Photographing Washington State

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The north western part of Washington State has an ever-changing ecosystem and the best photographic opportunities come from exploring just around the next bend. Michael Leggero has returned recently from the area and has the story

As I landed in Seattle I was tired and cranky from the long flight, but I met the Bigfoot researchers and settled into my hotel. First, I must say, these people are interesting; probably that is the most polite way I can describe them. For those of you wondering, no, I did not see Bigfoot. I have one picture that has an odd shadow in it, but that is all. On this trip I learned that people who are devoted to finding a Sasquatch will convince themselves that it is there.

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My closest encounter was while driving up a winding mountain road, when, far in the distance, a black shape crossed the road quickly in front of us. My companions instantly became excited; “Sasquatch” they exclaimed. As we drew closer we saw a huge flock of crows in the field and realised that the birds had formed the black shape. But, as I said before, these people wanted to see Bigfoot so made all kinds of crazy statements, such as, “there is no way a flock of crows can move like that”, and “the crows are here investigating something left behind by the Sasquatch”. They spent about 3 or 4 hours wandering around the area finding bent over grass and “footprints” in all sorts of places. They even went so far as to have a big guy run across the road several times, watching him from different angles, to see if a human could imitate what they saw. Of course they could not; humans cannot imitate crows.

I must remain impartial to the “Finding Bigfoot” expedition I was on: who knows, maybe they were right and my vision is just going with my old age. I have to thank these people though; they enabled me to go to Washington State and to have the opportunity of some spectacular landscape photography, which, finally now, this article will be about.

The north western part of Washington State is really beautiful and its inhabitants are some of the nicest people I have met in my travels. They realise that tourism is important to their economy, but have not become obsessed with tourists, like some of the larger more popular national parks, so they still treat people nicely.

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Getting around Washington State is simple; you do not need a big SUV with four-wheel drive, any normal car will do. The drawback is that almost everything good to see is not right beside the road, hiking is a necessity, but since most of the land belongs to the national park, the trails are very well maintained.

North western Washington has two main towns/cities where you can stay and use as a base for operations, Port Angeles and Forks. From either of these places you can travel to wonderful photographic sites and then back to a hotel each night; no wilderness camping required.

First we shall plan from Port Angeles. This is the main entrance to Olympic National Park, which itself has very few roads and is considered just a starting point for hiking adventurers. It is not like Yellowstone or Death Valley, so there are really no great vistas or wildlife encounters by the roadside. I do not recommend travelling into the park from here as there are many better locations for photography.

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Salt Creek recreation area is one of my favourite places for sunrises and sunsets. The area is a campground for RV’s and tents but is open to the public. Locate Tongue Point and walk down to the ocean edge for beautiful tide pools and rock formations. Be sure to check for low tide and plan your trip around these times, which will give you the best opportunity for finding small creatures in the tide pools and allow you to get much closer to the rocks.

Travel along the northern coast on Route 112 and eventually you will reach Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, the most north western part of the continental United States. From the parking area you can walk on a wonderfully maintained trail about a mile to the edge of the land where you will be treated to the sight of huge cliffs and hundreds of sea birds. The lucky few that get here on a clear day can photograph a very interesting looking lighthouse.

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Lake Crescent, along Route 101, is a giant lake with wonderful mountains in the background. The mountains protect the lake from the wind and the water surface is often very calm and flat, offering wonderful reflections catching the light of the rising or setting sun.

Using Forks, a logging town that is now famous for being the setting of the “Twilight” books and movies as a base for operations, allows access to several beaches and the Hoh Rainforest, where you need to be prepared to get wet. Bring plastic Ziploc bags for your equipment and there should be no problems. Typically, most rainforests only have short periods of rain so you will not be in a torrential downpour all day and, if you are lucky, you will not face any rain at all. Two trails I recommend are the Spruce trail and the Hall of Mosses trail. Here you will see trees covered completely in moss; even the floor of the forest has a beautiful green moss carpet. Be on the lookout for the elusive Banana Slug. These creatures grow 6-8 inches long and allow you to explore your macro skills. They are only found in this area so enjoy them.

Western coastal beaches are spectacular here. First, Second, and Third Beach are your target areas. Huge driftwood trees line the beaches and islands, and odd rock formations become great subjects to photograph. Second Beach has good tide pools that are accessible easily. Rialto beach is close by also and has rock islands and driftwood beaches. However, it also has a dead tree forest on the beach that makes for a great silhouette against stormy clouds.

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There are many other sites around, but these are just a few that I recommend. Waterfalls are everywhere; one I recommend particularly is Salmon Cascade, which is just as the name conveys. Salmon swim upstream here and with some patience you can capture a picture of one jumping up the waterfall.

I found myself using only three main lenses, a 16-35mm, a longer 70-200mm and a macro lens. A tripod is definitely necessary here as it is often foggy with low light conditions and handholding is not advisable. Polarising filters are also a good idea to reduce glare on the water surface, and neutral density filters for the many waterfalls you will encounter.

Washington State was not entirely what I expected. I read a lot about it but unfortunately many of the articles were written long ago. It has an ever-changing ecosystem and the best opportunities come from exploring just around the next bend.

Read this article, and many more, in High Definition, inside Issue 31 of Landscape Photography Magazine.

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