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Introduction

2014 has been a very important year for me: Since I made up my mind to go beyond the plains, I have explored the Southern Alps of New Zealand two more times after I completed my Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Guides’ Mountain Experience Course (MEC, see link). In July 2014, Mark – my guide and friend, and I climbed Mount Cook Range. During that trip, I was able to make couple of nice pictures. The following pictures are probably the very first serious landscape photographs made from this place, because most of current pictures of Southern Alps were taken as snapshots by climbers.

Beyond the Plains: Touching the Sky

Beyond the Plains: Touching the Sky


The Above photo was made on 8 July 2014, around 3.30am after moon set. From a location of 1600 meters high, we witnessed the most stunning Milky Way I have ever seen. The lights down the mountain came from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, while the curve line in the valley was the river from Muller Glacier Lake on the very right side outside this image.

Over Tasman Valley

Over Tasman Valley


Planning

Soon after I completed our Mount Cook Range trip with Mark, I started to plan a new mountain trip in November 2014. As an experienced mountaineer, Mark suggested that we climbed Darren Mountain near Milford Sound. From the high mountain ridge of Darren Mountain, we would get stunning high views over Milford Sound and surrounding mountain scenes. Since then, for three months, I had trained myself hard in order to enhance my physical fitness as well as climbing techniques.

Indoor Rock Climb Training

Indoor Rock Climb Training

Yun and I arrived in Te Anau on 1 November. According to our plan, we would first undertake a 2-day backpack trip to Lake Mckenzie before our Darren Mountain climb. However, after we arrived in Te Anau, it was heavily raining. By ignoring such bad weather, we still went on our backpack trip to Lake McKenzie (12KM from the Divide on the Routeburn Track) under the worst weather condition: heavy rains, strong wind and floods. It was an unforgettable backpack experience, though I was not able to take any pictures at Lake McKenzie.

Scenery along the Routeburn Track

Scenery along the Routeburn Track

After we got back to Te Anau, the weather had not been improved, and we were told that a major snow storm was being just across the most parts of the Southern Alps. One day later, I got a message from Mark to inform me that there was too much snow in Darren Mountain area which implied a high risk of avalanche. So we both agreed that we had to change our original plan. Mark suggested that the Ball Ridge in Mount Cook region would be a good alternative because from there we could gain a very unique glacier view and the avalanche risk was not that high according to avalanche broadcast.


Climbing the Ball Ridge

Ball Ridge is a mountain ridge on the other end of Mount Cook Range, its base is located near the terminal of glacier Tasman Lake. We quickly rescheduled our climb plan to Ball Ridge: On the first day, we would hike to the Ball Hut from the trail head of Tasman River, stayed in the hut for overnight. Then the second day we would climb to Ball Ridge with 700 meters vertical height, and camped along the ridge for two nights. Our climb path is showed as in the following topomap.

Topomap of Ball Ridge

Topomap of Ball Ridge

Ball Hut is a standard hut in the Aoraki/Mt Cook Area with three bunks, toilet, radio and water supply. We arrived in the hut around 4pm on 5 November 2014, luckily, no one was there. I found that although the space was small, the hut was quite cosy and convenient. The weather looked good after sunset, and we were hoping to start our climb in the next early morning. But unexpectedly, it turned out that it had an overnight snow fall in the area and the next day morning it was still snowing.

Ball Hut

Ball Hut

By 11am in the morning of 6 November 2014, when the snowfall became a bit light, we decided to start our climb. This was a harder climb compared to my previous two alps experiences in January and July respectively. The climb started with a steep but relatively clear track first, then after about 200 meter vertical height, it got very steep and most of the parts were covered by deep snow, and I had to use my ice ax to secure myself for each move. Finally, after six hours hard climb, we reached the top of Ball Ridge around 5pm. For the very first time, I got so close to such a stunning glacier landscape.

Climbing Ball Ridge

Climbing Ball Ridge



53 Hours

Mark found a flat spot for our campsite. We had to pitch our tent on the snow as the ground surface was covered by 50cm thick snow. We were surrounded by glaciers and mountain peaks. The Carolina Face of Mount Cook summit was just a hundred meters away from us, separated by a huge glacier gulley. This location was quite different from the one that we were climbed in July 2014, where we could see Aoraki/Mount Cook Village from 1000 meters above. Here, we were completely isolated from civilizations.

