The Journey☑,or the Photograph☑?


I’m asking the question today because I have sometimes wondered if photographers reduce the impact of a scene by trying hard to photograph it and not sitting back and experiencing the scene in all of its grandeur. On the one hand, the desire to create stunning images might take you to a location at a time of day where few would venture otherwise. On the other, is the drive to get ‘the image’ detracting from your overall experience of being there? What matters most to you : the journey , experience and presence at a scene, or the challenge, execution and production of a beautiful image fit for a portfolio?!

I thought I’d take an example from our recent trip to New Zealand. I had planned to spend a couple of nights trekking during the trip with a specific agenda. One of these planned hikes was to Lake Mackenzie. I had always wanted to do the Routeburn track but with its entry and exit points hundreds of kilometres apart by road, this was never going to be possible with the way we were travelling. I had also seen some images of Lake Mackenzie which looked as though it would be a wonderful spot to photograph if the light was right and so,that became a secondary goal. As the day drew closer though, the weather looked more and more dire and on the planned day of departure- steady, heavy rain filled the Fiords…..

A wet and shaky start!

Despite the awful conditions , I was determined to walk the Routeburn even through torrential rain. Why? Perhaps to have it ticked off on my mental tick list of hikes done in personal ‘record time’. Perhaps in the off chance that light would be good over Lake Mackenzie in the evening? Perhaps so I could ‘brag’ about  surviving the awful conditions!

The first stop was Key summit. When I go hiking, there’s a near pathological and obsessive state of mind that drives me to time how fast I can go. As it turned out, I was up on the summit in slightly less than one hour in a sodden state of sweat and water drenching me from inside and out. There were no mountains to be seen but I had reached Key Summit! ☑

I could only imagine some mountains in the background!

Next, I set the timer going again for Lake Mackenzie which according to signs, should have taken me 4 more hours. 1 hour later I arrived at Earland falls where the signs advised a detour in wet weather. I was curious as to just how wet the track was beneath the falls and after 10 seconds of being blasted by waterfall spray, I agreed with the track recommendations! Getting drenched under a waterfall? ☑

Another 1.5 hours later had me walking into Lake Mackenzie hut having taken the DSLR out only once to photograph Earland falls away from its vicious spray. Day one of Routeburn track done well within recommended walking time?☑

Jurassic wetness at the base of Earland Falls

Within the hut, several other walkers had arrived from the opposite direction and were trying to start a fire in order to dry drenched belongings. As the weather had started to clear, I ventured 10 minutes past the immediate shores of the lake to a better vantage point of the Lake where I could vaguely see the mountaintops through the fog. I scoffed an early dinner of rehydrated pasta (complete with Charlie’s formula milk) which was never going to be enough after the previous 3 hours of rapid walking and borderline hypothermia. As sunset approached, there was still light drizzle around and more hikers arrived all trying to start that same fire. I spent the sunset alone (with the sandflies) on the shores of Lake Mackenzie as the most incredible sunset materialised seemingly out of nowhere. I spent the entire time buzzing with excitement and scrambling over rocks trying to achieve the best possible images from the scene before me. It’s not my style to ‘spray and pray’ with landscapes but once I settled on a composition, I took plenty of exposures just in case. As the light finally faded, I left with a sense of euphoria knowing that I’d probably not see something like that often (if at all) in the future. Possible unique shot of Lake Mackenzie taken?☑

Lake Mackenzie and the clearing mists

Lake Mackenzie in sunset glory!

Upon returning to the hut in the near darkness, I learned that there were quite a few hikers there who had walked without bringing adequate waterproofs nor equipment to heat water! I definitely had plenty of spare fuel leftover and lent my canister and trusty ‘pocket rocket’ to others needing their pasta rehydrated. Eventually, we even used the flame from my stove to light the kindling which probably wasn’t the safest method to do so. With the fire and stove cosying up the room, people settled into talking about hiking, experiences and life in general. No one there had ventured out to view the sunset but I can say with some confidence that we were all pleased just to have dry clothes and a warm room to sleep in no matter what our agendas were.

