mt. shuksan

An Afternoon at Mt. Baker Ski Area: It’s Black & White

Went up on Friday to #OptOutside to the Mt. Baker Ski Area east of Bellingham. Fact is, I needed to feel the crisp cold air in my lungs, view the snow-capped peaks, and hear the crunching of ice and snow underfoot.

Plus, I wanted to get the alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan. It was a beautiful clear day so no clouds in the west could block the light from the setting Sun. A LOT of people were up in the area. I would say most of them weren’t there for the skiing.

Last Rays

Sunset from Picture Lake with a view of Mount Shuksan on Friday afternoon Nov. 27, 2015, at the Mount Baker Ski Area in western Whatcom County, Wash. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

The last rays of the Sun ignite Mount Shuksan on Friday afternoon Nov. 27, 2015, at the Mount Baker Ski Area in western Whatcom County, Wash. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

In fact, many people were just enjoying the view with some sledding on the slopes of Picture Lake. Just a fun post-Thanksgiving romp in the Pacific Northwest Winter Wonderland.

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Hiking the Chain Lakes Trail at Mt. Baker

On Thursday August 21st, my brother-in-law Kurt, friend Zach, and I hiked the chain Lakes Trail near Mt. Baker. It’s a moderate trail that ranges from easy to difficult. In fact, the last two miles of the trail is downhill. Along for the fun was Zach’s dog Domino.

Baker View:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad © Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Coleman Pinnacle, left, and Mt. Baker from Ptarmigan Ridge. We hiked about 1/2 mile down the trail before turning back to Chain Lakes Trail.Photography - Hike ;along the Chain Lakes Trail with Kurt, Zach, and Domino on Thursday August 20, 2014.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Coleman Pinnacle, left, and Mt. Baker from Ptarmigan Ridge. We hiked about 1/2 mile down the trail before turning back to Chain Lakes Trail.

Starting at Artist’s Point, we began the 7 mile loop at about 10:30 in the morning. It was cool and breezy. The sky was deep blue with patches of clouds around Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. You can see steam rising from Sherman Crater.

 Kurt on the Trail:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Kurt passes a patch of fireweed as we approach Ptarmigan Ridge.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Kurt passes a patch of fireweed as we approach Ptarmigan Ridge.

The crater is the active part of Mt. Baker. For those who don’t know, Mt. Baker is the second most active volcano in the state of Washington. Right after Mt. Saint Helens.

Booyah! Scenes from “Dante’s Peak” came flashing in. How does one outrun a Pyroclastic flow?

Couple and Cairn:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - A couple  pause at a cairn along the Chain Lakes Trail several hundred yards past the Ptarmigan Ridge turn-off. I came around the corner and saw them then the cairn. I used a shallow depth of field to set them against the forest.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – A couple pause at a cairn along the Chain Lakes Trail several hundred yards past the Ptarmigan Ridge turn-off. I came around the corner and saw them then the cairn. I used a shallow depth of field to set them against the forest.

I packed as I’d normally pack when going on a day hike: a little too much. I used my Camelbak with a 100 oz. bladder full with fresh water, Petzl headlamp with fresh batteries, light jacket, compass, gloves, water filter, Leatherman knife, regular knife, eating utensils, protein bar, protein shake, jerky for snacking, and trail mix.

 Looking West from the Trail:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Coleman Pinnacle, left, Mt. Baker in clouds, and a few other peaks looking west from the trail.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Coleman Pinnacle, left, Mt. Baker in clouds, and a few other peaks looking west from the trail.

In the pack I also carried my 55mm f/2.8 macro for close-up shots in a soft pouch inside a waterproof bag, my Nikon SB-910 flash, SB-29 off-camera cord, my D300s, my 17-35 f/2.8, lens cleaner and cloth, and an extra battery. As weight was a bit of an issue, I left the tripod at home.

Starburst:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - The Sun forms a starburst through a grove of pine with the southern cliff face of Table Mountain on the left. I worked this to try to get the starburst. The aperture was at f/22 on my 17-35.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – The Sun forms a starburst through a grove of pine with the southern cliff face of Table Mountain on the left. I worked this to try to get the starburst. The aperture was at f/22 on my 17-35.

The weight in the pack was nominal, but I like to be prepared: both photographically and in case of an accident.

Fireweed:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - This was a pain to get. I was laying on the ground, holding my camera with one hand, and lifting myself enough to get the fireweed to line up with the tree line. Aperture on my 17-35 was at f/5.6 and at 17mm.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – This was a pain to get. I was laying on the ground, holding my camera with one hand, and lifting myself enough to get the fireweed to line up with the tree line. Aperture on my 17-35 was at f/5.6 and at 17mm.

After heading out, it was clear the photo ops would be phenomenal. The wildflowers were still in bloom, the sky fantastic, and although the light was mid day, it was just gorgeous.

