We’re going way, way back with today’s “Behind the Image” post - all the way to the summer of 2001 and Fuji Velvia 50 film. What you see here is the very first image I ever sold. Looking at it now, well…it’s kinda hard to look at, honestly. I’ve become so accustomed to viewing super clean, highly detailed digital images that I really struggle to lay eyes on photographs I made on 35mm film and scanned with a Nikon CoolScan film scanner. Factor in the less than awesome compositions of so many of those old images, including this one, and sometimes I feel like I’m watching a train wreck. However, back in 2002, when an ad agency purchased this for use as a large backlit sign in the Sea-Tac airport, it obviously caught someone’s eye.
And now, on to the back story. Several friends and I decided to climb Mount Rainier in August of 2001. About two weeks before our departure I fell walking down the stairs in my apartment and broke my right hand. No, I wasn’t drunk…just clumsy. Rainier is an alpine ascent, requiring that climbers utilize ice axes and be assigned to a rope team for safety. Given that I wasn’t able to hold a can of soda, there was no way I could self-arrest with an ice axe in a fall. Rather than cancel the trip, I went along with my friends and spent my time hiking while they spent several days training for and executing the climb.
On one of my hikes I stumbled upon this tarn high on a ridge in the Tatoosh Range, which sits just south of Rainier itself and affords spectacular views of the glaciated southern flanks of the peak. It was afternoon and the light wasn’t optimal so the next morning, I awoke long before sunrise, dragged myself out of bed and trudged up the steep trail in the dark. I quickly set up my tripod, composed a photo in the viewfinder and waited patiently in the chilly morning air for the first rays of sunshine to grace the mountain before me.
I had initially photographed a different, portrait oriented composition and after the sun was a bit higher in the sky I decided to try framing a landscape composition with less foreground but more of the ridge and trees to the right of Rainier (the composition above). No sooner had I locked the ballhead in place with this composition in the viewfinder when a lone mountain goat appeared on the ridge. I was so stunned that I literally forgot to press the shutter button. The goat wandered from the ridge, down toward the tarn and then proceeded to stand right in front of me, at which point the synapses started to fire again and I had just enough time to make one exposure before it wandered away out of frame.
In retrospect, the composition would have been a thousand times stronger if I had the presence of mind to press the shutter when the goat was standing on the ridge to the right of the mountain. Nevertheless, it’s a unique image that obviously has commercial appeal, so I probably shouldn’t be too critical of it.
I had been using the same lab to develop my film since I started shooting slide film and never had the tech commented on my work until I picked up the slides from this trip. I remember the tech saying, “You’ve got some really nice images in there” as he handed me the developed film. Needless to say, I rushed over to one of the light tables, threw my slides down and was pretty thrilled when I saw this one through the loupe!
Canon 35mm film camera, model unknown
Tokina 20-35mm lens, probably at around 20mm (not recorded)
Shutter speed unknown at f/22
Fuji Velvia 50
Possibly a 2 stop graduated neutral density filter
Scanned with Nikon CoolScan, lightly processed in Adobe Lightroom