Day 1 & 2: Shooting The Rain Forests

I’m finally getting a chance to write my first post on this trip. I’m totally in my element as I write this, too… sitting near the giant fireplace in the main room of Lake Quinault Lodge. This is your classic 1920’s-era pacific northwestern lodge with open beams decorated in native american designs, massive leather chairs the size of small sofas and the requisite elk head and various other antlers arrayed over the mantle. I could pretty much sink into one of those sofa-chairs and never leave. It also just occurred to me that the background piano music I am hearing is, in fact, a pianist in the next room. Nice touch. The chef here also makes a mean cornish game hen and quite an excellent pan-seared Alaskan Halibut over a crispy risotto. But that’s another blog post…

Aside from US Air fouling up my flights, the trip here has been good. Due to flight problems, I only saw Portland after dark and in the early AM as I scooted north in my shiny black, slightly aggressive looking rental car (hey, I drove what they gave me at the rental counter). While I arrived at Lake Quinault early in the afternoon, the jet lag and general travel fatigue were rapidly sapping my wherewithal to focus. Serious photography would have to wait until the next morning.Босерон

Let me back up slightly to mention why I’m here. All my life I’ve been attracted to imagery of the pacific northwest. The huge old growth forests, the gray skies, the mist and the rain all appeal to me a great deal. Most any movie, TV show or even video game (Alan Wake on the XBox 360, anyone?) in this setting grabbed me on a visceral level (Twin Peaks still makes no sense to me, but the scenery was appealing). Yes, I realize there is far more to the region than my assuredly stereotypical description portrays… but those traits fit like a glove to my first stop on this trip: the temperate rain forest of Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Forest.

As I rolled into the area, the first things to catch my eye were the staggeringly large trees… particularly the firs and the cedars. They make even our largest oaks back at home look like stubby pencils by comparison. The next thing was the sheer amount of green that surrounds you… every shade you can imagine, mostly in the form of moss and ferns covering, quite literally, everything. All of these trees and moss and ferns, by the way, are on ridges and mountains that seem to just shoot out of the ground next to you and, hanging on their tops, are the fogs and mists I find so fascinating.

So, back to the jet lag. It was Monday morning (yesterday at the time of this writing) before I was deep into my first rain forest and I was immediately in awe. Maybe it’s just the pre-tourist season, but I’ve spent most of the time feeling like I was the only person in the forest. I’ve hiked trails for an hour or more without seeing anyone else. This makes the immersion all the greater and I’m having a wonderful time gathering not only photos and videos, but atmospheric audio using my digital field recorder (see my previous post on gear for more details on the geeky stuff).

The rain forest is pretty overwhelming to the senses and, as a photographer, I’m immediately snapping away at these expansive seas of green and trying to find good angles for trees that are, quite literally, 200 feet high. Being somewhere this different and stimulating to the senses always puts me in my photographic element and there’s a certain nervous energy that comes with that heightened state of awareness. By the end of the day I was sorting through my first thousand-photo-batch from the day and…

Sure, I have some shots I really like and I certainly have lots of images and videos that document the experience. Few of them, however, really capture it. A sea of green vegetation when you’re standing there is just overwhelming with its color, textures and the additional sounds and smells that go along with it. In a photo, however, it’s mostly just a profusion of greenery. The massive trees continually amaze me, but a photo of a big tree is pretty much a photo of a tree, even if there is something familiar in the frame to give a sense of scale. Now, as a photographer, this talk sounds like heresy since we all strive for that shot that captures the subject and, when possible, takes it to another creative or artistic level. I just haven’t gotten those shots yet.

In a funny sort of way, I think I’m too enamored with the environment here and my senses are too tweaked to have a realistic view of my shots at this stage. On the other hand, I also realize that the truly artistic and dramatic photos of the rain forest are going to come with unique light, specific atmospheric conditions and, in many cases, a lot of luck. I know in my mind’s eye what I want for some shots… but the perpetual gray and, yes, even those few hours of blue sky and sunlight aren’t going to make those happen. Wildlife encounters are, of course, even more a game of chance. Finding those situations is going to take more exploration on my part and, frankly, that’s not a bad thing since I know I will want to keep coming back here to dig deeper. From the outset I’ve been reminding myself that this is just my first foray and nothing more than a quick sampler over the course of a week. It’s the travel equivalent of that little tasting spoon at the ice cream parlor that you try before deciding what flavors you’ll dive into in your little waffle bowl.

