Archive for August 2013

Friday Foto Talk: Pattern II – Shapes   11 comments

It's a lucky thing to be able to see a solar eclipse, and an annular eclipse like this one of 2012 highlights both of nature's most powerful circles - the sun and the moon.

It’s a lucky thing to be able to see a solar eclipse, and an annular eclipse like this one in 2012 highlights both of nature’s most powerful circles – the sun and the moon.

This is a continuing series on using patterns in your photography.  My images tend to be landscape and travel oriented, but you can use pattern in any kind of photography, including portraiture.  The first post in the series discussed line, so check that out.  Everything pattern-wise in photography builds off the idea of line.

Please note that these images are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry ’bout that.  If you’re interested in purchase options, just click on the images to find out prices for prints (framed and unframed) along with downloads for license.  If you don’t see an option that matches what you want, or have any other questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

The perfect circle of the rising moon contrasts with the unusual shapes that make Monument Valley in the American Southwest so famous.

The perfect circle of the rising moon contrasts with the unusual shapes that make Monument Valley in the American Southwest so famous.

Shapes, depending on how strong they are, can make great main subjects.  They can also help support your main subject by forming leading lines that point to it. Shapes can also frame your subject.  They can also strengthen your subject by repeating its possibly more subtle shape.  Most importantly, shape can help to elicit feeling or emotion on the part of the viewer.

Some shapes are more powerful than others.  I’m sure most of you can guess the shape that draws a viewer’s eye more than any other – the circle.  Circles are a very calming shape, and the reason likely has to do with the presence of two bright life-giving circles in earth’s skies.  If you include either the sun or moon in your image, you will automatically be taking advantage of the circle’s innate power.  Partial circles work nearly as well as complete circles, and squished circles (i.e. ovals) can be quite effective too (see image below).

So-called water tanks are filled by a recent thunderstorm at Toroweap on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

So-called water tanks are filled by a recent thunderstorm at Toroweap on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

 Whenever you have a partial or complete circle or circles in your foreground, plus the sun or moon in the background, you have a strong repeating pattern.  Repeating shapes in an image multiplies their effect.  Some of the finest landscape images ever made take advantage of strong repeating shapes.

Another strong shape is the pyramid.  I tend to think of the pyramid and arch as being two extremes along a continuum.  Obviously, mountains are the likely reason behind the visual power of the pyramid shape.  Mountains are thus the most obvious pyramidal element to include in your photos.  Again, anytime you can repeat that shape in your foreground, you add interest to your image.  There are times when you will find pyramids built by humans that are directly inspired by mountains, which are regarded as sacred (see image below).

A small stupa in Nepal's Himalayan mountains allows Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike a moment of rest and reflection on the trekking trail.

A small stupa in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains allows Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike a moment of rest and reflection on the trekking trail.

It is no accident that Timberline Lodge on Oregon's Mount Hood was built with a pyramidal shape.  Mount Jefferson is in the background.

It is no accident that Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mount Hood was built with a pyramidal shape. Mount Jefferson is in the background.

The gentle curves of arches are really a type of softened pyramid, thus they walk the line between bold and calm.

The gentle curves of arches are really a type of softened pyramid, thus they walk the line between bold and calm.  Line is also an important part of this image.

The S-curve, though it is really a line, is such a can’t-miss picture element that it’s worth stressing here.  Any linear shape that makes an S-curve can be, as mentioned above, a good way to lead the viewer’s eyes into your image.  As such, S-curves make good foreground or middle-ground elements, along with main subjects in their own right (see images below).

The S-curve of the African darter's neck is the inspiration for its local name of "snake bird".  This one perches along Botswana's Chobe River.

The S-curve of the African darter’s neck is the inspiration for its local name of “snake bird”. This one perches along Botswana’s Chobe River.

The cross-bedded sandstone in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Utah forms sinuous patterns across the landscape.

The cross-bedded sandstone in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Utah forms sinuous patterns across the landscape.

Other shapes, such as squares and rectangles, hexagons and other polygonal elements, etc. can add a lot of impact to your images.  The more symmetrical the better, but almost-perfect shapes arguably make stronger elements than do perfect ones.

