Friday, August 31, 2012

Recent Photography Trip to Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier above Edith Creek before sunrise.
Many influences come into play when photographing outdoors.  Many of them, such as choosing location, camera settings, lens and filter selection, and composition, we control.  But there are natural elements that we do not.  Oh, we plan ahead and do our research so as to put ourselves in the best possible position to be successful, but we don't control it.  For me, this is one of the most exciting elements of photography

Recently I met up with my good friend Kevin Ebi at Mount Rainier National Park.  I had spent the previous morning there and had scouted out the flowers around Edith Creek - our meeting point.

Arriving in time for sunrise requires a very early start and involves driving in the dark to your destination.  You can't wake up to a bluebird sky and say to yourself, "Yes, I think it will be a good day to go photograph."

I knew the forecast called for a change in weather towards afternoon on this day, but noticed as I neared the Nisqually Entrance that the stars were blurred.  This told me there was moisture in the air.  I knew this could mean low elevation fog, which got me even more excited!

As I drove up the Paradise Road, I noticed a definite cloud bank to the west and no stars.  As I neared the Paradise parking lot, it became clear that a system was moving in quicker than I had expected.  Yet, to the east it remained mostly clear, but with some interesting whispy clouds.  Of course, east is what is important for sunrise photography!

A lenticular cloud over Mount Rainier at sunrise.
Kevin informed me that the forecast had changed somewhat, and they were calling for completely cloudy skies by 7:00 am.  All we could do was cross our fingers.  This could still work.

We set our cameras up in the dark and aimed them at the mountain.  We watched the sky in between shutter clicks (yes, we start taking pictures well before first light on the mountain).  We watched the cloud bank to the west growing stronger and more clouds appearing to the east, though still generally scattered.  This morning had the opportunity to prove dramatic and exciting, or it could skunk us all together.  We remained optimistic.

Clouds began to form directly over the summit of Rainier and grew in size as they moved west to east.  Soon they turned a brilliant pink and it was game on!  As we watched the intensity grow above the mountain, we noticed signs of a lenticular cloud forming above the mountain.  It grew to prominent status rather quickly, just in time for the first rays of the sun.  We had found paradise! (pun intentional).

As climbers and many others know, lenticular clouds are strong indicators of a couple of things:  They are a sign of heavy winds on the summit (often exceeding 100 mph), and a sign of a pending weather system arriving in the next 24 hours.  This meant there were plenty of unknowns ahead of us as the mystery unfolded on this morning.

Lenticular cloud over Mount Rainier at sunrise.
The lenticular cloud became more and more defined, and the unique light seemed to last an exaggerated length of time - minutes, not seconds.

Alas, all good things must come to and end and this experience was no different.  As the sun rose higher in the sky the light became much less dramatic, then disappeared entirely as clouds began to consume the skies above and the wind picked up.

As Kevin and I began packing our gear up, we could only smile, knowing we had been a part of something special.  Neither one of us had actually photographed a lenticular over the mountain before, and neither one of us could have predicted it would happen on this morning.  But we were ready for it and embraced it when it happened.

From Paradise, I drove around the mountain to the Chinook Pass area to hike the Naches Peak Loop.  I had heard rave reports of the flower show and wanted to scout the area out for a possible return the following day.  Despite not planning to do any photography, I carried my camera gear anyway.  I was glad I did.

Flowers of lupine and assorted flower along the Naches Peak Loop.
The flower show was incredible from the moment I hit the trail and grew stronger the further I hiked.  Upon crossing the shoulder of Naches Peak beyond the PCT and Dewey Lake junction, I was greeted by the spectacular meadows above the tarn and some interesting light on both the meadows and the mountain.  I wouldn't ordinarily shoot so late in the day (10:00ish), but the diffused light struck me.  The soft transition of Rainier into clouds also piqued my interest.  It was a unique blend.

Shortly after working this composition, the sun became much stronger and subtleties of the setting that struck me were gone.  But I was glad to not have left my camera behind in the name of a scouting trip!

These images and more can be seen in my Mount Rainier Gallery.  As always, thanks for visiting!

1 comment:

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