Photo Expedition: Wilcox Pass Epic

We spent another pandemic weekend in the mountains, playing the social distanced tourist in our own province, not crossing any borders, wearing masks, and staying six feet away from others whenever humanly possible.

In some cases, we stayed much more than six feet away from others, such as when we took on an eight klick round-trip hike up to the top of the Wilcox Pass just south of the Columbia Icefields Glaciers, with a view of the same.

I dragged multiple cameras up for the hike, but the best pics by far were the dSLR photos.

With my other cameras I captured some video (the GoPro) and some sweeping panoramas (with my iPhone) which I use for desktop backgrounds on my multi-screen desktop computer setup.

The lighting was nearly perfect for a stretch of over an hour, and the vistas (and the speedy gait of my hiking companions) made for multiple opportunities for expansive, epic shots with a view yet still a contemplative subject staring off into the scenery.

Photo Expedition: Garage Lightning

The storm rolled in around dinnertime and it flashed and crashed for a couple of hours before the sun set.

A few years ago I experimented with photographing lighting by first hoping for a storm, then setting up a tripod in the front of my garage where sheltered by the overhang of the roof from the pouring rain I would paitently snap hundreds of low-light, long exposure images hoping for the perfect shot.

It’s a terrible and wonderful way to spend an evening with the camera.

About a year ago I handed my patience over to a computer… specifically the computer in my phone. An app I purchased called iLightingCam2 is a finicky camera app whose sole purpose is to monitor a portion of the live camera feed and “detect” flashes (that could be lighting) and save a buffered image when it detects a candidate.

It’s partially cheating, yes. It’s a phone camera, true. But consider that:

a) I still needed to sit at the end of my garage for an hour, in a thunderstorm to capture a single epic shot,

b) the dozens of settings and weak ability to focus the camera in the pitch darkness of a late summer rainstorm makes getting the app to work effectively is actually a challenge, and

c) if you don’t hold the camera level and steady it “detects” literally hundreds of false positives that turn out to be blurry pictures of the streetlight across the road or the reflections of the same on the road.

Last night I used the app for the second time successfully and captured a mix of good and not-so-good lighting shots. I include a small selection in this post to demonstrate the breadth of the app’s ability.

Photo Expedition: Mountain Waterfalls

One more photo set to share from our recent mountain mini-vacation comes in the form of a quick opportunity I had on an evening hike our first night away. After checking into the hotel we had a quick dinner then drove to a nearby trailhead where (after a cute and safe encounter with a black bear) we hiked three klicks into the woods along a largely flat path (with a small climb at the end.)

Troll Falls is named for the bottom-most of a series of step-like waterfalls down a gradual mountain slope. The creek decends from somewhere above, starting at the Olympic ski hill (1988 Olympics) Nakiska into a wooded area below the parking lot. If that doesn’t sound pleasant or romantic, understand that I had to look on a map a few days later to realize that we were a few hundred meters from a ski-hill parking lot … so it didn’t exactly stick out while we were there.

Above the main falls, the falls most people hike up to see, photograph, and then wander back to their vehicles from lays a stretch of roughly one kilometer of winding, steplike waterfalls. An ascending footpath follows this to yet another grand water feature. So at each twist and turn of the trail, there is yet another opportunity to step a meter or so off the beaten path and crouch beside a gurgling stream to capture a photo of a lush bit of cascading water.

Photographing a nice waterfall is rare locally.

By contrast, the rivers and creeks within walking distance of my house are slow prairie water courses blessed with a rich chocolate brown hue. Sparkling blue and green waterfalls, dripping down the sides of mountains are hours of driving away, usually followed by hours of hiking and require a special balance of light to capture just right (without a backpack worth of filters and tripods at least.)

A few years ago we were in Iceland and I had an hour or so to muck around with the camera settings as I aimed at various waterfalls, camera steady on a tripod. The trick (which I’ve read too many places to reference here) is a small aperture and a long exposure. When these basics are combined, the image of the flowing water blurs to give a soft, lacy appearance to the water while the background is crisp. Iceland provided me a dozen opportunities to test this, and I nabbed a few great shots because of the tip.

I leaned against a tree, steadied myself with a few deep breaths, and held the shutter button for a half dozen shots hoping that I could avoid too much visible blur from my tripod-free 1/8sec shutter speed.

Photo Expedition: Mountain Macros

Our recent vacation brought us into the wilderness more than once, exploring short(ish) hikes of the kind where you’re back in the car within a couple hours … and also carrying a couple of nice cameras is not overly burdensome.

On one hike specifically, I found myself distracted by the filtered sunlight shining on the variety of miniature flora and fungi on the bed of the forest. Some of that inspiration is wound up in this creative tangent I often find myself following towards a background magic-type faux-history of nature, a place where little sprites or creatures dwell in a hidden microcosm of the world: tiny trees, rolling mossy hills, nooks and crannies in the trees and stone.

I wasn’t using a macro lens, per se. My general purpose 24-105mm has a lot of flexibility in closer quarters and the low perspective combined with a tight focal approach created a small collection of otherworldly textures and shapes from a few steps off the beaten path of the forest.

We were hiking our way up to a small mountain cirque, where a crystal lake was nestled into the round at the base of a small rocky valley a few hundred meters up the side of a range. For most of the time, the mid-morning sun was beating down on our backs through the gap in the path. Off to either side, a lush alpine forest, a mix of poplar and fir, was growing from a bed of flowing mosses and various small fungi. Stones protruded from the green, punctuating the seemingly-manicured landscape.

I walked and snapped, and paused and stepped a careful-not-to-disturb pace into the shade to snap some more. The result was a small collection of curious pics in a blend of greens, browns greys and yellows, so different from the blues and forest greens of the landscape photos I’d been snapping all weekend.