Processing a Memory


Climbing Parties setting off – 8:41am

As one event in life passes, another is anticipated. In a month or so I and my wife will be back in Zermatt, Switzerland for two weeks and naturally my mind is already starting to plan walks and recall past experiences. And part of that planning leads me to my archive of images from previous visits to Zermatt, of which there have been many.

Over the last few days I have been reviewing images from July 2008: I had been retired for just over a month, my first digital SLR (a Nikon D80) and 16-85mm zoom lens were also a month old and I was still getting acquainted with the camera. A trip to Zermatt in the Swiss Alps saw the camera put through its paces and I returned home with over a 1,000 images.

It may surprise you to know that some of those images remained unprocessed until very recently. It actually surprised me too, as I discovered images that simply required a fresh eye to exploit their potential. And in all cases the potential was realized with a conversion to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex that produced the results you see here today. Of the images in this Post, only the third one and the two colour images had been processed fairly close to the time they were taken.

All the images in this Post were taken in a span of just under two and a half hours during a solo climb of the main (West) summit of the Breithorn from the top lift station of Klein Matterhorn. It’s one of the easiest snow summits in the Alps but I then continued over to the Central summit which adds extra interest and takes the difficulty up a notch or two.

It was one of those days when the weather seemed to be in two minds – the highest summits had their heads in the clouds, and lower cloud flirted with the subsidiary peaks. The sun played a game of peek-a-boo appearing briefly only to disappear again. In consequence the light varied from very flat to dramatic.


8:47am. Focal length 24mm

My task in processing was to reflect that variety. The shot immediately above and the one below were shot within six seconds of each other from the same place. If you look carefully at the first image just right of centre you will be able to identify the source of the second image with light rimming the ridge-line. The first image was shot at the widest focal length of the lens and the second at the longest. The Nikkor 16:85mm zoom lens is fitted to a DX Nikon body with the result that the true focal length is 1.5 times the figure quoted.


8:47am. Focal length 127mm

A period of flat light followed and I have evoked that feeling in the image that follows.

9:03am. Focal length 127mm

9:03am. Focal length 127mm

But within a few minutes the view in the opposite direction showed significant breaks in the clouds with the promise of better weather to come.

9:10am. Focal length 24mm

9:10am. Focal length 24mm

Unfortunately my route took me towards the flat light climbing steeper ground for nearly an hour to gain the summit –  and what a view greeted me.

9.59am. Focal length 127mm

9.59am. Focal length 127mm

Whenever people question the reason why mountaineers climb high mountains, it is images like this that more eloquently provide the answer than a paragraph of words. Ahead lies the central summit of the Breithorn, but to reach it requires a descent down a narrow arête with a very steep drop on the left side before the route climbs back up to the summit visible in this image. Notice the crenelated edge to the ridge – formed by a continuous line of cornices overhanging the steep face of the mountain. Cornices are accretions of snow formed by the combined action of wind and snow that overhang ridge lines. Cornices must always be given a wide berth to avoid stepping too close to the fracture line with tragic consequences.

The arête is narrow in places, passing fellow climbers involves one of you stepping off onto steeper ground.


10:18am. A climber on the arete leading back up to the West Summit

Close to the central summit I stopped to capture this astonishing cornice – that you can clearly seen in the earlier image. The climbing party in front of me are giving this a very wide berth.


10:49am. Massive cornice just before the Central Summit

From the central summit the difficulties increase and this was as far as I intended to go as a solo climber, but the way ahead has an undoubted elegance to it. Centre frame (see below) you can now see the ridge line seen in the third image in this Post. The peak just beyond (whose summit fails to break the sky line) is Pollux, and the higher mountain to the right is Castor. Castor and Pollux – the heavenly twins – not quite matching ‘twins’ from this viewpoint although from other directions they do merit that description. To the far left hiding in the clouds is the vast bulk of Liskamm. All these peaks including the Breithorn are part of the Frontier Ridge that forms the boundary between Switzerland (on the left) and Italy (on the right)


10:53am. View along the Frontier Ridge from the Central Summit.

After a few images it was time to head back down to the col seen in the final image below and then drop down to pick up the route back to the top lift station.


11:02am. View back to the West Summit. The lower slopes of the Matterhorn are visible below the clouds to the right of the peak

I seemed to have enjoyed the best of the weather, the Matterhorn is lost in the clouds on the far right of the image above and bad weather is not far away. Route finding on days like this is straightforward – on snow peaks a well trodden path is usually clearly visible – but if the clouds come down and snow falls then it is all too easy to become disorientated in the white-out that can so easily prevail. To climb solo affords me the luxury of being in charge of how fast I travel, when I stop, and when I capture images. It is the greatest way to experience these mountains but common sense must always take precedence.

About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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23 Responses to Processing a Memory

  1. Sue says:

    Some great images, Andy! I love the flat light one, with the little figures….

