As I mentioned in my last post, Tanya and I recently spent several days camping east of Chinook Pass, during which I drove up to the pass for sunrise each morning. Chinook Pass is a great sunrise location, as it sits almost directly east of Mount Rainier and the view of the mountain is fantastic there with two alpine lakes – Tipsoo and Upper Tipsoo. Because of how the two lakes are situated, it is easy to get a reflection of Mount Rainier in upper Tipsoo Lake right from the shoreline, so it is the preferred lake for most photographers who know about it (Upper Tipsoo is not visible from the road, so unless you have prior knowledge or a map, you may not know it is there).
This is a great sunrise location because the rising sun imparts a beautiful alpenglow on the mountain when it is visible. That’s the tricky part, when it is visible. I tried three consecutive mornings for the shot. The first morning was cloudy; the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere). It wasn’t until the third morning (the day we packed up camp), I was able to capture the sunrise in all its glory.
Another feature of Mount Rainier favored by photographers is that the mountain often forms lenticular clouds. Such clouds can dramatically add to a sunrise (or sunset) shot, particularly if there are no other clouds around to break up a totally blue sky. Such was the case that third morning. In fact, there were two separate lenitcular clouds over Rainier that morning, delighting myself and the, perhaps, 10 or 12 other photographers there.
As you can attest by the photo above and below, I think it was worth getting up a 5 am to drive to the pass by sunrise at 5:30 am to capture this scene.
Sunset shots at Chinook Pass are a more iffy proposition. Because the mountain is west of the pass, you are not guaranteed a good showing of alpenglow. Instead, much depends on the clouds and how they light up. I did try for one sunset shot at Chinook Pass on the trip; the result is below. This shot was taken from above Tipsoo Lake, right next to the highway. Though the sunset was lackluster, luckily there was a lenticular cloud present that gave a bit of color. I captured this image the evening before the sunrise shots above.
Several weeks ago, Tanya and I camped for a few days east of Chinook Pass. There are many Forest Service campgrounds along Highway 410 east of Chinook Pass, and these make a great basecamp for exploring the eastern side of Mount Rainier National Park if you don’t want to (or cannot get into) the campgrounds in the park itself. While there, I drove up to Chinook Pass for sunrise each morning to capture the rising sun on the mountain reflecting in Upper Tipsoo Lake. The first morning was cloudy, the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere), and finally on the third morning, I was able to capture a decent shot (the shot deserves a post of its own, I’ll post it soon).
On that first day, the overcast conditions persisted through the day, but lightened and became partly cloudy later in the day – though there was still no view of Rainier. However, the light overcast day was perfect for another photographic subject – waterfalls. The Visit Rainier website claims there are over 150 waterfalls in the park. The Park Service just says there are “many.” I venture there are several hundred. My go-to guide for Pacific Northwest waterfalls, the Northwest Waterfall Survey, lists 317 waterfalls in Pierce County, and the majority of these are in Mount Rainier National Park.
However, camping and traveling in a place with little to no cell service, calling up the Northwest Waterfall Survey to locate waterfalls to photograph was a non-starter. I needed to do it the old-fashioned way – look at a map. I had my Mount Rainier East Green Trails map, and I noticed a couple of water falls off Highway 123 near the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead. Though I had no idea whether these falls were visible from the trail, nor how photogenic they are, this seemed like a good destination.
The first one I visited was Deer Creek Falls, a short half mile down the trail. The view from the trail looks down onto the falls as is cascades through a small, steep canyon. The view makes the falls look larger than its stated height of 62 feet. It is quite scenic. A wide-angle lens is required to capture the full falls, with your tripod set right on the edge of the canyon cliff looking almost straight down. When you first arrive at the falls, there is a rope “barrier” (easy to step over) to encourage people not to get too close to the cliff edge, but I actually thought the view was better a bit further down the trail, past the end of the barrier.
From Deer Creek Falls, I continued down the trail to its intersection with the Eastside Trail. Heading north on the Eastside Trail, the trail crosses two bridges, one over Deer Creek right before its confluence with Chinook Creek, and the second over Chinook Creek just above the confluence. A small unnamed, unmapped waterfall (maybe it is too small to be considered a true waterfall?) is located on Chinook Creek just upstream from the second bridge. Though small, with a height of 5 to 10 feet, I liked the look of it with a clear green pool below the white water and spent about half an hour here photographing from various angles.
Continuing north, the Owyhigh Lakes Trail splits off westward from the Eastside Trail. There are two more waterfalls a mile or so up the Owyhigh Lakes Trail, but I left those for another day and continued north on the Eastside Trail to find Lower Chinook Creek Falls, which can be viewed about a third of a mile past the trail junction where the trail makes its first switchback up the hill. The view is not very good, with plenty of trees in the way. I looked for a way down to the base of the falls, but decided it was too steep. The Northwest Waterfall Survey does suggest there are two possible routes, but one requires going considerably downstream and then back up to the falls wading in the creek itself, the other requiring a rope. Instead, I found a spot a short distance off the trail where I could get a good shot using my telephoto lens.
