In last week’s piece“Building a Composition, Step by Step”  we talked about seeing the composition you see in your mind’s eye and then using your technical skills with the camera to effect the capture.  A few people told me that they often don’t have an hour to sit there hoping for one image, basically they want to arrive on scene, capture a masterpiece, and immediately move on to the next scene and do the same.  I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Most decent to good compositions and beyond are the result of not only technical skills with the camera, seeing your vision in your mind’s eye, but also loads and loads of patience.  You have to earn your composition.

I’ll be using images from almost a decade ago to illustrate my most challenging capture.  The capture that took the most patience. Crater Lake Oregon.   Crater Lake National Park is famous for its deep lake with an extremely blue color credited to both the depth of the lake and the species of algae that coats and lays beneath its surface.   Crater Lake at 1949 feet is the deepest lake in the western hemisphere, and depending on how it’s measured the deepest in the world.  Its roughly 5-6 miles across with an average depth in excess of 1150 feet and sits on top of a mountain peak at an elevation of 7000-8000 feet.   During the winter months access to all but the lodge and a single viewing point is closed to vehicular traffic, making access to the other points only possible by snowmobile, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, or perhaps horseback.  It’s rugged to say the least.

 

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F8  1/160th  16mm   ISO 100

 

The road from where I lived in Medford to Crater Lake wasn’t a bad road, but depending on local storms you could spend the last 2-3 hours of the drive riding on hard packed or fresh snow and ice.  Snow plows regularly clear the road and you can tell how many feet of snow you’ve had for the season by eyeing the side snow banks or taking a closer look at how much of the marker poles are still exposed above the top of the snow.  I’d guess 15-25 feet towards the end of the winter is pretty average.

At the main viewpoint there is a lodge, restaurant, and parking area open most of the year unless there is an active storm in progress.  Merely making it to this point can take from 4-10 hours from Medford depending on the weather of the moment.  I’d made the drive during all times of the year and had many pictures from most of the popular viewpoints.  One day l was passing time in the gift shop and looking at the many books published on Crater Lake, post cards, coffee cups, and all the different images.. and it felt like I had them all.  I’d been to the popular shooting locations and made my captures and once at a certain level of skill they become very much the same.  It came to me that one scene was missing.  The wide view of Crater Lake, during the middle of winter, with the SUN shining on the lake.  I realized I’d never seen this scene in my many trips.  Asking the long term workers and residents I learned the sun does peek out from behind the constant cloud cover, but for only seconds at a time and only then a few times  year.   They told me the moments are fleeting at best and usually go unnoticed.  Sounded like a challenge to me!

 

There’s much wildlife present if you know where to look, but these small black birds walking around in the worst part of winter are a bit surprising.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS  @F4  1/1250th  200mm   ISO 100

 

There’s much wildlife present if you know where to look, but these small black birds walking around in the worst part of winter are a bit surprising.

 

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F8  1/30th  16mm   ISO 100

 

The ride up there reveals some really beautiful scenics if you know where to stop and are willing to hike a bit.  Notice the late afternoon sun shining directionally on the evergreens?  In this scene I used a wide angle, laid down in the snow for the best perspective, and waited for the sun to pass over this small valley and light the trees.  I estimate the light on the trees lasted less than 10 seconds.

 

At the lower elevations of 5000-6000 feet you can snowshoe almost anywhere and the scenery is stunning.  You’ll notice during the winter that daylight hours are very short in the northwest, usually less than 6-8 hours a day, and actual direct sunlight that strikes you directly only lasts for 30-40 minutes tops.. so photographic opportunities that strong lighting are relatively rare  You need to keep track of when the sun will make an appearance, make it to your designated viewpoint prior to the light, and then setup and wait.. and hope the weather doesn’t block your few minutes of happy sunshine..    Be prepared for disappointment.  You can spend years collecting certain scenes with real sunlight.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F5.6  1/100th  29mm   ISO 100

 

At the lower elevations of 5000-6000 feet you can snowshoe almost anywhere and the scenery is stunning.  You’ll notice during the winter that daylight hours are very short in the northwest, usually less than 6-8 hours a day, and actual direct sunlight that strikes you directly only lasts for 30-40 minutes tops.. so photographic opportunities that strong lighting are relatively rare  You need to keep track of when the sun will make an appearance, make it to your designated viewpoint prior to the light, and then setup and wait.. and hope the weather doesn’t block your few minutes of happy sunshine..    Be prepared for disappointment.  You can spend years collecting certain scenes with real sunlight.

