I don't often shoot in the middle of the day. Not only because of harsh nature of mid-day lighting conditions, but it's part of an effort not to live my entire backcountry experience through the lens of my camera.
Why? Because these trips are fleeting—especially in contrast to the preparation that goes into them. I eagerly look forward these outings for weeks, even months in advance. When it comes down to it, they're what I live for. As a photographer and backpacker, I obsessively research every aspect of each trip while scouring online image libraries. Sometimes I'll even pre-compose shots during a certain time of day using Google Earth. After all that planning and anticipation, it's all-too-easy to get sucked into the urge to capture every dramatic angle, every "oh my god" moment, and every amazingly intricate detail without actually taking the time to absorb your surroundings.
When I'm shooting, it's usually 100% all-in. A zen-like state of intense focus where nothing else in the world exists besides me, my camera, and the composition that lies in front of me. Appreciation for the landscape turns into determination to immortalize the moment, and tunnel vision manifests. That's a big reason why I save the vast majority of my shooting for magic hour (the 30 minutes before and after sunset/sunrise). Not only is the light consistently at it's best during that time, but it ensures ample time to actually experience these incredible places without being inhibited by the need to capture them.
Sometimes, however, you find yourself passing a particularly spectacular location under the bright and contrasty mid-day sun. You say to yourself, "I'm here now, I won't be here later, I really need to take a shot." While it may not be exploding with vibrant colors, it's still just too good to pass up.
That's exactly the situation I found myself in last month at Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Never before have I seen such crystal clear water. The rocks in the foreground of this image are about 6 inches under the surface, and beyond those the lake drops to some 12 feet deep. The clouds were also getting very dramatic, despite being bright and difficult to capture in a single exposure.
The technical elements of mid-day shooting are often very challenging. This was a particularly tricky image to process with the bright clouds and snow that were set upon dark rocks and shadows. I bracketed three exposures and blended them using luminosity masks to resemble the scene as close as possible to how I remembered it.
Later that evening those clouds created one of the most vibrant sunsets I've seen in quite some time (another reason it pays off to wait until magic hour). Still, in our short time at Iceberg Lake, I couldn't help but snap a few obligatory frames.
And I'm glad I did.