Lazy Sunday

Lazy Swiss Sunday – First Ski Tour

pizol_sls-5Some time in 2005 I walked into the Oerlikon outlet store of Baechli Bergsport and picked up a pair a yellow and grey Lowa Evo ski touring boots. They were on sale and I thought, “ski touring, always wanted to do that.” In the winter of 2008 I bought a pair of NAXO N02 touring bindings, a pair of Atomic skis, Black Diamond skins, a BCA avalanche beacon, Black Diamond probe…ready to realize my ski touring dream.


Dreams take time though, they need to develop over a certain period, especially something like touring. I hadn’t been on skis in like three years and I wasn’t in the avalanche dodging mood. My idea was to start out small and build up to some real mountain tours. So on a Lazy Swiss Sunday I decided to head to Pizol and tour around the avalanche (theoretically) free area of the Pizol ski area in Eastern Switzerland. Pizol is one of those all-inclusive winter sport places. You can ski, snowboard, winterwandern, paraglide, snowshoe, ski tour, whatever involves snow, they even do igloo adventure trips. I wanted an easy day so I took the gondola up the first station and then toured up the snowshoe trail to the top of the ski resort. I packed along an assortment of accessories including crampons, snow shovel, avalanche beacon and an ice axe. Not that I needed all of this to tour in a ski resort, but I figured I should load up my Osprey Exposure pack and train my legs. Plus, I felt fly in my mountaineering gear. I generally only use these things for ego-inspired photo shoots, so it was a joy to use my mountain stuff for a utilitarian purpose. Naturally I also packed along my Ricoh GR Digital, that fantastic high-quality compact digital camera that just fits in your pack, no matter what mountain you’re heading up.


pizol_sls-12At Pizol you have the option of heading on from the resort for another 600 vertical meters to the Pizol summit, but as I was alone, I decided to stay out of the backcountry. Avalanches sound like trains, and it’s ill-advised to stand in front of either one. I’ve had the pleasure of having an avalanche come down on me in Colorado, a pleasure as I ‘m still here to talk about it. It’s good to experience some things ONCE, and that once was once enough. At Pizol the weather was fantastic above 1500 meters. Down below in the valley was Das Nebelmeer, German for sea of clouds, that beautiful event where the clouds are pushed below the mountain peaks, and you look out from the sunshine. The light was perfect, beyond perfect, which is impossible, but it was.


pizol_sls-11Ski touring looks fly, but it’s surprising exhausting. I was vacationing in Detroit for Christmas and my Swiss mountain legs hadn’t been exercised in months. So when I skied down the slopes and tried to turn my legs revolted with deep screams of muscle fatigue. I’m a weak, flabby man, a poor example of a mountaineer, but there’s always next weekend. I made it back to the gondola without crashing and decided to head back for a relaxing Sunday night in Winterthur. “Why push it?” The best ski season in February and the best touring in March (so I hear) and I just want to be in touring shape for the days to come.? That’s the point of Lazy Swiss Sundays, to not kill yourself, but to enjoy life. Their are many firsts in this life. Many things to be remembered, and many things to look forward to. A lazy tour in a resort area doesn’t sound exciting when written down, but it was a start, a flickr of adventure for the soul. It was the start of the beginning.


pizol_sls-2

Lazy Swiss Sunday – Urban Poet Portraits

Urban_Poet.jpgThere are many boring things to do on a lazy Sunday in Switzerland. You can climb up a klettersteig, go paragliding, chill in a coffee shop, enjoy a movie, brunch in die Giesserei in Oerlikon, tour over a glacier, vegetate in front of the TV, but if you did all of that last weekend, then the obvious option is to go shoot urban portraits in Winterthur. As a Strobist-educated photographer, it’s nice to go out and shoot with someone who actually makes money taking photographs, and has an Elinchrom Ranger RX system. So, on a Lazy Swiss Sunday Matt and I headed to the old industrial area of Winterthur, just outside of Zurich to shoot some pictures that we called, the Urban Poet series.


I’m a bit of strange guy, and when I shoot images I naturally try to infuse a bit a strangeness into the process. Dry Tooling in a parking garage, vintage glacier goggles, and hiding my beautiful eyes behind sunglasses are my thing at the moment. This contrasts wonderfully with Matt’s take on portraiture, which is influenced by his background in photo journalism and wedding photography. He captures the beauty of reality, while I try to do anything but.  Fortunately, I was able to add my hint of strangeness during the post-processing.


