Light & Shadow

Behind the Shot: Trillium Lake


Trillium Lake by Matt Kloskowski

Photo by Matt Kloskowski


Matt Kloskowski


Trillium Lake near Mt. Hood in Oregon
April, 2012

Nikon D800
Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II AF-S
ISO 100
1/6 second

BH-55 LR Ballhead




Hi everyone. I want to thank Joe and everyone over at Really Right Stuff for a) making some kick-butt tripods and ball heads and, b) giving me the platform for today to tell a story behind one of my photos. See, a while back I stumbled on a topic that really seems to hit home for people – the story behind a photo. Sure, we love our photos and we love getting great shots. But so often, I think the story behind the photo is just as interesting. I love to hear other people’s stories, so I hope you’ll enjoy this one of mine.

This photo probably goes down as one of my “not so smart” moments in photography stories. Now, I’m not saying what I was doing the evening I took this photo was the height of life-threatening by any means, and I’m sure there’s many people reading this, that have done many worse and more dangerous things than this to get a photo. But at the end of the day, it definitely wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done either, and it does make a good story.

The Story and My Plan

I was out in Portland this past April visiting my buds over at onOne Software for a few days. I decided to head out to a place called Trillium Lake near Mt. Hood for a sunset shoot. It’s a beautiful lake and since the winds usually calm down at sunset I figured I could get a nice reflection. Plus, it looked like the sun went down just to my left if I were facing Mt. Hood, but out of view. When I shoot landscapes, I always like to be shooting at something that the sun is hitting during sunrise or sunset, rather than shooting directly into the sun (although I do at times). Whatever the sun is hitting gets illuminated by that beautiful light and mountains (with all the texture and depth) can really look awesome.

Anyway, The weather didn’t look good and the guys at the onOne office didn’t think it would be worth it, but I was there, and it was only an hour away so I figured what the heck. Keep in mind, nobody at this point had mentioned snow. Maybe it’s such a way of life there, at that time in the year that nobody thought about it – but being from Florida I’m thinking “It’s April… spring time… what better time for photography!”. That was my first mistake

The Drive Up


Open skies at Mt. Hood.

The clouds cleared and it looked like it would be an awesome sunset.

So I’m driving up to Mt. Hood and I pull off to send a photo to my friend at onOne, Brian Matiash, to show him how things were looking. As I got closer, the clouds cleared and it looked like it would be an awesome sunset.


Arriving at Trillium Lake

When you turn off the main road to Trillium lake there’s a 1.5 mile driveway that takes you down toward the lake. Well, as soon as I pulled up I realize there was a problem. The gate was closed and there was about 4-5 feet of snow in front of me (the green thing you see in the photo is about waist high).

Waist high snow

Waist high snow.

So I got out of the car, climbed up to the top of the snow and realized it was packed pretty tight. I could stand and walk on it easily without sinking in too far. I called Brian (who, by the way, was the only one who knew I was up there) to joke around about my misfortune but sadly my phone was out of battery (damn iPhone!) and died about halfway into our conversation. I’ve since bought one of those Mophie Juice Pack battery cases, but that’s totally unrelated.



What the Heck!?

So I decided to go for it (stupid move #1), saying to myself that if I felt the snow get too deep or sink down into it too badly at any point, that I would turn around. Mind you, I wasn’t hiking in the back country with nobody around for miles. This was a paved 2-lane driveway I was walking on, that was right off the main road so I figured I was safe. Plus, I had borrowed Scott by buddy, Scott Kelby’s new Nikon D800, and was determined to come back with a good photo from it

Oh Yeah, Did I Mention All I Had on Was a Hoody and Running Shoes?

By the way, I may have forgotten to mention all I had on was a long sleeved shirt, hoody, jeans, and Reebok running shoes (stupid move #2).

The Walk to the Lake

The walk to the lake took about 40 minutes up and down hill. It was a lot like walking in sand and my feet sunk down about the same amount. Every hundred yards or so I’d sink about a foot in, but it was packed snow so I just pulled my leg out and moved on. I exercise a lot, so it really wasn’t that bad and I kept a good pace since I was losing light fast (I hadn’t planned on the hike). I did pass two people going back on snow-shoes and remembered being slightly jealous. (Lesson learned here was give yourself more time than you think)

Arriving at the Lake

I arrived at the lake and saw a sign that was pretty much buried in snow. It was at that point things started to go downhill (both literally and figuratively). As soon as I turned off the driveway (I was about 400 yards from the lake), I sunk down to my thighs in snow.

The sign upon arrival.

The sign upon arrival.

I thought I must have hit a soft patch, but it never ended. I’d made it that far though so I wasn’t turning around. So for 400 yards, every step literally sent me almost waist-deep in snow. If you were standing there you’d have heard some pretty colorful language, but after about 10 minutes of post-holing my legs through the snow, I made it to the lake only to see it was completely snow-covered (stupid move #3, which really could have been stupid move #1 because I should have done my research).


What the Heck, I’m Here So Why Not Shoot?

I was there so I made the best of it. I took out the slightly wet D800 (shhhh, don’t tell Scott) and started shooting. The light on Mt. Hood was actually beautiful and the whole scene looked great. Not what I had planned, but not bad either. Had it not been around 35 degrees (which isn’t really that cold) it would have been awesome, but I was starting to get cold from sweating so much earlier.

Landscapes Need a Foreground Element (And My First “Oh $h*t” Moment)

At this point, everything I was shooting had a vast sea of white in front of it (see photo below) since the lake was snow covered. I like to put foreground elements in my landscape photos so I started looking around. I see a cool little tree behind me and to my right that looks like it would be perfect. So I grab my tripod and start walking to it. Splash! Now I’m standing knee-deep in ice-cold water (insert more colorful language). Yup, I broke through the ice (that I didn’t even know I was standing on) with nothing but ankle socks and running shoes on. At this point I started getting a little worried because the light was fading, my feet were now getting numb and I still had to walk back 45 minutes to the car. So I shot for a few more minutes, but since the light had pretty faded off the mountain, I decided to head back.

Fields of snow while the light slowly fades.

Fields of snow while the light slowly fades.


Getting Back

The walk up the driveway really started to worry me (remember the driveway was the point where I hit the waist deep snow). As I mentioned, I’m in decent shape, but I hadn’t made it halfway up the driveway before I was huffing and puffing like I’d just ran a marathon. I didn’t have any water with me either (stupid move #4). After about 15 minutes, I made it up to the start of the driveway again, but it was a long haul to get there which left me pretty much drenched in sweat. The 1.5 mile walk back after that was pretty uneventful. One hill looked like the next. It was dark by this point, but I could still see well enough. I kept hoping each hill would be the last, but there was always another waiting. Luckily it didn’t get too cold once the sun went down, and my feet went between semi-numb to just-a-little-numb, so I was okay.

Lessons Learned

Do I really even have to go here? Yeah, it was dumb. Out there alone, nobody really knew I was there and the one person who did know, didn’t have any kind of check-in plan with me since he thought I was fine. I was the only car in the parking lot. Cell phone was dead. No water and not dressed for cold weather. I’ve definitely done smarter things in my life (and sadly I’ve done things even more stupid than this too). All that said, it wasn’t that cold when I started. Had it been 15 degrees when it was light out, I’d have never even started the trek. In the end, I got some decent photos from it, and even got to test out the weather-proofing on the D800 (shhh again… don’t tell Scott)

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed the story – and please keep all lectures to yourself 🙂 . If you want to find out more about me you can always check out my blog on photography, Photoshop and Lightroom over at Have a good one!

Article written by Matt Kloskowski, Photographer and Education Director for Kelby Media Group