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Landscape and travel photography blog. Everything from traveling to camera gear.

Something Going Right At Mt Rainier

Sunrise, on the north entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, is the first place the sun hits Rainier (hence it’s name). With Mount Rainier to the south, it’s also a perfect place to get the Milky Way rising out of the volcanic crater on Rainier.

Being summer, there’s like a seven hour difference between sunrise and sunset. With it being a hour and half drive from where I was staying, I planned on going there for sunset and just staying up there till sunrise and shooting all night.

The one thing I needed was clear skies. A couple people warned me that even in summer that’s far from a sure thing in the pacific northwest. It turns out they weren’t kidding.

For the whole week I was in Washington, the only day with a clear sky was the night I was at Sunrise. It went far from planned it though.

I was going to go just shy of the first Burroughs Mountain peak, where the galactic core of the Milky Way would line up with the crater on Rainier. When I got there, I saw the first blue sky I had seen in Washington so far. With Rainier so big and visible, I was getting excited. After about a 40 minute hike up to Burroughs Mountain, I had my camera setup and ready two hours before sunset.

Fog at Burroughs Mountain

Fog at Burroughs Mountain

That’s when things started to turn. First came a couple of clouds – no big deal I thought, it’s not obscuring the peak. Then came the tsunami over the ridge towards the south. The whole place was covered in fog and I couldn’t really see about 5 meters in front of me, let along Rainier.

I waited it out till about one hour after sunset. By then I was cold, disappointed and frustrated. I thought I’ll hike back down to the parking lot and get some coffee I had sitting in the car.

So I waited; drank some coffee, watched a movie, and took a nap. I woke up at around 1am and I took a look out the windshield. Low and behold the sky was starting to clear up.

I had a couple of options at this point; I could go back to Burroughs Mountain, hike to Dedge Peak towards the south or drive to Sunrise Point. Feeling tired and somewhat sleeping, I took the lazy option and went to Sunrise Point.

At Sunrise Point, the Milky Way wouldn’t really line up with Rainier but I went anyway. Turns out it was the best option. That huge amount of cloud that came rolling in, had moved lower down and had created an expansive cloud bank below Rainier – perfect for a panorama!

Moon setting, with a bank of clouds below Rainier

I got as many shots as I could with the short window with the moon setting and creating a moon star on the tip of the mountain. Once the moon had set though, it was Milky Way time! It really didn’t disappoint; I hadn’t seen so many stars since my trip to Death Valley.

The Milky Way about an hour after the moon set.

Sunrise was now looking to be on point. My mood was a complete 360 from being fogged in at Burroughs Mountain. I knew the best place to catch sunrise would be on top of Dedge Peak but I couldn’t bring myself to hike 1200 ft up in the middle of dark, to trail I hadn’t been on before. Had I known though that was the only really good sunrise I was going to get this trip, I would lit my ass on fire and ran up there.

Sunrise Point wouldn’t make a bad sunrise shot though and with me completely frozen solid from shooting for 2 hours and being sleep deprived, I just stayed put.

Sunrise turned out great, not as great as it would have been from Dedge Peak but that’s fine. Finally something went somewhat to plan on this trip and I headed back to Seattle a happy camper.

Ruined Trip?

I headed out to Washington State for the North Cascades and Mount Rainier. People warned me about the weather but I was going in mid July so I'll thought I'll be fine. Turns out living in Georgia has kind of spoiled me.

View from the top of Table Mountain, in the Mount Baker Wilderness. You're looking at Mount Shuksan under cloud cover.

View from the top of Table Mountain, in the Mount Baker Wilderness. You're looking at Mount Shuksan under cloud cover.

The weather hasn't been bad per say, it's just been killing me exactly at sunset, sunrise and in the night.

One minute I have clear skies and then wham, clouds everywhere, and not the good kind of clouds either, where're talking about thick heavy clouds that the sun has no hope of shining through.

First there was my easy trips to Artist Point and Table Mountain on the Mount Baker highway. I knew going in, there was going to be a lot of clouds but who cares, my trip just started and it wasn't like it was a long hike.The clouds mostly covered the peak, which is not what I wanted and I got a pretty lame picture.

 

This is as clear as it got at night on the skyline divide trail. The peak of Mount Baker is completely hidden and the prominent peak to the left is Grant Peak, which is east of the true summit.

Then came the skyline divide trail, which gets nice and close to Mount Baker. I wanted to get sunset, the night and then sunrise all while solo camping up there.