Our location was at the back of the Lagerplatz near the train tracks in Winterthur. Winterthur is a historic industrial manufacturing base of Zurich, Switzerland. Since the Swiss economy has transitioned away from large-scale industrial manufacturing and become focused on biotech, medical, and technology companies, the hard industrial areas of Winterthur have gone through a large transformation in the past 50 years. Lagerplatz translates from German as something like loading or inventory place, basically it’s where you have warehouses for loading trains, and is right next to the old Sulzer manufacturing area. Since it’s industrial heyday, the whole area has since been transformed into a hip business location for designers, swanky apartments, a climbing gym, and is the go-to place for wedding photographers who want to make urban portraits for high-paying clients.


The Concept


We had two ideas in mind, one as an experimental action image, and would then go do some reality based shots. For the action shot, I had picked up a toy gun at the store the day before. In addition I took along my Pelican hard case and a simple wardrobe, consisting of Levi’s jeans, a form fitted T-shirt, and olive jacket with nice clean lines. As per Matt’s direction, I kept my vintage motorcycle goggles in my pocket and wore instead a pair of traditional black sport glasses.


The Gear

Nikon D300
Nikon 80-200 f/2.8
Nikon 12-24 f/4.0
Elinchrom Ranger RX strobes
Skyport RX radio triggers
Shoot-through and silver umbrellas
Medium Elinchrom octabox

Urban_Poet-2.jpgBullets Are My Prose


The night before I had been watching Casino Royale, getting ready for the release of Quantum of Solace, so I was pretty geeked to pick up a toy version of the P99 and pretend to be an extra from James Bond, Spy Game or a Jason Bourne movie for 1/100th of a second. The occasional kid would stop to look on his way to the indoor skate park at Block, asking what we were doing, and, “is that a real gun?” For the lighting Matt alternated between hard lighting and flatter diffused looks using the umbrellas. I went with this wardrobe because I like modeling with my olive We sport coat and relaxed Levi’s, the light blue and white of the jeans contrasts well against the green of the coat. Overall it has a sort of hip urban feeling mixed with funtionality of something I actually like to wear. Additionally, both types of clothing give great definition with harder or flatter lighting schemes. The shadows from the creases along the arms give a subtle dramatic texture to the overall image with the right light. I went with my Doc Marten wing tips (model 3989) because their large soles have a very defined edge, forming a nice separation visually between the subject and the ground. Again, the whiteness of the Docs juxtaposes nicely against the coat and sunglasses. It might have been better to have gone with a lighter T-shirt, as the dark grey shirt needs more direct lighting to bring out features of the subject’s torso area. Here it acts more like a visual void in the image, or maybe this is just my science mind making too much of nothing. The gun and Pelican case were added to give some story elements, and because Matt and I wanted to experiment with different visual elements in this series.


Urban_Poet-3.jpgThe Urban Poet


For the main Urban Poet portraits, Matt positioned me well in front of one of the buildings with one of those large garage doors in the background. This renders a nice geometry to the background, without over-powering the colors of the subject. For this shot Matt used the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 lens, which gives a nice compressed image and control over depth of field to isolate the subject from the background elements of the shooting environment. And, the Nikon 80-200 is of course, very sharp. The lighting was done with one medium Octabox with an Elinchrom head. You can see in the portrait how the light is basically hitting about 1 meter in front of the subject, and then lighting the whole person. For this image, Matt designed a very cool portrait by separating the subject from the background using his choice of lens, and by keeping a shadow on the foreground, he minimizes the tendency of the viewer’s eye to be drawn away from the subject. So, basically it means your eye is drawn directly to the subject and not distracted by either the foreground or background elements. At the same time, having this foreground an background elements in place is what defines the urban environment, and makes the image look cooler and much more interesting than a simple studio shot.


Urban_Poet-4.jpgCould this shot have been done with small flash gear, yes, to a certain extent I’m sure it would have been possible, but if you happen to have an Elinchrom Ranger RX system with a medium-sized octabox, dealing with a small flash Strobist setup is just crazy. The Elinchrom octabox combined with the Ranger strobe heads gives you beautiful diffused light, and using the Skyport RX system meant that Matt was able to control the strobes without moving from his shooting position. If you have an assistant running around changing your lighting settings, then it’s fine to use a Pocket Wizard to trigger your lights, but when working alone the Skyport RX system makes the whole process painless. The use of the octabox is what made this image possible, otherwise it would be more difficult to create this dark shadow seen in the foreground, and hence, the image would have a different character.