I needed to get back to camp soon, so I decided against hunting for waterfalls I hadn’t seen before and go to one last spot that is a proven winner that I have photographed several times before – Silver Falls. I hike back up the hill to the car and drove to the Silver Falls Trailhead, on Highway 123 just south of the Stevens Canyon turnoff and park entry station. It’s about a quarter-mile downhill to the falls. This is an amazing waterfall, big and powerful, on the Ohanapocosh River. Below the falls, the water is funneled into a narrow gorge with a foot bridge over the top. The best views, in my opinion, are from the trail on the east side of the bridge and from the large, flat rocks above the river on the west side in between the aforementioned viewpoint and the falls. The featured shot at the beginning of the blog is from this spot. You can also easily access the area on the west side near the top and above the falls. It you follow the trail north of the falls, there are several spots where you can get down by the river for more beautiful shots. The Ohanapocosh River, with its clear green and blue water, is perhaps the prettiest river in the park.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been through Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park; dozens at least, maybe a hundred times over my life. Usually I drive right past on the way to Paradise, but even so, I have stopped many times over the years. The main reason I usually don’t stop at Longmire is that I’ve always considered the view of Rainier to be, frankly, not so good. I’m sure it was great then they built the lodge, but it’s my supposition that over the years, the trees have grown up around Longmire meadow, blocking much of the view of the mountain. Additionally, if you shoot from the lodge, the road runs through the foreground.
Last week I discovered I was wrong. Longmire has a great view of Rainier! Perhaps this is old news to everyone out there whose ever been to Mount Rainier National Park, but it was news to me. Last week my photographer buddy, Mark Cole, and I went to the park to go snowshoeing and take a few pictures. We stopped at Longmire, not because that was our destination (we had planned on going to Paradise), but because the road to Paradise was closed due to the snowplow needing a replacement part. I was resigned to the fact that our photography would be limited to snowy forest scenes, perhaps a few shots of the Nisqually River, and maybe a view of Rainier from the Rampart Ridge trail if we decided to snowshoe it.
We stopped in to talk to the ranger, largely to see if the road to Paradise would open later that day, but we also asked about where to snowshoe at Longmire. We mentioned the main purpose of our outing was photography. He told us about Rampart Ridge, but said the best view of Rainier was at the Community Building right in Longmire. Both Mark and I had never heard of the Community Building nor the road to it. The ranger told us of a road which travels through the employee living area, crosses the Nisqually River on a suspension bridge, and runs down the south bank of the river to the Community Building (and a short distance beyond). We drove to the Community Building and couldn’t believe our eyes, the view of the mountain was awesome. Some of Longmire’s buildings are visible on the north bank of the river, but by wandering along the river, and through careful composition, the buildings can be eliminated from a photo. The bridge is also in the view, but it is pretty scenic, so I kept it in my compositions. I’m not sure what the view looks like here without snow, but with snow, it is great.
We ended up spending an hour of more there, snowshoeing along the river, taking photos of the mountain from several different locations. By the time we finished, we didn’t have enough daylight left to do the Rampart Ridge loop, so we wandered up the Wonderland Trail toward Cougar Rock looking for more shots of the river. But as sun set approached, we again crossed the bridge at Longmire and took shots of the alpenglow on Rainier with the river and bridge in the foreground.
Thanks to a broken snowplow, I discovered the Longmire does have a great view. Who knew?
Winter is rapidly ending here in western Washington. Spring flowers are already blooming in my yard. But it isn’t quite over yet. Here’s a few shots from a snowshoeing outing I made earlier this month in Mount Rainier National Park.
Western Washington has had nice summer weather most of July. Most evenings, there have been few if any clouds, which of course makes for very boring sunset shots. However, when the weather is like this, the hour after sunset brings gorgeous light. Even as it gets too dark for humans to see color well, there are wonderful colors out there to be recorded by your camera.
The period after the sunset (and before the sunrise) is called the blue hour. During the blue hour, sometimes the light is blue, as a result of the blue sky, but other times it is wonderfully warm. This warm light has been referred to as salmon light by the guys over at Photo Cascadia. Whether blue or salmon light, these cloudless evenings can make for good photography. For some reason, I’ve found better luck with the blue hour after sunset rather than before sunrise, but maybe that’s because it’s so hard for me to get out of bed in the morning (especially when the sun rises before 6 a.m., like it is doing now).
I’ve found a online calculator (by JetKo Photo) for determining when the blue hour will occur. However, I’m not sure one is really needed. All you need to know is that after the sun sets, keep the camera out and keep shooting away, even as it gets quite dark. All you need is a tripod and a camera that allows for long exposures. Many DSLRs, in the auto exposure modes, will only allow shutter speeds up to 30 seconds long. When hunting blue hour shots, be prepared to go to manual mode and use the the blub setting on the camera. (Don’t make the same mistake I did recently when first using my newest camera in the blue hour – learn how to set it to blub before setting out).
So after sunset, don’t get blue and put your camera away. Keep that camera out and capture the blue hour.
