Welcome to the first edition of “Behind the Shot” – my new segment in my blog! With these Behind the Shot posts I hope to give you some more insight into my ideas and thought processes as a photographer. Each post will be divided into 2 parts. Part one will tell the story of the location, my journey there, and how I composed the image in the field. Part two will take you into my studio, where I put the final touches on the image in Lightroom and Photoshop. I hope you enjoy the posts and learn a bit as well!
For my first Behind the Shot post, I’ll take you back a year ago today when I first captured what’s probably my most popular image to date, Asulkan Awakening.
Part I - The Journey
Rogers Pass is steeped in Canadian alpine climbing and ski mountaineering history. Widely regarded as the birthplace of Canadian Mountaineering, the steep and impressive peaks rise up sharply from the Trans Canada Highway, presenting numerous challenges for those with the required experience. In late January of 2017, myself and 5 others from the Alpine Club of Canada followed in the footsteps of many before us in attempting one of the iconic Ski Mountaineering routes in Glacier National Park, the Youngs Peak Traverse.
The Asulkan Cabin sits at the back of the Asulkan Brook Valley at 2100m above sea level. Rather than taking the standard route up the Asulkan Valley into the cabin, we opted to attempt the long route in, going up the Illecillewaet Valley to the east, gaining the Illecillewaet Glacier, summiting Youngs Peak, then skiing down the other side of the mountain and ending at the Asulkan Cabin, where we would spend the next two nights.
I went into this trip having no set plans for photography. I was hoping for some nice weather for some great ski shots, and perhaps some beautiful sunsets and sunrises from the hut. While the weather forecast looked ok, things change quickly in the mountains, and as we started out on Friday morning the clouds moved in quickly over the glacier. This made our intended route onto the glacier not feasible, as we lost visibility. We decided to change plans and ski over the col just north of Lookout Mountain on the edges of the Illecillewaet Glacier, and down into the Asulkan Valley to finish our trip to the hut.
It was a long and exhausting day, so that evening was spent in the hut with little motivation to go out and hope for the clouds to break for a sunset shot.
The following morning we were up before dawn to get ready to ski for the day. After eating breakfast, I had a quick peak outside and all I saw was grey clouds above. Visibility was great, and we could see to the opposite side of the Trans Canada Highway easily enough, and as blue hour approached the clouds slowly started to light up. I grabbed my camera gear and hiked to the top of a moraine that sits just off the Asulkan Hut, where I would have a great vantage point down the Asulkan Brook Valley. I experimented with a few different compositions along the ridge of the moraine, until I decided on a spot near the end of the moraine with a small tree off to the left for some foreground interest. The morning was absolutely still, and with the pink tones of sunrise slowly moving across the sky I opted to put on a 6 stop ND filter to see what sort of effect it would bring to the sunrise. Setting my Aperture to F/8 and my ISO to 200, I experimented for a few shots until deciding to keep the shutter open for 322 seconds. After I finished I checked the details in the shot to see if I needed to capture a separate short exposure for the foreground. However the lack of wind (or maybe the trees and bushes were just too frozen!) helped keep the foliage still, and I wrapped up my sunset shoot.
We spent the remainder of the day attempting to summit Youngs Peak again, before the wind picked up and dissuaded us from continuing. We then went lower in the valley to seek out some good snow to ski. Once again finishing up the day completely exhausted, we retired to the cabin for dinner and a relaxing sleep in. The next morning we packed up and skied out the Asulkan Valley, wrapping up a great 3 days in the mountains.
I hope you enjoyed following along on my trip into the Asulkan Cabin. Keep an eye out on the blog in early February for part two of Behind the Shot, and if you have any questions or comments feel free to ask!