A lonely corridor faces the sinking sun at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Nested rectangles are featured.

A lonely corridor faces the sinking sun at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Nested rectangles are featured.

Hexagonal columns are common in the volcanic rock called basalt the world over.

Hexagonal columns are common in the volcanic rock called basalt the world over.

Cracked salt flats form repeating shapes in Death Valley, California at sunrise.

Cracked salt flats form repeating shapes in Death Valley, California at sunrise.

Teardrop and wedge shapes, especially when closed by a reflection as here at Blue Lake in the Washington Cascades, can be as powerful as circles.

Teardrop and wedge shapes, especially when closed by a reflection as here at Blue Lake in the Washington Cascades, can be as powerful as circles.

Always be on the lookout for interesting shapes in your pictures, whether or not they are perfect, whether they have angular or curved edges.  The most important thing to do is to use shapes to support the overall feel of your image.  For instance you may not want to introduce strong angular elements into a composition that is otherwise very peaceful and calming.  That is, not unless you want to create a sort of tension into your image.  That can work, but it’s a bit risky.  Be careful about diluting the message or impact in your pictures.

Very recognizable shapes like this one can instantly determine the mood of an image.  This cross sits improbably on top of a mountain on the island of Flores.

Very recognizable shapes like this one can instantly determine the mood of an image. This cross sits improbably on top of a mountain on the island of Flores.

I don’t want to make this sound too difficult, but it’s important.  Photographers too often go around just shooting what they see (I’ve been guilty!).  Realize the best images are those that have a mood or emotion that is hard to ignore.  My advice is to pay attention to how you feel when you’re viewing a scene.  Then try to find a composition and include elements that will frame, set off, or otherwise make that feeling even stronger.  Happy shooting!

I was attracted to this covered pier on the island of Roatan in Honduras partly because of the lifesaver hung there.  It supports the circular shape of the setting sun.  Both circles are set off by the rectangular frame of the pier.

I was attracted to this covered pier on the island of Roatan in Honduras partly because of the lifesaver hung there. It supports the circular shape of the setting sun. Both circles are set off by the rectangular frame of the pier.

Wordless Wednesday: Light Beam & Pilings on the Columbia   6 comments

Beam

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus   19 comments

A frog enjoys the shallows of Snow Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

A frog enjoys the shallows of Snow Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

I was inspired to do a rare Monday post by the Weekly Photo Challenge on WordPress.  Also, this week’s topic, focus, gives me a good excuse to post some of the close-up shots I captured during my recent trip to Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington state.  I had a great time up there photographing both the landscapes and small details of a beautiful corner of the country.

The mountain in the lake: Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.

The mountain in the lake: Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.

This challenge is deceptively simple.  Focus gives even experienced photographers fits on occasion.  I often take only a camera and lens on photo walks, no tripod.  My goal is to sharpen my creativity.  With no tripod and a lens choice of one, you need to improvise to get decent images.

Pasqueflower is a hairy beast!

Pasqueflower is a hairy beast!

For instance at Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park, which is the park’s most popular area, I didn’t want to be burdened.  I wanted to simply stroll through the wildflower meadows with only my camera and macro lens.  Doing macro with no tripod is definitely a challenge, and this time was no different.  But when I saw other photographers with heavy backpacks full of camera gear, tripods in tow, I felt very happy with my choice.

Tracking this interesting beetle was a challenge hand-held with macro lens.

Tracking this interesting beetle was a challenge hand-held with macro lens.

In the Olympics I hiked up to a popular waterfall, Sol Duc Falls.  While shooting this triple cascade, I noticed the wild huckleberries, along with some other kinds.  For some reason I was the only one who was partaking of these scrumptious trail-side treats.  I didn’t understand that, but I made sure to photograph the berries before plucking and popping them into my mouth.

A fresh huckleberry in Olympic National Park just before it became a snack.

A fresh huckleberry in Olympic National Park just before it became a snack.

Rain overnight and cloudy skies means perfect conditions for macro photography.

Rain overnight and cloudy skies means perfect conditions for macro photography.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  Please note they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Go ahead and click on the photos to be taken to my main gallery page, where purchase options are listed.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest.

Lupine in the morning dew, Mt. Rainier National Park.