  2. Chillbrook says:

    What a really enjoyable post this was to read and to view Andy. I can thoroughly understand your love of the mountains although my vertigo has always deterred me from learning to climb, this is something I now regret even more so looking at these wonderful photographs. These images, as you say, speak for themselves, the power of photography to transcend language and speak to everyone. These images are all stunning and the great thing about photographing in snow is sometimes, flat light works in your favour and the mood evoked by your fourth image is superb. How nice it is to be able to work through your archive and with a fresh eye, reprocess or even process for the first time, these wonderful memories.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks very much for those comments, Adrian. The joy of an archive is to be found in discovering images that spark ideas. Nik Efex has been such a creative spur to my love of B&W. I feel as if I am going back to the roots of my journey forty years ago when I saw the world in B&W almost entirely. It’s such a manipulative medium that allows me to evoke emotions. Flat light is a classic example – in colour those images do truly look flat, but in B&W as I re-work the tones I can bring an image to life in a way that would be impossible in colour. I’d love to get to the top of this peak again this summer but I have my eyes on a few other things to do or to repeat.

  3. hmunro says:

    Your images are gorgeous — but they give me the willies (“there’s nothing holding up that shelf of snow!” screams my brain). And yet, through your photos I can imagine what draws people to such a precarious perch, because you’ve wonderfully captured the vastness of the place and that “standing on top of the world” feeling. I’ll be eager to hear about your upcoming trip, and to discover whether you see Zermatt differently with a few more years of photographic experience under your belt. Wonderful work, Andy!

    • LensScaper says:

      Thank you so much Heather. Cornices are worrying features, you just have to make sure you are well back from the potential fracture line. Easy to spot that in good light but in poor quality conditions I would always want to climb with a guide who knows these mountains inside-out. I think this will be our twenty-second or possibly twenty-third visit to Zermatt (losing count!). It’s like a second home to us and we know it so well but even now I still find places I want to re-visit or walks I want to explore further. The weather plays a large part in that as the mood can change dramatically. There are plenty of images up on the blog from previous trips to Zermatt – maybe you’ve already explored them already. Certainly there will be new images to post later this summer.

      • hmunro says:

        You’ve been to Zermatt 22 or possibly 23 times?! My goodness. That makes me wonder if maybe I’ve been missing out all my life. Well, given your expertise now I look forward to your photos even more (if that’s even possible).

  4. Great pictures!! so beautiful mountains… 🙂

  5. These are fantastic images. The way you have processed them gives a feeling of a time of early mountaineering. Those mountains are impressive. Enjoy your next trip to Zermatt and the Alps.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks very much Otto. When I became interested in mountaineering (which is over fifty years ago) the majority of the images in books, magazines and in the shops were in monochrome. One got used to seeing the Alps in black and white and that medium seemed to suit the environment that was essentially composed of white snow and ice, and dark rock. Colour was often rather irrelevant and its removal purified and enhanced the image. And I still share those sentiments – the mountains are un-changing and I still love to see them portrayed at their best – in black and white.

  6. I’m glad you went back to your backlog to process these. I find I’m always tense about processing all my images when I get back from a trip ( although there’s usually too many to go through) but it is fun to process images long after the fact because there are always gems you discover. These are wonderful. Have a great trip.

  7. seekraz says:

    So very beautiful, Andy…what a treasure to have been there…. Wow….such compelling solitude….. Lovely images, as well. 🙂

    • LensScaper says:

      This is a very special place for me and one I have visited a number of times. I don’t think I will make it up here this summer but I have plenty of other walks to visit, weather permitting.

      • seekraz says:

        I hope you have a wonderful time, Andy…and I’ll look forward to seeing the images you bring home….traveling vicariously with you. 🙂

  8. Len says:

    Great photos of a great experience Andy. I am sure that this trip down memory lane was a wonderful. I try to keep a bunch of photos unedited from my trips so that I can look back at some future date and do the same.

  9. Beautiful dynamic shots, so powerful and graphic. I was intrigued by your mention of Nik Silver Efex. I started in photography shooting and processing/printing B&W film with the Zone System and have never been satisfied with the conversion to B&W in the normal Photoshop adjustment layers, so this is something I might explore. I just took a look at it as a plug-in and see many possibilities. You certainly reproduced that incredible tonal range possible in B&W in these photos – very striking!

    • LensScaper says:

      I also was a black and white shooter and printer for many years with my own home darkroom. If you start off in B&W, you never lose your love for that medium, or at least that’s what I think. Silver Efex grabbed my attention from the first time I opened an image in it and saw the thumbnail pre-sets. A good 75% of them will be useless for any given shot, but search through the options and there will be one that hits the sweet spot, and with a few tweaks back in Photoshop, will produce a result that really has that extra quality. Do try it, Lynn, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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