Signature Project: Mountains and Glaciers

Mary Rust


Photographing Mount Rainer and Glacier Bay National Parks

My STEP Signature Project was traveling to and photographing Mount Rainer National park in Washington State and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska this past summer. I stepped outside of my comfort zone through traveling to see, hike, and photograph the stable as well as the rapidly receding glaciers and challenging myself to pursue my passions outside of my major, mechanical engineering.

While completing my signature project I understood myself to be both cautious and adventurous but foremost cautious.  I love to travel and one of my favorite hobbies is photography. I have gone on family vacations before and in high school I took a course on photography,  but I had never planned my own trip. Never had I invested the time necessary to take my camera off auto and switch to manual in order to capture the amazing landscapes I visited. Taking this trip to Mount Rainer and Glacier Bay National Parks was the leap of faith that enabled me to put confidence in my abilities, plan, and take chances with my photography. I spent time hiking to incredible vista points and adjusting the shutter speed, aperture (area the light passes through), and ISO (the sensitivity scale for film) to capture the intense greens of fresh grass emerging from snow, new flowers poking out of the moist ground, and shades of blue ranging from the palest powder blue to the deep blue pacific ocean. These are sights I never thought I would see, let alone be privileged enough to photograph.

My STEP Signature Project was the opportunity I needed to instigate my transformation into a person who is not afraid to make plans and jump into the moment fearlessly. I took the chance of switching my camera to manual and painstakingly modified the settings in order to perfectly capture the moment and majesty of a mountain or glacier. These National Parks challenged me to experience forces larger than myself and stand in awe. Taking time to stop and be present in the moment to capture it, is invaluable and takes courage I never exercised.

Taking the time to talk to park rangers and hike to the vista points they suggested sparked these moments of awe. To have the privilege of traveling to United States National parks during their 100th year anniversary and learning how to capture the National Parks in the grandiose style inspired by Ansel Adams was incredible. It took countless attempts to practice the perfect angles, aperture, shutter speed, and IOS settings. In many of my pictures it took multiple attempts to adjust each aspect of the camera to fully capture the illustriousness of each landscape. I have countless pictures where the lighting is far too strong due to the sun reflecting off the ice and snow. Increasing the shutter speed or making the aperture smaller enabled the picture to remain vivid without being washed out. It was tempting to revert back to manual, take the picture, and move on, but my persistence prevailed, resulting in absolutely breath-taking pictures. This trip uncovered how important it is to not just step but leap out of a comfort zone because as Neale Donald Walsch said, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” because that is where adventure happens. Adventure happened when I ventured out onto the trails, sailed around Glacier Bay, and carefully composed each composition adjusting the camera settings.

Through pursuing my hobby of photography, which I have not had time to practice in college, I was able to unearth aspects of myself that I also identify within Mechanical Engineering such as attentiveness to detail, patience, and persistence. I have a responsibility not only to the world to grow to my fullest potential and improve the world through my career but also to contribute to this great country. The contribution I can make to the National Parks, photography, and field of Mechanical Engineering is an overwhelming responsibility to wrap my mind around. And what I am able to give of myself may seem small when held to the massiveness of a glacier or a mountain let alone the world, but however small that does not make it any less significant.

This STEP Signature Project broadened my view of where life and the Ohio State University can take me. When I applied to Ohio State I never imagined that I could have the opportunity to travel to Mount Rainer and Glacier Bay National Parks or improve my photography skills while pursuing an engineering degree. The Ohio State University has so much more to offer that I anticipated and encourages students to think big and be innovative. Planning and traveling on this trip instilled in me the confidence in myself as well as to open myself up to new unanticipated experiences. This opportunity to plan a trip and explore an extraordinary place was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never take for granted. The breathtaking landscapes in Alaska are changing with the receding glaciers and I was able to explore these marvels and capture them if for only a moment.

Growing as an individual was also a large part of this trip. The ability to not only learn about and plan an extraordinary trip but to be able to actually travel there and document it through photography is an incredible opportunity. While in college I knew I wanted to travel and that the Ohio State University would have opportunities to travel and become independent, but I assumed it would be confined to pre-planned study abroad experiences. Never did I know I could plan a trip that truly reflected myself and challenged me as a person. Traveling broadens my perspectives and how I see the world as well as opening doors through growing in confidence. I could look at countless pages of pictures on the internet of Mount Rainer and Glacier Bay National Parks, research them, and talk to people who have been there but that is nothing compared to the actual experience.

Being in a Mount Rainer and Glacier Bay National Parks for the first time has been full of inspiring moments, and the opportunity to capture the beauty of the landscape and the wild is and remains a challenge. In my photography class in high school I was inspired by Ansel Adams and his dedication to the National Parks and photography. Photography required meticulous study and development in order to have any finished product at all. I was interested in his style of making mountains and landscapes monumental. The practice and experience I now have has sent me on a life-long journey of refining these skills. I cultivated the photography skills I learned in high school and applied them to the majestic landscapes in Mount Rainer and Glacier Bay National Parks. I plan on continuing to refine my photography skills and will continue taking leaps outside of my comfort zone. I desire to improve my talents even if they do not directly correspond to my major and instead connect in lesser ways. I will ultimately continue to dream big by jumping at changes to adventure and develop passions while I am in college.



Mount Rainer, vista point


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