While hiking up there things were what I would call partially cloudy. Once I got camp setup, on I think the fifth knoll of the trail, things got decidedly worse. A huge amount of clouds swept in for sunset. Oh well, I thought it should clear up some at 2 am, like the weather report said, so I went to sleep with the alarm set to 2 am. Nope, it turns out the weather on top of mountains is unpredictable - who would have thought? I did manage a decent picture of the clouds sweeping over Grant Peak, along the east ridge of Baker though.

 

Well that was that, hopefully Rainier would turn out better. I headed out to Sunrise at the north entrance, hoping to get some Milky Way shots overlooking Rainier. The weather forecast was for clear skies and when I got there, clear and blue it sure was.

My view from Burroughs Mountain. I could barely see the camera in front of me.

My view from Burroughs Mountain. I could barely see the camera in front of me.

My plan was to hike to a half mile shy of Burroughs Mountain and take a shot on the trail with the almost sheer cliffs overlooking the volcano. I set up both cameras; one for stills and one for a time-lapse with a good 2 hours before sunset. Then I saw the first clouds about half way up the top of Rainier. No big deal, I thought…...

Looking back towards the Sunrise visitors center, a big wave of misty clouds looked to be rolling in. The weather report was for partial cloudy skies at sunset and clear skies at around 1 am, so I was still holding out hope that they would just pass. You can see what the visibility actually looked like on the right.

The weather report for clear skies at around 1 am held water though and I got some pretty good moonlit, milky way and sunrise shots.

This is the kind of view you can expect once the clouds dissipate, or in my case move lower, leaving an amazing bank of clouds below me.

That seemed like the only good weather I got for the whole week. For the next sunset I planned on going to Mount St Helens. Reports were for a partial cloudy sky which would clear up later in the night.

Driving up there I saw a pretty clear St Helens with some clouds. A big bank of clouds rolled in at what seemed like on cue at sunset. I got some OK shots looking at the other direction from the volcano but at that point I was feeling really frustrated and didn’t stick around for the night.

Fogged out Mt Rainier, at Paradise.

Fogged out Mt Rainier, at Paradise.

The final place I planned on going; Paradise, on the south entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, turned out to be the biggest bust. Driving up there I could again see the peak clearly but as you can guess, once I got there it was completely under cloud cover. I waited one hour after sunset to see if would dissipate but once it didn’t, I hiked back down to the trail head parking lot and thought I would wait it out in the car.

As 1 am rolled around, the visibility was even worse. Then 3 am ticked by and still no luck. I decided to pack it in and just drive back at that point, as I doubted sunrise would be clear (I did double check the visitor center webcam to check I made the correct decision - I did - big whoop).

 

So that was the trip, mostly bad, but that’s looking at it right after the Paradise let down. The skyline divide trail, along the ridge line towards Mount Baker was still very cool, even though there were clouds covering most of the peaks. On top of that, I had a very nice night at Sunrise at Mount Rainier, looking at the stars. I guess that’s the pacific northwest; lots of gloomy clouds but amazing once you get lucky enough to peak past them.

Jekyll Island, GA & The Milky Way

I took the plunge and drove 4-5 hours to Jekyll Island, just north of Jacksonville.

I wanted to go and catch sunset and then get some Milky Way action after astronomical twilight. Storms during the past couple of weekends have put a stopper on going though. I took a risk this weekend even though there was expected heavy clouds until the middle of the night. With the moon also rising at 11:45pm, I was cutting it really close with a sky that would stay clear and be moon free. I got a lucky last time I went to Blood Mountain, so I thought what the heck.

The main reason why I wanted to go was because of Driftwood Beach, which has bare trees and washed up logs all along the beach. It’s also pretty dark down there, well compared to other parts of the East Coast. Looking south down Jekyll Island, would be the darker Cumberland Island (which is completely undeveloped, being under National Park management), so looking south, towards the Milky Way should show little light pollution.

Well that was the plan…...The one thing I forgot to take into account was how close Driftwood Beach was to Saint Simons Island, which is anything but dark. On top of the light pollution there was also the lighthouse on St Simons, that intermittently lit up the beach. I’m kind of getting ahead of myself though.

For sunset, I did plan to go to the north part of the island, which has some driftwood on the beach but more importantly would allow me to get the setting sun back-lighting the driftwood, as it was setting towards the north-west. While I was walking up there though I came across this open field with an amazingly green marsh and I thought I’ll pass up the driftwood shot (I was going to to shot it with the Milky Way anyway).