Lupine in the morning dew, Mt. Rainier National Park.

The rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington receives what it thrives on: water!

The rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington receives what it thrives on: water!

Single-Image Sunday: A Cool Embrace   9 comments

In the Pacific Northwest one heads to the coast in order to warm up in winter or cool down in summer.  With the Japanese Current bringing cold water from the Gulf of Alaska, this coast is often foggy.  The current also causes cold, nutrient-rich waters to well up along the coast, helping to support the region’s rich marine life.  While the cold currents nourish life in the sea, the fog they create nourishes dense forest on land.  The foggy conditions, not surprisingly, have also caused many a shipwreck over the years.  The entire Pacific NW coast is rugged and studded with lighthouses, but the north Olympic Coast in Washington is an especially big graveyard for ships.

I captured this image on my recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula.  The narrow, curvy road out to Cape Flattery runs along a rugged, forested coast facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Cape Flattery lies on the Makah (American Indian) Reservation.  It is the northwestern-most point of the United States (excluding Alaska).  Fog came in and out during my one-night stay out there.  I wanted to capture the primal feel of this place where rugged rainforest-clad hills meet the sea.  During summer, this kind of weather is not nearly as common as it is in winter, so I felt pretty lucky in that regard.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

Hope you enjoy the picture.  Please click on it if you’re interested in purchase options.  It is copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me with any questions about this image or anything else you’re curious about.  Thanks for checking in!

Friday Foto Talk: Foreground   6 comments

A Rainier Morning

Mount Rainier and aptly named Reflection Lake. The foreground is de-emphasized here to focus on the fog in the middle ground plus the main subject.

I’ve been subconsciously avoiding this subject, perhaps because of my ambivalent feelings about it.  Foregrounds can be a frustrating part of landscape photography.  In my opinion they can be both under- and over-emphasized.  Let’s just say in the past I have had some trouble keeping the proper perspective regarding foregrounds, but I now believe I have a fairly balanced approach.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park.  The foreground rock and trees are dominant.  I was very close to the rock and my viewpoint was (lacking a stepladder!) a bit too low.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park. The foreground rock and trees dominate in the image. I was very close to the rock (which is good) but (lacking a stepladder!) my viewpoint was perhaps a bit too low.

I should say right here that despite being thought important only in landscape photography, foreground is often a key element in candid people shots, sports imagery and more.  Here are a few things a good foreground can do for a picture:

      • An interesting and/or very close foreground can add impact to any image.
      • Foreground elements can form leading lines, directing the eyes of the viewer to your main subject or toward the center of your image.
      • Similar to the previous point, the shapes of foreground elements can mimic the shape of your main subject or background.  This essentially increases the impact of your main subject or background.
      • Foregrounds can help to add depth to your images.  But it is rare that a foreground alone can give your image depth.  See my previous post on the important subject of depth.
      • If you want to give your main subject top billing, you can simply place it in the foreground.
Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Many people just starting out in photography tend to look right over foregrounds, concentrating a bit too much on that sunset, that sailboat, those animals, etc. Then they learn from the “experts” that they should always look for interesting foregrounds to give their images a lot of depth and impact.  After hearing this a few dozen times, many of us run around stressing about foregrounds all the time.  Like most advice in photography, this little nugget is abused and stretched beyond reason.  Yes foregrounds are important.  No they’re not absolutely necessary in an image, no they will not automatically give your pictures depth or impact.

Like anything in photography (life?) foregrounds should be used thoughtfully and judiciously.  Here are some tips on how to find and use them to help improve your images:

      • There are times you will want to sniff out foregrounds like a bloodhound sniffs out an escaped convict.  When you have a beautiful sky with a relatively flat horizon (i.e. you’re not in the Himalayas or Patagonia), you have a pretty but two-dimensional image.  This is a good time to search out interesting foregrounds.

* In the image below, for example, I was up on top of a hill near sunset overlooking Lake Powell in Arizona.  There were other people taking pictures, including two or three other serious photographers.  As the sky grew colorful, people began snapping away.  I suddenly realized it was a dull image without foreground.  So I scrambled quickly down the embankment, soon coming upon sandstone bedrock that wasn’t visible from above.

