The Story Behind the Photo (Week 3)

This photo probably goes down as one of my “not so smart” moments in photography stories. Now, I’m not saying what I was doing the evening I took this photo was the height of life-threatening by any means, and I’m sure there’s many people reading this, that have done many worse and more dangerous things than this to get a photo. But at the end of the day, it definitely wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done either, and it does make a good story.

But First…The Story Behind, The Story Behind the Photo
A while back, Scott Sheppard interviewed me over on Nik Radio. It was basically a 30-40 minute interview on how I got into photography and Photoshop, what inspires me and a bunch of other things. Here’s the link in case you missed it. Well, toward the end of the interview, we started talking about how the story behind the photo is sometimes as captivating or interesting as the photo itself. So it got me thinking about a possible series of posts here on the blog. Let’s get started:

The Photo
(click for a larger version)

Location: Trillium Lake near Mt. Hood in Oregon

Date: April, 2012

The Gear

  • Camera: Nikon D800
  • Lens: Nikon 28-300mm
  • Aperture: f/11
  • Shutter Speed: 1/6 second
  • ISO: 100
  • Really Right Stuff TVC-33 Tripod and BH-55 Ballhead

The Story and My Plan
I was out in Portland this past April visiting my buds over at onOne Software for a few days. I decided to head out to a place called Trillium Lake near Mt. Hood for a sunset shoot. It’s a beautiful lake and since the winds usually calm down at sunset I figured I could get a nice reflection. Plus, it looked like the sun went down just to my left if I were facing Mt. Hood, but out of view. When I shoot landscapes, I always like to be shooting at something that the sun is hitting during sunrise or sunset, rather than shooting directly into the sun (although I do at times). Whatever the sun is hitting gets illuminated by that beautiful light and mountains (with all the texture and depth) can really look awesome.

Anyway, The weather didn’t look good and the guys at the onOne office didn’t think it would be worth it, but I was there, and it was only an hour away so I figured what the heck. Keep in mind, nobody at this point had mentioned snow. Maybe it’s such a way of life there, at that time in the year that nobody thought about it – but being from Florida I’m thinking “It’s April… spring time… what better time for photography!”. That was my first mistake :)

The Drive Up
So I’m driving up to Mt. Hood and I pull off to send a photo to my friend at onOne, Brian Matiash, to show him how things were looking. As I got closer, the clouds cleared and it looked like it would be an awesome sunset.

Arriving at Trillium Lake
When you turn off the main road to Trillium lake there’s a 1.5 mile driveway that takes you down toward the lake. Well, as soon as I pulled up I realize there was a problem. The gate was closed and there was about 4-5 feet of snow in front of me (the green thing you see in the photo is about waist high). So I got out of the car, climbed up to the top of the snow and realized it was packed pretty tight. I could stand and walk on it easily without sinking in too far. I called Brian (who, by the way, was the only one who knew I was up there) to joke around about my misfortune but sadly my phone was out of battery (damn iPhone!) and died about halfway into our conversation. I’ve since bought one of those Mophie Juice Pack battery cases, but that’s totally unrelated.

What the Heck!?
So I decided to go for it (stupid move #1), saying to myself that if I felt the snow get too deep or sink down into it too badly at any point, that I would turn around. Mind you, I wasn’t hiking in the back country with nobody around for miles. This was a paved 2-lane driveway I was walking on, that was right off the main road so I figured I was safe. Plus, I had borrowed Scott’s new Nikon D800 and was determine to come back with a good photo from it :)

Oh Yeah, Did I Mention All I Had on Was a Hoody and Running Shoes
By the way, I may have forgotten to mention all I had on was a long sleeved shirt, hoody, jeans, and Reebok running shoes (stupid move #2).

The Walk to the Lake
The walk to the lake took about 40 minutes up and down hill. It was a lot like walking in sand and my feet sunk down about the same amount. Every hundred yards or so I’d sink about a foot in, but it was packed snow so I just pulled my leg out and moved on. I exercise a lot, so it really wasn’t that bad and I kept a good pace since I was losing light fast (I hadn’t planned on the hike). I did pass two people going back on snow-shoes and remembered being slightly jealous. (Lesson learned here was give yourself more time than you think)

Arriving at the Lake
I arrived at the lake and saw a sign that was pretty much buried in snow. It was at that point things started to go downhill (both literally and figuratively). As soon as I turned off the driveway (I was about 400 yards from the lake), I sunk down to my thighs in snow. I thought I must have hit a soft patch, but it never ended. I’d made it that far though so I wasn’t turning around. So for 400 yards, every step literally sent me almost waist-deep in snow. If you were standing there you’d have heard some pretty colorful language ;) but after about 10 minutes of post-holing my legs through the snow, I made to the lake only to see it was completely snow-covered (stupid move #3, which really could have been stupid move #1 because I should have done my research).

What the Hell, I’m Here So Why Not Shoot?
I was there so I made the best of it. I took out the slightly wet D800 (shhhh, don’t tell Scott) and started shooting. The light on Mt Hood was actually beautiful and the whole scene looked great. Not what I had planned but not bad either. Had it not been around 35 degrees it would have been awesome, but I was starting to get cold from sweating so much earlier.

Landscapes Need a Foreground Element (And My First “Oh $h*t” Moment)
At this point, everything I was shooting had a vast sea of white in front of it (see photo below) since the lake was snow covered. I like to put foreground elements in my landscape photos so I started looking around. I see a cool little tree behind me and to my right that looks like it would be perfect. So I grab my tripod and start walking to it. Splash! Now I’m standing knee-deep in ice-cold water (insert more colorful language). Yup, I broke through the ice (that I didn’t even know I was standing on) with nothing but ankle socks and running shoes on. At this point I started getting a little worried because the light was fading, my feet were now getting numb and I still had to walk back 45 minutes to the car. So I shot for a few more minutes, but since the light had pretty faded off the mountain, I decided to head back.

