Tuckerman Ravine

Tuckerman Ravine

My first trip to ski the bowl, as documented in Get Out!, was an intimidating solo venture. Stories of difficult skiing, avalanches, unpredictable weather, and injuries propagated the myth that the superb spring skiing wasn’t for the timid, and I was ready to believe it. I reached the cabin that year as they med-evac’d a guy down the mountain with a partially collapsed skull. A trail of blood led upwards for a half-mile to the base of the bowl. I found out later that a dislodged block of ice had cascaded into his face. Subsequent annual trips have each moved further into the realm of awesome by picking only the plum days with the best weather and the most coverage. Whatever fear I once felt about the bowl has been replaced with an appreciation of the sublime challenge, but this year I wanted to do more than just ski. I wanted to capture a complete panorama of the ravine in order to create a stereographic projection, as seen above.

Armed with a full pack of ski boots, skis, clothing and food, as well as two cameras, three lenses, and parts of a tripod, we set off from Pinkham Notch amidst the crowds. According to the Tuckermans Avalanche weekend update, there were somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people there that day. Temperatures climbed as fast as we did, that is, slowly. Hours later, in the bowl of the ravine, I set up the tripod with difficulty. The skinny legs punched through the soft snow and threatened to topple only to be saved by the frozen layers below. Ideally I would have had a shovel to level the area or mini snowshoes for each tripod leg, but neither seemed very practical. (Skiing with a tripod strapped to my back is entirely practical.) I swapped lenses, set up the pan-head and snapped the images before repacking and switching cameras. Rather than risk damaging my main camera, I opted for a lesser quality point-n-shoot for the climb up Lobster Claw. The problem I have now is that I like the resulting images and can’t enlarge them nearly enough.

Once I imported all of the photos into Lightroom, I narrowed down the collection to about 25 that I liked and started processing. Using the sync option while developing is a huge time saver and a sure way to keep colors consistent between similar images, especially when doing a panorama. My attention turned to stitching the 8 images together in PTGui and then finishing it further in Photoshop CS5. Tripod removal was simple with Content-Aware Fill.

And now a few notes for photographing Tuckerman Ravine…

1) For landscape photos, think wide and arrive early. On a busy day, the bottom of the bowl fills with spectators and provides an unsightly foreground.
2) For action photos, bring a long lens (200mm minimum), a tripod, and a pair of crampons. For the best shots, you’ll want to position yourself somewhere partway up the wall. There is usually a ledge beneath the Chute, but try not to take up prime real estate. Shooting head on from the bowl makes for a flat, lifeless photo.
3) A circular polarizer is a must. With the sun overhead and reflecting off of snow and ice below you and surrounding you on three sides, there is a lot of scattered light. A neutral density filter may be a decent idea to cut the amount of light, depending on your shutter/aperture/ISO choices.
4) Watch your histogram. Is snow supposed to be gray? Of course not, but your camera wants it to be. Override the meter by dialing in some Exposure Compensation until your highlights are actually white again, but not so far that you’re losing detail.

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