Photo of Mount Rainier

Creative inspiration high in the mountains

Written June 5, 2017 by Jeromy Condon

During these warm(ish) days of summer in the Pacific Northwest, I find much of my inspiration out in the wilderness hiking and exploring backcountry trails.  The fresh air, quiet scenery, and tranquil settings of the mountain high country really speak to me.

On my travels, I’m also looking for new ways to re-live the memories of beautiful places I’ve visited, as well as new ways to share these places with my friends, family and colleagues.  Today’s technology more than ever is allowing for all of us to revisit memories and share experiences in a manner accessible to all.

Recently I had an opportunity to hike up to the base of Mount Rainier, miles off the beaten path, to explore a place I have not visited before.  The sun was out, the weather warm, and the trail was calling.  I generally like to travel light on these excursions, so I packed my ten essentials, smartphone camera, macro lens, sack lunch, and wife.  Off to explore the great out-of-doors.

I’m a big fan of smartphone photography, and am constantly looking for ways to augment it.  To this end, I have some favorite apps and software, as well as some home-spun solutions to common smartphone photography challenges.  I shoot on an iPhone 7 plus, which has an incredible camera already, but below are some additional apps and components I use to improve the quality of my shots.

My favorite iOS apps for photography

  • Cardboard Camera (Free, iOS/Android)
    This app allows you to quickly take stereoscopic 3d images as easily as taking a panorama.  The app will stitch your pictures together, and allow you to view your photographs in virtual reality with depth.  Not perfect yet, but a great way to re-visit someplace quickly in an immersive manner.
  • Street View (Free, iOS/Android)
    A favorite app of mine for creating 360 degree photo spheres.  These can be stitched together with a little programming code to allow a complete virtual tour of any area of your choosing.  Can be viewed with or without VR goggles.
  • Google Photos (Free, iOS/Android)
    Unlimited free online photo storage and robust editing capabilities.  This app will easily replace your standard photos app.  You’ll never lose a picture again.

I also bring along some hardware to get those more difficult smartphone shots

  • Olloclip Macro Lens ($79.95, iPhone 7 / 7 Plus)
    Each time I get a new phone, I generally get the accompanying macro lens set for it by Olloclip. These lenses are high quality, and allow you to photograph tiny wildflowers, lichens, bugs, etc… Easily snaps on and off your phone.
  • Tripod and Binoculars
    Getting the far away shots can be difficult, as a smartphone generally does not have any sort of optical zoom lens.  With a little creative rigging, it is very possible to mount your phone to a good set of binoculars for those long distance situations.

Our trailhead began at White River Campground inside of Mount Rainier National Park. At this point in the year, the snow is still melting out, and access to many trails is still under snow.  We set out on the Wonderland trail and hiked out for approximately 3 miles before meandering off on a side trail to the base of the mountain.  The views were spectacular, filled with forests, glaciers, and alpine lakes colored in the most beautiful shades of blue-green.

Off the beaten path, the tranquility is impressive.  No cars, no hustle-bustle, no crowds.  We stopped and ate lunch on the bank of a beautiful lagoon framed by the Emmons Glacier and Little Tahoma.  Time for some photography.  I took many still shots of the mountain and alpine lakes nearby.  The colors were fantastic, and almost felt unreal.  The air was filled with the smell of spruce, pine, and wildflowers.  This is the type of experience I want to remember for a lifetime.

I also took a couple 360 degree photos.  For these, I use the VRview Javascript library to stitch them together.  In the below image you can drag all around and check out the scene from different viewpoints, as well as click the white circle to go to another photo.

The great outdoors are always calling.  After spending the work week at an office desk, for me there is no greater treat than being far away from everything, yet closer to my own existence.  After a day in the wilderness I always feel refreshed, and hopefully you will too!