The danger that comes with this kind of situation, too, is an almost subconscious drive to keep pushing the photography, likely to the detriment of experiencing the place itself. I’ve been forcing myself to just stop and take it in over the course of my second day here and, as a result, I’ve taken far fewer and less varied shots. On the one hand, pushing and experimenting increases your chances of finding that shot and getting more experience in how to work in this environment. On the other hand, it can lead to coming home with a ton of acceptably decent shots but no real sense of having truly “been” there.

What did I get during those moments this morning? A coyote and I exchanged glances over a stream this morning while deep in a maple glade. In that same glade I saw, and did photograph very casually, a single Roosevelt Elk grazing its way through the underbrush. And while trying to slowly circle around for a better angle on the elk (carrying, at the time, my field recorder to capture the sound of the stream and the seemingly hundreds of birds) I caught sight of a shaggy black head coming up out of the ferns to my left. Making eye contact with a black bear, even one some tens of yards away, is a bit alarming the first time… especially when it’s 7 AM and you’re totally alone in a primeval forest. I did what came to mind first (bad, photographer!) and backed the heck away. The bear did the same, so my only shot is his or her hairy rump among the ferns just prior to vanishing. The field recorder does have some choice profanities on it though, that I’m not likely to share. And I’ve also found myself wanting another bear sighting with some decent shots to go with it.

From a technical perspective, things are going relatively well. I’ve been bringing 40-60 GB of imagery and video back to my room each of the last two evenings, so those 500 GB drives are paying off. The GoPro Hero is going to bring a lot to whatever I end up putting together at the conclusion of this trip, even if it means mere seconds of video taken from hours of otherwise boring footage (that was, in fact, the very idea). The HyperDrive is working decently with the exception of some problems it immediately developed talking to the external backup drive I have paired with it. Those problems, of course, never appeared in testing prior to leaving home and I’m not yet sure whether it’s a drive or an enclosure issue… though I’m leaning toward the enclosure at this point. I’m working around that just fine, though.

I’m doing what sorting and editing I can at night, but I’m dead tired after a day of sensory overload and hiking coupled with not having fully adjusted to the timezones. That’s working to my advantage, though, for getting an early start. The poncho and Kata bag I brought proved quite useful today as the skies let loose with showers of various intensities. My new hiking boots are no longer stiff and have, along with the hiking socks I bought (an idea I initially thought kind of absurd) have become BFF’s with my feet. The little things like travel power strips for my lodgings and power inverters for the car are all proving to be the necessities I anticipated. I’ll know more in the coming days what was overkill and what was oversight. So far, however, so good.

Since I’ve put all of my energy into writing this post tonight, I’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow to post the first galleries. I also need time to work through finding some satisfaction in shots both unedited and unseen before I share anything. In the meantime, I’ve peppered a few into this post to provide context.

Tomorrow I’m out of the rain forest and off to the rocky coast. Here’s hoping I have WiFI there so I can get some shots online!


P.S. Chalk up another experience I have always wanted: listening to a loon’s cry on a lake in the morning fog. Done!

4 Responses to “Day 1 & 2: Shooting The Rain Forests”

  1. Ben Godkin says:

    Looks like a beautiful place that I would love to visit some day. You have documented it well in not only the photos but your descriptive accounts of the environment. Can’t wait to see the final project all put together!

  2. […] On the road in a while for two days at the coast… in the meantime, here are my philosophical ramblings and some shots from the first two days. […]

  3. Steve says:

    Great article!

  4. Shawn says:


    Matt and I have spent a few days at Lake Quinalt lodge. We LOVED it – loved the setting, loved the trees, the hikes, the food.