All Dressed Up

Recently I’ve started looking at the works of some of the classic landscape photographers. Photographers who workedbefore digital using large format film cameras. I came across a really interesting blog post from David Leland Hyde, the son of classic and pro photographer Philip Hyde, who was a student of Ansel Adams. He says this.

At the same time, Dad never waited for special lighting, weather, rainbows, sunsets, moonrises or other special effects of nature all dressed up on her best day. His goal was to capture the subtle beauty of nature as is, in her everyday wardrobe. Some of his work is dramatic, but much of it is more refined and delicately subdued. He studied geology, archaeology and the natural and human history of an area before photographing it. His photographs were invocations honoring place, rather than art for art’s sake. Dad’s goal was similar to that of his mentor and friend Edward Weston, the father of modern photography: to take himself out of the picture as much as possible, limiting the always present imposition of the photographer’s own interpretation.

I thought that was a really interesting thought. These days photographers have gone to the other extreme. Constantly seeking out those special conditions, not even bothering to take their cameras out unless it is an epic light show. I kind of touched on this subject earlier when I talked about good light vs incredible light. These days we want to show nature in those extremely rare situations where she is “all dressed up”. It seems earlier photographers had a very different goal, to portray nature in her everyday wardrobe, to find the beauty in a simple scene, in normal every day conditions. I think this is why some of these older photographers appeal to me so much, I look at their work, and I can believe that if I were to visit those places I would have a very good chance of seeing it just as it looks in their images. Their images don’t catch a special effects moment, they catch the reality of the landscape.

I’m not sure I am ready to go all the way towards that extreme, for I don’t believe one is necessarily right or wrong. I find it a refreshing change though. Part of me wonders if they simply didn’t catch those moments because the technology of the day didn’t allow for it, whereas these days it does. I think it is worth thinking about our goals though. Are we trying to capture nature in her fleeting moments of glory, or are we trying to capture the glory in her everyday moments. An interesting question that I think every photographer should ask themselves.

Trip Report: Timpanogos

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Purple daisies soak up the last light of the day below the summit of Mount Timpanogos. 

Finally after 15 years I got up on Timpanogos again. Ever since getting back into photography a few years ago Timpanogos has loomed over my house calling my name. This week my backpacking trip to the Uintas fell through, it was the perfect opening for a run up Timp.

This is far and above the most popular hike along the Wasatch Front, and for good reason, It’s a gorgeous hike and contains some of the prettiest alpine scenery in the entire state. If you can look past the hordes of people hiking up the trail it can be a very enjoyable hike. Not too steep, though it doesn’t let up for the almost 8 miles to the summit. I hit the trail at around 4:00 and due to it being a weekday and the cloudy weather I saw surprisingly few people along the trail. I got into the basin at around 6:30. When you come up over that final hill and see this meadow unfold before you it’s really awesome, I got all giddy like a school kid. Unfortunately I had completely exhausted my water supply on the trip up here. I needed some water, and it didn’t look like there was any to be found. I wasn’t worried because I knew there was a lake in the next basin, but I really didn’t want to walk the 1-2 miles over there just to get water. Am I ever going to learn to bring enough water?

Fortune would have it that I found some water while walking over to the lake. That little snowfield at the bottom left of the picture contained a nice little pond that I was able to filter some water from. While I was filtering my water the clouds broke and the entire basin filled with really nice light. I was kicking myself, knowing that I may not get any more light for the rest of the evening. After I was done I headed back to the North side of the basin and found this nice patch of flowers and waited, waited some more, and then waited some more. Finally about 15 minute before sunset the clouds broke just enough to let some light onto the distant peak. Click. It didn’t turn out to be a very epic sunset, though I was very grateful to have the light that I did get knowing I wouldn’t make it up here for another year.  Honestly though, I am kind of over my obsession with incredible light (see previous blog post). I find myself liking this subtle and peaceful light more and more, I really enjoy the honest, realistic, and more peaceful nature of it. Okay maybe I am not completely over seeking that crazy light, but I find myself a lot more content these days when I don’t get it.

