July 8, 2009 – Blackcomb Mountain

Blackcomb Mountain

Blackcomb Mountain

Wednesday, July 8, 2009.


I was going through some pictures from last summer recently, and I dug up a bunch from a quick overnight trip up to Whistler that Julie and I took. We were only there for one night, but we scored a great deal at I’m pretty sure it was the Fairmont Chateau. (Courtesy of HotWire.com)

Since she was fairly pregnant at the time, she decided to spend much of the next day hanging around the (extremely nice) pool sipping cocktails (virgin, presumably), while I wanted to head up onto the mountain to do some hiking. I had been up the gondola on Whistler several times in the summer (that’s where all the hiking is), but I had never gotten around to making it up on Blackcomb. (They have summer skiing on the Horstman Glacier up there, but not so much in terms of hiking trails.) So, that was the plan for me.

Whereas the Whistler side is nice and easy to get up top (one gondola ride and you’re there), Blackcomb is a bit more of a pain in the ass. You have to ride two chairlifts (Wizard and Solar Coaster), then ride a bus over to the bottom of a third chair (7th Heaven), then ride that one up as well. But, definitely worth seeing if you’re up there, and I’ve heard that they’ve actually added some real hiking trails on the Blackcomb side as well for this year.

Anyway, I spent a few hours up there walking around, and when I was flipping through my pics last night, I found a couple that I wanted to post here. (I’ll post one today, and one Friday. That means that tomorrow is going to be a SURPRISE!!! Not, like, the exciting kind, more of just the “neither one of us know what’s coming” kind.)

Both of the pictures are playing with the same theme: some cool rocks in the extreme foreground, and other stuff way behind. The big question mark when you’re taking a picture like that is what you want to be in focus. Assuming you make the stuff in the foreground sharp (which you don’t have to), changing how in-focus the stuff in the distance is can make for a completely different picture. To change that, you of course need to change the size of the aperture. A wide-open aperture means your depth of field is really shallow. Which means that only things that are very close to the focus point (close in terms of distance away from you) will be sharp, and everything else will be fuzzy. A smaller aperture widens the depth of field, to the extreme case where if your aperture is as small as possible, you can make both things that are close and things that are very far away come out in focus.

The two pictures I’m going to post don’t really show off the difference too well (both of them I used a pretty small aperture), but it’s still worth talking about. It’s of course nice if everything in the frame is nice and crisp, such that you can see all the detail in everything, but it’s not always desirable. For example, if only one part of the picture is sharp, your eye is naturally drawn to that spot, so it can be a great way to add emphasis to the subject. The rest of the stuff in there adds context and all that, but it doesn’t detract any attention from the point of interest. Also, differences in focus are another way of adding contrast – if everything is in focus it can be tough to tell what’s close and what’s far away, which flattens the picture and everything blends together. In this case in particular, that wasn’t necessary because the colors and the patterns in the rocks are completely different, but that’s not always true.

And of course there are other pitfalls to changing up the aperture size. Sometimes it would be really nice to use a small aperture, but there’s just not enough light to allow it. Using a smaller aperture means you’ve got to keep the shutter open longer, to get in enough light to expose the image. In bright sunlight this isn’t as much of an issue, but in other cases you have to choose between an image that’s got a really narrow depth of field or one that’s completely blurry because of camera shake. Not a hard choice, but it does limit your options. My general rule of thumb is to use the smallest aperture I can get away with (meaning my shutter speed is 1/200th of a second or faster), although in certain situations when a small depth of field is desirable, I go the other way. (I keep my camera in Aperture-Priority mode (“Av” on Canon cameras) when I’m taking outside shots. Although I use Shutter-Priority (“Tv”) for things like taking pictures of my kid, but I’m not going to go into that now.)

Man, after spending all that time talking about keeping the background in focus vs. making it blurry, I’m starting to reconsider the image I picked for Friday. Maybe I should actually choose something that illustrates this. Hmm, we’ll see. Regardless, get EXCITED about TOMORROW! Who KNOWS what I’ll be putting up here?!?! You’re right, probably a stupid flower picture.

Map: http://bit.ly/14EIH7

Notes: Canon EOS Rebel XT, Tamron 28-300 mm VC lens. 1/40s, f/32.0, ISO 400. Focal length: 119 mm.

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