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Brilliant sunrise light illuminates fresh snow at Oregon’s Crater Lake. This is an image I’ve been waiting years to make. Since first arriving in Oregon a few years back, Crater Lake has been one of my favorite locations, and I’ve gotten to know it quite well through my many visits – so I knew exactly what I was looking for. When I saw two new feet of snow in the forecast, I adjusted my plans to be here and shoot the day after. For Crater Lake, two feet is a laughable amount, given that it typically receives closer to 50 feet of snowfall per year – but it was enough to make it appealing in an otherwise dismal winter for snow levels here in the Pacific Northwest.
Winter here is beautiful, but it presents its challenges: one can only drive as far as Rim Village on the south rim, and all the best spots that allow one to really incorporate Wizard Island are found on the west rim. This means snowshoeing for miles is a necessity. This wouldn’t be such a huge deal, except the best light is at sunrise – meaning you’re either camping overnight in the snow, or getting up at 4am.
I chose the latter option, and for the entire second half of the two-hour trek, the sky was already burning pink and red. This motivated me to get the hike done quicker, and I arrived at the end of the red stages of sunrise, as the light started to become orange. Given that the snowpack was 10+ feet lower than it should have been this time of year, my planned compositions weren’t 100% ideal, since it was tougher to get above the trees – but I think I still made it work. I always get asked why I don’t include the rest of the lake on the left in shots from this area – well, for one, it’s rather empty; two, there’s a rock wall and some fairly unappealing trees just out of frame to the left; and three, I’d be unable to nail down the composition in-camera (I tend to avoid panos/stitches for this reason).
I chose this particular spot/composition because of the clear views of Mount Scott and Garfield Peak, the elevation above (and proximity to) Wizard Island, the foreground snowdrifts, and the space to allow the trees to cast shadows on the snow. This is the closest spot that I knew would satisfy these requirements, and it was 6 miles round trip. I’m not one to regale my audience with exaggerated tales of the difficulty involved in getting a shot, but 6 miles snowshoeing with frequent elevation change feels more like 15 miles backpacking in the summer – and I had to do it on 2 hours of sleep. Worth the nausea and soreness the next day!
On repeat in my head with every step I trudged and mile I drove, as well as while processing: hummingbird heartbeat
A bit of tech info: this is mostly a single exposure, with some of the brightest highlights around the sun recovered from a darker bracketed exposure. The sunstar/flare is natural – I’ve found shooting Nikon’s newer lenses at f/11 to f/16 will often produce more interesting results than the “traditional” f/22 sunstar (provided you have something that partially occludes the sun, such as the rim of the lake here).
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