Photography has many facets, and like most photographers I have my strengths and my weaknesses. I love shooting still life, I could spend all day behind a macro lens, shooting just about any animal challenges and excites me. There’s one type of photography that totally intimidates me. Landscapes.
I know a good landscape when I see one. I admire it when a photographer can capture the whole horizon and direct my eye to just that right spot. I can stand in the woods and be in awe of the sheer volume of trees, but when I try to capture that it’s just a mass of vertical lines. I will hike for miles to see a waterfall, but my photos have never quite capture the serenity my eyes see.
I just got back from a cross-country adventure with my sister. We call it “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. This year we even added a boat to the mix. We each flew to Chicago, took a train to Portland, and rented a car and managed to get to five National Parks in the Pacific Northwest – all in 10 days. Somewhere along the way we even took a ferry. The places we saw were amazing.
Last year we took a similar trip into the central plains and saw so much wildlife, that I almost forgot about taking photos of the places. This year we saw very little large wildlife, I had upgraded my long zoom in preparation for this trip – and I used it to capture some birds here and there, but mostly this trip was about the places, beautiful places – I was going to be forced to shoot landscapes.
What follows are some of my better attempts. This is my photographic journey across the Pacific Northwest.
The surf at Cape Disappointment. This is the spot where Lewis and Clark finally reached the Pacific Ocean. They had such depressing names for places – Dismal Nitch, Point Disappointment, and the Cape. They missed a supply ship by a couple of days, a ship had waited for months for them. After an upstream journey of a couple of years, the name seems to fit.
Longmire Ranger Station, Mount Rainier National Park. Several of the shots at Longmire were taken after sunset, this one was taken about an hour after sunset with a long exposure. I braced the camera on a fence post. Shoulda packed a tripod.
A huge Douglas Fir at the Fort Klatsop National Monument in Lewis and Clark National Park. This was one of the first mossy trees I saw and it was stunning. I decided that rather than shoot a mass of woods, that I would focus on one tree. For me this seemed more familiar, getting close is my thing.
Fort Klamath, Oregon – the last outpost in the high desert. I lived about 30 miles south of here for about 10 years and I miss these wide open spaces and rugged mountains. In truth, I found it challenging to shoot and capture the feel of the place, it’s flat there was no way to get close without losing the feeling of space.
An unnamed waterfall just below Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. In May the snow melt races downhill to fill the Nasqualy River. I had been wanting to try a long exposure on moving water and this trip gave me lots of opportunities. I have never used a neutral density filter, but I have been reading on their use in shooting moving water, I think this is something I want to work on. A side note, I participated in an art sale last weekend and this was one of my most popular prints. I almost didn’t show it because I see a hundred things wrong with it.
A small creek at Longmire, Mount Rainier National Park. I shot this right after sunset in the woods, and without a tripod I had to brace the camera on my knee for a long exposure. It took several tries to get the grass in focus – I found that in leu of a tripod, holding your breath helps.
Hiking trail at the Hoh Ranger Station, Olympic National Park. We got to this station hoping it would be open, but it was still shuttered for the winter season. The green here was just so stunning. I shot lots of close things, but this was the one place that gave me the sense of entering the rainforest.
Birds on the beach below Cape Disappointment, Lewis and Clark National Park. I once gave my mom grief about shooting white caps on an overcast day on a white sandy beach in Oregon – I was similarly drawn to the scene, despite its lack of contrast.
Deception Pass, although the name sounds like it, this place was not named by Lewis and Clark. I have read the plaque on the bridge, a Wikipedia article, and a brochure, and I still don’t understand why it’s named that. Oh well, I loved the green water and the eddy at the shoreline.
Mount Hood, in Oregon. This peak is snow covered all year round. Over the course of our trip we passed it three times and its not easy to find a good angle to shoot it from. This was one of very few pull outs on the southern side of the mountain. I took some shots on the train and from other vantage points, but found then uninteresting, the sense of scale just wasn’t there.
Skunk cabbage in the creek, Longmire, Mount Rainier National Park. I shot this after sunset, but opened the aperture and didn’t increase the shutter speed very much. This was my first attempt at shooting in the dark and that open aperture meant less bracing, but also less focus.
The Pacific Ocean at Kalaloch, Olympic National Park. This shot is all about scale – those driftwood logs are just huge. I shot this spot and walked away. When I noticed the hikers below I shot it again. It had no sense of scale without the hikers.
The Nisqualy River, below Mount Rainier. The sound of this place was amazing, the view was pretty special too. A park ranger gave us directions to this spot when he saw our camera bags. I have recorded video of the spot, mostly to relive the sound of the river.
Wizard Island – just off the west shore of Crater Lake. Full disclosure, Crater Lake is my absolute favorite place on the surface of this big blue marble. I hadn’t been there in 20 years and the first sight of it made me tear up. The beauty is overwhelming, and I know I am ill-equipped to capture it in a way that adequately conveys it. This shot has not been edited at all, the water is that blue, the sky is that stunning. I could have sat in that spot for weeks.
Christine Falls, Mount Rainier National Park. These falls are glacier fed and this is just the top two tiers. It’s named for a disabled 8-year-old girl who managed to climb to the 10,000 foot point on the mountain in 1889 – I love that. She may not have conquered the mountain, but she conquered something bigger by tackling the beast. I wish the sun had not been so direct, I would loved to have shot this earlier or later in the day. I braced myself against the bridge wall and took a long exposure on this one, the lights are too bright, but I like the effect of the long exposure on the water.
The Hoh River in Olympic National Park. A river filled by snow melt – we actually got into this river and it was unbelievably cold. The river channels here were so much wider than those in the Ozarks – and there were lots of huge logs along the banks. It looked like massive earth moving machines had been down there, but this was all created by moving water.
My natural inclination is to square up – but on this trip I looked for diagonal lines, hoping these would draw the eye into the image. Sometimes I think it works, and sometimes I’m not so sure. I know that a tripod could have improved many shots, but I haven’t invested in a good travel-weight one yet. The sky in the west is so much bluer more consistently than it is here, so there weren’t a lot of white washed out skies. The wide open spaces allowed me to focus a bit more on parts of the scene than I could have here in the hills and hollows.
All in all, I think this trip pushed me to try new things, to make myself solve some problems. I don’t think landscapes are my thing, but I did my best and think I did OK. I will always prefer getting close to my subject, it’s more intuitive – very right-brained. Landscapes take more thought.
I can’t imagine having seen all this beauty and not having tried my best it capture it.