Walking Among Ancient Patriarchs

A steady rain was falling. This was not a reason to run for cover, quite the contrary. The gray overcast, foggy-rainy weather would be ideal for the deep, old growth forest photograph I intended to capture.

We were in the southeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park. The region is called Ohanapescosh. A densely forested area of the park. A steady drizzle fell as we pulled into the Grove of the Patriarchs trailhead parking lot.

It’s a short 1.5 mile loop trail. The Ohanapescosh River bisects the trail near the halfway point. The bridge that crosses the river is a wire cable suspension bridge with wood slats. It sways and bounces with every step you (or someone else) takes. Crossing with my heavy camera backpack created a wave-like motion from end to end. The bridge is just wide enough for two people side-by-side but I noticed those at the other end of the bridge waited until I had crossed before they stepped onto the bridge.

As the trail name suggests, the landscape is crowded with magnificent ancient Douglas Fire, Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlocks. To say that walking among these old giants makes you feel insignificant is an understatement.

Grove of the Patriarchs Boardwalk 191051NWND850

Grove of the Patriarchs Boardwalk 191051NWND850

Centuries old and hundreds of feet tall, a deep backward head tilt was required to see the tree tops. Their large canopies combined with the gray cloudy day made the forest dark, middle-earth like.

As I walked I imagined some possible photo compositions. Getting a shot of a complete tree was out of the question. It would required a ground up perspective which would be impossible given the steady rainfall. I decided instead to look for a composition that juxtapose the large diameter tree with another ‘normal sized’ subject. The comparison would create a sense of scale and help the viewer appreciate the size of the ancient trees.

I rounded a corner in the trail and stepped up onto a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk replaced the dirt trail and made an elevated path through a maze of gigantic trees. I was now eye-to-eye with the largest diameter of most of the tree trunks.

Patriarchs Fall 191050NWND850

Patriarchs Fall 191050NWND850

I reached the end of the boardwalk not yet having seen the composition I imagined. I turned to retrace my steps and there it was. A gigantic orange ribbed tree trunk with a beautiful autumn colored maple vine branch suspended in front of it. This was just the composition I had hoped for.

Not only did the composition include the juxtaposed subject scale but, it also included some great color contrast. The bright yellow and green maple vine leaves contrasted nicely with the dark wood gain and orange-red tree trunk verticals.

I took a bunch of photographs before packing the gear. I was soaked from the rain. I sloshed my way back to the bridge and down the trail the to the parking area. I changed into dry clothes for the second time that day. We drove south hoping for less rain.

Thanks for reading the blog.



Photographers Notes:

For those who might be interested here are a few things about the field photo process.

Since it was raining I set up the tripod and immediately added a lens hood to keep the water off the glass.

To exaggerate the scale between the tree and maple leaves, I composed a tight shot making sure the large tree trunk filled the entire frame. This composition would force the viewer to compare the size of the leaves with the tree trunk.

I experimented with exposure settings. I wanted to create a set of focus stacked images I could later merge creating an ‘everything from from to back insanely sharp focus’ image. But the occasional wind gust and rain moved the tree branch unpredictably spoiling the effort.

I had to settle with single images in between wind gusts and rainfall! While the final image isn’t quite as sharp as I had hoped I am happy with the result. Oh yea I did use a polarizer while taking the image which necessitated an ISO if 400.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, 0.8 seconds, f/11, ISO 400