“The herculean task of a photographer is to capture a momentary frame as beautiful in reality as it would be in a dream.”– Ansel Adams, 1972
Here it is… The first photograph I took that I was ever proud of:
Crater Lake in mid-winter, taken with my first DSLR, a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (EOS 400D). I had barely begun to understand its features, but was so happy to be experimenting in such a beautiful location. It began a love of photography for me which stretches to the present.
The prior day at the lake saw the finale of a nine-day snow storm that dropped about a dozen feet of fresh powder. That night – the night we arrived – the clouds parted and exposed a glittering night sky. The only thing obscuring the stars was the gentle warmth of a full moon which lit the snowscape in shimmers and shadows.
My companions and I were lucky to be able to stay in the ranger cabins for the weekend. The lodging was a major improvement on the chill of a winter campsite and allowed us to sleep and cook and eat in comfort the whole weekend.
The following morning I strapped on snowshoes for the first time in my life and started tromping up the rim trail (or at least where I believed the rim trail was supposed to be) to get my first ever views of the sapphire jewel of the Oregon Cascades. Even in broad snowshoes I post-holed to my knees with every step. I probably made it a quarter of a mile before complaining. Probably two more miles before I was pissed.
I got a new perspective that day on how deceptive extreme conditions could be. There I was in the middle of a pristine snowfall below bluebird skies and I was floored from exhaustion just wishing to be back in the cabin with some hot chocolate. …Then the snowplows came by and buried me and my hiking companion in snow up to our shoulders. We were hiking too close to the road.
Anyway, we eventually did get up to Rim Village at the edge of the caldera and spent a lovely afternoon tromping around in the snow enjoying the beautiful vista. As the day wore on and the light approached golden-hour, I snapped this shot.
With the distance of some years and a bit of experience, I can certainly find plenty to quibble with in the scene… Surely I could have composed something nearer some un-trampled snow and framed the lake better where the tops of those pines weren’t strange obstructions. But the magic of the scene is still so apparent in the frame despite its flaws… The wisps of the cirrus clouds like brushstrokes over the cream and blue sky, the warm light of the winter sun illuminating Mount Scott on the opposite side of the pristine waters of the lake. Even the denuded whitebark pine at the edge of the scene paints a story of beauty in a commonly harsh environment.
This photo is doing everything it’s supposed to and more…
It sends me back to that place and time, evoking all of the awe and delight of that evening, and it inspires me to keep taking photos and to find ways to improve.
Most of all, it reminds me that the most important rule of landscape photography is first and foremost that you have to show up. Be there for the adventure and the exploration. Take time from your routine and make an effort to be someplace special now and then, whether alone or with friends. And make sure to pack your camera. Any camera will do.