Mount Cook Summit - Caroline Face

Mount Cook Summit – Caroline Face

Although surrounded by ice and snow, surprisingly, we did feel extreme cold during the night, because there was no much wind. During our stay on the Ball Ridge, the weather was nice and we were able to explore the place thoroughly and made some interesting pictures. Again, as n our July trip, I believe that some of our pictures probably were the very first serious landscape images made from this location.

Ball Ridge: A Moment of Grace

Ball Ridge: A Moment of Grace

Moonlight over Alpine Glaciers

Moonlight over Alpine Glaciers

Mark devoted a lot of his time to shoot around Cook Mount summit. He told me that as a mountaineer, this place had some special meaning to him. One morning, when the first sunlight hit the summit, Mark run towards his position for taking pictures, and I captured his action.

The Photographer

The Photographer

7 November 2014 was a sunny day. After finishing our morning shooting, Mark suggested to climb a 1936 m summit near Caroline Hut. At beginning I was not so sure if I could make it because the snow was quite deep on the hills. Mark checked the condition, and ensured me it was safe. It was a delightful climb, we made to the summit in the mid day, and got back to our campsite at 2pm. Altogether we spent 5 hours for this climb.

On the Summit

On the Summit

It was early summer in south hemisphere. But no summer on the southern alps of New Zealand. The scenery of Ball Ridge was amazed me in every minute. Now I understand why people want to climb mountains. From this experience, for me, mountains have been beyond my photography subjects, more fundamentally, they give me complete freedoms, though they also impose various risks.

Mark and I got back to Ball Hut.

Mark and I got back to Ball Hut.

At 9:30am of 8 November, we started to descend. Physically, climbing down was not as hard as climbing up. But it had definitely more potentials to fall. I had to pay extra attention for almost each step down until we finally reached the flat base. We got back to Ball Hut around 2pm, and had a late lunch there. Then we continued hiking out. By the time we came back to Unwin Hut at 5pm, Yun had been already anxiously waiting for us for the whole day, as she thought we would come back in the morning.

As Time Passes By...

As Time Passes By…



Final Remarks

Climbing Ball Ridge was a milestone for my mountaineering experience. On the one hand, this trip greatly increased my confidence in the Southern Alps. During this trip, Mark has given me so much encouragement. He is not only an excellent mountaineer and photographer, but also a trustful guide, partner and friend. Each time with him, I have learned so many things. Now I think I have built good knowledge and foundation for climbing mountains. On the other hand, my mountain experience also made me understand potential risks in high mountains. To continue my journey, I should clearly know my limits – both physically and mentally. By the end, mountain landscape photography is such a wonderful field for that I can only follow my passion whenever my capacity allows.

More images made from this trip can be viewed from here.

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(1) Introduction


With a group of photographers, I undertook a photography expedition to Canadian Rockies in September 2012. During this trip, I have experienced couple of very impressive photography situations that I had not faced before. I also made couple of unique images of Canadian Rockies. In this article, I will talk about how I made one particular image:

Starry Night at Mt Assiniboine

Starry Night at Mt Assiniboine


This image has become my first image published on 1X that received over 100,000 unique views. Making this image was not only of certain technical challenging, but also a good example of making modern landscape photographs with creative ideas.


(2) Planning


When I planned my recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, Mount Assiniboine was the first priority on my photography wish list. It is probably one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. However, making a distinguished image of this location is challenging, not only because there have been so many stunning images of this place made by other landscape photographers, but also due to limited composition options around this area. Hence, it was my primary goal of this trip to make a photo that is significantly different from others.


Generally, it is believed that the Nub Peak is the best location to view Mount Assiniboine and its surroundings. However, many people only reach the Nublet; a platform just below the Nub Peak, as climbing to the Peak is more physically demanding. During my four days stay in Mount Assiniboine, I climbed to the Nub Peak twice, and just once stopped at the Nublet.


It is a 5 km hike one way from Mount Assiniboine Lodge to the Nub Peak. I have found that under different weather conditions, both the Nub Peak and Nublet could be good locations to make nice photographs of Mount Assiniboine; the Nub Peak gives you a higher and wider viewpoint, while the Nublet is a better location to capture some subtle details of mountain reflections in the lakes under good lighting conditions.


This image was taken from the Nublet on 21st September 2012.


