Blazing photography trails

Talk to enough young photographers who are beginning to be successful getting their work into commerce or galleries and you’ll hear a common refrain, “no body cares what equipment you use or how hard it was to get the shot, they only care about the image.”

Photography seems to be somewhat unique among the arts in that fixation on the gear is almost equal to consideration of the product.  Can you imagine complimenting a painter on the quality of their brushes or a sculptor on the type of chisels they use?  Or about the adventures encountered while traveling to create their pieces?  Never seems to come up but listen to conversations between patrons and photographers and gear quickly enters the discussion.

Well, since this is apparently the only place I CAN talk about these things, I offer for your consideration the following:

Wild Goose Island, Glacier National Park, ISO 100, 26mm, 1/160 sec., f/5.6

I believe this is the only island in the whole park, making it one of the most photographed elements in the area.  To the left of this perspective is a nice pull-off where you can walk a few feet off the road and get a great sunrise photo of the island and the lake.  To the right of this perspective is a large, paved overlook that provides a view of the lake and the island in the distance.  Both vantage points are usually filled with photographers and one of those scenes will show up in everyone’s bunch of photos from the park.  I have numerous versions of each.

My issue with those two choices is the sun is either fully in front of or behind the island, offering no contrast to give a sense of depth.  It’s only from the side you can get that view.  I wondered why there aren’t any images from that perspective, especially since the road follows the lake with a couple of pull-outs along the way.  And, from the western overlook I could see a couple of large rocks high on the shoreline above the island, devoid of trees.  I decided that is where I wanted to shoot from.

Five minutes into my hike to the rocks I discovered why I don’t see this image.

Between the storms and snow that assault the park every year, hundreds of trees get knocked over.  Since this is a national park, there is no logging allowed in the area so the trees just lay where they fall.  And since this is a generally cool, low humidity climate, any decay that takes places does so at a slow pace.  I figured this out when I discovered the small grass covered ridge I intended to use to reach the rocks was layered multiple times with fallen trees.  Not being able to even see the ground, I had to balance on rotting tree trunks immediately after leaving the road.  It took me 10 minutes to go 10 feet.  Not the route to take, obviously.

After backing out and trying another, more promising path, I realized this was the condition of the whole ridge, all the way out to the rocks I wanted to reach.  So the 100 yards from the road that would put me on the overlook for the image I wanted took around 30-45 minutes to cover, climbing over and under tree trunks and getting slapped in the face by wayward limbs.  Finally I did reach the exact spot I wanted, giving me the perfect perspective.  And clouds covered the sun.

OK, a few clouds are always welcomed in the sky to break up the monochrome of it all.  But I wanted sunlight on the island, sunlight on the little bay behind it, and possibly dappled sunlight on the ridge.  I could see openings in the clouds that ought to give the light I wanted, but it meant waiting for just the right set of conditions.  And the sun was setting by the moment.

And my wife was wondering if I’d fallen off the edge of the cliff.  Cellphones don’t work in the park and I was paying more attention to the changing light than wondering how to let her know I was delayed.  Guess a pair of those personal radios would be useful but it’s one more piece of electrical equipment to carry around (and put where with all my gear?) so we don’t have those.  I learned later she was blowing her emergency whistle to get my attention (which I finally heard on the way back) and wondering how to flag down a passing ranger to organize a search party.

But I did get a set of images I liked, such as the one above.  The workshop instructor told me it has a good sense of motion in the water and sky, contrasted with the solid rock that intermittently lit by the sun.  I like how the island and little bay are lit up while the water remains dark, as if a spotlight is on each.

And I made it back to the car generally unscathed.  I did learn you can press green leaves against a bleeding scratch to stop it, though.  And I didn’t stumble upon a bear in all the deadfall.  Not that either of us could have beat a very hasty retreat in that situation.

So, there’s my picture and there’s the back story, which I believe makes it a more interesting image than simply being a unique perspective of a popular photography subject.

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