Making of 40 Photographs #2

This is #2 of the images I'd like to discuss, under my series 'Making of 40 Photographs'. I'm a big believer in serendipity. Some images you simply can't plan and this is one of them.

Cerro Marconi Norte

After walking for two solid days on the Patagonian southern ice field, we reached an area not that far away from the Circle of Altairs - a location I was hoping to get to, so I could capture Cerro Torre from the Ice cap. The more popular (and easier) location is from one of the major hiking networks near the town of el Chalten in Los Glaciares national park in Argentina.

In order to get to this location had been a bit of major effort for me. We had to ascend part of the Marconi glacier, which seemed to have fresh remnants of avalanche material strewn across our path. Then I'd had to circumnavigate around some large crevasses (think about the size of a large yacht) and then I'd had to put up with falling into one, which had been pretty frightening. I luckily didn't fall in too deep, being wedged in by my backpack. A few kicks with my crampons got me out of there, but it was unpleasant noticing how dark the hole was, that I was in.

But when we got to safe ground, my guide and porter busied themselves building a snow wall to shelter our tents from the storm that would come later that night, while I stood and watched the sky change colours as the sun began to set.

So where does the serendipity part come in? Well, what I love about the Mamiya 7 is that the view finder is polarised. I had set up the shot and it was only when I looked in the view finder that I saw the sky ablaze. I hadn't expected it. The direction I was pointing in must have been 90 degrees from the Sun - which means that the polarising effect is at it's most acute.

I have a 105mm polariser which bolts onto the front of my Lee filter holder. I'm not one for screwing up exposures - so If I use a polariser (which is not often because it makes the sky very uneven, especially with wide angle lenses), I like to meter through it. I simply hold up my Sekonic 608 and put the polariser in front, rotated to the correct angle first. Perhaps this is a shameful admission, but I'm not there to get off on how well I can mentally work out an exposure, so I will always take the safest and easiest route.

I metered the ground and the sky as I always do to work out the contrast range in stops, and then chose my exposure based on that. I will apply a hard grad ND filter to bring down the contrast range if need be. I will also apply reciprocity compensation and always have a few laminated cards on me with the corrected exposure times. For instance, a 4s exposure in Velvia really needs 5s or better 6s to get it right. I also rate my Velvia at 40 ISO.

I was limited by possibilities for composition. Being stuck in the middle of the ice cap, surrounded by crevasses, meant I couldn't go for a wander. My guide was worried enough so I had to stay where I was and think more 'laterally'. I kept changing direction of where I was shooting, and I kept changing lenses too. Sometime I'd shoot the 150, then the 80 and then the 50, just to get some variety. With wide angles in such a massive environment, I would often let the sky fill the area with a small section of ground at the bottom of the frame. My 150mm lens is not that powerful, so I would have to visualize cropping the scene even further upon my return from the trip.

I shot around 10 rolls of 120 whilst on the Ice cap. My film kept jamming in the camera and I now know that this was because I wasn't engaging the rollers by pressing the release buttons in (under the camera) properly. A lot of the film didn't spool onto the rolls, or jammed mid way so I ended up with a lot of light leaking onto the edges of the frame. Since most of the scenes were fairly minimal (a lot of basic gradual tones), it was easy to restore the damaged ones in Photoshop. But this image isn't one of them.

The light was very clear, and I remember how the tip of Cerro Marconi looked like the edge of a kings crown. You can't see it in the size of image reproduced here. But I do feel I captured the textures and tones well - courtesy of Velvia. I know of no other film which works this well for this kind of wor

I never made it to the circle of Altairs due to the region being so badly crevassed.But the trip was memorable not only because I'd fallen into a crevasse, but also because of the sheer adrenalin experience of climbing a steep glacier, experiencing gale force, howling winds at night, and walking in 2 foot deep snow for seven days with a 90L backpack. I felt challenged and surprised that I was capable of such an effort. I even suffered one of my wisdom teeth snapping in half on my last night on the Ice. I'd been given a bag of nuts to eat, and thinking the entire episode/drama of the trip was now over,  I remember sitting there eating some nuts in the privacy of my own tent only to hear something go 'crack' at the back of my mouth. I waited for the pain to ensue, which luckily did not happen. I seem to have a problem with teeth whilst away and it's not the first time I've had to visit a foreign dentist.

I do remember the feeling of extreme excitement whilst capturing this image though. There are shots you know are worth taking - often because you get that gut feeling, or butterflies in your tummy, and this was one of them.