As we hit about a mile out on the trail under the ridgeline of Table Mountain, we saw Mt. Baker in the distance over Ptarmigan Ridge with Coleman Pinnacle jutting into the bluebird sky. The passing clouds framed it wonderfully. The scenery towards Baker Lake was stunning.

Asters at Iceberg Lake:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Blue asters above Iceberg Lake along the Chain Lakes Trail. I used my 17-35 at 17 mm with an aperture of f/11. These are tiny flowers so I had to get super close. At f/11, it gave me sufficient depth of field to get the lake and surrounding mountains visible, but not overpowering. I like how they're a little out of focus.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Blue asters above Iceberg Lake along the Chain Lakes Trail. I used my 17-35 at 17 mm with an aperture of f/11. These are tiny flowers so I had to get super close. At f/11, it gave me sufficient depth of field to get the lake and surrounding mountains visible, but not overpowering. I like how they’re a little out of focus.

As we approached the fork in the trail, I saw the silhouette of a figure against a snow field under Mt. Baker. I took a few frames for posterity. Nothing grand. But here’s a link: Silhouette on Ptarmigan Ridge

Along the way there were some small patches of Fireweed, asters, and daisies. I’m no horticulturist, but I’m certain they’re daisies. As we walked between the lakes, the wildflowers were amazing. The fireweed were tall, the asters stunning, and the scenery unbeatable. Even this Colorado boy was stunned by the backwoods beauty.

Wildflowers

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Wildflowers along  the shore of Iceberg Lake.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Wildflowers along the shore of Iceberg Lake.

While we took a break at Iceberg Lake, Kurt decided it was time for a bath, well, sort of. He went to the water’s edge as he wanted to jump in. Instead after feeling the chill, he opted to cool down and wash his head. A wise move since we didn’t bring any blankets. And I wasn’t going to cuddle with him while he warmed up. LOL.

Kurt Shaking it Off: 

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Kurt shakes off the icy cold water after dipping his head in Iceberg Lake. It's called Iceberg for a reason Kurt.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Kurt shakes off the icy cold water after dipping his head in Iceberg Lake. It’s called Iceberg for a reason Kurt.

After the lakes,  we continued onto the trail which followed the saddle between Table Mountain and Mazama Dome. This provided a splendid view of the valley towards Mt. Shuksan.

The View From the Saddle:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Taking a break in Herman's Saddle, Zach takes photos of Domino as he lays in a snowfield. The peaks of Mt. Shuksan are shrouded by clouds. You can also see the road to Artist's Point on the left. You can see Mt. Sefrit and Nooksack Ridge in the background.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Taking a break in Herman’s Saddle, Zach takes photos of Domino as he lays in a snowfield. The peaks of Mt. Shuksan are shrouded by clouds. You can also see the road to Artist’s Point on the left. You can see Mt. Sefrit and Nooksack Ridge in the background.

From this viewpoint, it was pretty much downhill. Seriously, it was about 2 miles of downhill trail. Relatively easy-going. Unfortunately, Domino began getting tired and as a result, slipped on some sharp rocks and earned a slight cut. He was limping, but still strong.

Getting a Better View:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Kurt climbs atop boulders on Herman's Saddle to try and find an easier route back to Artist's Point. We opted to stay on trail.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Kurt climbs atop boulders on Herman’s Saddle to try to find an easier route back to Artist’s Point. We opted to stay on trail.

During one rough section, in order keep him from hurting his foot any more, Kurt carried him about 50 yards through one part of the trail that was bedded with sharp rock.

A Little Help From a Friend:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Kurt carries Domino through a rough part of the trail that was covered with sharp rocks.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Kurt carries Domino through a rough part of the trail that was covered with sharp rocks.

Half way down, we paused to take a break. We found a small grassy area to chill. This gave Domino a little time to recoup as we also caught our breath and reenergize with some trail snacks. Domino thought it was his playground and just did what dogs like to do, rolled around in the grass.

Happy Puppy:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography -Domino finds a little joy while rolling around in a grassy patch along the trail.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Domino finds a little joy while rolling around in a grassy patch along the trail.

Exhausted and beat at the end of the hike, I already decided I want to backpack in and spend a night at the lakes shooting the stars and trying to capture some of the Aurora Borealis we can sometimes see from Bellingham.

Selfie:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Had to stop for a selfie of me against a valley. I was about a foot from a cliff edge. No worries, I made it out safely.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Had to stop for a selfie of me against a valley. I was about a foot from a cliff edge. No worries, I made it out safely.

What a View – The Last Section of Trail:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography -Kurt, Zach, and Domino head down the trail after we leave Herman's Saddle. The view was fantastic. The light, clouds, sky, and greenery worked well together.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography – Kurt, Zach, and Domino head down the trail after we leave Herman’s Saddle. The view was fantastic. The light, clouds, sky, and greenery worked well together.

Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.

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Paul “pablo” Conrad

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Paul Conrad is an award-winning, nationally published freelance photographer living in Bellingham, Wash., in the Pacific Northwest. His work has been published in newspapers and magazine throughout the United States and in Europe.

His specialty is photojournalism covering news, sports, and editorial portraits, he also is skilled in family portraiture, high school senior portraits, and weddings. He is available for short and long-term assignments.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Shooting the alpenglow on Mt. Shucksan while waiting for the rise of the super perigee Moon on Saturday evening June 22, 2013. As I liked the reflection better, I turned the center post of the tripod upside down to get my camera closer. Unfortunately, I inadvertently hit the focus ring and knocked it out of focus.

Tape: A Small, Yet Useful Tool

Think about this: What minor tool do you use regulary, that if you forgot, it would impact your image taking?

It was a beautiful clear evening and the super perigee Moon was coming up on Saturday June 22, 2013. Checking a few of my favorite shooting spots, The Photographer’s Ephemeris said the Moon should be rising above Mt. Shuksan in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. So, I loaded up my gear into the car, kissed my wife on the forehead, and drove to Picture Lake at the Mount Baker Ski Area.

Setting Up:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Shooting the alpenglow on Mt. Shucksan while waiting for the rise of the super perigee Moon on Saturday evening June 22, 2013. As I liked the reflection better, I turned the center post of the tripod upside down to get my camera closer. Unfortunately, I inadvertently hit the focus ring and knocked it out of focus.

But the one simple tool I forgot: A small roll of gaffer’s tape. I usually keep a roll in my camera bag, but earlier I had taken it out to tape up a backdrop to some poles. It last forever. I bought my trio of black, white, and gray, from Glazer’s Camera for about $12

For some reason, I took it out of my camera bag the day before and forgot to put it back in. I did not realize I forgot it until I arrived at my destination and began setting up for the shoot.

What I usually do is simple. After setting my camera up, I focus the lens, turn off the autofocus, and tape the focus ring. However, without tape, this was a futile effort.

Taping the Lens:

A small piece of Gaffer's Tape would've prevented a costly mishap

As Picture Lake was still frozen from the winter, I set my camera up on my tripod nearest I could to a melted portion of the lake. After spending about 15 or 20 minutes shooting, I wanted to get my camera lower to the water to get more of Mt. Shuksan reflected in the melted portion of the lake.

So I took the tripod and flipped the center pole. Then I put the tripod back where it was and adjusted the composition. I used video mode to do this. However, I unknowingly bumped the focus ring and for the next 20 frames, the mountain was out and the freezing water was in focus.

Upside Down:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Shooting the alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan while waiting for the rise of the super perigee Moon on Saturday evening June 22, 2013. As I liked the reflection better, I turned the center post of the tripod upside down to get my camera closer. Unfortunately, I inadvertently hit the focus ring and knocked it out of focus.

After taking a few shots, I checked the images. They looked good and the composition was better as you can see more of the mountain in the water. However, I did not zoom in to check the focus. Always zoom in to check the focus of your photos. It never hurts.

As the Moon began to rise over the ridge on the right side of the mountain, I continued taking photographs.

Out of Focus

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - The super perigee Moon rises over Mt. Shuksan in Whatcom County East of Bellingham, Wash., on Saturday evening June 22, 2013.This out of focus shot could have been prevented with a 10 cent piece of tape.

After the Moon was fully over the ridge, I pulled the rig out of the water and began checking the images. It was not until then that I noticed the images were not in focus. Not a lot I can do but continue to shoot.

But, I was able to salvage one frame from this: The alpenglow on Mount Shuksan before the super perigee Moon rose over the ridge.

The One Salvaged Image:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography -  Mount Shuksan is reflected in a thawing Picture Lake as it is lit by the setting Sun on Saturday June, 22, 2013, while the super perigee Moon begins its ascent into the sky.

After getting home, I downloaded and was hoping the images were not as bad as I thought. The were.

One simple piece of tape most likely would’ve prevented the mishap. But, I got one good shot at least.

So back to the original question: What one little thing do you use on a regular basis that if you forgot, it would impact your photography?

Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.

Paul “pablo” Conrad

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© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography The last rays of the setting Sun bathes the snow-capped peak of Mount Baker in alpenglow as the lights of the city of Bellingham, Wash., begin to turn on during evening April 23, 2013.

Mt. Shuksan in Alpenglow

***Before my computer hard drive failed, I began writing this post. Now that it’s up and running, I’ll be catching up on a few entries***

Late last week, I headed up Highway 542 in western Whatcom County east of Bellingham, Wash., to photograph Mt. Shuksan to bathed in alpenglow. Being typical Northwest weather, I wanted to head up while it was sunny and nice.