After shooting the sunset I went and scouted out a nice place to set up camp. This would be my first time camping solo in the mountains. It turned out to be a rather uneventful night. I made the mistake of pitching my tent on a not perfectly flat stretch of ground and paid for it the entire night by sliding off my sleeping pad. Between that and the animals walking through my camp every 40 minutes I got very little sleep. In the morning I was greeted with no clouds over the peak and decided to head back down the mountain. While I mentioned that the hike up wasn’t too bad, the hike down just about killed me. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or the constant steepness of the trail, but the hike down felt like a death march. I thought I was never going to get back to the car.

All in all it was a very enjoyable trip and one I think I will try to make every year.

Trip Report: Horse Flats

serenity_webI’m always amazed how the same place can feel so different under different conditions. I have been here a dozen times, but it felt as unique on this morning as it did the first time I came up here. There is something to be said about getting intimately familiar with a location. 

I get excited whenever I see the weather forecasting a nice storm. inclement weather always provides the most interesting conditions for landscape photography. This last week we had a storm come through. I accordingly planned to hit up the mountains the following day, hoping that the effects of the storm would linger through the following morning. I headed up to Horse Flats on the Alpine Loop. It’s a nice meadow, with a great view of the sunrise, and is a pretty short hike, so I can get there and back and still be to work by 8 o’clock.

When I stepped out of the car at the trail head I was struck by the smell of the mountains after a rain storm. I don’t know what it is with that smell, but it calms my spirits and invigorates my mind like nothing else can. It’s a drug for me, I only wish I could bottle it up so I could take a deep breath of it when I am in the midst of the daily grinds of life.

I had a nice little walk up to the meadow. The clouds looked promising but as I got higher I realized that the horizon was completely blocked off with clouds, thus greatly reducing the chances of me getting a good light show. I wasn’t giving up yet however and I was able to find a nice little patch of flowers, setup my shot, and waited to see what would happen. I didn’t get the light show I wanted, but as has happened before mother nature had something different planned for me. About ten minutes later the meadow in front of me starting quickly filling up with fog. It rolled in within a minute and filled the entire lower portion of the meadow, it drifted around for a few minutes, and then blew out just as fast as it had come. So while I had wanting something dramatic with an explosion of color in the sky, I ended up with something that I think is actually a bit more special, a softer and more peaceful scene.

Trip Report: Christmas Meadows

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 The last light of the day bathes the peaks above the Bear River in purple light. 

I spent my Saturday in the mountains, the best way to spend a Saturday. My parents and older sister and I all hiked up to Silver Lake in American Fork Canyon, one of my classic go to hikes. It was a nice afternoon in the mountains with my family, and reminded me of all the times when my dad would drag us all up random trails while on vacation.

I was amazed at how easy this hike has become for me. When I first did this hike 3 summers ago, I huffed and puffed the entire way up. This year I felt strong and full of energy, I didn’t feel the need to stop even a single time on my way up the trail. It’s amazing what a difference 3 years of hiking makes on ones physical fitness.

That afternoon I asked Ashley if she would mind if I ran into the Uintas for the evening. Bless her heart, she agreed to let me go. It was my fathers day present I believe. I had been dying to get back into the Uintas in the early summer while there was still snow on the peaks. This was as much a scouting expedition to see the condition of the mountains as a photography trip. I ended up settling down in Christmas Meadows for the evening and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of the meadow. This is probably the most iconic spot in the Uintas, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful meadow, with a beautiful river running through it, and beautiful peaks in the distance. It’s also one of the prettiest places in the Uintas you can get to without a hike. However in true Uinta fashion I had it all to myself for the evening, I saw a couple of fisherman down the river when I first arrived, but they left shortly after I got there.

It’s amazing how the mountains renew and invigorate my spirits. I am reminded of the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson.

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

Why do you photograph?

