A Photographic Dilemma

A Photographic Dilemma

Olympic National Park

Last year year I planned a week-long photo shoot in Olympic National Park in glorious Washington state, with a friend and excellent amateur photographer, Chris Cluett. We ventured from lakes to sea and from forests to waterfalls. And yet, I came away a bit disappointed.

I was reviewing some of my work from last year and I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about my experience and perhaps impart a lesson for those of you who find yourself in similar circumstances.

Washington is surely a strikingly beautiful state, full of verdant forests, a coastline that seems to go on forever, mountains that reach the clouds, and raging rivers that snake through chiseled canyons. Yet here is the challenge; how to capture these scenes in a photograph. No easy task.

I returned with exactly 404 images. And that includes more than 100 images that were just experiments in focus stacking. I frequently found myself instead just inhaling the beauty of place, without a clue of what I wanted to photograph.

Part of my discombobulation was due to the fact that Washington’s famed rain forest did not live up to my pre-visualized expectations, at least in the areas we visited. There was an ongoing drought and during that week we did not experience a drop of rain, the sun blazed through cloudless skies, and the temps were a solid ten degrees higher than normal. My carefully prepared rain forest shot list went to hell in a hand basket.

It may also be that I have primarily switched to black and white photography, so my search for appropriate scenes that could tell a story in that medium was stymied. I am also drawn to simple, classic images. The rain forest is instead a place of riotous greens, confusing ecological abundance, stately spruces and cedars, and a profusion of ferns.

In any event, I never offer excuses for my work (or lack, thereof). My time in Olympic National Park reminded me of the adage that there is no such thing as a bad day for a nature photographer. After all, prize images or not, we are out there, immersed in nature’s beauty.

So, I resorted to doing what is called extraction photography, where one hones in on one small aspect of a scene and extracts compositional elements that work. The images you see here are just such attempts.

But if there is one thing for sure it’s that on my next visit, I will be better prepared… mentally. And I’ll check the weather reports before I leave.