Crater Lake in Wintertime All To Myself

Well I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to last week’s subject of How Do You Separate Family And Photography ?

Well I just got back from Crater Lake National Park where I had a chance to start my photography video tutorials. This week’s lesson will focus on essential winter photography tips


Wizard Island Sunrise


Every winter I dream about visiting Crater Lake National Park blanketed in snow. Crater Lake can be found in the lower central state of Oregon and can be reached from several main routes that lead to the top of the park. In winter, Crater Lake can only be accessed from Medford off I-5 Highway or Klamath Falls from the south where all winter routes lead to the only entrance of Crater Lake National Park. When winter conditions are right this might be one of the most scenic places in the world. The challenge is trying to arrive at the park after a fresh accumulation of snow yet hope the roads can still be accessed. Even better if you can arrive as the weather parts and the sun makes an appearance. During the summer months cars can drive around the 33 mile rim drive, but in the winter months snowshoeing is the transportation of choice for visitors.

Pastel Skies

For those willing to risk the colder temperatures and challenging conditions an average snowshoe trip around the rim can take three to four days. The advantage to this journey is that you will see vantage points of Crater Lake and Wizard Island that most will never see. An example of this can be seen in one of the most stunning images I have ever seen here and indeed the best image of Crater Lake featured in National Geographic. To reach this area it took Marc Adamus three days snowshoeing around the rim in waist deep snow to get to an area he felt captured the beauty of Crater Lake.

Opposite Side Of Wizard Island

Since seeing Marc Adamus’s Crater Lake image, I have always tried to find a time when the mountain would resemble conditions close to that of his image. Although I have tried, I have been unsuccessful due to closure of routes, equipment failures, and not the least, my inexperience with winter challenges. So this week I decided to make a daytrip of it anyways. As a passionate photographer, I always chalk up every adventure as a learning experience. Whether I return home with a great image or not I always learn something that helps improve my photography. So I left in the evening for Crater Lake knowing I would have to drive all night to make it there for sunrise. The normally six-hour drive took me twelve hours due to the I-5 immersed with fog. As I entered into Oregon across the Columbia Gorge I started to regret my decision, as I would be limited to only a day trip before returning for my real job. Twelve hours later, driving up Highway 62 from Medford like a madman to make it there for sunrise my car begins to rise above the fog. I do not condone speeding but when it comes to making a sunrise or sunset the photographer in me takes over and I become Mario Andretti . I slide my car into the icy parking lot like coming into home base. Before the car has even stopped, I am out running with tripod in one hand and camera bag in the other. Running the distance of the parking lot like Forrest Gump and making the transition onto the snow I setup in the first place that seems decent. The color has already begun and I cannot get it together to save my life. I desperately try to get my camera into my tripod ballhead but I am shaking so much I cannot fit it in the brackets. Simultaneously, I pull out my Singh-Ray Split Grads but drop them into the snow, which now has camouflaged the transparent filters. Scrambling to find my filters like a dog digging to find his bone, I come up with one of the filters and decide to half-heartedly blow what I could off; Lesson learned –TAKE THE TIME TO CLEAN YOUR FILTERS BEFOREHAND. As the sky begins to light up behind Wizard Island I get off a few shots but realize I have water spots from the dropped filter on the image. So I franticly clean the filter again and this time I am able to get the image I wanted. A few shots later, sunrise comes to an abrupt ending and I beg the photography gods that I got something comparable to what I just witnessed.

Framed Wizard Island

Taking a deep breath I head back to the car knowing my wife will not be too happy waiting in sub-zero temperatures. I try to make light of the situation by redirecting the conversation onto that stunning sunrise but to no avail. So I decide to go for a quick nap in the back seat of my Toyota Prius, which I have converted to a traveling bus. Exhausted I look forward to a good sleep in the far corner of the parking lot far with no presence of cars anywhere in sight. Just as I start to fall asleep, a car pulls up beside mine and I am startled to near death by my barking dog, which thinks she has to protect me. Several minutes later, another car pulls up followed by another and I realize I will not be getting any sleep on this day. Why is that someone always has to park next to you when there is a whole empty parking lot available?

Hanging Out At Crater Lake

So I decide to go for a snowshoe day-trip around part of the rim. As I past Discovery Point, my dog comes to a sudden halt and refuses to go any further. I return and get ready for sunset.

Discovery Point Crater Lake

Follow The Lines At Crater Lake

For the magical hour of sunset, I return to a spot found earlier that complemented the subject I was intending to capture. I always try to find leading lines that guide the viewer to the subject that I am trying to focus on. Snow can be great for ridges or patterns in the snow that lend themselves nicely to the scene. As the rush of color floods the sky, I realize that there is a much better foreground on the other side of the ice patch I found. So I pick up the camera and tripod again and make my way over to the new area as fast as possible. While running across the ice, my feet come right out from me and I crack my head on the ice, all the while protecting my camera from hitting the ground. I get up from the fall, seeing stars, dizzy, and blood coming from the back of my head. I decide at that moment that I am not going to be defeated and continue to shoot the sunset worrying about my head later. I get off a few shots and I decide to retire for the night injured and maimed but my spirits still high. Did I get the image I dreamt of? Rest of the journey to be continued…

Flowing Curves At Crater Lake

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~ by kevinmcneal on January 18, 2009.

10 Responses to “Crater Lake in Wintertime All To Myself”

  1. holy crap, that sounds like one of my daytrips.

  2. Note to myself: Wear a helmet when shooting with Kevin.
    Great story and again, wonderful winter shots!

  3. Great story, Kevin. You crack me up, and having shot with you I can envision this whole scene played out in front of me!!

  4. You are great!

  5. continues….I am your fan and fully understand and share the problems you have with your wife. It is the same for me as my husband does not always bear my passion for photography and while going on our snowshoe trips I stop to take shots but he walks away and does not wait for me….so it is not so easy…
    I have so much to learn about photograpphy……

  6. Actually, you can get in the park on the North end as well by snowmobile. you can get to the edge of the rim. with fabulous views of the island, snd some great panos. if you are interested i can post a link to a couple photos.

    Regards.

    David

  7. You give Adamus way too much credit. That composition is only a six to eight mile hike from from Crater Lake lodge. Pick a sunny weekend in the winter (the only hard part), stay at the lodge and get up early… there you go. If you’re after the same dynamic range in Marc’s shot, buff up on photoshop. What else?

  8. Awesome blog, I really enjoyed it. I’m thinking about visiting Crater Lake this winter (wanna see it at least once in winter) any suggestions tips you would like to share. Like how to drive there? and any suggestions on snowshoeing( I dont ski). I’m mainly worried about getting there, do I need a AWD?

  9. Thanks for the feedback. In terms of winter in Crater Lake – it is stunning and magical for sure. To get there I went for sunrise and did not have a 4×4 but went after the snow machine went up and the roads were good even after it had snowed all night. I shot all my shots from there from the parking lot as that early in the morning I didn’t want to go to far. I hope this helps.

  10. Yes thanks for replying, do you mind telling me which road did you take to drive from Portland to Craterlake.

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