This summer, I also visited Seattle after flying back and forth to Juneau. I enjoy being back in my old stomping grounds during the increasingly warm summers. Unfortunately, the downside to that nice weather is dry conditions in the Cascades that lead to forest fires and lots of smoke. I eventually pulled myself away from my prolonged SeaFair boating lifestyle to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Stephen Matera invited me to join him on a day trip and we decided to hike up to Spray Park to photograph wildflowers. Neither of us had been up there to shoot for who knows how long, so we thought it would be a great location to revisit. As we hiked up into the alpine meadows, we grew increasingly concerned that something was off. In places where we would normally anticipate seeing lush fields of wildflowers, we saw only brown, dried up plants. We scouted a number of locations and still could not find any significant displays to photograph. We discussed how this time of year should be the peak bloom, but only saw the odd signs of lupine, asters, and paintbrush hiding in the shade of trees. One particular meadow that in previous years had been remarkably productive for photos was just a tangle of nothing. I was resigned to not even take my camera out of my backpack, but kept scrambling around searching for anything to photograph. Eventually, I found this small display of avalanche lilies that made a strong foreground as the sunset illuminated Rainier’s icy summit. I had always wanted to create an image with these typically early season wildflowers and was lucky that there was almost no wind to move them around during my longish exposure.
The most important thing I teach my photography tour clients is how to anticipate a shot. Let’s use my new image of the fall colors on Mazama Ridge as an example of when to shoot. When I was at Mount Rainier National Park last Friday, the sky was clear blue without a single cloud on the horizon. I knew that the best image in these conditions would be when the angle of the sunlight was a few degrees above the horizon and still yellow or orange in color. Experience has taught me where the sun would go down, but I confirmed my guess by using my SunSeeker app on my iPhone. I wanted to shoot this scene as the sunset light settled into the trees and danced across the foliage in front of my camera. The tree shadows added some mystery to an otherwise beautiful but non-dramatic scene. This light only lasted for about 30 seconds before the foliage went into complete shade. I used my Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE lens along with my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and 2-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter to create this image using only 1 exposure which required minimal processing.
This past Friday, the second in a row, I woke up at 2:30am and drove down to Mount Rainier National Park to photograph wildflowers at sunrise. I have sold a lot of images of Mount Rainier over the years, so it is worth taking the time out of my busy travel schedule to do the quick round trip for just 1 hour of shooting. I parked my car at 5:15am and ran up the trail in about 20 minutes to my favorite flower meadows on Mazama Ridge. I’m always surprised that I never encounter any other photographers up there at sunrise, but I also only visit during the week to avoid the weekend crowds. For anyone still planning a trip to Rainier, the wildflowers are at their peak, however, I would not describe this year’s bloom as more than ordinary. I did not encounter any diverse fields of wildflowers and the clouds from the day before had vanished, but I still hoped to create a new unique image. All of my previous well-known photos of wildflowers at Mount Rainier were created using medium and large format film cameras. What a pain in the ass that was. With my large format camera in particular, I had to compose the image using a dark cloth, focusing loupe, and dark ground glass where the image was upside down and reversed, spot meter the scene, stop down to f32, place a Singh-Ray non-LB Warming Polarizer on the lens, position the grad filter correctly, and hope that the wind stopped blowing for a 10-30 second exposure because I was using Fuji Velvia 50 film rated at ISO 25 due to reciprocity failure. Still with me? Let me just state unequivocally that creating this image with my dSLR was a lot easier. I like this picture because of the soft warm light illuminating the lupine in the foreground.
Pictures don’t get any fresher than this! I woke up at 2:30am today and drove down to Mount Rainier National Park to photograph the wildflowers around Reflection Lake at sunrise. I have always wanted to photograph the mountain and reflection in the lake with rosy spireas in bloom, and today I finally timed it right. I was surprised by how many photographers were there for a Friday. I have gotten spoiled in Alaska not having to shoot around other people. A slight breeze or surfacing fish occasionally disturbed the reflection, so this is as close to perfect as it got. I am happy with what I created.
For those of you aspiring to photograph wildflowers at Mount Rainier this summer, I did a quick drive up to Paradise before driving back to Seattle, and can confirm that the wildflowers probably need 1-2 more weeks to peak. There are tons of paintbrush and other wildflowers along the side of the road, but the big fields of lupine are only just starting to bloom. I hope to get back down there late next week before I return to Alaska on August 23rd.
My image “Spray Park Wildflowers 1” is featured as the double page opener of the hiking feature in the June 2010 issue of Seattle Met. Spray Park is my favorite alpine location at Mount Rainier National Park and is the closest side of the mountain to my home in Seattle. During the brief summer hiking season, I depart my house in the early afternoon, drive for about 3 hours, and hike the 3 miles up to the wildflower meadows to photograph the sunset. It is both a blessing and a curse if the wind is not blowing, a blessing because the fields of lupine and paintbrush are not blowing around in the wind, but a curse because of the swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes that rival any that I have seen in Alaska or Canada. Spray Park is higher than Paradise on the south side of the mountain, so the wildflowers peak about 1 week later, typically mid-August. Based on the cold summer that we are having, I estimate that the wildflowers are going to be a little late this year, which is similar to the year that I created this image during the last week of August.
