Olympic National Park Part 2: Into the Rain Forest

Elder Maple, Sol Duc Valley, Olympic NP

When I set my foot in the rainforest for the first time this trip, three thoughts came to mind, ancient, mythical and chaotic. With these thoughts in mind, I set out for the next ten days to create a few images that captured the essence of the first two thoughts ancient and mythical. The challenge was going to be finding a way to tame the chaos in a way that clearly presented my vision of the place without being a jumbled mess.

The first three attempts of capturing the rainforest ended in epic failures! I hadn’t gotten into a rhythm with the place just yet. And believe me I was trying, hard!  For those first three days, I spent hours upon hours driving, walking and stumbling over the rotten overgrowth of fallen trees, thick carpets of moss and tangled cacophony of branches and vines. The image presented above represents my first success in the rainforest.  The light that morning was divine. It had rained off and on again for most of the morning and a soft and diffused overcast made the forest glow in an eerie green light. Once I found this tree bathed in such sweet light, I set forth to craft a composition that made sense of the chaos.  You see it all boils down to a few disciplines of composition. Use of space, shape and line to turn the chaotic into the calm.

For the shot above, I was drawn to the sweeping curve formed by the arc of the Vine Maple arm leading into the trunk of the tree. The small branches jutting in from the corners further push the eye into that direction. The ferns in the lower portion of the frame help fill the space nicely and help as power shapes once again pushing the eye towards the focal point. The third aspect of the image, no less important, is the Big Leaf Maple leaves of to the left which provides a much needed counterpoint to the image. The image still appeared very cluttered after my first couple of shots, so I choose a technique that I have used in the past to help calm the chaos as well as provide a dreamy feel to the image. I blew a small amount of condensation on the lens during the exposure.

Vine Maple Embrace, Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic NP

The image above is from the Hoh. An amazing place, but difficult to capture. This was shot at the end of a long and wet day exploring several areas of the rainforest. I found this tree and immediately knew there was potential for a good image, After several failed attempts of shooting it from the exterior, I belly crawled with camera and tripod under the tree and wallah the shot appeared. What I liked was the limbs of the Vine Maple and how they were radiating from the corners of the frame to a central point in the image. I set my exposure for the interior of the tree letting the background go about two stops lighter which added to the glow of the image. Careful camera placement removed any distracting elements for the immediate foreground and edges of the frame creating a dynamic and graphic composition.

Sitka Spruce and Glowing Maple

The Sitka Spruce forests that dominate much of the rainforest are beautiful, but difficult to capture. This stand is off the road on the way to the Hoh before entering the National Park. I explored the woods for hours doing a lot of looking and just a little shooting. I found this shot I thought that’s it! It captures the majesty and structure of these big trees and the Vine Maple leaves add the perfect touch to the scene. I used a long lens to isolate the Vine Maples glowing leaves against the vertical trucks. The sun was coming in and out of the clouds and I waited until it softly illuminated the leaves causing the forest to glow with vibrancy.

Rain Forest Illuminated

And finally, the last image in the series. Soft light isn’t only for great forest shots. Sometimes directional light is just what you need to make the image come to life. This composition was found while walking the very popular and over photographed Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh. I was intent on creating an image that was not the same old shot of this iconic location. With that in mind I walked past all of the hotspots in search of something unique. As I rounded the bend in the trail, the back-lit forest in front of me demanded attention! I framed the image to have as much of the Vine Maple branches emanating from the cones as possible and I liked the way the early morning light was illuminating the verdant green leaves almost glowing against the darker background. Careful framing and a little moving up and down and left and right put all of the elements of the scene in the right place. The hardest aspect of capturing this image was keeping the flare of my lens. I used my hat to shade the front element making sure not to include it in the composition of course.

Next post, Coastal Twilight at Second Beach, Stay tuned!!