I quickly found a place where the outcrops formed angled shapes that (with a low camera angle) pointed into the sky.  The orange clouds also formed linear shapes, so luckily enough, I had an effective simple composition.  My willingness to chance missing the light in order to search for a better image paid off in this case.  But I could have easily been skunked and gotten nothing.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

      • In most cases your foreground elements should support but not dominate your image.  There are major exceptions, so please don’t take this as a rule. Instead, think of all your images as a balancing act between each of the major elements within the frame.  The balance between foreground and background (plus middle ground) is just one of the little decisions you make before you press the shutter button.
      • Some people think if they have a fascinating foreground they will automatically have a fascinating picture.  But remember simple is often best in photography, and this definitely applies to foregrounds.  This is actually related to the previous point.  If your foreground is amazing, it will most often become your main subject.  If your background has an interesting subject or is otherwise awesome, you might be trying to jam more than one picture into your frame.  The main elements of your picture end up competing for the viewer’s attention – not a prescription for success.
These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • Instead of desperately looking for the most fascinating foreground in history, it’s better to find something simple with perhaps a shape that complements your background or main subject.  Then to give that simple foreground more impact all you have to do is move closer.  Moving closer brings opportunities, along with challenges…

*   If you’re using a wide-angle lens moving closer to your foreground elements is necessary so they don’t look too small.  Wide angles (focal lengths of 35 mm. or less) are often used in landscape photography of course.  But they’re also used in environmental portraiture.  This is when you photograph people along with a bit of their surroundings.

*   Moving closer will help to bring out any interesting texture in your foreground elements.  Just be careful to expose so you can see the texture.  It’s common to need a graduated neutral density filter in these cases, so you don’t make the sky/background too bright.

*   When you move closer to your foreground, it becomes more difficult to keep everything in focus front to back.  This is known as good depth of field.  You will need to use the smallest aperture available on your lens, which is usually f/22.  It also helps greatly to know the particular ability of that lens to achieve good depth of field.  This requires repeated use and experimentation.  The small aperture means you will most often need a tripod.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • It can be very effective to allow a foreground element to fade to black; in other words form a silhouette.  It’s most effective when the silhouette’s shape is recognizable.  It’s usually not necessary to move as close to a silhouetted foreground as you would an illuminated one.  This frees you from some of the above challenges.
      • Speaking of fading to black, great images can be had with no recognizable foreground, instead using a featureless or dark middle-ground.  Smooth expanses of water, featureless grass, fog, a dark band of rocks or trees, any of these can form a sort of mid-ground “base”, anchoring your main background subject.  These sorts of anchors can also partly or fully frame your image.
      • Lastly, don’t feel you always need a foreground.  Often a very effective image can be had with no foreground.  You can either utilize middle-grounds as mentioned above or simply zoom in on the background to highlight specific portions of it.
Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington.  Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington. Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

I want to leave you with a sort of truism in photography, at least as far as I’m concerned.  It has to do with the point I made at the beginning of the post and again with that last bullet point.  If you go around shooting nothing but deep images where you’re 2 feet from foreground, you’ll undoubtedly get plenty of compliments. This is how most people are taught to shoot landscapes, and these sorts of images have a “pro” feel to them.

But if you go off on foregrounds your portfolio will suffer just as much as if you had never learned about their importance in the first place, as if you had stuck with shooting nothing but two-dimensional backgrounds.  Mix things up instead.  Diversity in your portfolio is worth having.  And it doesn’t just happen on its own.  You really have to work at it.  The good news is that it’s fun!  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington's largest and most beautiful lakes.  The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington’s largest and most beautiful lakes. The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Wordless Wednesday: Moonrise at St. Helens   7 comments

Dusk Moon

Carefree at Coldwater Lake   18 comments

A nature trail at Mount St. Helens' Coldwater Lake uses an elevated boardwalk to give visitors a great view.  There is also a hiking trail along one lake shore.

A nature trail at Mount St. Helens’ Coldwater Lake uses an elevated boardwalk to give visitors a great view. There is also a hiking trail along one lake shore.

