People often romanticize wildlife. Especially nature photographers, whether they’re professionals or amateurs. And it does seem like an astonishing job – you travel the world, you see amazing sights, and you try to capture them with your camera so you can share the beauty with others.
This type of work also requires a lot of dedication and an unorthodox lifestyle – it’s not your typical nine-to-five office job. This duality of the nature photographer’s life is very well exemplified by Svetlana Kazina who decided to uproot her entire life and move to Siberia but also managed to capture one of the most beautiful natural phenomenons there – cloud iridescence.
This stunning visual effect is caused by countless small water droplets or ice crystals in the clouds who are sufficiently far from one another to scatter light individually. Essentially, each droplet is acting as a mini light prism, creating its own tiny rainbow. And when you’ve got millions or billions of them in a giant cloud over the Siberian mountains – this happens.
It’s definitely not something you can see anywhere and Svetlana knows that better than anyone as she captured these photos on the Katun ridge in the Siberian Belukha mountains. They are located in Russia’s Altai Krai region which itself is located in the central-south part of Russia in Asia, on the borders with Mongolia and Kazakhstan – not exactly a common destination even for tourists and mountain enthusiasts.
It does seem like a gorgeous place, however, especially if you love the peace and quiet that come with broad blue skies and tall scarcely-inhabited mountains.
According to Svetlana, that’s exactly why she moved there from the big city with her two kids – to enjoy the nature of the region. Instead of a modern inner-city apartment, she and her family now live in a wooden hut in the mountain village Uznezya in Altay Krai. The hut itself was built nearly seven decades ago and has no running water, no heating, and no indoor toilet. And Svetlana and her family seem perfectly happy there, surrounded by beautiful sights.
Even from the Uznezya village, however, Svetlana still has to travel quite a bit to get to the Katun ridge and the Ak-Kem valley where she took those photos.
“[From where I live,] it’s a one-day trip by car to a nearby village, after which the road ends. Then, two days on foot or on horseback to the Ak-Kem valley and one more day to the foot of the Belukha mountain,” Svetlana said. “I often visit the Belukha mountain just because I really love it and the whole Katun ridge.”
The mountains are not just remote and beautiful, they are tall as well. Mount Belukha is 4,506 m or 14,783 ft tall and the two meteorological stations in the area are the Akkem weather station at 2050 m (6726 ft) and Karaturek weather station at 2600 m (8530 ft). Svetlana would often visit the two stations where she could enjoy not only the gorgeous sights but the company of meteorologists, helicopter pilots, and mountain rescuers.
“This mountain is not just the highest peak in Siberia, but a beautiful natural monument and shrine of the Altai Mountains, too. I love it for its unusual beauty and power.”
It was during one of her frequent visits to the Belukha mountain when she noticed the cloud iridescent effect.
“I captured the iridescent clouds on a frosty winter morning, standing on the frozen Ak-Kem lake,” Svetlana said. “Iridescence is a fairly common phenomenon in our mountains. When taking these cloud photos, I used a polarizing filter to make the formations even clearer.”
She did have to be quick as that gorgeous effect didn’t last long. Thankfully, her Nikon D850 camera with Nikkor 28-300 lens managed quite well.
“Firstly, the sun rose higher and higher, and it was getting too bright. Secondly, I had to fly to the second weather station.”
Svetlana admitted that the quality of her equipment makes the colors a bit more vivid than they are but to the naked eye. However, she reaffirms that the sight is almost as beautiful in person as well. What makes the effect difficult to witness with a naked eye (apart from its rarity) is that you also have to shield your eyes from the sun.
And to further show that the beauty is not just caused by the equipment, Svetlana also took some photos with her phone’s camera. Unlike the Nikon photos, these are less beautiful than “the real thing” but even a phone photo still shows how unique this effect is.
“[It was] an amazingly big mother-of-pearl cloud which was colorful for roughly an hour,” Svetlana said. “The colors grew in intensity as the sun sank lower behind the horizon.”
If you want to see more of Svetlana’s photos from Altai Krai you can do so easily online as she shares new photos with her followers very often.
“I photograph a lot when I’m in the mountains. Therefore, I even created separate albums for the fluffy clouds, sun, and moon on my social media accounts.”