Monday, August 22, 2011

Another View

St. Helens Sunset
This was one of the last shots I took of Mt. St. Helens this week as the sun set into the haze to the west. It was as much color as I would get this night - and although I was annoyed that the light wasn't clearer, it looks nice enough here.
This is a syndrome common to photographers; rather than enjoying the moment or accepting reality, we tend to think that we've blown it, that the light sucks, that there aren't enough clouds.  Hey, photographers are never satisfied. Seeking perfection, we dwell on the inevitable flaws.
Because this is not far from my home, I console myself by thinking, "I can always go back and try again." And yes, if I had unlimited time, and money, I could keep trying until I got something truly transcendent.  But few of us have that kind of time, or money - and we're talking helicopter time here - so I may have content myself with what I have.

Nikon D3, 24-70mm lens

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Return to St. Helens

Crater and Shadow, Mt. St. Helens
For some reason, I have been obsessed about Mt. St. Helens. In my last two posts, I talked about how the weather has frustrated several attempts to get the shots I wanted of this iconic mountain. Well, I had almost given up...when I saw a helicopter for hire. Yes, it was expensive, but really the only feasible way to get the shots I wanted, so I arranged a flight at sunset last night.
It was hazier than I would have liked, the light less crisp and saturated than normal, but the clouds that had toyed with the peak all day finally dissipated at sunset - so I had a clear view of the crater. Yes, the low light meant I couldn't capture the steaming lava dome on the crater floor, but it gave me the long shadow which I love - so it's a trade-off.  (Speaking of the shadow, notice how it makes it look as though the mountain still has a top!)
Having seen the mountain erupt in 1980, and flown over it just afterwards, this was a kind of home-coming. Spectacular.

Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fog Race

Steam rises from Lava Dome above fog-shrouded crater,  Mt. St. Helens
As I mentioned in my last post, I spent three days trying to get pictures of Mt. St. Helens, especially in the evening, but every day had the same maddening weather pattern: cloudy in the morning, clear at mid-day, and then a rising fog in the evening. Definitely not weather to gladden the heart of a landscape photographer!  After two evenings sitting in the fog, with no view at all of the mountain, the third day promised a break in the cycle; the mountain was clear all afternoon and it looked like, for once, I might get a sunset.  Then this band of clouds began to form and started rising up the slope.  I was forced to shoot quickly, before the crater disappeared completely.

With such a long horizontal scene, I decided to create a digital panoramic using 3 or 4 single images, stitched together in the computer after the fact. Not bad, but I had dreams of much more.  I'll be back.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens : Stitched panorama

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lousy Weather above? Go Underground...

Ape Cave lava tube, Mt. St. Helens
I spent the last 3 days trying to get some decent light on Mt. St. Helens. The truth be told, it never happened: each day it would clear for a few hours in the afternoon, then cloud up again as the evening - and nice light - came and went.  Three days in a row.  Maybe I'll try again when this weather pattern moves on through.

I filled the middle of the day with exploring the area, and on one memorable morning, I hiked into one of the most astonishing underground passageways I have ever seen.  It is a lava tube, although it is so perfectly formed that it could double as a man-made highway tunnel. Lava tubes are rare in this part of the world, where the volcanos tend to explode rather than extrude flowing lava. Yet Ape Cave  is one of the longest lave tubes in the US - more than two miles long.

(Science note : lava tubes are created by very fluid lava that cools and hardens at the edges, allowing the lava inside to continue flowing inside, forming a stone tube. When the lava stops, it drains out the bottom end, leaving this remarkably uniform tunnel.)

I spent several hours in the cave, trying to sort out how best to photograph it - finally settling on the use of two flashes - one on the camera/tripod and the other in my hands. 30-second exposures allowed me time to position myself in front of the light-colored wall (where I would best show up in silhouette) and fire off a few flashes manually. It was a case of trial and error - mostly error - to get what I wanted. In a perfect world, I would have had a third flash (and a model?) in the far distant bend of the cave, but I'm content with this.

An amazing place.

Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens, 2 Nikon SB-800 flashes