Friday, November 14, 2008

After a "marmot moment," he captures the Cracker Lake sunset he had been hoping for

From his home base in Spokane, Washington, outdoor photographer Ben Chase is practically next door to Glacier National Park in Montana. These two images were recently captured by Ben's 4x5 Linhof view camera and Singh-Ray filters during a couple of days of backpacking in the park.

"One of the more iconic shots in Glacier is of Wild Goose Island along the shores of St. Mary Lake," says Ben. "For this first shot, I wanted to try something different, which required scouting around the shoreline, just down the hill from the little parking spots. It's thick brush and difficult to traverse, but it's well worth the effort if the light and weather conditions are right for a photograph.

"Most of the time, either a 2 or 3-stop Graduated ND Filter is required to hold back a bright sky at sunset, but this particular image only required a Singh-Ray 1-stop hard-step ND grad, which I hand-held at a 30 degree angle (roughly) for approximately 6 seconds for this shot. I've often found that this 1-stop ND grad is the best choice to make an image work. During exposures of more than a couple seconds, I will slowly move the filter so the grad-line is not as defined as it would be if fixed in a holder.

"To backpack in most US National Parks," says Ben, "a permit is required to camp overnight in many places. For the next leg of this trip, we went to the ranger station at the Many Glacier campground to pick up our pass for Cracker Lake. The ranger gave us the normal talk about bears, hanging our food, and just general backpacking safety. With years of experience hiking in the back country, none of the discussion came as a surprise. Mostly, I was concerned about bears, elk, and moose -- there was not a word, however, about the threat of marmots. 'Marmots?' you say. 'Why they're just harmless rodents that make noise and build nests in the rocks.' That's true in most cases; but if you are camping at Cracker Lake, you would be WRONG!

"Once we arrived at the Cracker Lake backpacking campsite, we found the food preparation area where you must hang food and cooking implements on a large steel pole to prevent animals from getting to them. While my friend Don and I were hanging our food, we noticed a marmot exploring an adjacent campsite occupied by two men. We shouted to them that a marmot was in their gear, but by the time they got back to their stuff - the marmot had chewed a hole through one of their boots. They thanked us for warning them, but the real battle had just begun.

"Later, as we were hiking up the hill near the campsite, we heard one of the campers shouting loudly and running down the hill. Then, further down the hill, we saw the marmot carrying away this guy's one and only pole for his lightweight tent. Apparently, the marmot grabbed the leather strap of the tent pole, yanked it out, and took off with his prize. The man soon won the tug-of-war with the marmot and got his tent pole back. At that point, I decided I've seen everything. Not so.

"That evening, I got the shot I had long been waiting for. My primary goal for the trip, in fact, was to get at least one really first-rate shot of Cracker Lake during either sunrise or sunset. Fortunately, I succeeded with the help of my two-stop Singh-Ray ND grad filter (4x6 size). The bright band of warm light was fading quickly and I chose to hand hold the filter (which is often necessary in transitional light) to get the shot that I wanted... Marmots be damned!"

A visit to Ben's website will provide many more impressive landscape images from the Banff/Jasper region of Canada as well as images from all across the American Northwest.

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