Category Archives: Photographs: Cascades

Alpine Meadow, Artist Point

Alpine Meadow, Artist Point
Alpine Meadow, Artist Point

Alpine Meadow, Artist Point. North Cascades National Park, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright 2010 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Alpine meadow and mountains, Artist Point, North Cascades

Back in 2010 my brother Richard, who is a long-time resident of the Pacific Northwest, treated me to a trip up into the Cascades at Artist Point. We got lucky and had a day of largely clear skies, with the only clouds being the beautiful sort that catch the sun and allow beams of light to sweep across the landscape — not the other kind of Pacific Northwest clouds that sock things in and drizzle all day!

As a long time Sierra guy, I’m always amazed at how different things are in the Cascades and other Pacific Northwest mountains. The Sierra are, of course, mostly dry mountains. Yes, we get snow in the winter, runoff in the spring, and a few thunderstorms in the summer, but backpacking is mostly a dry weather thing and we are used to the sound of dry sand and rock beneath our boots. But here in the Cascades there are glaciers and ice caps, and the lush green plants grow right up to the snow line. On this visit we had only enough time to spend an afternoon wandering slowly around the Artist Point area, but I came back with a set of photographs that I like a great deal.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Trees and Boulders, Artist Point

Trees and Boulders, Artist Point
Trees and Boulders, Artist Point

Trees and Boulders, Artist Point. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Ridgetop trees and boulders along the trail catch the afternoon light at Artist Point, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

I had been admiring this steep, rugged, and distant ridge all afternoon, starting with our first shooting location down lower on the mountain. As we hiked up the Artist Point trail, we took a detour to the right and I noticed this low rocky ridge covered with trees and the ridge in the distance. At first I couldn’t quite see a shot and I looked elsewhere, but soon I came back to this spot and thought that something with the foreground rocks and trees along with the clouds and more distant ridge might be interesting – but as soon as I saw this a large cloud floated over and blocked the sun from my position, leaving the nearby trees and rocks in shade!

Sometimes when this happens it makes more sense to move on and look for a photograph that works with the conditions you have, but other times it can be worth waiting. It is hard to know for sure which is right, but I decided to set up and sit tight, waiting to see if the light would improve. The light shining around the edge of the cloud was tantalizingly close, but the cloud was stubborn about moving. At one point the light increased a bit for perhaps 15-20 seconds, but then quickly went away. I continued to wait. Finally, the light began to gradually increase, and I got about one minute or less of sun before the cloud again blocked the light – but this was long enough to make a few exposures of this scene.

I have a favor to ask of anyone who is familiar with this area – help in identifying the trees and, even more, help in identifying/naming the distant ridge and the peaks that sit on it. I’m not great at plant identification, but I’m really out of my league in the Cascades. One person walking by as I made the shot seemed to think that the trees are mountain hemlock – but I’d be grateful if anyone can confirm this… or set me straight. Although I was impressed with the peaks on the ridge in the distance in this photograph… I do not have any Washington topographical maps or guide books, so I’m completely in the dark about what to call this ridge or the peaks. Here, too, I would be grateful if anyone can help me identify the ridge, the peaks, and any other important features in the photograph.

Update: A Facebook reader shared information about the peaks on the distant ridge in this photograph…

Alan Majchrowicz writes: “From left to right, Tomyhoi Peak, Canadian and American Border Peaks, Larrabee Mountain. Nice photo Dan, hope I can break away this week and spend some time up there!”

This photograph is not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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Sunset, Mt. Shuksan and Picture Lake

Sunset, Mt. Shuksan and Picture Lake
Sunset, Mt. Shuksan and Picture Lake

Sunset, Mt. Shuksan and Picture Lake. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Sunset on cloud-shrouded summit of Mt. Shuksan with Picture Lake in the foreground, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

Icon alert! I understand that photographing Mt. Shuksan from this locale is, in the Pacific Northwest context, perhaps almost equivalent to photographing the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands or photographing Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. As a brand new photographer of Cascades Range subjects, I plead guilty to succumbing to this icon and photographing it. (I’m told that the only thing that this photograph needs in order to qualify for full “yet another photo of an icon” status would be to come back in a month and shoot it when the fall colors appear.)

My brother and I had been up higher photographing the Artist Point area for most of the afternoon, and he suggested that since we were here we might stop at Picture Lake on the way back down the mountain and see what might develop. I’m glad he did since, icon status aside, this really is a stunning and beautiful location and it was a quiet and beautiful evening. Several things made it special, I think. First, while the summit of Shuksan never fully cleared, the clouds shrouding the summit gave it a more dramatic aspect than might have been the case with an unobstructed view. Second, much to our surprise, we were not joined by a throng of other photographers. At first we were the only ones there, and later we only saw a few others in the area.

This was a technically challenging scene to photograph. The lake and foreground trees were in shadow at this point, though on the scene one could still see the details of the forest along and beyond the far shore. Yet the summit of Shuksan and the clouds were in full sun, and making this even more difficult, the red sunset light was extra intense. The eye can take all of this in without a problem as you move your focus from foreground to distant peak, but the camera is not as capable – and the dynamic range of the scene dramatically exceeds the capabilities of cameras. So, again, this photograph is a composite of three exposures manually blended in post to combine the best exposures of bright and saturated highlights with the best exposure of the dark forest along the shore of the lake.

Update on 9/29/10: I recently noticed that I had misidentified the lake in the photograph! I have corrected the post to call it by its correct name, Picture Lake.

