Friday, June 12, 2009

Moving Fast

Its been raining a lot in Salt Lake City lately. Which is weird. Because it never really rains here. Up in the Wasatch its been even soggier than down in the valley, which hasn't been great for outdoor recreation, or outdoor photography for that matter. So last weekend, when there was a small break in the clouds, I employed an old strategy I used to use a lot in the Cascades, when I was trying to squeeze in a few good frames during occasional breaks in the clouds.

The strategy, in a nutshell, is moving fast. Sounds simple really, but I don't think it gets talked about much in the world of outdoor photography. The late, great Galen Rowell used to preach it in his Outdoor Photographer column and in his books, but I think its worth revisiting.

If you're into landscape photography at all, you know that light - the quality of light - is everything. Which means you want to be shooting at the magic hour. Plain and simple. Problem is, the magic hour only happens at the edge of the day, twice a day, at dawn and dusk. Its difficult to be on location, deep in the backcountry, at the magic hour on regular basis. In fact, unless you're out camping or backpacking, chances are, you're hardly ever at the best locations when the light is really going off. Which makes it hard to take great landscape photographs. And the reality is that most people don't have enough free time to go backpacking every time they want to make a nice picture.

Which brings us back to moving fast. The other day when the clouds parted at about 6:30 in the evening, I grabbed my camera, two lenses, a small tri-pod, and my headlamp and headed for the hills. My goal was somewhere close, but wild, so I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the S-curve parking lot for Lake Blanche. By 7:15 I was on the trail and moving fast. I knew I had about two hours 'till the light would be really good.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a big fan of trail running. Running is one of my least favorite ways to get exercise. But sometimes it can be a very effective way to travel. I figured I had about 90 minutes to go a little less than 4 miles, which even for me, isn't hard to do. With a small, light pack I easily half walked, half jogged to the lake by the time the sun was setting.

I spent an hour at the lake, working the shoreline for reflection images and watching the thunderheads move through. When I was satisfied that the best light was gone, I re-packed my bag and headed for the car. On the hike down I was surprised to see another headlamp working its way up the trail. As we passed each other, I noticed the other hiker's Lowe-Pro camera bag strapped to his chest...someone else out there moving fast.

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