Summer is going by as quick as it can, and carefree moments are precious now.  Last weekend on the way back from the Olympic Peninsula I made one of my patented “left turns” (why is always a left?) and on a whim headed up to Mount St. Helens.  The weather promised some nice light and I wanted to get some good shots of the mountain.  The following morning was beautifully misty, sunset was gorgeous, and the flowers were surprisingly still blooming fresh.  But the moment I will take from the trip was one that happened without a camera around my neck.

Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens, Washington.

Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens, Washington.

After hiking up near the crater mouth, I headed back down to Coldwater Lake.  This is a beautiful big lake that was formed during the famous eruption in 1980.  The massive landslide that triggered the eruption (that in turn destroyed much of the forest in these parts) also dammed Coldwater Creek.  And just like that nature’s fury left a jewel in its wake.  When I arrived after the hot, dry hike, I immediately thought SWIM!  I was in such a hurry that I left the camera behind and jogged partway up the sunny shore, looking for a likely spot.  I found a perfect spot where a large tree, weathered silver and smooth, lay partway out into the lake, forming a sort of natural dock.  These massive old-growth trees lay all about the area, testament to the eruption’s power.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

Some of the many logs scattered along the shores of Coldwater Lake, remnants of the once dense forest of tall evergreens that grew here before the 1980 eruption.

I couldn’t believe how perfect the water was when I dove in.  It was by no means warm, but it wasn’t too cold either.  Refreshing!  After the swim I just lay on the big log staring up into the sky.  All I could hear was a nearby kingfisher and without trying the clouds started making recognizable shapes.  How many summer days during childhood did I do this?  And why have I not done much of it since?  The sun dried me and I dozed in and out.  All my cares melted away.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

After the swim I was ready to shoot some pictures.  I think the summery hour or so I had just spent made the picture-taking that much better.  I was refreshed and calm, the perfect way to be when doing anything, especially something creative.  It’s a reminder that those carefree summer moments (whether they are in summer or not) have a very useful purpose.  Without them we cannot do our best work.  To everyone out there, before summer ends: put your devices away, have nothing in your pockets, and just go be a kid again for awhile.  Have no real purpose.  Let the summer breezes and sounds clear your mind.  Be carefree for once.  You will thank yourself later, believe me.

For sunset I went to a nearby viewpoint that shows the huge area of landslide debris from the 1980 eruption that filled the North Fork Toutle River Valley.  This created Coldwater Lake, which is just out of view to the left.

For sunset I went to a nearby viewpoint that shows the huge area of landslide debris from the 1980 eruption that filled the North Fork Toutle River Valley. This created Coldwater Lake, which is just out of view to the left.

Single-Image Sunday: Hurricane Ridge   6 comments

This is an image from the top of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington state.  I have made a few trips up here, but never have I been in conditions even approaching those that gave the place its name.  It is very exposed, and I suppose if I visited during a stormy winter period, I would better appreciate the name.  But on this August morning, I made the pre-dawn hike up to Elk Mountain on the east end of the ridge.

The wind was blasting me from the west as a front moved in from the nearby Pacific Ocean.  Although it was a mild and short-lived summer weather system, up there it felt like I was back on the tundra in Alaska.  I had some trouble keeping the tripod from vibrating in the gale.  It was a bracing and very pristine feeling up there.  I really wanted to capture the feeling of being alone on top of an exposed ridge, facing a stiff wind, air as clean as it gets.  As the sun rose the wind dropped slightly and I captured this view west towards Mount Olympus.

Hurricane Ridge in dawn storm light.

Hurricane Ridge in dawn storm light.

Friday Foto Talk: A Few Lessons from the Field   14 comments

Dawn over the Olympic Mountains in Washington

Dawn over the Olympic Mountains in Washington

I’ve been running around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington over the past week chasing the light.  I’ve tried to hit places where I have never been during previous visits.  It is a very large and diverse place, covered in large part by Olympic National Park.  I will do a travel post on it very soon.  Before that I spent a few days at Mt Rainier.  I want to highlight a few lessons I’ve (re) learned that might be valuable for photographers doing trips to areas with natural wonders like this.

Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park is shrouded in morning mists.

Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park is shrouded in morning mists.

