Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast   6 comments

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

Sometimes I follow up the previous week’s Friday Foto Talk post with one that relates in some way to the topic.  So this post is an extension to Using Foregrounds Judiciously.  It’s an example of how I go about using foregrounds, and in general how I often shoot landscapes (it’s not how most do it).

EXAMPLE – Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast:  

A few days ago I was at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  You may have seen pictures of the Olympic Coast on the web; it’s pretty popular with landscapers.  Less popular are sections of the coast away from the road that require hiking.  Backpackers are more common than serious photographers in these areas.

I scouted this one in the afternoon, hiking north along the beach to find good locations for what was looking like a great sunset.  I only took a few photos; mostly I just had fun beach-combing and exploring tide pools.  I don’t always scout ahead of time, but it’s nice when time allows.  It helps to give me ideas of how I want to portray the place.  And it’s fun!  Often I scout but then decide before golden hour to shoot somewhere else.  It’s still valuable though, since I can always return another day.

The coastline north of Rialto is spectacular and much too rugged for a road.  It has a wilderness feel, and it’s wise to take care if you decide to hike here.  Slippery rocks, rough surf, sneaker waves, and giant drift logs that can shift alarmingly under your weight are all potential dangers.

After setting up my camp just inland, I was pressed for time.  I knew where I wanted to hike to: just north of a place called Hole in the Wall (image below), but preferably a 1/2 mile or so farther.  Even though I was in a hurry, I shot along the way.The light was beautiful!  I didn’t take time with a tripod, but it wasn’t strictly necessary with the sun still above the horizon.  These little stops meant I wasn’t going to make it any further than Hole in the Wall, and even then it would be close.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

There is a campsite just before a headland that you have to climb up and over to get where you can shoot Hole in the Wall itself.  Some large sea stacks (formerly one single stack that collapsed several years ago) lie just off the beach there.  This spot is the most popular at Rialto (why I wanted to go further).  A few had their tripods set up, waiting for sunset.  I passed them, shooting a few quick hand-helds.  The stacks there are just too big and close for my liking, at least in silhouette shooting sunset.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

This may seem like I’m describing a measured approach, and it would’ve been if I was a bit earlier and the sun wasn’t sinking quickly (as it always does except for higher latitudes).  Truth is I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off!

I climbed the headland and shot a few pictures from up top, looking down and out to the north (image above).  Then I stumbled down to the beach, taking a shot along the way, and still I had not gotten any close foreground.  I spotted a tide-pool that was reflecting the lovely light.  It was on a rock shelf composed of thin-bedded sedimentary rock stood on its end, forming great leading lines.  Running down there, I finally got those close-foreground shots I wanted just as the sun set.  I was actually a tad late for the peak light, more on the cusp of blue hour.  But I was just in time for images that I’m happy with, and that’s what counts.

Post-sunset with turbidite sandstone beds standing on their ends, Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Finally some close foreground, which is turbidite sandstone beds standing on end: Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

As you can see, I try to jam in as much as possible when the light is good.  This is one reason I like to shoot alone.  Most landscapers would look at me and think “there’s a rank amateur”.  Most prefer to be already set up at one place, from which they will shoot for the entire time that light is at its peak.  They don’t miss shots like I sometimes do, but that’s because they’re not trying to get as much as I am.

Sometimes things backfire on me, but I like the variety I can get from a single “light event”.  And even well-planned shots can backfire anyway.  I do sometimes plan or visualize beforehand and stick to a plan to get a particular image.  On those occasions I try not to extemporize (much!).  But that isn’t my main modus operandi, simply because planned shots so often don’t work out.  There are too many variables at play.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

To me it seems a bit old-fashioned to set up way ahead of time and stick your feet in the same place throughout the shoot.  It’s what was done in the old days with heavy large-format film gear, even glass plates if you go far enough back.  It’s also what you have to do when you’re shooting very popular compositions, just so you beat your competitors to the spot.  But digital gear is pretty darn lightweight.  So if you’re practiced at using your tripod and camera you can shoot different compositions in fairly rapid succession.  And who wants over-done shots anyway?

As you can see only one of my many shooting positions had very close foreground; the rest had either more distant foreground or middle-ground elements.  Some are just subject and sky.  I don’t always shoot like this of course.  Sometimes I like to work slower and get fewer shots, with more time to admire the moment.  But in a place like the Olympic Coast in great light, it’s tempting to make it sort of a workout.  When it goes well (like last night) I don’t feel stressed.  It’s actually sort of a rush, one that I slowly came down from walking back along the beach, the Pacific glinting in the moonlight.  Happy shooting!

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, the foreground not very close. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, almost to my close foreground but not quite there.  50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

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6 responses to “Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast

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  1. Very inspiring post. I’ll grab my camera now and go out and concentrate on the foreground in the shots. Thanks for the lovely tutorial!
    Best regards from Norway,
    Dina

  2. Wow, I’d love to go up there right now.

  3. I like moving around too, if it looks like there’s a promising variation not too far away. It seems like the main problem with that is, if it’s a popular spot there may already be several others camped out there.

    • It’s true Dave, but the more you explore on your own, the less often you’ll be around other photogs., shooting the same thing. But sometimes it does pay to get there early for the best spots. Occasionally I’ll shoot at popular spots but I try to hit places with a lot of options. Never at places where there is only one or two compositions (like Mesa Arch) where you’re just shooting something that is way overdone.

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