Tuesday, January 1, 2008
A Photographer's Treasure Map
Discover your best outdoor photographs when you learn to use topographic maps
We’re on Island Pass in the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada, California. It’s evening. The tripod is locked, the camera is focused, and the 4x5 film holders are in hand. Conditions are perfect; it’s a photographer’s dream. The last of evening light flushes across the foreground, lights up the peaks and the film is exposed. It’s a jump-up-and-down, "high-five!" shot. Photographic paradise was ours, and we were taking it home on film. Easy? With a little research and practice, you too can find and photograph paradise by learning to read a topographical map.
Topographic (or topo) maps are like treasure maps for photographers. These maps summarize the three-dimensional forms of the Earth’s surface on two-dimensional pieces of paper. Topos describe the shape of the land by showing prominent features, such as peaks, valleys, roads, meadows, marshes, prairies and rivers.
A topo map allows you to accurately identify all the elements of the place you want to photograph. Are there major peaks that will light up at sunset? Is there a meadow, possibly full of flowers, where velvety afternoon light will fall? Will sunrise light up the lake and background, too? Are you above or below a timberline where trees will obstruct your view of sunrise or sunset? Does that beach get evening or afternoon light, and which season offers the best angles? It’s all there, right in front of you!
You have to know that to be ready when the right light arrives.
Years ago, Larry was studying an old topographic map of Yosemite Valley, trying to find new angles that we may had overlooked on previous trips. To his surprise, he found a trail that he hadn’t noticed on other maps he had studied. It was a trail to Rainbow View on the northwestern side of the valley. The topo map showed that there was possibly a potential image with both Half Dome and El Capitan in the same composition.
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