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Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Dream Chaser

Michael Routh finds inspiration in the solitude of the less-explored backcountry

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The heaviest equipment I have for my photography is a four-wheel truck that's critical to my methodology. I'll use it to wheel way into the backcountry. I drove up to the top of Wheeler Crest in the Eastern Sierras, which is a Rubicon-class trail. I'll wheel to a very inaccessible location, then hike in from there and see what I can find. Some photographers are half scientists, and they're going to the noaa.gov website, and they're looking at the sun moving here and there, and I do an amount of that—you have to know the weather—but for the most part, I just try and "feel" where the photograph is.

OP: What about camera equipment?

Routh: If I'm going light, I'll put a Canon EOS 5D Mark II body in a Lowepro Sling with a 16-35mm, a 70-200mm and maybe two other lenses and some ND filters. If I'm going heavy, I'll bring two bodies and add some prime lenses—the Canon 24mm and the 85mm. I carry in a big Really Right Stuff tripod with a big ballhead. As for safety and nature, I try and go in with multiple layers of clothing and also carry a GPS emergency-locator system. Ten miles in and you break an ankle and you're alone, you can have a real problem.

OP: So most of the time, you're doing these trips alone?

Routh: I would say 90 percent of the time, I'm on my own. I do take trips with colleagues, and I enjoy the great camaraderie among photographers. But I love the solitude of nature photography. I feel much more connected, not just to nature, but to everything. I've become much more spiritual because of photography. I don't want to sound too much like a Californian—actually, I grew up in Connecticut and spent 17 years in New Jersey, spending two or three days a week in New York City wearing a suit. I didn't do photography then. I did it in college, then as a businessperson, I got busy and gave it up.

Routh's collection of images is lean on shots from the national parks. That's not so much because he shuns the crowds, but because he often can't bring his dogs. As a photographer who spends considerable time away from the trappings of civilization, the companionship of a dog isn't up for compromise. Left: Wheeler Crest, Eastern Sierra Mountains, California. Right: Sunrise over Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California. At 282 feet below sea level, this is the lowest elevation in North America.


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