 

Above is a constructed viewpoint.  A corrugated metal tube that overhangs a cliff which overlooks the lake with a small foyer to put your gear and kick the snow off your boots.  This looks sunny and warm but it’s way below zero and notice the clouds right off the cliff?  Those clouds are covering the lake except for a very few fleeting moments each season.. totally unpredictable.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F11  1/200th  29mm   ISO 100

 

Above is a constructed viewpoint.  A corrugated metal tube that overhangs a cliff which overlooks the lake with a small foyer to put your gear and kick the snow off your boots.  This looks sunny and warm but it’s way below zero and notice the clouds right off the cliff?  Those clouds are covering the lake except for a very few fleeting moments each season.. totally unpredictable.

Over the course of 2-3 years I made over 20 trips up to this location and sat in this tube for hours on end, camera on the tripod, shutter release in my hand, waiting for the elusive break in the cloud cover and the sun to illuminate the lake revealing it’s unique deep blue color with surrounding peaks covered in snow.  All but once the only thing turning blue were my fingers and toes and probably my nose..  Photography, like many other parts of life, is more about commitment, being willing to put yourself out there and do the work, ignore the discomfort, and hope.. hope that you’ll get that one image no one else has.  The missing image from all the books and postcards in the gift shop.

 

During the course of waiting for your desired scene, other scenes might present themselves.  It’s important to not stay so focused on what you think you want.. that you allow real gems to pass by unnoticed.  The above scene is such a scene, simple, elegance in nature.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F8  1/800th  24mm   ISO 100

 

During the course of waiting for your desired scene, other scenes might present themselves.  It’s important to not stay so focused on what you think you want.. that you allow real gems to pass by unnoticed.  The above scene is such a scene, simple, elegance in nature. 

 

Virtually 100% of the time this is as much of the lake as you’ll be able to get a glimpse of.  This small break in the clouds lasted less than 4-5 seconds and wasn’t large enough to reveal the prize.  How hard are you willing to work for your composition?  How much patience do you have?  Will your camera be set to the right exposure should the lake reveal itself?  It better be, you won’t have time to check your histogram and make adjustments.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F8  1/400th  16mm   ISO 100

 

Virtually 100% of the time this is as much of the lake as you’ll be able to get a glimpse of.  This small break in the clouds lasted less than 4-5 seconds and wasn’t large enough to reveal the prize.  How hard are you willing to work for your composition?  How much patience do you have?  Will your camera be set to the right exposure should the lake reveal itself?  It better be, you won’t have time to check your histogram and make adjustments.

Ask yourself, did Ansel Adams show commitment and patience during his years in the Yosemite wilderness living in campsites supplied by mule trains?  Did he show commitment by learning his environment over a period of years, memorizing weather patterns during all times of the year, when the trees would turn, when certain animals would migrate through certain areas?  He spend most of a lifetime in pursuit of photographing Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier Park, and developing new techniques and systems to better photograph these areas.  For him to sit for an entire week for a single shot was nothing.. as common to him as a simple meal is to us.  He understood that to make the photographs he dreamed about, the images in his mind’s eye, he understood it would take great commitment.

 

I remember the day well, 8000 feet, way below zero, and I’d been sitting in the tube for hours and moving anything brought on streaks of pain.  My camera was on the tripod, bottom half had insulation duct taped around the battery area, cable release in my hand, and every few minutes I’d press the button halfway to hear the reassuring autofocus confirmation beep letting me know the battery was still good and the lens was clear.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8L  @F11  1/160th  16mm   ISO 100

 

I remember the day well, 8000 feet, way below zero, and I’d been sitting in the tube for hours and moving anything brought on streaks of pain.  My camera was on the tripod, bottom half had insulation duct taped around the battery area, cable release in my hand, and every few minutes I’d press the button halfway to hear the reassuring autofocus confirmation beep letting me know the battery was still good and the lens was clear. 

I could sense or feel it before it happened, slight shifts in the light, changes in the patterns of shadows, a rogue breeze passed through the trees.  And in an instant, remember at that elevation the clouds are often moving in excess of 100 miles per hour, in an instant the lights came on as the sun peeked through a cloud over my right shoulder, the clouds cleared over the lake, and I was privileged to view this most beautiful scene.  In my surprise I accidently pressed the shutter release or I probably would have been so caught up in admiring nature.. that I’d have missed it all together.  My camera on continuous drive, 3.5fps, managed 5 images before the lack was once again hidden by the clouds.

You’ll have to forgive me that when people say they don’t have an hour to dedicate to a potential capture, or they’re uncomfortable, or they’d rather be anywhere else.. you’ll have to forgive me for thinking they still need to learn one of the most important skills of photography.  Patience.  And that compositions are earned.  Rarely are they luck.  Of course we're talking about landscapes and not photojournalism or event photography where you must make important decisions in the blink of an eye..

As you’re reading this I’ll be putting in 10-12 hours driving time making my way to the Burma border, perhaps a dedicated fellow photographer will join me, perhaps not.. but I’ll be trying to earn my next worthy composition.