Shooting with Matt was a great experience from multiple perspectives.  First, being directed by a photographer and doing what models do gives one valuable experience on how best to ineract with people which I shoot in separate projects. If you’re a photographer who has never gotten in front of the lens, I highly recommend it.  When you act out the part of a model, you become more aware of you body movements, and more aware of the difficulties of taking direction.  So, when you shoot your own projects, you now have a base for better connecting with your models.  You understand what it’s like to be on stage, their insecurities, and it will make you a better photographer.  It’s also important to work with photographers who have a vision and style which differs from your own.  You understand the value of different working methods, different lighting schemes, different portrait techniques, and in the end you are then challenged to reassess your own style  and become a stronger photographer because of it.


More of Matt’s work can be found at his website:


http://www.matthewandersonphoto.com/

Lazy Sunday – Fun with Flower Photos

After too many days and weeks of rain and snow and late spring sleet the Sun shown bright and strong over Zurich on the second Sunday of April in the year 2008.  I took the opportunity to sun bathe and then set up flashes, picked up my Minolta 7D and Ricoh GRD and set about photographing the excellent garden on the terrace.


Flowers I


One of the coolest things you can do with off-camera lighting is balancing the power of Sunlight with the watt-seconds of your strobe.  Now, with powerful studio flashes from Alien Bees, Elinchrom, Profoto, and many others, this is easy.  But the technique is often overlooked by amateur photographers since normal camera flashes are too weak to balance, or to over-power the exposure from the Sun.


Flowers Setup


I set up two flashes, a Contax TLA280 and Metz MZ40-3i.  Gadget Infinity radio triggers were used to fire them.  I had to use direct flash, with both set to nearly full output, since the high afternoon sun made weaker flash settings and any umbrella diffusers useless.

This meant I could light the main parts of the garden and create a nice blue sky in the background.  The flowers take on a sort of unrealistic shine, a certain texture your eyes can’t perceive in reality.  Ah, but the magic of simple off-camera lighting makes the magic appear with little effort.

A number of photos were taken during this session with the Minolta 7D and 20mm lens, but the best were produced using the Ricoh GR Digital with a 28mm lens.  The near infinite depth of field of the Ricoh GRD coupled with the with wide angle of view of the 21mm and 28mm lenses produced nothing short of perfection for capturing the cool colors of the flowers to contrast against the deep blue sky.  The Ricoh GRD rendered excellent saturation and sharpness of the flower petals and sharp green stems.




Flowers VFlowers IV



The setup for this shot took all of 10 minutes and there was no real concept I was trying to communicate.  The motivation was keenly contained within a desire to play around with my cameras and flashes and produce an image I’d never seen before.


Flowers III


There’s little doubt that flash photography and flowers has been around for decades and countless photographers will produce more countless generic flower photos with deep blue skies and saturated petals.  However, these will stick in my memory for a while, mainly because I was just playing around, and that’s when all the really cool things are done, when we don’t mean to do anything beyond killing the time we find on our hands.

Lazy Swiss Sunday – Bos Fulen

10,000 years ago, in the hunter-gatherer sense of our history, moving and beating the body to it’s core was needed for survival, so it is no surprise that some humans are not yet evolved enough sit in an office every day.

Bös Fulen is neither incredibly difficult, nor is deceptively easy to summit.  It’s the mountain to climb when you need to get away and are looking for a nice green – field – glacier – alpine climb for the day.

The starting point is Braunwald, situated at just over 1256 m it’s accessible by train in about two hours from Zurich.




Along the way we walked through the green fields and yellow and purple alpine flowers and came upon a group of four edelweiss.  The reclusive Alpine flower is placed on pretty much everything from hotel names, climbing stores, airplanes, and most souvenirs from Appenzeller, but are so rare that most people have never seen them in real life.




The summit of Bös Fulen is reached at 2801 m, after first climbing the glacier as high as possible, followed by free climbing the rock face.  You might find an old rusted piton here and there along the climb, but the hand holds are enough for one to feel secure.




There’s a bit of a scree field before the summit, and the keen climber will wait for those teams climbing ahead to summit before following the same line.  The alternative is to duck falling rocks and pray that one doesn’t take your fool head off.




Although it looked like a rather exhausting climb from below, the actual ascent was probably only like half an hour.  The hand-holds are bomber and the foot edges are wide enough to dance on.




The view from the summit is rather spectacular.  All the eastern alps are around, the klettersteig up Eggstöcke, the Glärnish Massif, Clariden and Ortstock.




Once in a while I get the feeling that mountaineering is for those who have realized the presence of their mortality, but not yet seen the wisdom in standing far away from the divide to this life, for one who needs some measure of sustenance to keep their fool unevolved spirits in line.




For the descent we traversed along the east ridge and then down the slope.  If you go too far you might notice the 1000 m drop down the east face, we didn’t stray too far and then boot-skied down the glacier.




