Tam MacArthur Backcountry Yurt Content Trip
Hey BlackStrap blog visitors, my names Austin White and I'm the photographer here at BlackStrap. Back in February some of the BlackStrap crew, as well as some of our ambassadors, went on an overnight content ski trip with Three Sisters Backcountry to stay in one of their yurts at the base of Tam MacArthur Rim. I wanted to share a little bit of the story behind the trip as well as what it takes to do my job as the photographer in the backcountry, as well as some tips and tricks for shooting in the backcountry...
Around 9am on a sunny Sunday morning, a crew of BlackStrap employees and ambassadors loaded up a sled trailer with food, drinks, ski gear, and camera gear for an overnight ski trip to some Central Oregon backcountry yurts. None of us had ever stayed at these yurts before and as we were starting up the sleds, nothing but excitement and stoked filled the air around us.
From left to right: Jonny Sischo, Sara Welge, Tim Karpinski, Chelsi Hower, Patrick Calavan
The crew was made up of myself Austin White (BlackStrap Photographer), Patrick Calavan (BlackStrap E-Comm manager), Tim Karpinski (BlackStrap Marketing Manager), and three of our ambassadors – Jonny Sischo, Chelsi Hower, and Sara Welge. We packed the gear, hung on to the sides of the trailer for our guide to tow us in, and the six-mile sled trip up the snow-covered road began. The sounds of the sled drowned out the hoots and hollers of the crew as the excitement built as views of the mountains started to show themselves. Jonny had brought his own sled and was ripping through the snow around us.
We finally arrived at the bank of the frozen Threes Creeks Lake where we gathered for a quick brief and overview of Tam MacArthur Rim and possible avalanche danger with our guide from Three Sisters Backcountry. There had been a slide earlier that morning and a big crown was visible from where we were standing, so we wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page and safe in the backcountry. If you're ever interested in learning more about avalanche safety, Central Oregon Avalanche Center is a great resource we use here at BlackStrap for when we're traveling in the backcountry.
We continued to the yurts that are tucked away in the trees and buried in feet of snow, not too far from the lake itself. It was about 10:30am once we arrived at the yurt and wasted no time unloading the trailer, grabbing our ski gear, and starting the skin up to the rim. On our way we made sure everyone’s beacon was beeping, risers are up, and we’re all together.
Jonny Wearing the bright blue Hood Balaclava and Pom Beanie
Three Creeks Backcountry Yurt
Chelsi and Sara get prepped for the skin up the rim
The main purpose of the trip was to gather content of our products, our ambassadors, and new lifestyle imagery for our 2021/2022 BlackStrap catalog. As the content creator for BlackStrap, that means I’m skinning up with multiple cameras, lenses, and plenty of batteries. I’ve spent close to 10 years in the photography industry before my time here at BlackStrap and it’s what I’m most passionate about. I’ve shot everything from rock climbing, surfing, skiing, highlining, backpacking, landscapes... If I’m behind a camera, I’m happy.
Jonny Sischo wearing the BlackStrap Hood Balaclava
Being the photographer on the trip, I’m responsible for finding the shots we need and making sure I’m in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you can curate the shot and sometimes it just happens. My style of photography tends to be more fly-on-the-wall where I don’t want to control the scene too much, I want things to play out in real time and do my best to capture it.
Sara taking quick lounge
In the middle of the skin up, I find the first shot I want. We come to a ridge line that would perfectly frame my subject with Mt Jefferson standing proud in the background and the rest of the Central Oregon landscape. For this shot, I want Mt Jefferson to be prominent in the photograph and not small in the background. To properly capture that, you have to shoot on a telephoto lens to compress the background and bring it closer to your subject. I have a 70-200mm telephoto lens for these kind of shots and when shooting an image like this, you want to stand further back and zoom in to somewhere around 100mm-200mm to properly compress your image to bring both the subject and the background closer together.
Patrick Calavan on the ridge line up
Sara Welge and Chelsi Hower
The suns out, the stokes high, and the powder is fluffy and fast. We start dropping into a bowl we end up lapping for most of the day. As the crew is lapping the bowl and skinning back and forth that means I’m mostly standing still waiting for them and that’s were BlackSrap baselayers become important to keep me warm since I’m not moving around as much as the skiers. I wear our Therma baselayer to keep the core warm and balaclavas to keep my head, neck, and ears warm.
Chelsi Hower getting deep in the bowl
Jonny Sischo getting the pow shots
Sara Welge getting some turns in
After shooting them dropping the bowl, it’s getting later in the day and now we’re scouting for a spot to get a jump built for Jonny to send off of so I get a shot of him in the air with the landscape in the background. After skinning around the area, we find the perfect spot. We pull out our shovels and start getting to work. We want a long, level take off so we have to move a ton of snow to create a smooth runway. After a good couple hours, we have a jump built, smooth runway, and I’ve scouted the spot I’ll be shooting - time to head down and get some food in us before sunset.
