There's a new photoshoot in the queue! This is now my seventh session with Katlyn Lacoste over the past five years. No one else has matched my interest in figure nude art in nature as much as she.
This time, our plan was to spend the night at Mt. Fremont, in Mount Rainier National Park, to photograph the Milky Way during the dark of the moon. I wanted to attempt the most complicated set of photos I've ever tried: to photograph a human subject in front of the stars and the Mountain. I've photographed the Milky Way at Mt. Fremont before, quite successfully, but getting both the stars and a foreground subject in the same image is an order of magnitude more difficult.
But first, we decided to take a side trip on the Huckleberry Creek trail, a place I've photographed once before. The top part of the trail crosses an immense glacial cirque filled with oblong boulders, which make great platforms on which to pose. And I've never worked with anyone better at posing in such an environment than Katlyn.
From there, we continued down to Forest Lake, not for photography but just to enjoy the wilderness. One thing I love about this trail is that it's seldom visited... even on a Sunday afternoon, we encountered one couple coming out as we came in, and another couple coming in as we went out, and that's all. So we had plenty of time to swim in the lake and hang out on the shore enjoying the solitude.
Mt. Fremont could not have been more different. It was overrun with people! We shared the sunset with about forty of them, a circus-like atmosphere that was a bit overwhelming, frankly. We witnessed one couple getting married, and another renewing vows and taking photographs. One person had a drone flying, until I informed him it was illegal in the national park. People had brought camp chairs and stoves for cooking dinner. Several intended to stay for the Milky Way, same as us. At least there were hardly any bugs, very different from a month ago when I was practically eaten alive during another visit.
After the sun set, it turned cooler, and people began drifting away in small groups, headed down the trail by headlamp. I found a spot a bit down the trail myself, out of sight of the lookout, and set about experimenting with different settings and the positioning of a radio-remote flash. I wanted to get all the details worked out before the Milky Way was directly over Mount Rainier at about 11pm, and wanted Katlyn to be able to stay bundled up against the cold as long as possible until then. The problem was, about every three minutes another group of people would go past me on the trail by headlamp, and I had to wait until they passed before resuming my experiments. Hilariously, although I was only about 20 feet off the main trail (on a rock field), not a single person saw me, their eyes blinded by the light of their headlamps. There was even a group of five that came in at about 10:30pm by headlamp, hiking single file and conversing in Japanese. They didn't even have cameras -- just came to see the lookout, evidently, in the middle of the night, and then headed back around midnight!
Meanwhile, I finally got my settings the way I wanted them, and my camera and flash positioned, and Katlyn set up for her poses. The flash would go off at the beginning of a 15 second exposure, and then she would quickly bundle up in a blue sleeping bag, looking like a big blue worm in the darkness as the camera processed the shot! Due to the cold, we only shot about a dozen poses before calling it a night.
Now that I have the photos on my computer, my feelings about the Milky Way shots are mixed. The focus isn't as sharp as I'd hoped -- hard to do, given the darkness and the need to capture both the foreground individual and the distant mountain in the same shot, with an aperture as wide as possible for light gathering. And there seems to be a lot more light pollution around the Mountain than there was six years ago. But, the sample I'm including here is just a preliminary first edit, so I may find ways of compensating for both factors, in the final shots. I'm also not sure that the image is as cool in real life as it was in my imagination. Maybe with more foreground elements along with Katlyn -- an old tree or something -- it would look better. In any case, the Huckleberry Creek shots more than make up for any reservations I have about the ones at Mt. Fremont! They are, as you can see, magnificent.
Katlyn, by the way, is talking about moving to Chicago, tired of an attitude very unsupportive of artists in Seattle. That's a topic for another blog post, but I'll say two things: I don't disagree with her; and, I'll miss having her around. Along with being a remarkable artist and model, she's become a good friend, and I'll miss exploring wild places with her.