Photography locations - Washington

The Carbon River Area of Mount Rainier National Park, and Notes on Photographing Forest Interiors

11.27.11 | Comment Below

I’ve always enjoyed photographing forests, especially in the interior under the forest canopy.  It can be a so-called “mess” with trees of various sizes, fallen logs, shrubs of all kinds and sizes, and groundcovers that vary from delicate clovers to strongly-defined ferns.  Finding a composition that is “aesthetically pleasing” amid this chaos is a challenge that I greatly enjoy.

Two of my favorite forest interiors have been the Kestner Creek Natural Area near Lake Quinault on the Olympic Peninsula and the Carbon River area in the northwest portion of Mount Rainier National Park, both in Washington State.  I’ve written about Kestner Creek in a previous posting on this blog.

The Carbon River area of Mount Rainier National Park receives a large amount of rainfall, and the vegetation resembles that of a temperate rainforest.  This contributes much to the area’s qualities for photography.

Carbon River Area Temperate Rainforest. Canon EOS 20D, Canon 300mm f/4 lens.

A road five miles in length begins at the Carbon River entrance to the park and ends at the Ipsut Campground, from which other trails begin.  One section of this road washed out in 2006, and a decision was made to keep the road permanently closed to vehicles but open to hikers and bikers.  This decision was a boon to photographers, because the road extends through the temperate rainforest.  I’ve spent many hours photographing along the road, but now I don’t need to be aware of and step aside for passing vehicles intent on getting from point A to point B.

Carbon River Road. Canon EOS 1DsMkIII, Canon 135mm f/2 lens.

A short nature loop begins at the Carbon River entrance and is a nice introduction to what lies beyond. Boardwalks cross wet areas where skunk cabbage grows in the early spring, and bridges crossing small streams are attractive photographic subjects in themselves.

Boardwalk through wet areas. Canon EOS 20D, Canon 24mm f/1.4 lens.



Skunk cabbage. Nikon F100, lens unknown.




Bridge across a small stream. Nikon F100, lens unknown.


Walking down the road toward the campground, the nature of the temperate rainforest unfolds on both sides. The tangle of moss-covered trees and limbs, downed logs being taken over by groundcovers, shrubs (especially vine maples and devil’s club) making off-trail or off-road passage difficult, all make for the mess and beauty of the old-growth forest.

Complexity and beauty of an old-growth temperate rainforest. Canon 5D, Canon 24-70 f/2.8L lens.


The thick tangle of groundcovers, shrubs, and downed logs makes off-trail walking very difficult. Hasselblad 501cm, 120mm makro lens.


The challenge is to find compositions in this “mess” that have aesthetic appeal. Canon 5D, 24-70 f/2.8L lens.



The dense tree canopy causes lower limbs to die, but they often persist and become covered with moss.
Pentax 645NII, 80-160mm lens.


Ferns are best at the end of June and beginning of July. Canon EOS 20D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens.


In past years, I always preferred to photograph forest interiors under cloudy skies. It was then that the light in the forest would be more evenly distributed, and the range of light would be within the capabilities of the camera to capture in a single exposure. Therefore, the resulting photographs would not suffer from blown highlights or deep shadows within the same frame.

Now that I live on the eastern side of the state, my opportunities to photograph in the Carbon River area are much reduced. During a recent visit, I was happily photographing along the road when the late fall / early winter sun peeked over the south slope and began to throw stronger light into the forest. Rather than pack up and call it a day (this was the only day I had), I decided to work harder to incorporate the light into the photographs. That meant that larger areas with a wide range of light values would not be possible. Instead, I had to concentrate on smaller areas in which a relatively bright spot could be a desired focal point. It was a new way of photographing the forest interior for me, and I really liked the results — it gave me a new kind of forest-interior photograph.

Early Autumn in an old-growth forest. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HCD 35-90mm f/4 lens.



Vine maple stretches across a shaft of sunlight in front of shaded trees. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens, cropped to square.



Spots of light. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens, 1.7x converter.


Turning vine maple stand in sunlight against a shaded background. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens.



Yellow vine maple stand in sunlight seem to form a spiral staircase. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens + 1.7x converter.


Overcast skies or a combination of sun and shade provide their own unique opportunities for great compositions within a forest interior. When the quality of light changes, it just requires a different strategy to find a striking photograph of the forest interior.

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