Wind is often the bane of nature photographers. We are often photographing in fairly low light conditions at sunrise or sunset, and often want a wide depth of field, so end up using small f-stops. Most of us know that using high ISOs leads to objectionable digital noise. These conditions all combine to require a slow shutter speed. So what do you do if there is a breeze moving your foreground around. Not a problem with rocks as a foreground, but what about wildflowers?
The above photo of the Tatoosh Range was taken at Paradise on the Golden Gate trail last month shortly before sunset. To get both the flowers and the mountains in acceptable focus, I took one shot with the aperture at set f/16 and the ISO at 100. This resulted in a shutter speed of 4 seconds (I also used a split neutral density filter). There was a breeze and it was impossible to get a frame without some movement in the flowers.
I then shot another image with the aperture at f/11 and the ISO set to 1250. This allowed the shutter speed to be 1/8 seconds. This was enough to stop most of the flower movement; but as you might imagine, the noise was unacceptable.
To get the above image, I processed both photos in Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. I used the low ISO image as the background layer, then added the high ISO image in a new layer and added a layer mask filled with black (making none of the high ISO image visible). Then, using a soft brush, I painted white on the mask wherever the flowers were soft due to movement from the breeze. The end result is the image above. Below are close two closeups that show the before and after effects of painting the high ISO image onto the low ISO one.
This technique to stop the wind doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can save a shot.
Earlier this week, Tanya,, Carson and I went camping for three days at La Wis Wis near White Pass. I took the opportunity to drive up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park for one sunset and one sunrise. Though it looked like they were slightly past their prime, the wildflowers were incredible at Paradise. If you want to see them this year, you best get up there fast.
For my sunset shots, I hiked from the visitor center eastward on the Skyline Trail then partly up the Golden Gate Trail. The flowers were great on the Golden Gate Trail, but the view of Rainier is partially obstructed by a ridge. Luckily for me, the view of the Tatoosh Range to the south put on a good alpenglow show.
The next morning, after arriving at Paradise at 5:45 a.m. (no trouble finding parking at that time!), I headed north on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista, then back to the visitor center via the Deadhorse Creek and Waterfall Trails. Again, great flowers, but also more unobstructed views of Rainier (the featured photo above is of Rainier from the Deadhorse Creek Trail). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much color in the sunrise. However, low-lying clouds below Paradise made for some good shots.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip to show you why they call it Paradise!
Paradise, in Mount Rainier National Park, is the highest point you can drive in Washington State Cascades in winter. It would be the highest point drivable in the state, except for Sherman Pass (between Republic and Kettle Falls) in northeastern Washington which is about 200 feet higher. Paradise is an amazing place in winter. The National Park Service claims Paradise is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is regularly measured. The maximum annual snowfall observed there was in the winter of 1971-72, when 93.5 feet (28.5 meters) of snow fell. When I was there in mid-December, it was not quite that snowy, I think there was about 58 inches (1.5 meters) at the time. However, since Christmas, some storms have blown through and the accumulation as of the start of 2012 was 77 inches (2 meters). (You can check on the current snowpack at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.)
With all that snow, it is amazing the road is kept open, particularly in today’s climate of budget cutting (please don’t tell the Park Service how much money they could save by closing the road in winter!). The road to Paradise is open most days (there’s a gate at Longmire, which opens each morning after the road is cleared and closes currently at 5:00 p.m. uphill and 6 p.m. downhill). During storms, the road remains closed during the day. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains.
Mount Rainier is a great place to travel to in the winter. There are plenty of sights to see from the road. Strap on some snowshoes or skis and there’s even more. On our day trip up there in mid-December, I took snowshoes; Tanya took skis. It helps to have some way to wander off the road and parking lots a bit. For most the shots here (and the one in my previous post), I wandered off the road. It is possible to get some good shots without venturing out into the snow, but without snowshoes or skis, you might have trouble getting around the snowbanks along the roads left from the snowplows. This is hard sometimes even with snowshoes or skis. Another problem is just finding a place to pull over. Many of the pullouts there in the summer are not plowed. However, there is a lot of parking at Longmire, Narada Falls, and Paradise (though the parking at Paradise, in particular, can fill up on weekends).
Remember if you do go up in the mountains this winter for photography, at Rainier or anywhere else, here are some reminders:
- Check the conditions before you go and dress appropriately
- Don’t wander out in the snow if you aren’t prepared
- And if you do wander out there, be aware of potential avalanche danger
- Remember that camera batteries don’t like the cold. Take extra batteries and keep them warm.
- Don’t trust your camera meter, or all that snow will be gray instead of white. Open up your exposure by one to two stops, or use your camera’s auto-bracketing feature (if it has one).
- Try adding a bit of color to all that snow in your compositions (blue skies, green trees, colorful clothes of your companions, sunrise/sunset colors, etc.)
- Remember to have fun!
I wish you all the best this holiday season with this natural light show from Mount Rainier National Park last Saturday. If I have time in the next several days, I’ll post some more shots from that trip. Meanwhile, it’s my holiday wish that peace fills your heart, joy fills your days, and life gives you a chance to experience the incredible in the new year.