I've been in a bit of a photo rut lately. Not necessarily photographing badly, but just not photographing as much as I'd like to. I like to blame it on the short days of winter, but really, I've just been lazy and unmotivated. Part of what gets in my mind is that I wonder if I am good enough to make it as a photographer. Am I good enough to market myself? Can I even compare myself to some of the greats I aspire to be like? I often doubt myself but I find that kind of thinking only hurts my photography and overall creative process. The only way it seems that I get out of these ruts is to make a plan to get out and photograph.
I recently took a class called "Long Distance Backpacking" and I have been dying to get to the mountains ever since. Granted, a 6 mile round trip overnighter isn't exactly what this class was about, but the inspiration and packing tips were the same. Being in the thick of winter, I knew I was going to have to do some winter camping and perhaps snowshoe in. Lake Blanche and Sundial Peak have been on my list for awhile now so it was kind of a no-brainer to head there. With the weather rather clear and photographically boring I figured I'd get some stellar night photography instead. I had an image in mind that I knew I wanted to get, and I wanted to make sure the conditions were right.
I packed my bag, which ended up to be 40 pounds, (dang 6 lbs, -20 degree bag! Ah well. It was cheap.) and headed up to Lake Blanche. It's 3 miles to the lake, but with my 40 pound bag and trekking with snowshoes it felt more like 6. The sun was intense and unrelenting along the trail. It was like I had forgotten what the sun felt like being in the final month(s) of SLC inversion. When I finally made it to the lake I set up camp right under Sundial Peak. I sat and soaked it all in for a minute. It was really gorgeous. The sun was falling quickly so I grabbed my camera and started photographing away. The skies were clear, which was perfect for my night shot plan, but it made for a rather boring sunset. I cooked up some fried rice and just enjoyed being in such an amazing location. I wrote some letters and in my diary and soon enough the stars had come out. It was as beautiful as I had imagined and I was so very grateful for the opportunity.
The right conditions play a major role in night photography and I couldn't have wished them better myself. Clear skies, near windless night, and enough of a crescent moon directed on my main subject and foreground. I wanted my generic Smith's bargain kids tent to have a yellow contrast against the blue skies so I searched around the house and found a yellow see through plastic bag. It was perfect to make my blueish headlamp create a warmer glow. My tilt shift lens gets down to an aperture of 3.5, which is a rather large hole, letting as much light as possible into the sensor. For all of these shots I was able to get my shutter speed under 30 seconds. This made for less movement in the stars, as I didn't want the star trail effect. I only had to boost the ISO to between 800 and 1600 which kept the images with as little noise as possible. Overall I think it was a success and I am very happy with the results.
Equipment: Canon 5D Mark II, 24mm TS-E (Tilt Shift), Gitzo Tripod, Kirk BH-3 Ballhead. All photos in this post came from 2-3 original photos by shifting the tilt-shift lens that were later stitched like a panorama in Photoshop. Only minor curves adjustments were done in Lightroom.
Travel photographer and videographer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Available worldwide. Ready for hire.