high quality snapshots and capture some emotional scenes of Mount Rainier.

PS At first I stopped typing here and just added photos below. Then I thought it would be worthwhile sharing what I liked about each of them.

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Summer Light and Pattern in a Chaos. I like summer feel of this photo. It was taken “into the sun”, bringing out a lot of green in the grass and lighting up the flowers. I like the contrast between light in the meadow and darkness in the trees. I like V-shape of two slopes. I like how seemingly random while flowers see to be in inverted V shape that draws you into the picture, gives it depth and perspective.

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Light and Shapes. Obviously the reflection is nice in absolutely still water. But what I really like in this photo is the light of the sun right before sunset caught in a sheet of ice floating in the water. The other thing that I like is that the shape of the highlighted piece of ice repeats the shape of Rainier in background.

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Light, Cloud and Frame. The cloud sitting on the top of Rainier, lit up by sunrise is an obvious thing that I like about this photo. The other two are how the mountain is framed by the tree on the left and the tree on the right and how flowers lead to the mountain.

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Shape and Curve. Rock formation on the right and the mountain make up one large curve.

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Leading line. The trail is strongly visible in the right bottom corner of the image continues later closer the center of the image, leading to Tatoosh Range in the distance.

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Layers. There are many layers in this photo on different levels. First, foreground – rock and flowers, middle ground – rocks, stream and snow, mountain and sky in background. Second, half in shadow, half in light. Third, interleaving layers of light snow and dark rocks.

And of cause the cloud lit up from inside is great!

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Mood. Reflection and Clouds. I like reflection of the mountain among the rocks. The cloud around the mountain grew in size to fill up the sky while still keeping the circles around the mountain.

And I like the tough mood of the high elevation landscape. The unrest in the sky. The anticipation of cold fall ahead. A reminder that the summer was almost over.

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Mood. This photo reminds me the kind of photos I see from Iceland. Dramatic heavy skies and flat light. Tough climate creates tough landscape be it Iceland or this small oasis at Mt Rainier.

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Emotions and Light. I like this photo for the same dramatic skies combined with a tenderness of flowers and a island of light breaking thru the clouds.

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