When I venture out with a camera, I never know what might happen. Typically, I am fortunate to get one photograph I like in a day of being out, and often I bring home nothing worth inflicting on the general public. Ansel Adams, who photographed far more regularly than I do, once said that he was happy to get a dozen good photographs a year. He went on to clarify this doesn’t mean great photographs, just good ones!
A few weeks ago I made plans for a day of a backcountry ski touring with my wife and some friends at one of our local haunts, Crater Lake. During the summer Crater Lake National Park can be a challenging place to photograph (unless one is satisfied with a blue sky panorama of the entire lake, many of which can be found through an internet search) but, like many places, winter snow cleans everything up visually. So I threw in a camera, in the hopes of getting a decent photo or two.
We drove to the park through a thick, dense fog. I enjoy photographing in fog, as it can often eliminate background clutter, but some fog is so dense that there is no sense of light, and this was like that. It brightened, however, as we gained elevation on the drive, and we could see bits of blue sky when we parked. With skis on, we climbed up and out of the fog, into a beautiful sunny day! Empty blue sky can be the bane of a landscape photographer, as can be mid-day light. But the sky issue can be resolved by simply including very little or none of it in a photograph, and the mid-day sun around the time of the winter solstice can give nice, long shadows. (See the second photograph below.) In the end, I made a number of images that are satisfying to me, although some will probably be culled from my portfolio as time goes on. The following are my favorites from the day, with a brief description of the circumstances surrounding each.
A common sight near treeline at Crater Lake is groups of small hemlock trees (given away by their drooping tops), usually covered with ice and looking like little trolls huddling together. I’m always on the lookout for these gatherings, and found a couple good ones as we climbed to higher elevations. In the first you can see in the background the dense layer of fog covering the Klamath Basin, with the top of a hill poking out.
We skied to the top of Garfield Peak, where we had a panoramic view of the lake. Going as close as a I dared to the edge of an overhanging cornice of snow, I saw the Phantom Ship highlighted by a bit of light coming over the rim of the crater. The Phantom Ship is a small island of craggy rocks that suggest sails of a ship. I’m not certain about the “phantom” part of its name, but I would guess it is due to the fact that the island can be difficult to see unless a person is in a good spot, and the light is favorable. On this occasion the light was perfect:
We then ventured along the rim from Garfield Peak to Applegate Peak, and I photographed this cornice along the way:
After making some turns down Applegate Peak, we descended into the clouds. As we first got into the fog, it was penetrated by a bit of sun, giving an ethereal quality to the light. I stopped to photograph a couple small trees poking out of the snow:
At that point I was thrilled to have had the photographic opportunities that I had, but there was yet one more to come. As we skied down the East Rim Road back to our vehicle, through the trees next to the road I caught occasional glimpses of a hillside of snow-covered trees across a small valley. I stopped at several openings, and through one of them I spied a lone tree on our side of the valley, against a backdrop of trees on the other side. I made a number of photographs while clouds drifted across the far ridgetops, with this photo giving the best arrangement of clouds:
All in all, it was a wonderful day of skiing and photographing, one that I will not soon forget!
For those who want to know about gear: Much of my photography over the past five years has been done with 4x5 large format and 6x7 medium format cameras, using black and white film, but those are just too large and unwieldy for me to want to take on outings like this one. People have quite successfully photographed with such equipment in difficult conditions, but here I was trying to integrate photography into an outing for which my partners had a non-photographic agenda! I needed to be able to make photographs quickly, so as not to hold the others up too much. I also wanted the option of getting either color or black and white photographs, and to have a range of focal lengths.
The camera/lens combination used to make the images was an Olympus micro four-thirds camera (E-M1 Mark III) with a 12-100mm zoom lens (equivalent to 24-200mm on a full frame or 35mm camera). The camera has image stabilization, which can give good results shooting hand-held. I carry the camera in a “holster bag” on my chest, and I use a lens hood when photographing. Adequately covering the range that the lens does with my 4x5 camera would require seven lenses! The Olympus camera and lens together are fairly compact and weigh about 2 ½ pounds, a perfect setup for a day like the one described.