After a few stops including Horseshoe Bend Trail and Nooksack Falls, I arrived at Picture Lake in the Mount Baker Ski Area at the base of Mount Baker. Hopefully, I thought, the lake would be somewhat melted. However, as expected, it was still covered by deep, hard packed snow.

Using One Flash:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan in the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie Wilderness in northwest Washington east of Bellingham.

No worries. I drove around a bit to find a good angle and wasn’t seeing any “sweeping vista” that excited me. So I got out of my car and just walked around the loop shooting generic “I was Here” photos. Nothing spectacular.

The light was somewhat late afternoon super bright sun. Taking a break, I noticed to trees growing by themselves and I visualized Mt. Shuksan between them. In summer, the trees would be on the shore of Picture Lake.

Using Two Speedlights:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan in the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie Wilderness in northwest Washington east of Bellingham.

To get to the trees, I’d have to walk across a snowfield which covered part of the marshy area of the lake. Rather than chance postholing my way to the trees and possibly falling through the snow pack, I opted to find another angle.

But even after another half an hour of seeking, I couldn’t find something visually interesting. Time was running out so I just grabbed my ski/trekking poles, put on my ski jacket and walked down to the two trees.

I must mention, I lived in the Colorado high country for many years before moving up to the Pacific Northwest. Walking across snowfields is somewhat second nature. Caution is the operative word when doing so.

As the Pacific Northwest gets heavier snow, and ofttimes more, than Colorado, I found the traverse rather easy. I still took caution by using my poles to test the snow pack in front of me. I did not want to fall through.With ease, I made it to the base of the trees and saw my composition. Nothing super fantastic, but definitely something different. One caveat to work with: Lighting the trees with portable strobes/speedlights as they were in full shadow as the Sun was below the ridge behind me.

A few weeks ago I bought a set of radio slaves. One transmitter and two receivers. I’ve used them a few times before this, so setting up my speedlights wouldn’t be an issue.

Carefully I hiked back to my car to get my tripod, camera, lens, filters (Polarizing and ND64), radio slaves and speedlight. Upon returning, set up my tripod with camera and adjusted my composition. I then waked about 15 feet to the left to set up a speedlight with radio slave.

I had to move fast as the light was beginning to change fairly quick. As I took a few test exposures to get the light on the mountain balanced with the speedlight, I noticed I needed another. One speedlight wasn’t enough even in manual mode at full power. So I went back to my car to get a second speedlight.

I placed the second speedlight next to the first effectively doubling my light on the trees. I made sure neither had the diffuser and both were set to telephoto to narrow the light, therefore effectively increasing the output. Then I tested various aperture settings and shutter speeds. I found the one exposure that worked well.

REMEMBER:  When using an off camera speedlights, this basic rule applies: Aperture controls both the total image exposure and the flash exposure. Shutter speed controls the exposure of your ambient light. Read more on these earlier blog postings: Intro to Creative Flash Part 1: Shutter Synch, Intro to Creative Flash Part 2: Aperture, and Intro to Creative Flash Part 3: Using Speedlights as a Portable Studio.

With the above exposure “rule” in mind, I set my aperture to get correct exposure for the trees, and set my shutter speed to get a good exposure on the mountain.

I started figuring my exposure by using the “Sunny 16 Rule.” At 1/250th for my shutter speed, I began at f/16 on my aperture. The trees were underlit. So I opened my aperture 2 stops to f/8 and the exposure were a little under, but I liked them as they weren’t overly dominate.

Here’s a quick primer on the “Sunny 16 Rule:” Sunny 16: An old Rule for a New Age.

As I knew the light would wane dramatically as the Sun set, I stayed at that exposure. As the light waned, I just used longer shutter speeds to compensate for the loss. However, the exposure of /250th at f/8 seemed to balance the light the best.

The Final Result:
© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan in the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie Wilderness in northwest Washington east of Bellingham.

As the Sun set behind me, the color began to change from a very light pink to red. It was very peaceful watching as Mt. Shuksan changed color. I noticed an odd noise that went “whum whum whum whum” every minute or so. It was low pitched and echoed. I half expected a bear to come investigate.

When the light faded on Mt. Shuksan, I packed up everything and headed back. I did fail to photograph my impromptu lighting setup. Didn’t think of it until I was back at the car.

When I was finished packing everything back up, I looked up to see my tracks to the two trees and noticed the pink afterglow in the sky and how it lit the mountain. So I took a few more shots.

My Tracks and Pink Glow:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan in the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie Wilderness in northwest Washington east of Bellingham.

Camera info:  Nikon D300s w/MB-D10, Nikkor 17-35 f/2.8, SB800 & SB80DX Speedlights, radio slaves & trigger.

Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. All comments are appreciated.

Paul “pablo” Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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