Ropelato Photography

Natural Earthscapes

Storming the Castle...ish

Castle Lake still mostly unfrozen just after sunset. 

Castle Lake still mostly unfrozen just after sunset. 

I’m very fortunate to have a small break each February designated for photography.  Having been sidelined due to illness for a short time, traveling for the holidays, and a feverish pace teaching after I got back to Vacaville, I haven’t been able to do any real shooting since last October.  This might be the longest I’ve been sidelined since picking up a digital SLR in 2004.  Needless to say, I was itching to get out, hit the trail, and get to shooting.


We’ve had a dearth of rain and snow this season, which sucks, but I decided to use it to my advantage and try to grab some shots I’ve been wanting of Mount Shasta from above Castle Lake in Northern California.  The trail is typically impassable from November until late April, but due to the lack of moisture and warmer than usual temperatures, there was just a little ice and snow here and there to keep me honest.

The only color that showed up was to the south.  

The only color that showed up was to the south.  

Arriving at the trailhead Monday night I had just enough time to rush up the hill and do a little scouting.  The sky had plenty of color, but as per usual it was in the wrong direction.  No bother; adjust, turn, shoot, move on.  Just as I started getting a feel for the terrain, I set up to grab a couple shots, and before I knew it, it had gotten dark on me.  I figured I’d be hiking out after hours, but I didn’t realize how far off trail I would end up.  It seemed like the trail along the western edge of the lake would be the quickest way back to the rig, so off I rumbled and tumbled off the mountain.  Let me be the first, or the second, or even the third person to tell you not to go hiking alone, off trail, after dark, in a place you’ve never been when there’s ice everywhere.  Sheer dumb luck, two small tumbles, and a rolled ankle got me back to the Tacoma after some very questionable decisions and about an hour and a half of choice language to myself. 

I rolled back into town, drowned my sorrows in some chicken fried steak, and headed back up to the lake to grab what can only be described as an uncomfortable nap before setting out again. 

Luckily I was already up when my phone reminded me at 5am it was time to get rolling.  Checked the gear, layered up, and headed back out.  My second try was a lot more successful, and I was able to get quite a bit higher than the night before.  I climbed up and over Heart Lake, which was not quite completely frozen, and set up to catch the exploding colors of sunrise.  They never came, but it didn’t really bother me.  The wind was howling, the fog was flowing in the valley, and I had a world class view. 

The highest point around with views of the valley fog and Mount Shasta. 

The highest point around with views of the valley fog and Mount Shasta. 

After an hour or so of shooting with Castle Lake as my anchor, it came to me that without color, the real shot was a long exposure of the fog and clouds moving along the base of Shasta.  To get to this, I had to leave my post and head back down to the saddle, and then up the peak on the eastern side of the lake.  This one was a beast, especially at high altitude with two recent hikes on my legs, but I made it.  I have to say that the view from here was absolutely unbelievable.  I let go of the fever pitch pace of shooting, and just tried to take it all in.  360 degrees of rugged mountains, mountain lakes, a sea of fog…  unreal.  This is why I choose to be a photographer.   Moments like these that recharge the batteries and kick me back into balance with nature. 

This view of Castle Crags was directly behind me when shooting Shasta and the fog. 

This view of Castle Crags was directly behind me when shooting Shasta and the fog. 


I finished up shooting, which for me means packing up the gear, seeing another shot, unpacking, shooting, repacking, taking a few steps, and repeating the process.  After several of these, I meandered off the mountain, at more of a leisurely pace than normal, and rolled down the road for my next adventure. 

Man I love photography.  

Nokia Lumia 1020

The Nokia Lumia 1020

I posted this once straight from the phone, but I wanted to dabble a little bit on the computer and re-post.  I also chose this shot because the yellow in the flowers almost matches my new yellow phone perfectly. 

I’ve meant to do more from this phone and sooner, but I am currently editing shots from a recent wedding and I had a little trouble importing from the phone to the Mac because the Mac kept wanting everything locked up in iPhoto.  This thing sometimes, I swear.  Anyway, Nokia just put out a transfer tool today, and so now I’m up and cooking. 

Nokia has NAILED the camera phone.  NAILED IT.  The phone isn’t perfect, but I would argue its close to the best phone on the planet.  The HTC One is exceptional, the New Motorola Moto X looks pretty amazing, but those two phones notwithstanding, this phone is mind blowing. 

Some will have trouble moving to Windows Phone (although having used it since October 2010, I think it’s by far the best phone OS) and even more will have trouble moving to AT&T, however if you, like me, NEED a camera with you at all times, this is really the phone for you. 

