On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

Smoke: Familiar Scenery Rendered New

British Columbia is burning. There are fires across the province and the huge Williams Lake fire was roaring last Friday coating three provinces with smoke. According to a line drawn on Google Earth I live 542 kilometres or 337 miles as the crow flies from Williams Lake on the other side of the Rocky Mountains and yet I could barely see down the street and the smoke coated my nostrils like a bad campfire.

We drove about 200 kilometres south-east last Friday on the first stage of a rather rushed trip to a family reunion to B.C.. The smoke covered all of this trip and most of the entire route, which I’ll continue in my next post.

I’ve travelled this route hundreds of times in the past 26 years and was fascinated by the changes the smoke rendered to the scenery.

There was a mysterious feel. The effect was of intense fog, but the light and the colour were different.

The colour was a challenge when I processed the RAW images. I couldn’t decide on a ‘correct’ white balance and finally went with what ‘felt’ right.

I’m trying to shoot in manual, but I decided to keep my camera on aperture priority with the exposure compensated at .07. and see what came of it. For the most part, it worked well. The RAW images all went through a similar basic workflow in View NX (I still don’t have any more sophisticated RAW processor). I sharpened 5%, set the white balance to between 6000 and 8000, checked the histogram and adjusted if necessary, and brightened the images with the ‘lost highlights’ screen showing to the maximum without blowing them out. In some, I intensified the colour a bit.

I will likely play with some of these a little more, but for now, with over 1000 exposures to go through from the past week, I’m more interested in recording the trip while it’s still fresh in my mind.

It felt mysterious: shrouded and quiet. Although there was a decent breeze, the air didn’t seem to move. There was no variation in the density of the smoke, but it felt like there should be.

How I wish I could have spent some serious time photographing the fascinating effects of this terrible element, but unfortunately we were on a timeline and I had to content myself with shooting from the truck, taking advantage of the occasional wait for road construction and pee breaks.

It’s a terrible disaster. People are loosing their homes, hospitals are being affected, smoke is causing respiratory problems across the west – but it was predicted. Mother Nature has rejuvenated her forests on a cycle of fire and regrowth since the beginning of forests. Fire suppression has allowed stands to outlive their natural time.

Again I feel like a cold opportunist. But, man! The smoke was cool.

8 comments on “Smoke: Familiar Scenery Rendered New

  1. Linda
    August 25, 2010

    Hi – I really enoyed your photos of the landscape shrouded by so much smoke. Sad it is causing so many problems for those who live nearby. I must admit, the smoke turns the photos almost surreal – very intriguing and oh so interesting. I feel a little guilty enjoying them so much knowing of the harm it is causing. Thank you for sharing these.


    • missusk76
      August 25, 2010

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Linda. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels a little funny about finding pleasure from something that is causing harm to others.

  2. Michael Mills
    August 25, 2010

    There is no need to apologize for being an opportunist – part of what photography is – is a record of life. If past photographers hadn’t taken the opportunity of taking the photo of the moment, so many great images would have been lost to that moment.

    Keep taking advantage of the opportunities as they come and you’ll have your own unique record of life.

    • missusk76
      August 25, 2010

      Thanks Michael, I suppose when I get over my pangs of conscience I might be able to consider myself a photographer. You’re so right. I saw a site recently of photographs that changed the world and I do recognize the importance of recording history, albeit a personal one in this case. I appreciate your philosophy and your stopping by.

  3. themichaellamcollection
    August 26, 2010

    A bad situation, but great photographs. I have always considered any great shots that I got to be just luck, luck for being in the right place at the right time. 🙂
    Great images, really great!

    • missusk76
      August 26, 2010

      Thank you very much, Michael. I agree that it’s so much about luck, but I find I am getting better at recognizing a lucky situation as I shoot more.

  4. flandrumhill
    September 1, 2010

    Beautiful British Columbia. I lived there for almost 4 years before moving to NS in 89. Its breathtaking beauty should be experienced by every Canadian. The veil of smoke in your photos make it look even dreamier.

    Sadly forest fires are indeed a part of nature. It’s just such a shame that so much of the province is being scarred at the same time.

    • missusk76
      September 1, 2010

      You are so right on both accounts – B.C. is stunningly beautiful and forest fires are a part of nature. It shouldn’t be that so much is going up at once, hopefully we humans learn from our past mistakes and let Mother Nature do her thing as she was meant to.

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