Mount Thorung Peak from Letdar.

Mount Thorung Peak from Letdar.

Mount Thorung Peak from Letdar, Annapurna Conservation Area, Himalaya, Nepal.

Published on 2016/01/19 - Text and Pictures by Alberto Mateo, Travel Photographer for The Last Footprint.   [849 Words]

One of the keys to superior landscape photography is to hike away from civilization. I admit that many impressive landscapes have been taken in places next to a road or town. You can use heavier gear if you don’t have to transport it in your backpack, but you might find that your subjects lack interest and drama.

I can recall right now one of the most impressive works by Ansel Adams: “Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite, CA.”, an impressive view of the Yosemite Valley after a storm. A good amount of Clouds are clearing in the distance but let the viewer perceive the stunning shapes of the valley.

This image was taken from a panoramic viewpoint, but the reality is that if you limit your working locations to places near a road, you are going to miss most of your good landscape opportunities. Nature looks more appealing seen from above.

I can give you some reasons to look for scenes to practice photography away from civilization:

1. When you hike for an extended period of time you allow time to accumulate so that “picturesque” scenes appear in front of you. In reality it is the interaction of the weather conditions with the earth surface that produces memorable pictures, so the more time you spend outdoors, the more possibilities you give yourself to get those favorable climate conditions that will add drama to your pictures and will allow you to create something more appealing than a postcard.

2. Mountains are always best photographed from a high vantage point: usually from a mountain pass or from the top of a peak… We all who like hiking know how wonderful are the views you can enjoy from the summits.

3. When you begin to walk away from civilization you get immersed into Nature, and your senses become fine-tuned with the landscapes you are searching. It’s easier for us to find where the pictures are hidden, it’s easier to discover a leaf detail, a composition of tree trunks or hills receding in the distance…Human constructions decrease in number, even sometimes disappear. Without these distractions it’s easier for us to focus on the landscapes we are looking for.

When I saw this image taken in Nepal I was trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area in the Nepal Himalaya. I had begun trekking in the small town of Besisahar and had been progressing among forests and cliffs for some days until I arrived to Manang, when I saw one of the walls of Annapurna, the main 8000 meter peak you can see during that trek. It was a stunning view indeed, but the best was yet to come.

When I have in front of me a scene that moves me, I always try to create the widest variety of pictures I can get. You never know the use you are going to make of that image in the future.

I believe it was the day after Manang when I passed under the big mass of the Thorung Peak, which usually do not have so impressive appearance, but the weather conditions can change dramatically any landscape. I saw clouds passing at high speed next to the vertical face of the peak. When they go so fast clouds create many different configurations is a small period of time so I asked my porter to stop and I set up my tripod on the snow. I set my Nikon F4 loaded with Black and White film (Ilford Pan-F 50). I mounted the Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 AF to focus only in the main face of the Peak and waited for the clouds to cross the frame of the image.

During maybe half an hour I pressed the shutter whenever I saw a nice configuration of rock and clouds. I shot horizontal and vertical versions, I zoomed in and out, I mounted another body with color  film (it was not so easy to shoot both possibilities, you had to had two bodies, each one loaded with one type of film) trying to get nice compositions. When I have in front of me a scene that moves me, I always try to create the widest variety of pictures I can get. You never know the use you are going to make of that image in the future.

Sometimes the peak was completely hidden, sometimes there were nearly no clouds. The key to this kind of pictures is to have enough clouds in the frame to transmit the sensation of drama and wilderness, but not too many so that they hide completely the peak. The ability to convey what the photographer felt in the moment of pressing the shutter resides in getting a balance between rock and clouds.

[pullquote]After half an hour the package of clouds had passed away. The peak was completely lit. The scene had become a boring postcard. [/pullquote]

In the final frame I selected there are clouds in front of the main face of the peak (on the left of the frame) and behind it (on the right); some parts of the peak are hiding while others are showing. The sharp ridge that climbs directly to the summit, the verticality of the face of the peak and the shapes of the half-hidden pyramid that conform the summit add impact to the picture. Recent snow cover the rock on the right creating a speckled pattern that looks great in black and white.

After half an hour the package of clouds had passed away. The peak was completely lit (the screens of light and shade were not present anymore) and the main face was completely lit against a clear blue sky. The scene had become a boring postcard. It was time to wrap-up my gear and continue hiking looking for more interesting situations to photograph.

I believe that the color versions are nice, but they are not as pleasant as this black and white version.

Thorung Peak, Annapurna Conservation Area, Himalaya, Nepal. Source: Google Maps.

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/2. I had plenty of light with my tripod set, even with ISO 25 film.
APERTURE:  f11. I focused on the main wall of the peak. Snow dots and the shapes of the rock had to be sharp, so closed down a bit. I was using a tele, which has inherent small depth of field, so f8 was the widest I'd have used; f11 was the option to be sure.
MODE: M - Manual Mode. When you have time and use a tripod, no automatic mode is needed. Manual is always the most comfortable option.
LENS USED: Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 AF, used at 200mm
FILM/ISO: Ilford Pan F50 used at ISO 25. Developed with Rodinal (Fine Grain Developer). Fine grain film to increase the detail of the picture. Using higher ISO film would have added some texture to the clouds, but have lost detail in the rock. Photography is always a matter of choices to try to get balance.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I have no Metadata available of this image. Except film/developer, all data are ESTIMATED, but they are based in the way I work, and they should be very near of reality. Filter Medium Yellow for Black and White photography.

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