LESSONS LEARNED

      • While a planned route is good as a starting point, allowing you to maximize time and save fuel, you will likely be forced to abandon the plan if you expect to make the most of good weather conditions (i.e., good light).  Do not try to be strict about your plan.  You either chase the light, adjusting meal times, losing sleep, etc. or you miss the light.  It’s that simple.
      • Dealing with traveling companions can be tricky.  If you’re traveling with family (or really anybody who does not live and breathe photography), you will need to find a balance.  Everyone needs to have a good time and you need to get your shots.  Realize that in order to get every shot you want, you will need to travel alone.  I was solo on  this trip.  Well not truly solo, but  my dog doesn’t have a say in things and so doesn’t count.  But I was free to explore, double back, stay up late, sleep in shifts, etc.  I’m very sure that had I been traveling with someone who is more of a casual photographer, this would have been our very last trip together.
Before dawn at Mt Rainier National Park, the moon rises over Reflection Lake.

Before dawn at Mt Rainier National Park, the moon rises over Reflection Lake.

      • But even if you’re traveling solo (or with another die-hard photog.), you need to tend to that “other” person inside you.  I keep having to re-learn this for some reason.  I tend to become obsessive about the photos at times, but then remember I need to see and appreciate things too.  The pace is often different for these two approaches.  But sometimes I have the most fun when I really slow down.  This, coincidentally, is usually good for photography.

 Sometimes switching out of photographer to traveler mode reaps rewards.  On the northern Olympic Peninsula the clouds had moved in.  The light was beautiful when they came, but it promised to be gray for at least a day or two.  I thought of heading down to the rainforest for moody pictures but it was a long drive from where I was.  Instead I headed up to the NW corner of the Peninsula, Cape Flattery.  This is the northwestern-most point of the U.S. (excluding Alaska of course) and I had never been there.  My reasoning was simple and not photo-related.  Fog and mist at sunset rarely do good things for a seascape at sunset.  But I wanted to see the place.

A small waterfall in Quinalt Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

A small waterfall in Quinalt Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

As it happened I got great shots of the cape’s forest in thick fog.  On the way along the rugged northern coast, bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the fog created beautiful patterns.  The pictures I got are not of a place that most photographers think of when they visit Olympic, but they are beautiful and evocative of the lonely atmosphere of this relatively remote area.  Another bonus was getting to meet friendly locals in one of the few small towns and visiting the Makah American Indian Reservation.

For example I doubled back and revisited a high alpine trail-head where I slept and then woke pre-dawn, hiking to a peak for sunrise.  It was bothering me that on both occasions I did not attain the perfect viewpoint for a panorama of Puget Sound and the Cascades.  So I thought of returning yet a third time, which would have involved driving back two hours late at night.  But I stopped myself, thinking it was a bit too obsessive.  A good night’s sleep along a river-bank was my reward.

Cones protect the seeds of a subalpine fir from harsh conditions on a high ridge-line at Olympic National Park.

Cones protect the seeds of a subalpine fir from harsh conditions on a high ridge-line at Olympic National Park.

      • In getting up for sunrise, plan on rising at least a half-hour earlier than you think necessary.  I have trouble getting up early.  Once I’m up it’s fine of course, but this has always been a struggle for me.  I’m a night person, so staying up late is much easier.  For dawn photography, it’s best to arrive in the area where you’ll be shooting well before the sun rises.  Use a flashlight/headlamp if you’re hiking somewhere, but try to turn it off as soon as there is enough light to see.  This will allow your eyes to get used to the low light and you will see good pre-dawn compositions much more easily.

When there are a variety of clouds in the sky and light is good, those clouds will begin lighting up at least a half hour before the sun rises.  This is often the best time to photograph in any direction.  A brightly glowing cloud bank will cast beautiful light on the landscape.  You’ll need your tripod of course.

A nice place to sleep before tackling the climb of Mount Rainier in Washington's Cascades.

A nice place to sleep before tackling the climb of Mount Rainier in Washington’s Cascades.

