Friday, September 28, 2018

Is there a mountain in Vancouver?

Who knew there was a mountain in the middle of Vancouver?

What kind of sorcery is this, that a mountain - a volcano in fact - would rise out of the center of Vancouver, British Columbia?  There are a few hills there, some of them, like the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, are modestly impressive.  None of them, however, are that impressive.   What is going on.

The first thought that may come to mind is that the image has been altered - Photoshoped as it were, a vagrant added merely for effect.  Not so, no significant alterations were made, other than the normal post shot processing that takes place to convert a raw file into a usable image.   Why is it then, that the tallest building there seems only slightly shorter than the behemoth in the background?  If it is a mountain, with snow capped features and glaciers grinding down the flanks, why is it not larger.

The answer is three fold.  The mountain in the background is Mount Baker, and it happens to be about 105 km or so southeast of Vancouver as the crow flies.  That's approximately 65 miles.  While Vancouver starts out at sea level, the dormant volcano peaks out at 3286 meters, or 10,781 feet above that same starting point.  The reason it is so large in the background is because I was shooting with a very long telephoto lens at the time and caused an effect associated with telephoto lenses called compression.

Compression happens when perspective is altered through the use of a lens with a focal length longer than 50 mm (as defined by a regular full frame DSLR or  an SLR film camera),  The longer the focal length, the greater the compression.  The nature of the effect is to bring things in the background up so that they seem closer than what they do to the eye.  Normally Mount Baker appears as a blip in Vancouver's skyline.

The second reason has to do with the curvature of the earth.  The farther something is away from us, in any direction, the less of it you will see because it becomes hidden by the curving earth.  At 105 km away, approximately 800 m of the total height of Mount Baker is hidden.  Now that is only about 25% of the total distance, but if it were on a totally flat (ie. not curved) plain it would be that much higher to the eye. 

Finally there is the angle of inclination.  Trigonometry tells us that at any given angle, the farther the run is (along the x axis) the greater the rise will be (along the y axis).  As we get closer to the city, the building will rise in height relative to the mountain; conversely it will shrink as we get further away.  At some point, with the right position, the top of the building would converge exactly with the top of our extinct volcano.  That would mean moving northeast to line the two up.

From the perspective of someone wanting to get an interesting photograph however, I like how the mountain frames the background and how the city's skyline is offset by it.  The cargo ship in the foreground is a nice touch.

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