Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mt. Rainier, a place of endless wonders (and dramatically different weather patterns)

Sorry for the incredibly late post (or not if you don't know when I went to Mt. Rainier). But I've finally finished process all my Seattle trip photos, this includes the final batch of photos taken at Mt. Rainier (which is the first time I shot more RAW than JPEG). This is also marks the second time I've used Lightroom to process photos almost exclusively. While my poor laptop definitely cannot keep up with Lightroom, I am finally able to get through 200 photos in a reasonable amount of time (roughly half a week) which is much faster than the amount of time I spent on the portraits. This is partly because landscapes are easier to batch process, and also there are less things I can do, it's pretty standard... I mean I do want my landscape photos to still look like photos... so I kept most processing light. The biggest advantage Lightroom has over Picasa is the ability to adjust each color channels independently. For example, if I find a forest photo too "yellow", I can easily shift the yellow hue towards the green. Or if I find the sky too bright, I can easily darken just the blues in the photo. This fine-grained control allows me to have far more control over what "pops" and get rid of the distractions in a photo... I'm finally able to bring out key elements that I want in a way that Picasa could never let me do.

Anyways, back to the trip. Our second day at Mt. Rainier was dramatically different from the first day, the difference was night and day...  Our first day there was mostly raining, overcast, and even snowing. But the second day the sun really came out for a beautiful sunrise and kept clear for at least the most important parts of the day (when my camera was out).

Day One:
From Mt. Rainier National Park Day 1

This is now the Not-quite-1000-dollar photo :). It was for this photo that I swapped out my 24-105 lens (for a wider 10-22 so I can get more of the stream) and then immediately after this photo... proceeded to drop said lens. The original photo is gray, colorless and dull. At the time I didn't have Lightroom so I asked for Joe's help in post processing it. He added some graduated tint, brought up the green saturation and some hue shifts to make the greens come to life. While it's not $1000 (cost of the 24-105 lens) in my mind it is certainly worth $158 (the cost of repair) :).

I like the moodiness of the photo, and the natural frame created by the trees on either side. You see the valley in the middle? Yep, that's where I dropped my lens :).

One of the few highlights of the first day... gorgeous field of wild flowers. I'm a sucker for these kinds of prairie shots, just too bad the sun didn't come out otherwise it'd look amazing :).

Day Two (sorry for the number of photos...):
From Mt. Rainier National Park day 2

First Light. We got up around 5 AM and raced towards Sunrise Camp to catch first light on Mt. Rainier. The clouds started rolling in just as we reached it but I was lucky to get off a few snaps. Unfortunately I didn't really have time to explore and find a better position so I have to live with the trees in the foreground. This shot actually reminds of me post cards from Mt. Rainier, the beautiful pink/purple morning light hitting the fresh snow on Mt. Rainier, set against a deep dark blue sky...

This is now one of my favorite pictures from the day (one of many :p). It reminds me so much of traditional Chinese brush paintings (國畫). I love how the ridges just peak above the clouds, especially that line of mist in the foreground.

This was taken along an easy hike next to Sunrise Camp. It's only about 10-15 mins away from the parking lot where I took the first light photo. If only I had know, I would have ran up here as fast as I could... Oh well (it was icy, I probably would have slipped and broke my camera or something).

One of the stories from Joe McNally's The Moment It Clicks is "Don't pack up your camera until you've left the location". This is certainly true for this shot... I was already heading back to the car (after about 30 mins photographing Mt. Rainier in the cold -- I lost feeling in my hands about 15 mins ago at this point and was basically freezing to death). About half way down, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds lighting the entire scene, the grassy field and Mt. Rainier evenly. Luckily I still had my camera out and got 4 or 5 snaps in before the sun ducked back behind thick clouds and the shot was gone. This is now my favorite shot from the entire trip. Don't pack up until you are in the car, you'll have plenty of time anyways (and much much warmer).

Growing up in Southern California certainly has it's benefits. Getting beautiful morning dew plant shots is not one of them. This was shot in a very overcast day, I popped the flash to give it more light and "pop". In post I shifted the originally yellow hue over to the green and brought out the reds to make this photo feel more peaceful and tranquil.

The above series of photos was taken at Snow Lake. Ironically we were originally going to skip Snow Lake due to limited time (and bad weather, it has been overcast the whole day since sunrise). About half way to Snow Lake is Bench Lake so the plan was to simply stop at Bench Lake and head back. Because JC and I were too busy taking photos along the way, his family and my mom walked ahead and for some reason went on to Snow Lake without waiting for us at Bench Lake (disappointing sight really). A bit confused, JC and I decided to keep going hoping to catch up to them. Another 20 mins or so later we bumped into my mom who has been to Snow lake and decided to walk back saying "Snow lake is so so, not very pretty" but JC's family is still there so we decided to continue on. As fate would have it, as soon as JC and I reached Snow Lake, the skies cleared up (really. like within 2 minutes) and it really felt like discovering paradise that is hidden in some remote location... That sense of wonder, amazement, joy... Since snow lake is hidden away in a valley, there was very little winds creating stunning reflections on its beautiful emerald surface. As if possessed, JC and I immediately picked up our camera and didn't dare take our eyes off the view finder. Click click click, shot after shot, we just couldn't take our fingers off the shutter, afraid the magic would disappear if we stopped (ok ok, we did hike around to see the different angles).  I double stacked 2 filters, 1 graduated ND (to darken the sky a bit) and 1 CPL (to add more saturation to the sky and lake or to increase the strength of the reflections). Within 30 mins, the clouds rolled back in, the sun disappeared along with the emerald color... the moment has passed. Thinking back, if we had walked any faster, we would be like my mom, missing this magical moment... the beauty, the peacefulness, the tranquility at Snow Lake was the most memorable thing for me. As we were leaving, I knew I got the shot, I got what I wanted out of this entire trip, but most importantly, I was happy.