In my Polar travels I have experienced Katabatic Winds on a number of occasions, they are hard to explain to those who have not experienced them first hand.
They start visually with high cloud that forms distinctive shapes frequently over mountain tops. The peaks make the air spin forming spinning clouds high into the sky. The wind has to be over 100 mph to form these clouds. The wind howls like a banshee, when the wind hits you the temperature plummets, you can feel your skin drying of all its essential oils. The wind cuts through your clothing and you would not last long without the proper gear in such a wind.
I decided to try to portray the power of this wind in a series of photos. I watched how the wind shapes the clouds and waited until it had carved a delicate shape in the sky and took some photos of it. Working first in Colour I found that the photos didn’t have the tone in the cloud that I was seeing with my eyes. So I changed to Monochrome which improved the tonal range reflecting the realism of the event.
Next I thought about how the Katabatic wind works – it falls off the Polar Ice Caps to the sea. This explains why they are so cold. They race down to the sea whipping up snow and ice so this should make it possible to capture images that portray the violence of the winds.
I wanted to capture the savage beauty within the area affected by the wind. However whilst beautiful it is deadly dangerous look close at the pictures below and ask yourself would you like to be in such weather at such a place?
Finally I considered how to capture the power the wind imparts onto the sea. I tried to get my shot to mirror the shape of the land. I wanted to get the detail of the wind whipping the tops off the waves and spraying foam all over the sea.
As I looked at this scene with the bright white clouds and the dark sky I thought of Ansel Adams. His photos of the Great Dome (1) capture a geological presence. More than this they make me feel what it would be like to stand in this landscape. Feeling the clean air on my face. I reflected on how he would have set up his camera to capture what was before him. My setup was Canon 5ds with a 70mm – 200mm set at 70mm opened at F6 with an ISO of 100 and a shutter speed of 1/600th of a second. I had to remove a couple of blemishes on the lens in post production. These were caused by the wind blowing ice crystal which adhered to the glass of the lens. One thing that surprised me was the change in the battery performance. When the cold (-18c) air hit it the camera battery dropped 20% of its battery charge within 5 minutes. I found my fingers stiffened and dexterity was lost with in seconds.
In photography the word “sublime” is used a lot. These few moments were sublime, it’s power made me feel insignificant, almost a religious belittling. A special moment in my life.
Whilst unseen a Katabatic Wind is something to behold if you get the chance go experience one. You will never forget it!!!!
(1) Adams, A. (1937). Monolith the face of half dome Yosemite Valley California 1927. [Photograph on Silver Gellatin.] New York: Ansel Adams Gallery