Don’t know if I was too happy with those big, stormy looking clouds being there. Don’t get me wrong, it made the sunset picture look great but I came for the Milky Way, and those clouds did look pretty ominous.

Once blue hour rolled around, I got my camera set up next to a cool piece of driftwood overlooking the rising Milky Way. With high tide coming in at around the time of the moon rise, I did have to move the camera but I got a nice blue hour shot, with some nice saturated colors and a just visible galactic core.

That stretch of yellow light on the water is from the lighthouse at St Simons and the red glow on the water is me light painting with my headlamp.

I did have to move the camera pretty soon after - tides move quick! Once astronomical twilight hit I got some decent shots with the Milky Way and it’s galactic core very much visible and on full display. All the light pollution from Saint Simons, did give them a nasty white-orange glow. I got rid of most of it with some light painting, using a flashlight with a blue gel. I even made use of the lighthouse; I waited for it flash towards the water so that it lit up the waves perpendicular to my flashlight.

You can see the Milky Way here in it's full glory.

Overall pretty happy, well I was till I had to drive another 5 hours back, soaked from the knee down.

Macro Fantastic

I finally got a macro lens a couple of months ago and I’m starting to really like it. Not so much the lens but taking macro shots. Why? Well, it requires not really going anywhere far. All I have to do is find a flower or plant (which they’re plenty of in Atlanta) and start shooting.

Think that's a beetle.

I usually just stroll out a hour or two before sunset and find a flower and start shooting. I haven’t yet had the patience to wait for insects and then hope for a good pose but I have some decent flower shots. Nothing groundbreaking but hey, they didn’t require that much effort.

The reason why I really like it, is that doesn’t really require planning and long car rides and such. So when I’m feeling lazy but bored, it fills a nice gap. Plus, it allows me to take more photographs and learn a couple of things, like you can’t focus stack a flower with any hint of a wind.

 

So what lens have I been using? The continually back-ordered Tokina 100mm f/2.8. It seems pretty sharp to me, though I’m looking at 26 megapixel files, so don’t take my word if you’re using a 50 megapixel Canon behemoth. The Tokina is pretty nicely made, considering the price and I’m glad I didn’t buy the Nikon 105mm f/2.8. Is it also 1:1 magnification (1 inch in real life will be inch on the sensor), which is what swayed me over the older Nikon macro lens.

There are three cheap ways of getting into macro photography:

 

More of your standard flower shot.

I won’t go into which marco lens is the best or best value, but the two above are cheap, good, are 1:1 magnification and have a good working distance, so you don’t have to get super close to your subject and block out all the light.

With the extension tubes you can either go smart (with auto-focus) or dumb (without). I did the “and/or” for the them because there’s nothing stopping you from using them on macro lens! Instead of the 1:1 magnification, you could get 2:1, so 1 inch in real life would be 2 inches on the sensor - welcome to the world of abstract macro photography. Of course you can use the extension tubes on a non-macro lens to get a higher magnification than your normal lens - even if it’s not 1:1, it’s a start and it’s cheap.

An abstract, shallow depht of field macro shot.

Peach tree bloom.

I’m having fun shooting macro and if you haven't started, hopefully I’ve shown you that it doesn't have to be expensive to get going.

Anti-Gear Review

I’m going to do an odd take on a gear review post. Instead of telling you why you should buy a camera or even give you the pros and cons of each camera, I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t waste your money on that shiny new, top of the line camera.

Let’s pick on the top of the line Sony DSLR, the Sony A7R II. In-body image stabilization, 48 mega pixels, dynamic range second only to the Nikons and 4k video recording, what’s not to like? Well I’ll give you a $3200 reason not to buy it - it costs $3200.

$3,198.00
$2,796.95
$3,399.00

You know what, if you live in the US, you could take three separate trips, to three different national parks for that kind of money. What’s gonna be a better picture, the sunrise at Mount Rainier with a Sony a6000 (or whatever camera you have now) or the sunrise from your backyard with a Sony A7R II?

Don’t mean to pick on Sony, the same can be said for the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5DS R. The thing is, the camera you have right now is good enough. Unless it’s some ungodly old piece of crap, it will do!

Going to other worldly places or just shooting more, makes better pictures, not more expensive cameras or lens, so go forth into the wilderness (or street - I hear people like taking photographs of things other than landscapes).