(click for a larger version)

Getting Back
The walk up the driveway really started to worry me (remember the driveway was the point where I hit the waist deep snow). As I mentioned, I’m in decent shape, but I hadn’t made it halfway up the driveway before I was huffing and puffing like I’d just ran a marathon. I didn’t have any water with me either (stupid move #4). After about 15 minutes, I made it up to the start of the driveway again, but it was a long haul to get there which left me pretty much drenched in sweat. The 1.5 mile walk back after that was pretty uneventful. One hill looked like the next. It was dark by this point, but I could still see well enough. I kept hoping each hill would be the last, but there was always another waiting. Luckily it didn’t get too cold once the sun went down, and my feet went between semi-numb to just-a-little-numb, so I was okay.

Lessons Learned
Do I really even have to go here? Yeah, it was dumb. Out there alone, nobody really knew I was there and the one person who did know, didn’t have any kind of check-in plan with me since he thought I was fine. I was the only car in the parking lot. Cell phone was dead. No water and not dressed for cold weather. I’ve definitely done smarter things in my life (and sadly I’ve done things even more stupid than this too). All that said, it wasn’t that cold when I started. Had it been 15 degrees when it was light out, I’d have never even started the trek. In the end, I got some decent photos from it, and even got to test out the weather-proofing on the D800 (shhh again… don’t tell Scott) ;)

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed the story (and keep all lectures to yourself). Have a good one! :)

  • Ben Deavin

    Must resist Ski Report pun …

    Really enjoyed the story though, sounds like a fun adventure … well one of those fun when looking back on it ones :-)

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Go ahead… let the puns fly! :)

  • Dennis Zito

    Matt, I had to start laughing about two sentences into your story. I had a similar experience (without the snow and cold), but just as stupid. Oh, sorry for that! :-)

    I took a hike up to Bear Falls in Telluride, CO. It was a nice hike (I’m alone) but longer than I had expected. It was a about 2.5 mile hike with a 1000 foot elevation increase. The last 1/4 of a mile was steep and loose rocks. I made it using my tripod as a walking stick. Got my pictures and started back down. Again, using my tripod as a walking stick, I’m headed down the loose rock part (did I mention not a person in site). My tripod slipped on loose rocks and I went tumbling down the rocks and landed in a bush looking at the sky! I was about 10 yards from going off a cliff. Talk about colorful words. Camera, tripod were fine. I got a big hematoma on my right knee and thigh and still had 2.25 miles to walk back … down hill, which doesn’t help the thigh and knee. But, I am here to talk about it! :-) However, my pictures were not as good or the quality of yours, so the trip was a bust. Oh, did I mention I’m 72 years old. :-)

    Beautiful photo and thanks for the laugh!


    • Matt Kloskowski

      Wow Dennis. I think you may have beat me. The whole cliff thing is scary. Sounds like a rough one but I’m glad it turned out ok. Wish you had gotten a good photo, but at least your safe :)

  • Charles Lyons

    Good story……Great Picture…..The D800 is awesome, wish I could afford one…
    Be careful I like your tutorials…..

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Thanks Charles… I think ;)

  • Brian Matiash

    Oh man – I will NEVER forget that day. Let it not be said that you give up easily.

    We’ll have a better round 2 in a few weeks. :)

  • Kevin Stohlmeyer (@KStohl)

    Thank goodness you have all your toes! Glad it all ended well. I think the shot was worth it and the story to go with them is one you can tell for a long time. Thanks for sharing Matt. See you in a few weeks!

  • nldazuu

    welcome home and ‘hiephiephoera’ (Dutich way celebrating) your nice photo’s fitting to this adventure story! Keep shooting Matt but next time more carefull ;-)

  • David Staggs

    Dude, that is so funny, could not help to laugh knowing that I have been in the same situation a couple of time myself. I do appreciate you telling it since I am planning on flying out to Portland in Sept or early Oct for a weekend getaway and now I know one place to go shoot with my D800.

  • Nathan Masters

    can’t wait for the next story. I am glad you are ok though.

  • Stephen Foster

    I’m just glad you are OK buddy! I assume lesson learned! I must share a major rule in Scouting… Plan ahead… be prepared for challenges… always have a buddy… always make sure someone knows where you are and the plan/schedule. Be safe as many out there appreciate you.

  • Rob Zolman

    Thanks for the story… NEW book idea? Dangerous Digital: Perilous Persuits of the Perfect Picture by Matt Kloskowski…

  • Dominic Byrne

    I’m never moaning about the temperatures in the Middle East again – you soft Southern boys should be careful out there! Glad you made it back in one piece to tell the story.

  • mgjr73

    Well you had all the ingredients to a recipe for disaster… you’re lucky you’re a better photographer than you are a cook and came home with all your fingers and toes intact. Midway through the story all I could think of was frostbite. Needless to say, great photo with a great story behind it… one adventure to pass down to your grandkids. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Thomas Fitzgerald

    Wow, great shot – the light is gorgeous. But you’re lucky you didn’t get frostbite. That wouldn’t have been fun! But worth it for the shot, though right ;-)

  • Kevin Wong

    Thanks for sharing the story Matt so we can all learn from your lesson, glad you made it out ok. Next time, may be you should give me a shout out so I can go explore with you :)

  • bryan

    In hindsight, funny but not at the time I guess – a serious point made behind. But its the same thinking that causes us people from colder countries get sunburn in Florida!

  • Jim

    If I had only known. I would have gone with you and we would have had snow shoes, coats, gloves!

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