As travel/landscape photographers, we tend to capture a location at a particular moment and then move on to the next place. Even after researching the best time to be at the location, we still only capture what Mother Nature gives us at that moment in time, and we all know too well she can be unpredictable. You may have heard that returning to the same location is a great way to improve your photography, but the fear of becoming repetitive and stagnant can put people off. However, I feel it not only increases your chances of better conditions, but you also become more familiar with how the different weather conditions interact with the scene creating new compositions. Often the image that you intended to capture is completely different from the one you end up with. As such, I firmly believe the more time you spend getting to know a location, the better your photography will be.
A few years ago, I put this into practice by spending several months in the Pacific Northwest in America to really get to know the place. Oregon and Washington has some of the most incredible and diverse landscapes in the country so I felt a normal 2-week trip wouldn’t do it justice. The other advantage to spending an extended amount of time there is the possibility of photographing particular locations under different phases of the moon and specific tides coinciding with sunsets.
But even when using various apps and websites to research spots, there was one factor we couldn’t predict – forest fires. At one point, it seemed like the entire region of the Pacific Northwest was on fire. Sadly, this was when I was leading a workshop so we had to abandon the Columbia Gorge as we could barely see the sun through the smoke. Instead we headed for the coast. Where the sun was covered by sea mist…
The sea stacks at Bandon Beach are pretty amazing, especially at sunset, but even though the conditions improved over time, it wasn’t what I wanted. I went back several weeks later when it looked more promising, but still didn’t deliver the conditions I wanted. On the fifth attempt, however, I ended up with the result you see here. Patience and persistence has its rewards.
Mt. Rainier is one of the most iconic locations in Washington State, and Tipsoo Lake provides the perfect setting for reflections of the mountain. We had attempted a dawn photo shoot during my workshop, but the National Guard had closed the road due to the fires. A month later, I returned after the fires were out to shoot the setting full moon over Mt. Rainier. I was surprised to only find one other photographer there. He introduced himself as Russ, a ranger from Katmai National Park in Alaska.
As we chatted about our travels, the clouds began to light up behind us. I had a feeling this was going to be good – one by one the cloud formations took on a brilliant, orange hue. We worked the scene together capturing various compositions and when it was over we shook hands knowing that we had witnessed something very special. It was a pleasure to share this experience with someone who appreciates nature. Ironically, the setting moon was partially covered by the clouds, but this didn’t matter, the end result was much better than I’d ever hoped for. Even after 2 months, I realised I’d only scratched the surface… I will be planning another trip back in the future.