[Note: A one-year exhibition of some my images has begun at the Carl T. Johnson Museum outside of Cadillac on M-115. Stop in if you get a chance, or send me a message if you have a question about anything that you see there. I'll be adding new materials most months, so the display will be changing frequently. This month I'm adding images of baby animals.]

In the last few years I have been trying to capture panoramas whenever I come across a landscape that I feel lends it's self to the format. This means taking the long view in more than one sense.

One of the things that I really like about panorama images is that they invite the viewer to explore the landscape in a way that a simple image cannot. Your eyes sweep across the image, picking up themes as your mind processes the scene.

Oxbow bend of the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming



I made the above image about a year and a half ago in the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. I returned to this spot four times before I captured what I wanted. It was a cloudy day and relatively late in the morning when the sun finally broke through and played across the distant mountains and clouds. I like to compose these images with a sense of balance and harmony and this is one of my all time favorite images.

About a half year after I made the image of the Tetons I was photographing in Colorado near Pikes Peak where I made the panorama image below.


Pikes Peak sunrise, Pike National Forest, Colorado


My panoramas are actually a series of overlapping smaller images "stitched" together. The overlapping parts of the images are used to align each adjacent image to create a long panoramic image. It can be hard to visualize what the finished image will be, since you can't see the entire image in the viewfinder, and it also requires you to be extremely accurate when aligning each individual shot.

The sunrise light on Pikes Peak is very fleeting; the most intense colors last for only a few seconds. I was in the area for about a month. During that time I found a mountain across from Pike's Peak that gave me a good view of the peak during the sunrise. The problem was that I had to travel about 10 miles by truck up a winding trail and be in place by the time the sunrise touched the peak across from me.

Fresh snow after a clearing storm gave the best light on the mountain. During the entire trip I never seemed to put all of the pieces together to capture exactly the light that I wanted. I kept returning to the same area, trying to get the image that I knew was there if I could only be at the right place at the right time.

Two days before my trip was to end I woke up to a fresh snow and started making my way up the mountain in the dark. The truck was chugging it's way up the steep mountain and I was almost to the point where I wanted to be for the photograph when the truck stalled.

I lost power steering and power breaks when the truck stalled and it immediately started rolling backwards down the mountain trail. I tried the brakes but they weren't enough to stop the truck. As I steered backwards I frantically tried to find the emergency brakes. I wanted to look down to find the pedal, but I was afraid that if I took my eyes off the narrow trail the truck would roll off the face of the mountain and land on the ledge a quarter mile below.

Finally I got the breaks to work and stopped the truck. When I went outside I found there was 10 inches from the outside rear tire to where the trail dropped off. After a close call I did what any photographer would do. I set up my gear and photographed the sunrise!

As luck would have I just missed the image that I wanted. I took a good test shot to check the exposure, but by the time I made the images for the panorama the clouds had lost the light. The photo above is OK, but not what I really wanted. The next day was my last morning of the trip, I woke up early enough to get to the mountain, and then I decided not to go, the day before was just pressing things too much and I felt like I needed to back off. I still don't have the image that I wanted, but maybe someday on another trip I will.

Beaver pond and Tetons, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming


I got married this spring and in early May my wife and I returned to the Tetons during our honeymoon. We were in the Tetons after a light snow and I made this image along the edge of a beaver pond. There was still a fair amount of snow on the ground and we had to hike across a lot of drifts to get to where we wanted to be.

Once winter loosens its grip on the mountains a lot happens as the other seasons roll by. I'm returning to the Teton area later this week and I know that it will have changed dramatically in the last 6 weeks. I'm hoping to return to this same spot and other places that I know and make more panoramic images. In my minds eye I can see more images that include spring wildflowers in the landscape...

I find that as time goes on not only am I making more images of the long view but I'm using the long view to make the images. I'm spending more time returning to locations, waiting for just that right moment when everything comes together and I see the image that I feel lives in a location.

Charles St. Charles


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