Why do you photograph? It’s a question I have asked myself a lot this past year. The last two and a half years have marked a sudden return of my passion for landscape photography, and as I’ve gotten more and more into it, I’ve started to ask this question more and more.

I think one of the most important questions a landscape photographer can ask themselves is… Would you still go to these places, still wake up early, still put forth all of this work, even if you couldn’t take a camera with you?

I finally answered that question for myself and the answer was yes. My primary motivation is my love of nature, the feelings I have when I am in the wilderness, the beauty and peace and solitude that surround me in the mountains. The soul renewing and inspiring feelings that flood through me when I watch the sun rise above the mountain peaks or desert ridges.

As I got more and more serious about my photography I started to think more and more about if I could make a living doing it. I started to dip my toes into the water to see how it felt, started to read lots of blogs and follow lots of photographers. Then I realized over a period of time that it wasn’t for me. Whether or not my work is or would ever be good enough turned out to not be the issue, the issue was if I could stand being a part of that industry, I realized I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand the competition, the pride, the opinionated photographers, the websites setup for other photographers to impress other photographers all in an attempt to get more photographers looking at their stuff. As my writer friend said  when he started to enter the world of publishing,  “It’s just a big circle jerk, just a bunch of writers trying to impress other writers”.

There are photographers who can enter that world and not be phased by it, who even enjoy it, and some photographers who are successful without ever having to go through those doors. I wasn’t one of them. The more I posted my stuff, the more I worried about if others liked it, the less I started to enjoy my time in nature and the more I started to get frustrated every time that conditions didn’t work out for the perfect shot. It was time to reevaluate why I was doing what I was doing.

So now I am here. I do this for myself. I do it to maybe pass something cool on to my children. I do it for pretty pictures and memories to put on my walls. I do it because I want to get out there and see these things and watch that sun come up over the mountains one more time. I do it for the feelings and emotions that seem to flow through me every time I am in the wilderness. Perhaps somewhere along the way I will have some measure of success, I don’t know, and frankly am not at all concerned about it anymore.

So why am I sharing all of this? Mostly because typing it out helps me organize my thoughts and understand it better. Also to point out that this website is not going to be what I originally planned it to be. It is going to be a trip report database, a journal of my adventures and the thoughts and feeling I have visiting all of these amazing places. Not a photography portfolio. I’m excited to share all of these places and experiences with the world, and hope that maybe it will inspire more people to get out there to enjoy and protect this amazing planet.

Trip Report: Lake Blanche

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A fresh dusting of snow blankets Sundial Peak above Lake Blanche. 

Lake Blanche is an icon of the Wasatch Front and has been on my hit list for as long as I have been into photography, but I had somehow never gotten the opportunity to get up there. Finally this October I decided I was going to go for it. I invited my friend and fellow photographer Justin Poe along  and despite him just having had a new baby, he decided to come.  The weather looked promising, the storm we had just had was supposed to break by evening and it looked like we might have perfect conditions for the evening.

We started hiking in the early evening amid a light drizzle, it’s okay we though, it will break. It never did. The trail is rather pleasant, well maintained and good views are to be had all the way up to the lake. It is rather relenting however and it’s a steady and moderately strenuous climb all of the way, I believe about 3500 feet of elevation gain in a little over 3.5 miles.

The light drizzle turned into snowflakes half way up the trail and our hopes of the storm clearing were pretty much dashed. To prove that photographers can be rather stubborn and single minded mother nature decided to put on a beautiful display for us anyway. The partially frozen lake amid a group of Aspen’s still clinging onto their leaves presented an excellent foreground to the strands of snow dusted pines leading up to the partially shrouded Sundial Peak. It was gorgeous, even without the blast of color in the sky that we were hoping for. The snow was gently falling and it was quiet, so quiet, probably the most peaceful moment I had experienced in the mountains all year. I almost wished that I had a tent set up and could spend the night. It just goes to show you that sometimes mother nature knows better than we do.