Olympic National Park, Part 1

[note: some images have been removed from my site since I first posted in 2011; I have kept some preferred images and others]

This past March, I went on a photography expedition at Olympic National Park, which is on the Northwest coast of the United States, about 140 miles (or about 3 and a half hours) from Seattle, Washington and surrounding the Twilight movie town of Forks.  I spent four nights camping and touring the park, and photographed scenes on the rugged coastlines of Shi Shi and Second beaches and Point of the Arches. I also captured some shots of the Hoh rainforests and of alpine forests. I used various photography techniques including timed exposures and bracketing and used modifiers such as lens filters and extenders to record these images. Over this and two more blog posts, I’ll guide you through my time at the park, and some of the moments I photographed.

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Please visit the NPS website for a more detailed map.

I flew into Seattle on a Thursday night, and first thing in the morning, I was off to Port Angeles to meet a photographer who accompanied me for portions of the trip. We continued on to Neah Bay to get to Shi Shi Beach, a beautiful coastline set with towering sea stacks and, at that particular time of the month, very low tides. I spent most of my time on the trip at this beach, waiting for the right conditions to get best possible shot.

Getting to Shi Shi Beach is no easy feat. The beach itself is on the Makah Native American reservation, which requires a permit to enter, and the nearest place to park is about 3 miles hike from the beach itself (and actually in someone’s back yard). The trail to the beach starts with wooden bridges for about a mile that wind above a greenish swamp, then a flat two miles on towards the beach. The path is in the middle of the Olympic’s temperate rainforest (one of only four in the world; the others being in southern Chile, western British Columbia and New Zealand), which means that once off of the wooden planks, the way is incredibly wet and muddy. I brought gaiters and waterproof hiking books to guard myself from the mud I knew I would step through, but nothing would prepare me for what actually happened.

Every few hundred yards of the muddy path, the trail would transform into a flooded marsh. Every now and again, I’d see someone trying to tip toe from rock to wood to try to avoid the inevitable: sloshing knee deep in mud. While at first this was uncomfortable, I quickly warmed up to the adventure and pushed ahead.

In retrospect, I wish I had taken some shots of my experience with the path on my ways in and out of Shi Shi — not only to include the mud marshes but the skunk cabbage, which were a pleasing yellow contrast, in dark brown pools surrounded by green foliage. However, I was always in such a hurry to catch the light on the beach that my camera was firmly holstered in my pack. So that leaves you 800 words in with 0 shots :).

I finally reached the beach near the evening. I set down my stuff in the woods near the beginning of the trailhead and head straight to the coast.

As I neared the section of the beach where the sea stacks were, I finally started snapping some shots of the impressive landscape. Here’s the first, which shows a reflection of the steep hill that separates the area of the beach where I camped with the more interesting northern area of Shi Shi:

[fancy_images height=”640″ width=”800″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/shi-shi-beach-reflection”]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/shi_shi_sunlight.jpg[/fancy_images]

As I climbed atop that hill to and faced the north end of the beach, I got a slightly closer view of the sea stacks in the distance, contrasted with the grassy perch and its coupled set of trees:

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As I mentioned, I timed my trip so that it coincided with very low tides. Why did I do this? Well, much of the Western Olympic Coast is only accessible during low tide. During other times, the water rises high enough to almost completely rule out exploration. Also, low tides reveal pools along the coast that are filled with life: kelp, sea anemones, and starfish among others. Here’s my first shot of the life in the tide pools. This was taken near sunset (but against the sun, such that it blew out the detail in the shot). If you look closely you can see the evidence of the rainfall that would soon drown out the sunset and its color:

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That’s probably the third time you’ve noticed the large sea stack that dominates Shi Shi Beach. This thing is an absolute gorgeous geologic structure. What’s especially unique about it (and beneficial from a photographic standpoint) is how different it looks from varying angles. You’d barely know you’re looking at the same structure if you saw it from one side or the other. Needless to say, this sea stack was the star subject for me in my time at Shi Shi… so much so that I named it the “King” of the beach (corny I know but YOU HAVE TO SEE IT!).

As the sun set and the rain set in, the beach lost a lot of its color. In fact, many times I found the western coast of Olympic National Park lacking in color and contrast, except for in lucky moments when the light complied. To catch that colorful and intriguing light was the reason I returned to Shi Shi so many times at sunrise and sunset.

Though the color faded, the subjects themselves remained spectacular and I was still able to get some pretty cool shots. In this next one, I silhouetted the sea stack in the foreground to bring emphasis to the group of sea stacks in the distance, at Point of the Arches. I used a long exposure (as I did for several of my coastal shots) to mist the water:

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In this next one, I zeroed in on some of the low lying western facing rocks. To me, the scene is like a miniature mountain range in the sea. This bluish color is the one that dominated the scene as the clouds covered the sun:

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After the light faded, I made my way back to camp. I also timed my trip around the time of the month when the moon was fullest. This made for some interesting night shot opportunities.

