Behind the Lens: An opening in the clouds

Clouds obscured the view of Lake George for a few minutes but quickly rolled past. Photo by Mike Lynch

By Mike Lynch

At the start of Sunday’s hike up Black Mountain, I wasn’t too optimistic about getting good photos.

The sky was cloudy, the forest was mostly leafless hardwoods, and for some reason my camera wasn’t functioning properly.

I first noticed my camera wasn’t working when I tried to take a photo of my hiking partners underneath the highest trail sign I’d ever seen at a junction in the trail. The sign must have been 20 feet off the ground. We wondered if perhaps people had stolen the trail sign in the past and this was a safety measure, but we really didn’t have an answer. It didn’t seem to make sense.

Why is the trail sign so high? Photo by Mike Lynch

Either way things started coming together shortly after noticing the sign. I quickly fixed the camera by taking out the battery and reinserting it, and then a short way down the trail we headed into a hemlock forest, which I find much more scenic than hardwoods in the winter.

I was hiking with Gillian Scott, her husband Herb Terns, and their daughter, Kiki. Scott was working a trip-story about this jaunt that will later appear in the Explorer. I was tagging along to get photos.

On trips into the backcountry, I’ll often bring different lenses to meet different needs. If I’m feeling like I want to go really light and simple, I’ll grab my nifty-fifty, which is a lightweight and low budget 50 mm lens with a 1.8 aperture, which is good for low light and portraits. Other times I’ll combine a telephoto lens (often to photograph people) with a standard lens or wide angle. It all depends on my mood and the setting and objectives.

This particular day, I brought a 24-70 F2.8 lens and a 17-35 F4 lens. The 24-70 is a workhorse lens that is popular with journalists and professional photographers. I bring it with me just about everywhere. It’s versatile and good for people shots because the wide aperture allows you to isolate your subjects for portraits. The other is a wide-angle lens that I wanted to have with me for landscape shots. I wanted to use it to capture the view from the summit and try to shoot some interesting angles on the trail.

For the first half of the trip, I left the 24-70 lens on the camera and focused on getting some shots of my hiking partners on trail. Kiki was a natural subject because of her good humor, so I captured some shots of her playing around, including one time when she found some branches coated with ice that she used as antlers.

Kiki and Herb enjoy a laugh on the trail. Photo by Mike Lynch

We passed some ponds along the way that were scenic, but I didn’t get that “wow” feeling that comes along with seeing spectacular scenery until we started getting toward the summit. Up high, the trees were caked with snow and ice. About this time, the clouds started giving way to a blue sky. That was a relief because we had been told on the way up that the summit was “socked in.”

When we found the summit view, an undercast covered part of the lake in the distance. But after a few minutes, the clouds began to fade and the view opened up. At this point, I switched to my wide-angle lens and kept it on for the duration of the hike. It was the perfect focal length for photographing the lake.

The crew leaves the summit. Photo by Mike Lynch

I also found the wide-angle lens useful as we were leaving the summit because we walked through an open area where all the vegetation was glistening with ice and snow.

Several times on the hike, Herb mentioned that he thought winter was the most scenic season. I’m not sure I have a favorite, but mountain scenes like those on Black Mountain Sunday are hard to beat.

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