Scouting the Olympic Peninsula

Last week, I joined my good friend, photographer Pat O’Hara, to scout locations in Olympic National Park in preparation for our Advanced Workshop in Port Angeles, Washington in July 2012.

With 200% of normal snowpack for this time of year, the Olympic mountains were positively stunning. Though Mt. Olympus, the tallest, is under 8,000 ft. in elevation, it seems like a much bigger mountain, supporting large glaciers and towering above the surrounding landscape. The old-growth temperate rainforest, lakes, waterfalls, driftwood strewn beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and dramatic weather make for tremendous variety of landscapes in a compact area. It would be obvious to anyone why Pat and his family have chosen to live in this exceptional place.

Time was tight and I was there for logistics more than photography, but I managed to make a few images at some of the field locations that we will likely use during the workshop, like the one above at Sol Duc Falls. It will be a great pleasure to return for the workshop with Pat during the height of wildflower season next summer.

For those interested in technical details, the Sol Duc Falls image is from a 25-megapixel file created very easily using an old manual focus, manual aperture 35mm f/2.8 PC shift lens on a Nikon D700. A polarizing filter was used to cut glare on the foliage. Without moving the camera, the lens was shifted to expose three frames for the top, middle, and bottom of the composition. Toss the files into Photomerge in Photoshop, and voilá, you end up with an extremely high-quality image file with a field of view close to that of a 24mm lens, and format proportions close to 4×5.

My traveling camera kit on this trip consisted of my D700, 20mm f/4 AI , 35mm f/2.8 PC Nikkor, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, 135mm f/2.8 AI-S Nikkor, and Gitzo G1028 with Really Right Stuff BH-25 ballhead. Using the power of three-frame stitching to increase resolution, I could effectively cover a focal length range of 14mm to 90mm at a level of quality that equals 200MB drum scans from 6x7cm medium format transparencies, with the benefit of the D700’s excellent high ISO/low-noise performance. The fact that this level of quality can be achieved so easily with such a limited array of compact, affordable gear is truly astonishing. The total weight of my photo kit including the tripod was  3.046Kg, and the camera and lenses all fit inside a small waistpack that stashed neatly into my carry-on. I was able to travel for a week with only a Patagonia shoulder bag and a slim laptop case, and still make landscape photographs that could produce top-quality prints without feeling like I was hindered by my lens selection. What a wonderful time we live in.