The glacier was covered with small pockets of dust and dirt deposits.  They blow over from the Sahara and form these small depressions in the snow layer.  The dust absorbs more energy from the sun and then helps melt the glacier.  It’s like pricking someone a million times with a thin needle and after enough time all of their blood is gone.




If I return in ten years to climb Bös Fulen again, the likelihood that it will be climbable in the same condition is as absurd as buying a freezer in Alaska during December.  Bös Fulen is a fantastic climb for those who wish to see first hand the slow death of the last great European glaciers.

On the way back to Braunwald we happened upon a mountain rescue.  Nothing serious, looked like someone sprained their ankle and needed to be flown out.  Still, watching the rescue helicopter do a nose-dive landing was cool as all hell.




Some could write that mountaineering is a latent fool’s Provence.  Who taught the Swiss to climb?  Who conquered Everest and who starts the wars in the world?  Is it done by those with too much time and with nothing with which to lend fulfillment to their souls and have nothing to fill their days?  Is it like the writer who does not possess the courage to actually do something in this life, and takes to writing in an effort to provide an outlet for their ambitions?  Some might say so, but others might counter that mountaineering is also just a nice way to pass a lazy Sunday and take in the natural beauty which the world bestows upon those who seek the high-country.

All depressive attempts at writing aside, Bös Fulen is an awesome climb, and if you are so inclined I highly recommend it.

Lazy Swiss Saturday

For one of those weekends when you don’t know what to do with yourself, here’s my suggestion:

1) Wake up at 5 am, let the alarm go until 5:15, think about it again, and then get out of bed.

2) Find your way to the main train station in Zurich and take the 6:12 train to Ziegelbrücke. Curse yourself for not getting to the station early enough to buy a coffee, then ask yourself why you had the idea to get up so early to go hiking in the first place. Praise the Gods when the guy with the food cart comes by on the train, get yourself a coffee and chocolate croissant. All will then be well in the world.

Switch trains at Ziegelbrücke and get off at Braunwald. Hike two hours towards the Eggstöcke, your goal is to do a Klettersteig (protected climbing route) to the summit.

Extra Credit: take the wrong path, look up and realize you’re quickly becoming lost, trail blaze up the side of the mountain and after crossing the scree (loose rockfall from the mountain) and basic class two unprotected climbing, get to the start of the Klettersteig.

3) Do the Vor Eggstöcke Klettersteig, pass all the slow people and take 10 minute breaks here and there for energy bar consumption. Finish the first Klettersteig and continue to the next, more difficult one. Extra Credit: Climb halfway up the second Klettersteig until your arms start shaking and your feet become unstable, debate about continuing, look down and imagine loosing your grip and falling 2 meters before the rope catches you. Climb down and have another energy bar. After watching two other sets of climbs do the climb you just retreated from get up off your lazy ass and climb it as well. Summit the peak and feel good for doing something that means nothing.

4) Follow the blue alpine ridge trail off the summit and start descending from the Eggstöcke. Extra Credit: loose the path and start down a section of half solid, half crap crumbling rock.

Bonus Points: Grab a big handhold in your right hand and watch helplessly as it breaks away from the mountain and gets deflected by your right knee and leg before free falling through the fresh alpine air and joining all its other friends on the slopes below.

Double Bonus Points: Remind yourself that you’re a dumbass and should have died in the mountains years ago, climb back up and find the trail. Descend along the alpine trail, at times balancing on a rock ridge with a width twice as wide as your boots. Look to your right and notice the multi-hundred meter straight-down-drop that ends in jagged rocks. Remind yourself that you’re a dumbass and climb down to your left so you don’t fall to your impending death.

4) Leave the ridge and descend through the field of giant boulders and smooth rock left by the last glacier. Imagine Kate is hiking next to you and singing the chorus line from the Sound of Music. Look across the boulder field to the snow dusted ridges of the Ortstock and think about climbing it instead of getting hiking back to Braunwald and catching the next the train. Remind yourself that you’re a dumbass and take the trail back to Braunwald.

5) Change into your Chaco sandals on the train and relax.

Extra Credit: Sit in the dining car and drink a beer while recounting the day in your Moleskin journal. Bonus Points: Have the bright idea of turning your Lazy Saturday into a blog entry. 6) Get back to your place, bake a fresh mozzarella pizza, reflect on the fact you went hiking for 9 hours. Go to bed. Double Bonus Points: Mess around with the digital camera Sunday night after cleaning your room.

Journals

Journals in Motion


 


Climbing Switzerland Alps Braunwald