This photograph is not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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Dusk Clouds, Mount Shuksan

Dusk Clouds, Mount Shuksan
Dusk Clouds, Mount Shuksan

Dusk Clouds, Mount Shuksan. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening fog clouds shroud the summit of Mt. Shuksan above Picture Lake – Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

Since we were in the neighborhood – we passed right past it on our way down from Artist Point – my brother suggested that we stop and photograph the iconic view of Mt. Shuksan from Picture Lake. Actually, as I understand it, the really iconic image is usually made about a month later when the slope along the far shore of the lake turns golden with fall foliage. I only knew the location from photographs, so I was surprised to find that it is a roadside lake with a boardwalk/trail to the typical shooting location! I understand that if I were to return in a month I would be shoulder to shoulder with scores of photographers – but on this evening we were initially the only ones there, though a couple others photographers eventually showed up.

When we arrived things did not look too promising in photographic terms. The peak of Shuksan was entirely socked in by clouds and fog, but my brother said that, in his experience, it was not uncommon for the fog to dissipate and rise as the day ends. (This was in line with my knowledge that the best light can often happen after the sun sets – and I’m always surprised at the number of photographers who pack up and leave before this happens.) As we watched, the saturated colors of the last moments of the day came on and, as if on cue, the clouds began to thin. This was perhaps the very last photograph I made. It was shot some time after the actual sunset and the conditions were quite dark. I thought that a very long post-sunset exposure might capture the diffused quality of the clouds as they moved across the face of the peak and that it might be possible to capture some of the very subtle post-sunset coloration. In the end this exposure was a bit longer than two minutes.

This photograph is not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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Roots and Rocks

Roots and Rocks
Roots and Rocks

Roots and Rocks. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Weathered tree roots stretch across boulders at Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

I made this photograph at our first stop after we arrived at the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. (Technically, that isn’t quite true, since we had earlier stopped at the “ranger station” to ask some questions, but this was the first “real” stop for photography.) The road into this area twists and turns as it ascends toward and then past a ski area, and here we couldn’t help but pull over at a hairpin curve that provided a panoramic overlook to the valley below and the ridges to the east (?) of our position. Although the original reason for stopping was this dramatic view, I soon found nearby “intimate landscapes” to also be very interesting. While I often hike and climb long distances to find my photographs… for this one the tripod was on asphalt and the subject right next to the road.

On a technical note, for this photograph I used a lens that I’m increasingly fond of for photographing subjects like this one, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM (link to B&H). I find it useful to be able to put a bit of distance between myself and subjects in which the entire image may include only a few square feet, and the ability to fine tune the composition with the zoom is very useful. Although I didn’t do it in this photography, working with a slightly longer focal length also lets me have the option of isolating the subject against an out of focus background. I have the non-IS version of the lens – because that was the only version available back when I got mine – though I would almost certainly get the IS version if I were to replace it.

This photograph is not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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Sub-Alpine Ponds in Afternoon Light, Artist Point

Sub-Alpine Ponds in Afternoon Light, Artist Point
Sub-Alpine Ponds in Afternoon Light, Artist Point

Sub-Alpine Ponds in Afternoon Light, Artist Point. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A trail weaves through meadow and among sub-alpine ponds at Artist Point with the ridge of Mt. Shuksan beyond – Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

This is another photograph from my late-August afternoon exploration of the stunning ridgeline of Artist Point in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near the Mt. Baker ski area. This ridge runs through an intimate landscape comprised of small rock fields, meadows with running streams, groves and isolated high elevation trees, and small ponds – and provides a truly stunning panorama that takes in Mount Baker on one side and Mount Shuksan on the other, with distant peaks all around. We could hardly have asked for better conditions for late-afternoon photography. Dramatic clouds ringed the peaks, sometimes obscuring them and sometimes clearing for a moment, and bright sun alternated with softer and diffused light as cloud shadows moved across the ridge.

A bit further along the ridge there is a series of small snow-melt lakes – what I usually refer to as “tarns” in the Sierra. Here a trail winds in front of a couple of them that sit in rocky hollows in front a few ridgeline trees, with the cloud-shrouded shoulder of glacier-covered Mount Shuksan beyond.

This photograph is not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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Artist Point Meadow, Mount Shuksan

Artist Point Meadow, Mount Shuksan
Artist Point Meadow, Mount Shuksan

Artist Point Meadow, Mount Shuksan. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. August 28, 2010. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The view of cloud-shrouded Mount Shuksan from a heather-filled sub-alpine meadow at Artist Point, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

As my brother and I came around the corner of this trail along the side of the Artist Point ridge, it took our breath away. I arrived a moment after he did, and found him already down among the heather flowers near the small run-off creek setting up his tilt-shift lens to make a close-up photograph of the flowers with the mountains in the distance. Once he finished, I went to work on this wider view of the scene, including the nearby foreground meadow and flowers, the trees along the edge of the drop-off, the pool of light in the valley beyond, and the shoulder of cloud-rimmed Mt. Shuksan with a dramatic sky beyond.

On a technical note, this was a very difficult exposure. When I looked down at the flowers and plants I saw what you see here, and when I looked up I saw the cloud-filled sky roughly as it appears in this photograph – but the dynamic range was so wide (ranging from parts of the foreground trees in deep shadow to distant snow fields in direct sun) that one exposure could not capture all of the scene data… so I used three which were then combined in post using masked layers and blended manually.

This photograph is not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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