Sara clearing the runway
Chelsi having way too much fun with a shovel
The final product ready for the send
Jonny keeping the yurt toasty
BlackStrap Goggle Cover is an essential item to have on backcountry trips
Good people, good gear, good times
Back at the yurt, we get a nice fire going, drinks opened, and gear drying on the rack behind the stove. The best thing about trips like these is it takes you out of the day-to-day routine back in town and cuts you off from all cell service. Laughter, music, and smells of the chicken tacos cooking on the stove fill the yurt and we’re enjoying everyone’s company as we share stories and read some of the book left in the yurt for guests.
In a world that makes it so easy to communicate via social media, emails, texts, there’s nothing like sitting across from someone as they tell you a story and you share those moments all together as one group.
Tim Karpinski making chicken tacos for the crew
Sara making sure we have plenty of guacamole
Patrick and Chelsi going over tomorrows plan
Once we were finished chowing down some much-needed fuel after a long day in the backcountry, we decide to fire up Jonny’s sled and take it out on the frozen lake to do some clear night stargazing. We gear up, bundle up, and make two trips to shuttle everyone out there. When the last shuttle arrives, we turn off the sled and we hear nothing but silence fill the air and our eyes slowly start adjusting to the star filled night sky above. Tam MacArthur rim is lightly illuminated by the moon light and small blinking lights from planes overhead make their way across the sky. Wanting to get a shot of the crew under the stars, I began hiking back towards the trees with my camera and tripod.
Night photography is its own beast and you have to know your camera settings and have the right equipment to shoot night photography properly. Once I have my camera and tripod set up for the composition I want, I set my ISO to 3200, my shutter to 20”, and my aperture to F/ 2.8. I shoot on a Sony G-Master 16-35mm 2.8 which makes for a great night lens.
The crew under the starry backcountry nights
Half of night photography is done in camera and the rest is done through the editing process. There’s a lot of lighting adjustments you have to do and balance out your highlights, midtones, and shadows to get the proper look you’re going for. The goal is not to over edit, but to make it look and feel real.
Zooming your lens while exposing will give you the 'shooting star' effect
It’s time to start making our way to bed for an early rise in the morning. We all crawl into our bunks and zip up our sleeping bags for a night’s rest… 5am comes way too fast and the yurt is filled with everyone’s phone alarms going off at the same time. We gather everything we need and start to skin up with headlamps guiding our way.
Once we were on the ridge, we were greeted with a beautiful Central Oregon sunrise that you couldn’t ignore. We stopped and watched as the light slowly made its way down the mountains, making them glow a beautiful, bright orange color. You could see all the to Mt Hood and even Smith Rock State Park. Waking up early may not always be easy, but those colors are always worth it.
Chelsi Hower skinning during the golden hour of sunrise
We arrive to the jump and get everything ready. Hydro flasks of coffee make their way around the group. I get in position tucked underneath a snowbank where Sara, Tim, and Chelsi are standing, and hear the call out that Jonny is fast approaching. The sound of his board gliding over the snow gets closer and closer, then lift off.
Jonny Sischo whipping out a proper method
I was far enough back and shot at a 35mm focal length to still get a wide field of view with a little bit of compression for the background. I want a fast shutter speed so I could freeze him in air and not get any blur. I shot at 1/3200 sec, f/ 5.6 and 640 ISO. The jump was a success.
To cap the day, we skin to the summit one more time to have a nice long ride back to the yurt. On the southeast facing slope, I saw the other shot I wanted which was another compressed shot of Mt. Jefferson in the background but this time riders in the foreground.
Chelsi and I make our way down to the spot where I’m going to shoot and over the walkie I give Sara and Jonny the go ahead to drop. I’m shooting on my 70-200mm again for this because I want that nice compression with Mt Jefferson and the subjects. First Jonny drops into frame in his bright red jacket with Sara following on her skis not too far behind.
These style images are some of my favorite because it brings two spots that are miles apart together to create one incredible view of our backyard here in Central Oregon. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on your line ahead of you as your skiing down, but when you step back and get to look at the place we live, you can see how lucky we are to call this place home. That’s something that I hope to convey in the photography for BlackStrap - not only are we passionate about our sports and what we do, we’re passionate about our backyard and preserving it for others to enjoy in the coming years.
From top clockwise: Sara Welge, Austin White, Tim Karpinski, Patrick Calavan, Chelsi Hower, Jonny Sischo.
BlackStrap Content Creator
BlackStrap Gear Used on the Trip: