What Nature Gives

In the early years of my photography going out to photograph was fairly easy. I rarely went far from home and I didn’t need to so much. Within a half hour I had access by car to forests, rivers, countryside, and the sea. When the weather was suitable for what I wanted to capture I went out. Sea side sunsets, foggy farm scenes, spring flowers in the forest, or a fresh snowfall – for any of these photo opportunities I just paid attention to the weather and went out when I had the chance.

Things became more difficult when I started taking long weekends to hike in the local mountains. A three-day hike was planned and the next chance might be six weeks or more away. If the weather started bad I usually cancelled the trip. But often enough I left in sunshine only to have the sky cloud over by the time I set up camp and then it would usually rain over night, the next day being either rainy or very damp with low clouds replacing the mountain views. I spent so many nights in rain in the local mountain parks around Vancouver that even now I get a sharp feeling of nostalgia when I hear rain on my tent.

On rainy days by Garibaldi Lake I would spend the time talking with companions in the shelters at the lake shore. When the rain stopped I would go outside and walk around, enjoying the smell of the wet pines and watching the light on the lake. Silver slivers of sunlight would sometimes slice through the clouds and bleach the glaciers white or make schools of dancing sparkles on the water’s surface. I still tried to capture some photographs because I was starting to learn that nature doesn’t often give you what you hope for and instead you must be ready to accept what nature offers and make the most of it. On one such trip, when it seemed the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come through, my companions and I decided to try to get up on Panorama Ridge, which overlooks the lake. The sun made a valiant effort to spot-light patches of blossoming alpine meadow and we grew hopeful as we climbed. But up on the ridge the clouds gathered and sprayed drizzle in the relentless wind. Dressed for August we all got chilled to the bone in the wind and spray and changed our goal for the day from hiking across the ridge to getting back to camp and changing clothes.

Long vacations of a week or more reinforced my appreciation for suitable weather for landscape photography and my understanding of making use of what you are given. My first trip to the Prairies was nearly perfect as far as weather went and I was up early and late to bed every day, shooting from early morning twilight to late evening twilight. The second trip was less productive. I spent many days in overcast weather or in the bronze haze of forest fire smoke.

After coming to Japan I first hoped to start again my exploration of local nature. But I found the light poor in summer and there were no really good places I could easily access around where I lived, even near the countryside around the Ara River in Okegawa City. To find nature of the like I was used to in Canada I had to go many hours away to the mountains, though some areas along the upper stream of the Ara River were suitable and could be reached within two or three hours. So, at last I began spending most of my time for photography in the mountains where there was nature I felt I knew. But visiting the mountains of Japan was no better, weather-wise. Most of my first outings included rain and often overcast skies prevailed. I visited Kamikochi and the Hotakas four times before the weather was good enough that I could reach the summit of Oku Hotaka.

For a while my discouragement ran deep. I stayed two nights on Jounendake in hopes of photographing the view over the Yari/Hotaka Range and not once did I get a glimpse of the view because of the clouds and rain. I can recall thinking what a waste of money it was for me to come all the way from Saitama with food and film only to spend it on the mountain searching for small details of the mountains to photograph. During a three-day traverse of the Shirouma Sanzan I had only one morning of clear skies and mountain views. The rest of the trip was spent in rain or inside the clouds. Even a five-day trip around Fuji San gave me only a brief morning of clear skies while the rest of the time clouds and rain were the daily fair.

Sometimes nature gives you what you hope for.

Sometimes nature gives you what you hope for.

Thankfully, my luck changed around the end of 2004. This was the year I went up Jounen and I decided that it felt good to be free up on the ridge and that even though it had seemed like a waste of money for the lack of photographs I captured it was still a good time. I decided that I wouldn’t worry about the weather so much and simply enjoy myself in the mountains. I promised myself to go climbing more often than just once or twice a year. When I left Japan for Canada in 2004 I planned to take at least a few trips around in my home country and I would do my best to capture images in any weather except perhaps a torrential downpour. Though there were some disappointments, I took what I got and made the most of it. When a visit to the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park saw me there under heavy grey skies with a murky haze hanging everywhere I turned my attention to details in the peeling mud. I learned to deal with the bad weather psychologically, which is what Peter Watson says you must do. There were still many disappointments and frustrations but I tried to capture something.

Not long ago I read someone’s account of his climb on Houousan in the Minami Alps of Japan. He had been there only a week or so before my climb, and my climb had coincided with Chris’s climb up Kaikomagatake. I had four days there and the weather was perfectly mixed: clouds, sun, clouds, rain, clouds, sun and wind. I got a lot of pretty good photographs but nothing like what I had really hoped for. Chris, on the other hand, was struggling up Kaikoma in clouds and it seemed he would never have any views. But then for about 40 minutes the sky cleared enough for him to have an excellent view of Kitadake rising up from the clouds. The photos he captured during that brief time are better, in my opinion, than any of the images I captured during my hike on Houou. While I was often grumbling about what I wasn’t getting, Chris was shooting in the brief window in the weather he was given and he bagged some excellent images.

Since that hike I went on a few more. The weather was never perfect for any of them; however, I knew that adverse weather could deliver the potential for utterly amazing landscape photography moments. When the rain came I still roamed around outside. When the clouds swallowed up the mountain peaks I stood and waited for them to come back, even if just for an instant. My climbs in 2008 didn’t result in as many good images as I had captured in 2006 and 2007, but I was not discouraged. I know that the only thing I can do is plan to go again to the mountains and each time I have to watch the sky and be ready. Sometimes the Weather Gods play a private game and leave you at their mercy. Other times they let you have a peek at what they are doing. You have to take what nature gives you and be ready for the highlights. Often the best you can get comes just when the worst is coming to a close.

2 responses to “What Nature Gives

  1. Much wisdom in this post, and you’re absolutely right – you’ve just got to keep the camera primed, keep your eyes open, and make the best of what you are given!

  2. Hi Chris. Good to hear from you. With no new hikes from you recently I was wondering if you were still alive. But perhaps you are busy this time of year. There must be lots of new snow in the mountains. It’s snowing in Saitama City today but it’s not sticking.
    Thanks for your comment.

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