Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Seeing Mt. Shuksan

It is said that Mt. Shuksan here in Washington state is the most photographed peak in the world, and, though I have no idea how one would prove that statistic as fact, neither do I have reason to doubt it.  Two friends and I snowshoed last weekend on a sunny and mild, almost spring-like day,  in an area where Mt. Shuksan loomed so large and provided such a picturesque backdrop, it was hard for we three hikers to get into any kind of rhythm of movement because we kept stopping to take pictures.

The place-names we encountered on our hike are indicative that even map makers for that area have been similarly wowed by the views of the stunning mountain. My friends and I began our hike, for example, by snowshoeing across the frozen and snow-covered expanse of a lake that in summer perfectly mirrors Mt. Shuksan. That lovely body of water attracts so many tourists with cameras that it is named “Picture Lake.”

We hiked for several hours and gained about a thousand feet in elevation, climbing to a high, snowy ridge.  In the summer when a nearby road is melted out, this spot is only a half-mile walk from one’s car, and apparently,  many a beret-wearing being has pulled a sketchbook from his or her day pack or set up an easel here to draw or paint Mt. Shuksan.  I make this supposition because the spot is called “Artist’s Point.”

Winter’s snow makes this place one of relative solitude, however. One has to snowshoe or cross country ski several miles to get Artist’s Point, and most folks won’t do that.   From my lofty perch, I looked out over a landscape of white, and could see a number of peaks I have either climbed or could at least identify.  To the north was American Border Peak, and close-by, to the west,  was the third highest peak in the state, Mt. Baker.

It was late afternoon and I could see that the sky would be clear in the west at sunset, which gave me hope that golden, end-of-day light would glow on Mt. Shuksan.  I timed the hike back to the car so that I’d be able to put up a tripod and patiently wait for what I suspected might be an incredible light-show on the mountain.

Nature did not disappoint.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Seeing Owls

There was a book titled “First Hunt” in the library of the elementary school I attended 40-some years ago, and, if you were to look at the check-out card in the back of the book, you’d see that a student named Kurt read that book at least 10 times during his fourth and fifth grade years.  You might make the assumption that the youngster  was obsessed with the idea of hunting...and since I was the youngster in question, I can tell you that your assumption would be correct.

What you couldn’t know is that I never got to go hunting -- not really hunting, anyway.  My grandfather was a hunter and he took me on long rambles through the woods near his Ohio farm.  We took hunting dogs along on our rambles, but no gun.  Perhaps my grandpa sensed that his grandson wouldn’t have the heart for the killing of an animal, and grandpa would have been right. 

Years later, as a teenager,  I carried my grandpa’s .22 rifle out into a corn field -- my grandfather was not with me that day -- and I shot a groundhog.  When the animal slumped to the ground, I could not bring myself to walk over to it.  I went back to my grandparents’ house, put the gun away, and never touched it again.


I have a friend who is an amazing bird photographer and lately she’s been making trips out to the Washington coast where, for the second year now,  snowy owls have wintered.  The amazing creatures are native to the Arctic but they come here in the winter in search of food.  My friend has made some wonderful images, and  I pretty much begged her to take me along on one of her trips.

Monday I rented a telephoto lens longer than anything I personally own,  and my friend, two other photographers,  and I headed toward the ocean. We drove about 3 hours to the town of Ocean Shores, where we hiked a grassy peninsula of land running about a mile-and-a-half out into the Pacific.

“There’s one!,” my friend said, and I looked where she was pointing but saw only grassland. “There are two more!” she said.  Again, I saw no owls.

After a while, though, I guess I got my owl-eyes in shape, because I too began to spot the creatures.  We four photographers wandered the peninsula, spending most of the day making images.  We were careful to keep our distance, staying a non-threatening and respectful 600mm lens distance away.

My favorite picture from the day came when an owl yawned, and it’s quite possible I like that image because, for me, the owl seems unconcerned by my presence. I felt comfortable to be on a hunt where the shooting was done with a camera.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

An Ohio Day in Seattle

My mom and I talk on the phone at least once nearly every day...and often we chat several times. This time of year if it is cloudy and raining at Mom’s place in Ohio, she’ll say: “We’re having a Seattle Day;”  and if it is cold but sunny here in the Pacific North-wet, I say: “We’re having an Ohio Day.”

The images I’m posting today resulted when two Ohio-ish winter weather phenomena converged in Western Washington yesterday -- circumstances so unusual here, in fact, that Seattle morning TV news breathlessly covered our day’s weather like it was a breaking news story.

The two events?
1: The sky was clear, and Seattleites saw sunshine (the TV reporter pointed to the sky, where, sure enough, viewers could discern a bright yellow ball.)
2:  The air was unusually chilly (the live TV shot followed the reporter as he crouched down to show us that rain puddles lingering from earlier in the week had now turned to ice.)  The reporter told us that driving conditions might be slick. The TV shot flashed back to the news anchor who looked earnest and concerned, and said: “Scary!”

TV news loves to scare us.

I summoned my courage and went outside into the scary world where, yes, I did find ice...but it was beautiful.  The patterns I saw were otherworldly and abstract.  I photographed the ice from this angle and that, first envisioning color images, then thinking: No, this would be amazing in black and white. 

After some time I went back in the house, where, as I glanced toward the kitchen table,  yet another photographic possibility presented itself.  Sunshine and shadows, such a rarity in a Northwest winter, gave me material for additional visual note-taking.

I couldn’t wait to tell my mom all about my Ohio Weather Day.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Photographers know that the best light for image-making is often to be found at the "edges" of things, like the beginning or the end of the day, or before or after a storm.  Longtime National Geographic photographer Bill Allard has said that his photographs -- in which wonderful light is often an element -- are the result of “simply showing up for work on time.”

Photographers try to stack the odds of finding and making good pictures in our own favor by being out early, when others are eating breakfast, or in the evening, when civilized folks are sitting down to a glass of wine and dinner. Additionally,  a couple of shooters I know -- myself included -- have fashioned a clamp setup that will hold an umbrella over a tripod so we can keep camera gear dry and we can work in a rain or snow storm.

Yes, we show up for work on time...and last weekend I found the image you see above because I went one step further: I showed up for work early.  I had a wedding to shoot on nearby Bainbridge Island at a venue that was new to me. I timed my arrival so that I could walk around the place and check things out, maybe shoot a few “scene-setting” images.   Thus, I was onsite with camera in hand when wonderful light happened on the island landscape.

There is, of course, a bit of hyperbole in this business about “showing up for work on time.” I’m one of those photographers who nearly always has a camera with me, and making photographs is an integral part of my life. I guess it could be said that I’m always “working.”  For me there’s no such thing as a beginning, or an end, to my photographic day.