I am writing from a mountain lodge in the Italian Dolomites on a trip with Photo Cascadia teammate, Erin Babnik, so this article will be short and sweet. We spent a couple days before our winter workshop photographing at the end of a small valley with dramatic peaks all around. Our experience there reminded me of two things that are true about landscape photography that are well known but often difficult to remember and practice. First is that landscape photography is as much about the weather and the light as it is about the landscape. Second is that the weather and light is always changing. Every time weather and light change, they in turn change the landscape and our opportunities to see and tell visual stories about that landscape…as long as we are willing to be patient and keep coming back to the scene to see what it is offering us.
All the images below were taken with my phone except the last one, which is a raw file from my camera transferred to my phone. Record shots taken with my phone help me document and track the changes and help me visualize the potential for the images I took with my SLR that I will develop when I get home.
We arrived at the tail end of a winter storm that had coated the trees and peaks in a glorious blanket of new snow. On our first sunrise foray the remnants of the storm were still clinging to the peaks and the scene was moody and dark. Even though we couldn’t see the tops of the peaks there was enough to indicate their looming presence in the clouds above. In the moment it was easy to become disheartened that we didn’t get the dramatic sunrise light we pre-visualized. But looking back at this image I realize that the scene has a lot of character and mystery.
Later that day I noticed the clouds were beginning to lift. I shouldered my pack and headed back up into the hills. On this visit the mountain was playing with me. Intermittently it would reveal itself to me before the clouds would swirl in and hide it again. And it always stayed in the shadows, while the foreground came to life, brilliant in the full light of the sun.
At sunset we ventured out once again, this time to a higher vantage point right at the base of the peaks. The peaks were in full view but still capped by atmospheric plumes streaming from their summits. Although the sun was setting behind the mountains, the clouds captured the golden light and reflected it down, illuminating the cliff faces and snowy landscape in front of me.
The next morning we came back at sunrise a final time. Now the clouds had moved above the peaks and were soft and broken in the calm after the storm. Sunrise light lit their undersides and danced across the faces of the peaks, casting a warm glow across the winter scene.
I loved witnessing the changes and moods of this beautiful landscape over a the 24 hour period that I spent photographing it. It was also a good reminder of what I learned as a photographer long ago, but often lose site of in the rush of life…that it is often the weather and light that make a place special and wonderful visual experiences can unfold if we are willing to be patient and spend some quality time just watching and noticing.
Sean is an outdoor photographer, digital image developing enthusiast and photography educator based in Ashland, Oregon, where he resides with his wife and two sons. His previous career as a science teacher makes photography education a good fit. Sean teams up with fellow Photo Cascadia members leading workshops. He also teaches digital image developing classes, lectures and offers a series of Photoshop video tutorials.