Is it a DSLR? No.  Is it the best point and shoot?  No.  That said, and said simply, it IS the only camera that will ALWAYS be in my pocket, and here’s the catch…with no regrets.  Let me explain from my perspective.  My wife and I had our first kid last June.  He’s rad.  I take photos of him ALL THE TIME.  Several a day, and videos too.  But I noticed that while I love to take photos of the little guy, I only ever grabbed the big gun 5DIII about every six weeks or so.  It’s just too much of a hassle to grab the flashes and the lights and the tripod and the ….  You get the picture.  While I didn’t want to drag everything out all the time, I did regret that my phone pics were just never that good.  Too blurry, missed the moment, grainy, noisy, dark, contrasty crap.  And that was on a phone (Lumia 920) which was considered to be at the very least in the top end of phone optics.  As much as we constantly rely on our phones for photography, there’s always the caveat that it comes from a phone, and that even the best phone cameras are still “phone” cameras.   This phone is different.  I can print these things, and while I’ll have to do some serious testing, I’ll bet I can go 8x12 and be VERY happy. 

This camera takes amazing photos.  Notice I didn’t say “for a smartphone”.  There’s no need.  This phone takes amazing photos.  This phone is simply worlds ahead of anything else out there. 

One last thing.  I’ve heard some grumblings about 41mp/small sensor/files too big/gimmick stuff floating around.  I’ll let you head on over to the Nokia White Paper on this thing to get the specifics, but I will say, this is no gimmick, and the oversampling leads to reasonable file sizes (5mb oversampled, ~10mp high res) that are without a doubt the best photos a smartphone can take, or will take for the foreseeable future. 

More shots will be inevitably making it into my stream from here forward.  If you have any questions about this phone or the photos, shoot me a comment. 


-jared ropelato


Working the Scene

Like most aspiring photographers, I am heavily influenced by those photographers I admire and respect.  Photographers like Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, as well as contemporary up and coming masters like Marc Adamus, Art Wolfe, Ian Plant and Miles Morgan…  We each have our own list, and we fill it with artist who influence us in our own work.  Inspiration is important, but it can be dangerous to your own creativity.  If you’re anything like me, when you are moved by an image, you study it to try and figure out how it was created.  I will research where a photo was taken, what time of day, what season, sometimes down to where I think the photographer was standing.  I will study the photography feverishly.  What direction was the light coming from?  What settings to I think the artist used?  Was there wind?  Does the shot depend on weather or seasonal things like snow, wildflowers, position of the sun, etc?  I deconstruct the image and then, if it’s location I want to add to my own portfolio, I’ll set out to capture it. 

Inspiration used as motivation to get out and shoot is, in itself, a wonderful thing.  The danger however comes when we get so hung up in getting “that shot” that we all end up with the same shot.  I’m not going to pretend that I don’t do that.  I will follow in the footsteps of those who came before me.  I will attempt, if I can, to build off of it.  How many shots in your portfolio look like one of Galen’s?  How many thousands of people line up in Yosemite each year during the 2nd-3rd week of February to try and grab a snap of “Firefalls”?  Raise your hand if you’d like a shot of calla lilies in Big Sur.  *raises hand*.  Enough said. 

The challenge then is once you get “the shot” that you stick around for a while and “work the scene”.  I’ve never been a grab and goer.  When I get to a spot, whether it’s a pull of in Big Sur, or an all day hike, I like to stick around.  My first inclination is to pull out the camera and start shooting as fast as I can, but when I do my best work is when I take the time to wander around.  I’ll hike up, hike down, climb on things, crouch down and bear crawl.  I’ll do everything I can with the time I have to see what, I feel, leads to the best representation of the natural scene before me.  I strive for balance more than anything.  Does the visual weight of the components of the scene balance within my composition.  If not, even if it’s an iconic shot, I’ll move around until it does.  Once I feel I have balance, I’ll look for flow, especially if there’s water involved.  Can my eye wander around the composition without getting stuck somewhere?  Am I drawn in, especially from the corner of the scene?  If not, again, I move.  The goal, in my mind, after the inspiration has gotten you out the door and into nature, is to enjoy the outdoors and if taking a shot, to try and put your own spin on it.  To do this, a photographer must spend some time to get to know an area and to explore all possible views of it. 

The last thing that I’ll say, is to be safe, especially if you’re like me and tend to travel and shoot alone.  Sometimes the shots from a particular iconic location all looking the same is because there’s only one safe place to shoot from.  More than once I have gotten myself into a hairy situation because I was trying a little too hard to find a unique perspective.  Although I rarely use them, I always travel with a rope and harness, and if I’m about to do something that sends my spidey sense tingling, I will always shoot off a text or a phone call letting someone know where I’m at and what I’m doing, just in case…

Moral of the story, get inspired, by artists you respect, get out and shoot, grab that “must have” shot, and then stick around for a while and enjoy the fact that you’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by such amazing scenery.  Happy shooting, and cheers. 

-Jared Ropelato

Ropelato Photogrpahy


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