The first of these night shots was a zoom in of the family of sea stacks at Shi Shi Beach. The scene immediately struck me as eerily beautiful. It seems to me like an otherworldly cityscape made of wind, water, and rock — rising high above the fog and mist below. Note that this shot was taken around 9:30pm and its just the moon that is illuminating it so much. Note also the window through the sea stack on the right:

[fancy_images height=”465″ width=”800″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/shi-shi-beach-night/”]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/shi_shi_beach_night.jpg[/fancy_images]


I then shot another from a slightly wider angle. Showing the trees on the ridge and the water on the beach, this shot brings a bit more earthly sense than the last. Note the layers that the mist creates in the rocks and cliffs on the right:

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As I turned my attention back south, I noticed that the clouds that had dominated the scene since sunset were clearing towards the stars. While the mist of the coast blocked much of the starlight near the horizon, I was able to catch these stars that shone high above the Point of the Arches:

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I then tried to get a closer look at Point of the Arches from Shi Shi Beach. This next shot reminded me again of an alien type of skyline or city — but with a bit more earthly elements given the trees that grew from the sea stacks in the distance. I really like how each segment of the line of sea stacks has its own character and adds to the depth of the shot:

[fancy_images height=”265″ width=”800″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/point-of-the-arches-night/”]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/point_of_arches_night.jpg[/fancy_images]


By the time I finally made it back to camp, it was past 12am. That normally wouldn’t be a problem — but when you’re setting your sleep schedule to sunrise times, it does turn out to be quite late. Now as I mentioned, I had never really camped much before. One thing I can say after this trip is BUNDLE UP. Because all evening I had the ocean slapping up against me, the rain pouring over me, and the humidity of the rainforest sticking to my body, I never dried up at all my first night. Combine that dampness with 30 degree winter temperatures at night, and it equaled me shivering my butt off in my tent. It was quite an experience. Because I do this so infrequently, I had to get a shot of my campsite — with my large tent in the foreground and the other photographer’s in the back. I shot this in nearly complete darkness except for the faint hints of moonlight:

[fancy_images height=”600″ width=”900″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/point-of-arches-rock”]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/Olympic National Park 309 copy.jpg[/fancy_images]


The next morning, I rose for the sunrise and headed straight back to the north end of Shi Shi Beach, hoping this time for a bit more color. And… my hopes were answered!

I had spent much of the last evening scouting my shooting location. I had a pretty specific shot in mind, until the sunrise colors finally made their way to the beach.

As I was watching the sea stacks, waiting for the sun to rise above the horizon and light the western rocks, beautiful pastel hues of pink and green swept in from behind. The most beautiful and colorful light fell slightly short of the King and surrounding sea stacks and I HAD to shift my camera to catch its beauty. Unfortunately, the area where this light shone only had some complementary geologic formations. In this shot, the pink from the sky mixed with the green colors within the water and blended rather smoothly:

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After I got a few shots where the light was best, I shifted my attention back to the King and my initial composition. Elements of the colorful light shone one the scene and really gave it some character. In this next shot, note the green from the water in the left of the shot, and the pink in the clouds that was reflected on the right side of the water. A clearing in the clouds lent a little blue as well. I used a 1/8 second shutter speed to emphasize the violent motion of the waves crashing in:

[fancy_images height=”600″ width=”900″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/shi-shi-beach-wave/”]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/shi_shi_beach_wave.jpg[/fancy_images]


Coasts give a great opportunity to shoot at long exposures — some of which I’ve already shown. Water (especially) and clouds can be “painted” with light to create surreal images. In this next shot (which is pretty much the same composition as the last), I used a 10-stop neutral density filter, to allow me to capture a very long exposure without overexposing it. The neutral density filter also did a great job of pulling the pink elements of the sunrise forward. This one is one of my favorite images from my trip:

[fancy_images height=”600″ width=”900″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/shi-shi-beach-pink/”]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/shi_shi_beach_pink.jpg[/fancy_images]


Like I mentioned, low tides exposed shallow tide pools where life thrives. Stay tuned to the next part of this blog series for much more on that. Here, though is a different take on some of those scenes. In this shot, I made the King and the background sky black and white, while leaving the starfish in color. Just an experimentation that I think turned out relatively well:

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The last shot in this multi-part blog series is another long exposure with a neutral density filter. After I took the above images, I scaled the exposed rocks on the beach, looking for a new venue to shoot from. When I saw water creeping from one tide pool to the next, slowly bubbling and swirling, I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot. What I got, besides an angle where the King looked different — ended up looking like a satellite view of a hurricane:

[fancy_images height=”600″ width=”900″ alt=”” title=”” link=”http://navinsarmaphotography.com/portfolio/shishi-beach-tide-whirlpool/” ]http://navinsarmaphotography.com/wp-content/gallery/places/northamerica/pacnw/shi_shi_beach_water_hurricane.jpg[/fancy_images]


So, that’s what I’ve got for round 1 of the blog posts from my trip to Olympic National Park. Stay tuned for the next in the series!!

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