The Wonderland Trail: 93 miles of photo ops

Staff photographerJune 8, 2013 

Early evening stars pierce the sky above Mount Rainier, which is capped by a lenticular cloud, in this view from Klapatche Park on the Wonderland Trail. This photo was made with a 30-second exposure and the lens was opened to it widest setting. Photo taken on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park on September 11-19, 2012.

DREW PERINE — THE NEWS TRIBUNE

It’s pretty hard to mess up getting a good photograph of Mount Rainier. It’s big, snow-covered and, from almost any perspective, quite attractive.

You see a lot of the mountain on the 93-mile-long Wonderland Trail. And that’s a good thing, because 93 miles is a really long way, and as a hiker and a photographer, I need visual nourishment.

The Wonderland Trail offers a perfect circle of opportunity to experience Mount Rainier anew. Hiking the loop turns the mountain into a giant compass and photographers can record its beauty from every direction. Because it takes days to complete the trail, there’s generally more time to explore/exploit conditions that can yield better photographs. Hopefully, something more interesting than the average bear.

I’ve been a photojournalist for 32 years, primarily with local newspapers like The News Tribune. Much of my work is topical, news-driven and people-oriented. Outdoor assignments are an occasional, delightful treat.

I am not an equipment junkie, but I enjoy nature and especially like taking its picture. I’ve been asked to share some of what works for me as a photographer on the trail.

FIND THE TIME

You want to take better photographs? Set aside the time. Divorce yourself from the hiking party and enter the realm.

I know you don’t want to slow everybody down, and there’s nothing wrong with grabbing quick iPhone snaps. But it’s a disservice if you don’t take a walk by yourself and meditate on the stillness.

The low-angled light of early morning or late evening provides beautifully rosy illumination. Spray Park, Klaptche Park and Indian Bar have the most knockout views. Best of all, there’s no one bugging you to hurry up.

Lose yourself for a few minutes. Your photos will thank you.

IF YOU PACK IT, USE IT

That extra 10-15 pounds of gear you’ve decided to haul for 93 miles had better be worth the trouble.

I remind myself of this often on a hiking assignment because the weight really makes the walk harder. Because I’m “working,” I always bring too much.

All my gear’s Canon. (That’s not an endorsement. Most of the major brands make good product).This is what I carried on the Wonderland Trail:

  • Canon 5D body. Professional grade digital camera. Also good for video. Big and heavy.
  • 70-200mm 2.8 lens. Workhorse telephoto. Bigger and heavier.
  • 55mm macro lens. Good for close-ups, detail shots. I Iove nature in miniature as much as grand splendor.
  • 17-35mm 2.8 lens.
  • Flash and flash remote cord so it can be used off-camera.
  • Plastic, very lightweight tripod with ball head. Great for stability during long exposures; the ball head allows the camera to be tilted in any direction.
  • Many memory cards and batteries.

I also brought a compact point and shoot, the Canon G9, to wear around my neck so I could shoot stills and video in a snap. Honestly, if you want a higher grade of photo, the heavier, professional gear is hard to beat for maximum quality and flexibility. But today’s small digital cameras, even smart phones, are so sophisticated, there’s no reason to pack more if you prefer traveling light.

THAT’S A BIG MOUNTAIN

Don’t spend all your time shooting the obvious.

Mother Nature has plenty of equally deserving subjects: wildlife, flowers, glaciers, moss, bugs, bear dung.

Humans are occasionally worthwhile. They add scale to hiking shots and the trail attracts many undeodorized characters who are fun to photograph. Besides, how many images of Mount Rainier can Grandpa Joe pretend to appreciate before he nods off?

Don’t be afraid to try a different composition. Or obsess on the weird. Even a failed approach can liven up a slideshow. Here’s a couple ideas that worked for me:

  • Make the peak look dreamy by reflecting it in water surrounded by tall grass or absurdly framing it through a naturally worn hole on a bleached log.
  • Torment your hiking partners by documenting their unshaven faces, puffy eyes and abused feet. Just wait until camp is set up. Giant blisters always get a laugh.
  • Stop stressing about bad weather and use those spooks of fog rising from an alpine lake to create mystery. Or pull out the macro and zoom in on a single drop of rainwater beading up on a lupine petal.

Follow all these tips and you might become the toast of your Facebook community. Or at least the person who gets handed the camera at the office party.

Drew Perine: 253-597-8654
drew.perine@thenewstribune.com

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