By the third alarm, Alex and I were the only ones awake.
It was 3 a.m. It was pitch-black. Alex and I woke up Joey and Shea and gathered our hiking gear. We were about to make one of the most popular hikes in the park, the hike up to Emerald Lake.
In 2014, my family and I made the same hike, but started at about 10 a.m. instead of 3 a.m. There were a few photographs I wanted to re-create from that 2014 trip, but something prevented that from happening.
This hike was one of the most stressful parts of the trip. Our head lamps only brightly lit a small area in front of us. There was immense fear in the air. It was the time of year when bears began to come out of hibernation, and wolves, being nocturnal predators, were another major fear.
Joey stopped us all and spoke in a hushed voice, “you guys see that?” Joey told us to look ahead to the trees about twenty feet away. A small pair of eyes hovered in the dark. We flashed out head lamps at the eyes and realized everything was fine.
It was only a fox. The puppies of the forest.
We continued the hike and stopped on a large boulder overlooking the eastward valley. We filled up on water and Gatorade, had some trail mix, and continued our trek. Alex and Shea made some photographs of the blue-hour sunrise before any morning color came.
We finally arrived at Emerald Lake at about five in the morning. the morning colors started to peak and began to light up the pinnacles above us.
I didn’t take the shot. And I should have.
A cloud inversion came in, and not the good kind that fills a valley, it was the bad kind that completely snuffs out everything in front of you. However, it wasn’t all bad, because I did get three images for my portfolio out of that inversion.
But there were a few other shots that didn’t make the cut, and two of them came very close to making the cut.
After the clouds invaded, I was forced to look for more intimate subjects in my surroundings. I saw this group of trees on the left side of the lake. I set up my tripod and zoomed in to 200mm on my 70-200 f/4. The lack of wind allowed me to have a 10-second shutter speed without any problems.
but even after taking this image, I wasn’t feeling it at all. It has a lot of things I love about landscape, an intimate scene, minimal aesthetics, and trees. But this image was just lacking a lot of atmosphere. The clouds that invaded didn’t give enough mood to this scene, and it ended up looking too plain and uninteresting. Not even eye-candy at this point.
Minutes later, the surrounding fog got even more dense, and I made a few more images, but I didn’t re-visit that “family” of trees.
The lesson I learned:
Sometimes it’s worth waiting for the atmosphere to take place. I was already out-of-it because I missed my chance to make a photograph of the pinnacles above us, and that’s not entirely my fault. No one can control their environment in landscape photography. It’s the risk of the game. And to embrace the settings you are presented with, sometimes it’s worth waiting a little bit.