Behind the Image: Steller Stellisee

June 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Switzerland will always hold a very special place in my heart.  The prestige and beauty of the Alps paired with Swiss mountain villages makes you feel like you are on a movie set.  Towards the end of my time in Switzerland, my husband and I ventured up in altitude to the town of Zermatt situated at 5,310 ft (1,620 m). Early one morning, we took the cable car at the end of town to the Sunnegga Paradise stop and started the 5-Seenweg Hike or 5 Lake Trail Hike. We hiked up the mountainside from Sunnegga Paradise for about 2 hours. At 8,435 ft (2,571m), we reach Blauherd, a gondola stop that wasn’t running at the time.  There, high in the mountains, we found our first of five lakes on the trail, Stellisee.  My husband pulled out some apples and water to enjoy, and I setup the tripod and camera to capture what would be one of my first photographs to go into my portfolio. 

Since our arrival at the lake was in the middle of the day and our location was high in the sky, the light was bright and shadows were strong.  In addition, I wanted to capture the reflection of the iconic Matterhorn (German), Monte Cervino (Italian) or Mont Cervin (French) so I needed a longer exposure to allow those small ripples in the water to smooth out and look crisp in the photo.  I mounted my camera to the tripod, plugged in my shutter release cable, and pulled out a few neutral density filters.

A neutral density filter or ND filter reduces the amount of optical power transmitted through the filter; simply, it allows less light to enter through the lens providing slower shutter speeds.  It is the equivalent of stopping down one or more additional stops (going from a high f number to a lower f number) allowing for the best chance to capture the image I had in my head in such bright light.  In addition to extending time exposures, the ND filter is also helpful in making those silky waterfalls and rivers, reducing the depth of field during bright midday light, as well as adding motion blur to moving subjects.

Once all the camera gear was assembled and ready to go, then all I had left to do it wait for a moment when the wind died down and the lake calmed.  I enjoyed my apple and relaxed on a rock and waited almost an hour (checking the camera settings every so often because the light was constantly changing) until the wind subsided enough to let me press the shutter button.

During the following hours of daylight, we began our descent down the mountain and visited the remaining four lakes of Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjiesee, and Leisee before heading back to the gondola.  Each lake offered different scenery to snap that iconic photo of the Matterhorn reflecting in the water.  After a few hours, my husband and I headed back to Blauherd only to learn that the station was closed for the evening.  We found a worker at the station who informed us that there would be no more trips down the mountain and that we could either walk or call a taxi to pick us up.  If you know anything about Swiss prices, calling a taxi was not an option. Apparently, we didn’t read the small notification sign that was written in German on the station door when we exited the cable car station in the morning.  After the panic subsided, we quickly pulled out the map.  My mountain man of a husband figured out the best strategy to hike Blauherd (8,435 ft) down to Zermatt (5,276 ft) before the sun disappeared behind the mountains which would have left us in complete darkness and with potential cases of frostbite. 

Quickly, we started our 3,159 ft descent down the mountain toward Zermatt.  Along the way, we ran into a gentleman who had the same bad luck to miss the gondola and offered some helpful advice on safely getting down the mountain.   To this day, I think he was some sort of angel because he did provide me with a little relief when he told us that we could make it to town before dark.  After much knee pain and sweat, we approached the town of Zermatt as the streetlights illuminated the town.  It was the hike that I decided to invest in trekking poles to keep with me during all hikes.  Those little poles are two pieces of magic on steep hikes!  With all the calories burnt, my husband and I decided that we deserved a good burger and a few beers at the local Brown Cow Pub.  Perhaps it was the sore muscles or the fact that we were starving, but that was one of the best tasting burgers that we never had.  

8 second at f/22, ISO 200

Steller Stellisee in Zermatt, Switzerland

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