I just returned from an early-October trip to Puget Sound. Having moved from Olympia at the southern end of Puget Sound a year ago, it was wonderful to be back in some of my favorite areas. Because it was early October, color was good in some areas but a little early in others. My first destination was Sunrise at Mount Rainier National Park, as it was scheduled to close for the winter in about a week.
I wanted some photographs that were a little different than those I’ve taken in the past at Sunrise, so I was on the trail in the early-morning darkness. A flashlight and ignorance about the possibility of bears or mountain lions were all that were required.
The first morning had clear skies. The very early light, especially light that hasn’t really shown up on the horizon (at least what can be seen), still illuminates the white top of Rainier. It’s especially nice in those early hours because the sky remains a dark, blue-black color that contrasts so nicely with Rainier. As the sun rises, stars begin to wink out, and the sky gradually acquires more blue and less contrast with the mountain. It’s a wonderful time of day, but one has to get up early to enjoy it.
As the morning continued, I looked over my shoulder and saw a very thin crescent moon rising ahead of the sun. This was the day before a New Moon. I walked back down the trail to find a good foreground composition that framed the crescent moon. An outline of the entire moon can barely be distinguished.
I tried this again the second morning (having slept in my camper in the parking lot), but clouds had come over and dashed my chances for a repeat of the previous morning but at an even earlier hour. Nevertheless, the clouds and other dark forms surrounding the peak made for great long exposures and compositions that are less frequently photographed.
The forecast was for rain and snow, and I didn’t want to be driving on icy mountain roads, so I left Rainier and continued on to Lake Quinault and Kestner Creek on the Olympic Peninsula. Kestner Creek is a favorite area, especially in the spring when the ferns have nearly finished uncoiling, and again in the fall when the leaves have fallen. I’m always looking for aesthetically pleasing compositions amid the tangle of moss-draped limbs of the old maple that flourish there.
A herd of elk reside in this area. They often congregate in the large, grassy area in front of the ranger station on the north side of the lake (where the Kestner Creek nature trail is located). One one trip I had watched them in the very early hours, and as the sun came up they wandered slowly into the forest. When I was on the nature trail, the entire herd ran about 50 feet in front of me, splashed through the wetland, and then stopped on the other side to look back at me as if to say, “We dare you to walk through that water to get to us.”
On this trip, the elk came out in the evening. I just drove a short distance down the entrance road, parked, rolled down the window, and rested my 500mm lens on a sweatshirt draped over the open window. I probably could have gotten out and set up the tripod, but I didn’t want to take the chance of spooking the elk (although they are quite used to people). There were three bulls that were very interested in the cows, but the females would have nothing to do with them. I watched and photographed for about an hour. It was dark enough that it was difficult to get the shutter speed I wanted, even at ISO 800. Of the photos I took, I liked the bull elk walking in front of an old maple; relative age was something the two had in common.
After leaving the Lake Quinault area, I traveled to Second Beach and camped in the small parking lot that night. I was up at 3:30 a.m. and on the trail by 4:15, hoping to get some very early, pre-dawn photographs as I had done at Rainier. It’s only a 0.7 mile walk from the trailhead through the forest to the beach, but it was pitch black at that time of night. At the beach, the trail ends at a very large pile of drift logs that have to be negotiated to reach the sand. Doing this at night when frost or dew covers the logs can be hazardous. Whenever I’m alone (which is quite often), I take extra precautions to get from point A to point B safely. Once on the sand, it was so dark that I could hear but not see the surf, stars were still in the sky, and I could barely see the outline of the offshore rocks. The 30-second exposures that I took allowed more light and showed more detail than I could see with my eyes. The trick is to allow enough light to make a photograph, but not so much light that night is turned into day.
As the dawn progressed, the sun cast a pink color to the clouds, and a long exposure showed some movement in the clouds.
After the morning at Second Beach, I drove a short distance to Rialto Beach for sunset. I think photography at Rialto is best for the trees adjacent to the beach, especially at sunset, but I enjoyed the setting sun behind a large thunderhead on the distant horizon. The longest lens I had with me was a 70-200mm with a 1.4 multiplier. A 300mm or 500mm might have been better, but perhaps this broad perspective has its own merits.
On the way back to eastern Washington, I drove again through Mount Rainier National Park, but the best colors were not yet revealing themselves. I continued over Chinook Pass, where the cottonwoods were bright yellow (and very photogenic) but the larches were just a greenish-yellow, still too early for their equally bright yellow color. That usually comes toward the end of October. That’s another trip.