Dinner by stovelight!

The next day, on a growling stomach, I headed back to the Divide to meet Marianne and Charlie who had spent the night down atMilford. Along the way, I revisited Key summit and saw some mountains albeit shrouded in grey clouds !☑

Water flows were subdued on the exit jourey

Visible mountains from Key Summit 😉

I wonder if any of what I have written annoyed you at least a little? I used to be annoyed at people who did hikes just to be able to say ‘I’ve done [x] hike’. Before we developed our interest in photography, I used to be annoyed with those photographers getting themselves into pretentiously contorted postures to get an image while missing out the experience before their eyes. Why were they carrying bloody tripods anyway ???…..I used to be annoyed at all the hikers who walked for walking’s sake and do nothing but socialise at campsites as though it were the local pub. Leave pubtalk for pubs grrr!!! That’s a long [☑list] of things to be annoyed at for an activity which is supposed to elicit any emotion other than annoyance. So, my final question is this: Does it really matter to you as a reader/hiker/photographer if my motivations were all about personal best hiking times or solely about getting a prized image from a prime location? Is it the motivations, the experience or the outcomes which matter most to you?

My conclusion is not to think too hard about questions like these unless the stakes of the process affect anyone other than yourself. If the process of planning a hike, getting to a destination and spending time exclusively behind the lens gives you greatest pleasure, then why bother doubting the reason you’re doing it in the first place? Why work yourself up if someone else’s motivation differs to yours? If at the end of a hike, your greatest pleasure is that of achievement then why should anyone else’s opinion influence your goals and ☑ lists?.  Others may not agree with your motivations but a selfish pleasure which harms noone should not be made into another’s complaint and vice versa. It may not work for everyone , but by not analysing situations too deeply, I’ve found that this reduces stress and negativity of which I experience enough at work. Let’s keep that out of the holiday season and enjoy the outcome of other photographers’ work shall we ? 🙂

Meanwhile, down at Milford Sound…….

[disclaimer : selfish pleasures which DO affect others or the environment directly are a separate issue altogether. Pay for an Everest ascent only to put others at risk anyone?]☑

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Posted on July 14, 2012, in How we..., New Zealand, Photography, Random Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. The only thing I love more then your blog posts are your amazing images. You are an inspiration to landscape phographers. For me its about the moment. I like to watch the sunrise and think , I’m I the only one who is seeing this ? And then bring it home and show other people 🙂

    • Thanks Rod – I was so happy with having seen that sunset that I was showing people in the hut and they all had minimal interest lol! Next person inline to share was Marianne and Charlotte!

  2. Ive seen your Lake MacKenzie photo on Facebook Dylan and thought it was stunning. After reading about the effort it took to actually get the shot it just makes it so much more special. I have also wondered the same thing myself about the journey or the photograph and Rod said it perfectly – I often wonder if Im the only one seeing an amazing sunset and if so I love to capture its beauty to show other people. I love reading your blogs. Keep them coming!

    • Thanks Larissa – along the way, some people coming back the other way were telling me to go back to Queenstown and watch DVDs lol – I’m glad I didn’t listen 😛 (and besides, queesntown was the wrong direction!!)

  3. Amazing photos as always.

  4. Fantastic post and imagery Dylan! For me, I have to take my camera on a hike. If I see something amazing, like a sunrise, I just have to make an effort to get it on camera. If I’m not scurrying around taking photos, I don’t think I enjoy the experience as much…

  5. how are brother…. i folow u deviant art… i’m mesmerised and excited by your vision…. thnk you very much for your inspiration…
    i just want to ask you how you get crisp clean landscapes… is there a special filter u use… thnk you very much….

    • Dileep, we use a whole variety of techniques including GND filters, 10 stop ND filters, exposure blending, focus stacking etc. As long as the end result is considered before, it goes a long way to producing a good image I think!

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