Christmas has been a busy time, as usual, and my photography has suffered a little. I had not found the time to get out and capture some of the beautiful winter scenes that had developed around me. After a slow start to winter, the tides changed and December consisted of an almost constant delivery of light, fluffy, snowfall. And so, last Sunday, I resolved to steal some time and visit a favorite location not far from my home. Sunset comes early at this time of year and I decided to head out at around 2:30 pm to catch some great light before sundown at 4:00pm.
While the location was conveniently close, the environment is not very accommodating. The outside temperature was about minus 5 degrees Celsius and, with a clear sky, I was expecting the temperature to drop another 5 to 10 degrees once the sun went down. Along with this, there would be a good 6 to 12 inches on snow on the ground. So, besides my camera bag and tripod, I also pulled out my snow boots and backpack and started filling it with extra layers of clothing.
On the walk in I was excited by how beautiful the mid afternoon light was. At almost 50 degrees North latitude, the sun is very low at this time of year in Kelowna, providing moody side lighting for most of the day. I am always torn between getting to my destination and stopping for the shots I see along the way. There really were opportunities for beautiful photographs everywhere I looked. My main goal on this outing was to capture some twilight images of Kelowna from above the city and create a sense of place. These tend to be “big picture” images. I overrode, my “gotta get there in time” instinct with my “wow, that’s would be a great shot” impulses and pulled out my tripod to capture some shots along the way.
Breaking trail through the snow up the hillside reminded me of how little exercise I had had lately, and maybe how much turkey I had eaten at Christmas dinner! Physical fitness is not always something we consider as an important aspect of successful photography, but for me, it is a key ingredient. I love to hike into the less frequented places to capture those unusual shots. If I am exhausted when I arrive, my images will reflect this. There will be a lack of attention to detail, and I will not be as motivated to capture all of the possibilities.
As I crested one of the lower benches on the hillside, I spotted a location that I thought would be suitable for my cityscape shots. The snow was un-trampled by humans or animals and had a wind blown look. I circled around and approached from the uphill side so as to not disturb the foreground snow and found a place for my tripod.
As the sun descended the light warmed and the shadows grew longer. The opportunities for great photos were limitless and I could hardly decide where to concentrate. With my original goal in mind, I focused on the cityscape, but continued to look around, up, down, and behind, just incase I was missing the killer shot. It is a habit I am trying to cultivate.
After the sun went down the light became somewhat flat, but I had decided to stay and wait for the lights of the city to fill out a little more. I took that opportunity to put on some extra layers of clothing. When I was finished the upper part of my body was covered with thermal underwear, a down vest, a fleece soft shell, and a Gore-Tex jacket; capped off with a toque and mitts I was ready for anything!
With the lights of Kelowna beginning to stand out in the contrast of the evening, a whole new set of photographic possibilities started to appear before me. One of the things I have really enjoyed about the move to digital photography is how it has allowed me to work for longer into the evening. In the days of slide film, issues with reciprocity failure made night photography a bit hit and miss – for me anyway! The instant feedback of the LCD display and histogram on the back of my camera lets me know if I have the shot or not.
At around 5:00pm and 200 plus frames recoded on my SD card, I decided it was time to head back down. There was no moon and the faint glow of twilight and the city lights barely lit the trail down. It was however, a beautiful walk down. Clear skies, just enough light to safely see the trail, and a freshness in the air that reminds you that you are alive. Wandering through the deserted mountain park at that time, on the edge of a city made alive by its lights and traffic noise, made me feel like I was involved in some kind of espionage. Indeed I had been – stealing time to capture my images.