My last hike of 2017 wasn’t scheduled, but it was enjoyed. The winter sun was hanging low in the sky when Sam hit me up. He was sitting bored at his house and debating on playing some video games, but before he did he hit me up. I suggested we go out to the forest for a quick hike to breath in some fresh mountain air. He agreed. I called my brother to see if he wanted to roll. He did. So we rolled.
As we drove down the rocky forest road through the narrow valley the sun was already beginning to set. We were covered by the mountain’s northern shadow, but could still see the last rays of sunlight on the nearby ridges. We hastily hopped out of the truck and scurried into the forest.
The air was crisp, but not cold, and the wind was no where to be seen. Now I don’t mind cold weather, but when it comes and the snow doesn’t follow, I get a bit sour. What is the point of having freezing weather with no snow?! There is something entrancing about the snow. The way it covers the world, making it seem different, cleaner. Hell it even works in the filthy cities!
We meandered along the slender trails carved out by a recent wave of mountain bikers. We spoke on future trips we would like to make and our collective desire to spend more time in the forest. For last 4 years my brother & I have been in the forest a fair amount as we shot videos for our YouTube channel, Black Owl Outdoors. But lately we have been spending less time in the forest. My brother has been busy with Owl Creek Handmade and I have rekindled a passion for still photography.
Although both video and still photography use a camera, of which I am fond, they are almost entirely different beasts. For instance, a normal gear review video takes my brother & I about 30-45 minutes to film; which is then edited down to somewhere under 10 minutes. But with still photography, a moment is captured, sometimes only 1/1000th of a second, yet if done well, that sliver of time can be frozen, analyzed and enjoyed time and time again. Perhaps it is all the books on Buddhism and Daoism I have read, but I find still photography places me in the moment, while video is a compilation of moments.
Being that the sun was setting, or set, depending on your location on the mountain, the light was incredibly delicate. The highlights clung to the tops of the branches as the shadows reached down to the dark forest floor below. After some minutes of walking, Sam picked up a rotted branch and started using it as a walking stick. Krik & I looked at one another, grinned, and asked Sam if he wanted to find a piece of wood that wasn’t rotten and structurally compromised. Sam said sure so we started looking.
Moving through the forest with a renewed intent, we weaved between the trees and broke off of the path. After some minutes of walking we noticed a birch sapling that had been brought down by a windstorm. Half of the tree was on the ground and rotting, while the other half was suspended in the air, its crown wedged between a still standing tree. After some shaking, jerking and twisting, the tree was lowered to the forest floor and prepped for cutting.
Being that the original intent of this hike was just a refreshing walk in the woods, the only saws we had on us were our Swiss Army knives, specifically Krik’s Fieldmaster & my Farmer. We used a fallen branch to gauge desired length, marked the stock, and began sawing away. While I enjoy the idea of a walking stick, I very rarely ever use one. When you have a camera in hand most of the time having a walking stick just becomes cumbersome. After Sam & Krik bucked the stock down, we decided we should probably start heading back to the truck.
I used our walk back and the low light of the forest to practice, or rather experiment, with some handheld “long exposure” shots. The first ones were framed perpendicular to the path. I set my shutter speed at .5 seconds and instructed Krik & Sam to walk passed me. As you can see in the above images, their gate and the slow shutter speed just blurred them out. They look as if they are apparitions floating in the forest or entities from another dimension glitching into ours. So I decided to reframe and have them approach me directly.
As you can see in the above shot, and the one at the very top of this post, I think these results were much more pleasing. They maintained the ethereal nature of the first shots, but gave a bit more definition to both Sam & Krik. Slow shutter speeds and hiking is definitely something I will be experimenting with in the future. I feel the soft lines and blurred motion offer a stark contrast to the cookie cutter images of nature your Instagram feed is inundated with. Don’t get me wrong, there is more dope photography than ever, but so much of it is soulless and indefinable from the rest; just some beautiful places shot with expensive equipment and VSCO’d.