It was a clear yet featureless afternoon, but we still decided to go to the Nublet to try our luck, as we had very limited time in the Mount Assiniboine area. After arriving at the Nublet before sunset, I carefully composed the frame and specifically considered to include Lake Magog and Sunburst Lake into the frame to ensure some reflections. Sunburst Lake would be used to show some clouds and stars reflecting from the dark sky. After sunset, the sky started to dance and the moonrise added a unique feature to the sky. I knew my chance would finally arrive.


(3) Taking Shots


This image was made with my Canon 5D Mark II camera and 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. I used my light Benro C2980T tripod and B2 ball-head to support the camera and lens with an RC-1 canon remote release to trigger the shutter.


In order to make a fine night image with this composition, I made a number of master shots before the sky got completely dark, so that the mountains, golden trees and foreground rocks could be clearly revealed in full of detail. Then I selected one of these shots as a Master Copy for processing later.


First shot (master copy):
16mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 30 seconds, 2-stop soft GND filter.


After 30 minutes, the sky became very dark, while the moon had moved right behind the peak of Mount Assiniboine. I started to shoot again, mainly focused on the sky and its reflection in Sunburst Lake. The following second shot was then used from one of many shots during that time.


Second shot:
16mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 8 seconds, no filter.


The second shot remained the same composition as the mater copy (first shot), but with a higher ISO (1600) and the biggest aperture, which revealed more stars in the sky but still retained the digital noise under control.


After about 30 minutes many more stars appeared in the dramatic sky, so I decided to make one more final shot. But this time, I carefully tilted up my camera so that 2/3 of the fame filled with the beautiful starry sky.


The final shot:
16mm, ISO 3200, f/4, 20 seconds, no filter.


(4) Processing


The process was undertaken in two stages. The first stage was to blend the Master Copy with the second shot together (note that these two shots had exactly the same composition).


I opened the raw files of these two shots via Camera Raw 6.7, made a correct White Balance adjustment so that the colour for these two images became consistent. I also made a small adjustment for both files by increasing both Clarity and Vibrancy to 12. I then loaded them into Photoshop CS5.


In Photoshop CS5, I carefully blended the two images together to form an intermediate image that remained the Master Copy every detail except the parts of the sky (including moonlight) and Sunburst Lake which were from the second shot. After this stage, the intermediate image was a beautiful picture in its own right.


Then the second stage was to integrate the third shot (starry sky) with the intermediate image. After doing a small adjustment on the raw file in Camera Raw 6.7 for the third shot by just increasing Clarity and Vibrancy to 12, I loaded the raw file to Photoshop CS5, where the intermediate image was already opened. I first extended a sufficient large Canvas for the intermediate image, and then added the third shot on the top of it. By matching the two images with respect to the mountain ridges, I then carefully painted the upper part of the sky from the third shot into the intermediate image. Finally I cropped the image to produce a square-framed picture and saved it as a PSD file.


After producing this square-framed PSD file, the following process is quite standard. But one specific technique I used was so called TK mask luminosity. By applying this technique, I was able to adjust pixel brightness at different levels to achieve certain balance that I wanted.


(5) The Outcome


I was quite satisfied with the final effect after such tedious processing. Specifically, the square framed image represents a vast view of Mount Assiniboine, while the dramatic starry sky illustrated beautiful and mysterious mountain scenery that I have never experienced before. � This is also the first image I published on 1x attracting more than 100,000 unique views within three months.


It was a memorable day and was lucky to witness such an amazing night over Mount Assiniboine. This image was also the most unique work I made from my entire trip in the Canadian Rockies.


(6) Three Hints


As a landscape photographer, I believe the following three things are important to produce a high quality landscape image:


– Exploring the location thoroughly before setting up your tripod. As Mount Assiniboine was a new place for me to photograph, getting familiar with the location was very important to identify a good viewpoint. In that afternoon, we arrived at the Nublet around 4.00pm, so we had plenty of time to explore the surrounding area before starting to shoot.


– Composing in square frame sometimes is a key to make a successful picture, especially for capturing full details of foreground, middle ground and background. Making a square composition is also more challenging, that needs more careful planning for the overall procedure for shooting and post processing.


– For sunset shooting, waiting a bit longer is useful even if the best light has passed. Very often, we could not get great sunset light, but the night sky could be magnificent, just like this image. In this case, we waited longer until darkness fell.