From Lemons to Lemonade in Olympic National Park

Small waterfall in a creek in Olympic National Park.

Small waterfall in a creek in Olympic National Park.

Story & photos by John Pedersen

Sometimes we just have to make lemonade from lemons. We don’t control the weather, the sun or clouds, or even the subjects we like to shoot. There are those occasional days when we show up on location and the variables beyond our control just don’t seem to want to cooperate. So, what do we do? Turn around and go home and wait for better conditions? No! We stay, adjust our expectations and dig into our bag of photographic skills to make the best of the situation, making the best lemonade we can from the lemons that are given to us.

Trillium

Trillium

I just returned from our workshop in Olympic National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the Northwest. We had folks from all over who had come to photograph the renowned beauty of the coast and the lush Hoh Rainforest. Normally, this region receives some of the most abundant and reliable rainfall in the country, up to 160” a year. It’s wet here, which is what makes the forest thrive and the rivers flow. For photographers visiting the Hoh and surrounding area, the best shooting conditions are when it’s wet. The greens of the mosses and plants almost glow and the diffused lighting is just perfect for shooting in the forest.

Leading up to the workshop, I was watching the weather, hoping for overcast or rainy skies. As our dates drew near, the forecast was bleak. In fact, it was looking like we’d have clear skies and record-high temperatures. The worst conditions for photographing in a rain forest! A high pressure area had formed over the Northwest and showed no sign of moving on.

Vibrant green moss and foliage in the Hoh Rainforest.

Vibrant green moss and foliage in the Hoh Rainforest.

Determined to make some photographic lemonade for our group, we made plans to change the itinerary, locations and teaching topics to be more in tune with the challenging weather conditions. We switched locations to take advantage of the good light in the early morning and evening. Midday, when the harsh light and shadows came, we would retreat inside for lunch, image reviews and instruction.

In order to photograph in the rainforest before harsh light and shadows made creating good images impossible, we had to be on location right as the sky began to lighten. This meant 3:30 am wake up calls and “wheels up” by 4:30am. We arrived at the Hoh around 5:30 and walked in to the Hall of Mosses. The lush greenery and hanging moss in this area is simply amazing to view, yet challenging to photograph as it’s such a chaotic scene.

Preaching the mantra to “slow down” and simplify to our clients, we enjoyed a couple hours of good shooting each morning.

Rocks in the soft light of shade.

Rocks in the soft light of shade.

Once the sun rose too high in the sky, it created those harsh shadows and bright spots, making it nearly impossible to create compelling images. We sought out the few areas that remained in shadow, where we were able to continue working for a while longer.

When we couldn’t shoot in the forest any longer, we headed to the nearby beaches to see what we could accomplish in the difficult lighting. Thankfully there were a few shady spots on the beach so we focused some of our effort on capturing details there.

Ruby rays of sunlight spilling through the trees.

Ruby rays of sunlight spilling through the trees.

One morning we were blessed with some light mist and sun rays coming through the trees, which made for some dramatic lighting. For wider landscapes in this challenging light, we concentrated on shooting in monochrome.

One of the benefits of sunny skies up there is that you may get a chance at a good sunset or two. With so many rainy days, sunsets along the beaches there are not as common as you might think. Plus, with a fairly persistent offshore marine layer, the chances of photographing the sun dipping below the horizon are even smaller. On this trip, our lemonade was sweetened when we photographed two good sunsets along the rocky coastline at La Push and Rialto beaches.

Sunstar at sunset on La Push Beach.

Sunstar at sunset on La Push Beach.

Heading in to Sol Duc Falls, another “must see” location in Olympic National Park, we once again had to be on site right as the sky began lightening, which meant a very early wakeup call and a long drive. Once there, we enjoyed a couple of hours shooting in the forest, under diffuse lighting, capturing small creeks, the waterfall and other forest scenes. We worked hard to produce meaningful images in the limited window of time and everyone came away with several keepers they were happy with.

Transiting to Port Angeles under continued clear skies, we were happy because we had a productive few days under challenging conditions. Plus, our next day’s location would be picture perfect for a nice sunrise, and the weather was forecast to cooperate and stay clear for us.

Sunrise on the mountains.

Sunrise on the mountains.

Sunrise on Hurricane Ridge provided an amazingly clear panorama of the mountains with some subtle color overhead. It was an idyllic morning in the mountains and everyone was ecstatic over the results.

Heading down the mountain at the end of the shoot, we received one final gift . . . the valley below was covered in a blanket of fog! We immediately stopped and started shooting various scenes of the fog enveloping the tree-covered hillsides, as giddy as kids. It was that little dash of sugar in our lemonade to make it so much tastier!

Whether you’re on a workshop or shooting by yourself, sometimes conditions aren’t perfect. You’ll need to adjust your expectations and mental models to make the best of the situation. Let go of that previsualized shot you were planning and shoot with what you’re given, using whatever skills, techniques and postprocessing are needed to bring home your own lemonade!

 

A native of the Pacific Northwest, John Pedersen is a fine art photographer based in Portland Oregon.  He’s traveled throughout the western US, Europe and Asia but is most enamored with the “magnificent scenery of the Western US.”  Pedersen’s won numerous awards, leads photography workshops and co-hosts the “We Talk Photo” podcast with fellow photographer Jack Graham.  View more of his work at https://www.jpedersenphotography.com/.