Landscape Photography

A Tale of Peak Companions

December 28, 2023

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Many recognize one of my superpowers is teaching people how to organize their photos in Adobe Lightroom or serving as the coordinator of chaos during photography conferences.  When I run across people who taken my Let’s Get Organized! in Lightroom course or attended conferences, a question that constantly echoes is, “How do you keep it all together?”

As organized, poised, and prepared as I strive to be, the feeling of having everything perfectly in order is fleeting. The reality is that none of us truly have it all together, and the semblance of order seen on social media is all a mirage. It’s in the delightful chaos, the fumbles, and the laughs along the way that the real magic happens, as exemplified by the story behind this image.

Peak Companions
Canadian Rockies, 2023
‘Peak Companions’
Canadian Rockies, 2023

Reflecting on this past year, one particular adventure and image stand out in my memory – a lucky getaway with both old and new photography friends high in the Canadian Rockies. We had to helicopter into the location, a process requiring meticulous planning to meet strict flying bag restrictions. The planner in me beamed with pride when we reach the mountaintop. I felt like I mastered packing everything I needed and nothing more.

The Unexpected Symphony of Snow

Nature, however, is a master of surprises. Anytime you’re in high mountain elevations, there can be days when the it’s socked in and the mountaintops remain hidden. On one of our last mornings, we woke up to discover that what we envisioned as a tapestry of a vibrant autumn scene had transformed into a tranquil blanket of snow.

Moreover, this was the first morning that the sky was finally going to show some color. The challenge was that the clouds were breaking from a side of the mountains we had yet to explore. But this was the best chance of the trip to create something under ideal conditions.

We knew of a nearby pond on that side of the mountain. With little to no wind anticipated, we decided we had a better chance of arriving in the dark and creating a composition quickly, sight unseen, if we had a lakeside reflection to use in the composition.

The Tripod Toss-Up Technique

As we hurriedly navigated the newly fallen snow, a photography dilemma presented itself. The pond was small, and I needed more height to capture the entire reflection and there was nothing in sight to climb. This is where creative problem-solving came into play. I knew I had the answer to problem solve this one. That’s when my previously hidden “Tripod Toss-Up” technique made its public debut (in front of friends).

Here’s how it works. Effectively, I’m hand hold the shot with a tripod in the air – stick with me. I keep my camera on the tripod in aperture priority mode, aiming to retain some control on my depth of field. Then, I ensure I have a minimum shutter speed set that will work for me handheld. In this scene and at this focal length, it was around 1/250 second.  In addition, I knew the scene would brighten as the sun rose that morning. So I wanted some adaptability so I used Auto ISO, only allowing a range between 100 and 3200 ISO. I’m completely comfortable addressing any noise that results from 3200 ISO in my editing.

Next, I set my camera to take a time lapse.  And the pièce de resistance, I launch my camera mounted on the tripod up the air, like it was a cheerleader going up for a lift. I do my best to hold it steady as the time lapse clicks.  Yes, there are certainly some compromises with stability, but with modern technology, I can get the desired composition. This maneuver gives me the height I need to ensure the top of the mountain is included in the reflection.

After a few frames, I brought the camera down and checked the composition. It was close, but I needed to tinker with the angle a little. As I was about the hoist the tripod back up in the air, my friend Charles looked over and said “you know, you have an articulating screen, right?” Even with all my meticulous planning, I was so hyper-focused on adjusting all my technical settings that I completely forgot to pull out the screen. A facepalm moment turned into a chuckle. With newfound clarity, I adjusted my LCD screen so I could see it from below. Then, I popped that tripod back into the air, and easily fine-tuned the composition using the screen to guide me from my vantage point down below. 

Lessons in Solitude and Community

Now, I’m confidence I would have gotten the image eventually. Reflecting on this escapade, it reminds me of the valuable lessons in the journey of photography. While the art of photography has evolved from the apprentice days, our modern path of mastery often remains a solo adventure with so many resources available online. Whether we’re out in the field photographing, editing our images, or reading and watching about landscape photography, doing it all alone is often the long way to the solution. It’s the friends and your community sharing in the experiences that propel us to new heights. As I gaze as this image, I’m grateful for the camaraderie of photography friends who have helped me along the way and share in my tales and lessons filled with adventures, laughter, and joy.

So do I have it all together? Far from it. Yet, it’s the imperfections, the shared moments, and the exploration of new and old scenes where the story of a photograph unfolds – a story woven not just by one individual but by the harmonious rhythm of a community passionate about capturing the magic of our natural world.

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Fine art nature and landscape photographer, speaker, and Lightroom educator.

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