Two examples during my trip highlight the different experience to be had depending on exactly how you set that alarm.  The first was at the high point mentioned above.  I underestimated the time it took to hike to the top of Elk Mountain (on Hurricane Ridge), so woke about 20 minutes too late.  I knew it right as I started the 2-mile hike; color was already in the sky.  Conditions were perfect, making me feel more rushed.  The leading edge of a front was moving in from the west, not covering the mountains yet but promising truly wonderful light.  The only good part?  Hard-pumping uphill hiking will wake you up just fine when you have no time for coffee.

I had to abort and climb the ridge just short of the summit in order to catch the beautiful pre-sunrise light.  It was a good viewpoint, but not the best for the east and southeast view (which affected the panorama shot).  But perhaps the biggest negative was the fact I was I rushed setting up, knowing that I had missed the earliest good light.

The mouth of the Quillayute River in Washington is marked by large sea stacks.

The mouth of the Quillayute River in Washington is marked by large sea stacks.

The other example, at Mount Rainier National Park, illustrates the correct way to do a morning shoot.  I slept a fitful few hours near Reflection Lakes, waking before my alarm.  The stars were great so I decided to do some night shots before sunrise.  The fog moved in before sunrise.  Since I was already shooting, this didn’t disappoint me.  Instead I found some nice foggy shots of the lake.  I heard other photographers arrive up on the road but most didn’t stay long, I suppose because of the fog.

When it finally lifted there were some beautiful moments as the mountain came out.  I heard them returning, car doors slamming.  Meanwhile I was already in position by the lake, shooting away.  This is the way to do it, letting the conditions develop before your eyes rather than trying to catch them.  It allows you to experience nice moments while you’re shooting.  At Reflection Lakes, it allowed me to get into a flow, rather than the abrupt, clunky transition from driving to shooting experienced by the other photographers that morning.

Narada Falls plunges into the misty canyon of the Paradise River at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Narada Falls plunges into the misty canyon of the Paradise River at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

      • I know this post is getting long but there is one last lesson I learned, and it was a hard one.  At Rainier, I hiked up to a subalpine meadow area on a trail that is washed out in part.  You need to hike for a couple miles along a swift glacial river across huge boulders, skirting many obstacles.  But otherwise it is a reasonable, 7-mile round-trip hike.  Since I was going for sunset light, I brought a headlamp, whose batteries I thought were fresh.  They weren’t.  Stupidly I neglected to pack spare batteries.

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After shooting in the pretty meadows, it wasn’t long hiking down in the gathering dark that my headlamp began to fail.  It went completely out just as I reached the rough part.  I fought my way to the rocky riverbank and began to stumble through the boulders.  There was no moon.  I learned that while it is impossible to walk under the trees in total darkness, it is possible to use the Milky Way as a very dim source of light.  Without it I would have been spending the night with not enough clothing to keep warm.

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After a brief period of panic, where I fell several times and bashed my knees and elbows, I calmed myself and slowed down.  Slowly I worked my way back.  But there was a section of trail to reach the dirt road (leading back to my vehicle).  I knew it would be impossible to traverse that trail, let alone find it in the dark.  So I kept going, looking for an opening.  Luckily (and I do mean lucky!) I spotted a subtle flat area through the trees.  I clambered over logs to the spot and found the only place where the dirt road approaches the river.  I finally got back to the van (and a very hungry dog) at 2 a.m.

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The sun sets in a clear sky over Lake Quinalt in Olympic National Park, Washington.

So here is the lesson if you are hiking into the wilds: pack the ten essentials in your camera pack.  This includes a small tarp plus a way to make fire (lighter & tissue or wadded newspaper).  It also includes extra batteries for your light!

And here’s one bonus lesson: don’t strap any clothing to the outside of your pack that you would be unhappy to lose.  My hands-down favorite piece of clothing is (or was) a zip-front fleece that is amazingly warm and light, with pockets that are perfect for filters.  During all the ducking under big logs, falling and stumbling it had come loose from my pack.  I went back the next day but could not find it.

I’m sure there are other lessons I learned, but it all really boils down to not sweating the small stuff, keeping things flexible and fun, and striking a balance. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Fog fills the valleys beneath Mount Rainier as evening arrives.

Fog fills the valleys beneath Mount Rainier as evening arrives.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula is a jewel.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula is a jewel.

Wordless Wednesday: Morning Dew   13 comments

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