I am pleased to share my latest publishing accomplishment. My “Paradise Wildflowers” image from Mount Rainier National Park is the June 2010 cover on Alaska Airlines! This is also my 2nd cover with them this year. This picture is my all-time most successful art print and has been licensed numerous times since I created it in 2003. Most of my regular readers will know that I shot all of my landscape images up until last year with a Pentax 67 system. One of the challenges of that system was that I had limited depth-of-field compared to a 35mm system. In order to overcome that limitation, I created this image with Toyo 4×5 view camera, a Rodenstock 65mm large format lens, and a Horseman 6×9 roll film back. (Did I lose you, yet?) With the large format camera, I tilted the lens so that the flowers would be close to the camera while keeping the summit of Mount Rainier in focus. I also used my Singh-Ray Warming Polarizer and 2-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter with Fuji Velvia film. I think that the exposure was about 10 seconds at f32, which is a life-time when waiting for a slight breeze to stop rustling the wildflowers. Now when I photograph flower landscapes like this, I use my Canon 5DmkII with a wide-angle lens with camera settings more like f16, 1/4 second, and 200 ISO. Since this was the first image that I ever took with my 4×5, I was still learning how to use it that morning. I mentioned that I used a 6×9 roll film back. All of my images that I shot were the 6×9 format except for 1 frame that overlapped the frame before it. That image perfectly cropped itself in the camera to 6×7 which is my favorite photo that you see here. Beginners luck?
My Reflection Lake Sunrise image is featured prominently in a new Washington State tourism advertisement. This ad will be shown in markets throughout North America during the next year. If you are looking for an exciting travel destination, Washington offers an incredibly diverse experience. It is one of the few places where you can experience islands, beaches, mountains, glaciers, forests, & deserts all during the same trip. I always recommend early September to first time visitors. It has the most reliable dry weather and the summer crowds are gone. Are you ready to experiencewa?
Last year was not one of my most productive years for landscape photography. The weather in Southeast Alaska during the summer gave me very few photo opportunities and overall I focused more on shooting wildlife. I still prefer the results of my medium format film cameras for shooting landscape images, but admit that it is becoming much more difficult for me to spend the money on film when I own 2 digital SLRs. I have become very selective about pushing the button when it costs me over $1 per image. Fortunately, I still find a scene once in awhile that justifies the investment.
In late August, I took advantage of the late season wildflower bloom at Mount Rainier National Park to create this image, “Spray Park Wildflowers”. I have hiked up to Spray Park at least once per summer for the last 8 years. I have had mixed results creating the photograph that I have envisioned, so I keep going back hoping for something more dramatic. It is only a 6 mile round-trip hike, so I can leave Seattle in the afternoon and be up in the meadows in time to photograph the sunset. After the shoot is over, I hike back down to my truck with a headlamp in the dark. On this attempt, the lupine and paintbrush were the best that I had seen in the last 5 years and there were some nice clouds up in the sky. I created this image using my Pentax 67II, 45mm lens, Singh-Ray LB Polarizer, Singh-Ray 2-stop Hard GND filter, Gitzo Basalt tripod, Acratech Ultimate ballhead, Fuji Velvia 50 film at f22 and 2 seconds.
I got out hiking and camping a bit the last few weeks now that the summer is coming to an end and I am no longer flying up to Alaska to get rained on and not take any pictures while spending a lot of money. Yes, summer in Southeast was tough this year. Also, my last trip to use my boat got interrupted by a house fire back home! My girls were out of the house and safe when it happened and my slides and hard drives were not destroyed, but we had to move and re-buy all of our second floor bedroom furniture and clothes. My daughters started back to school last week. We are doing fine, but what a pain. Anyway, I went down to Mt Rainier 2 weekends in a row to try and photograph the summer wildflowers. Spray Park is one of my favorite locations in the park, so I always enjoy the hike. I do it int the afternoon, shoot the sunset, and then hike back to the car in the dark. The flowers were very late this year, but they were pretty good. Please visit more of my Mount Rainier National Park Photography.
I went down to Mt Rainier on beautiful but crowded Sunday afternoon. The trail down from the Paradise parking lot to the start of Mazama Ridge was pretty solid, so I decided to walk up there and shoot the sunset. Most of you who have known me the past few years know that I have been trying to avoid snow, but this winter I have been putting in some effort to get some nice images. These snow covered trees are blasted by the wind and were encased in some spectacular ice formations. I thought that this composition was the best of my efforts. Please visit more of my Mount Rainier National Park Photography.