Making Photographic Lemonade in Olympic National Park

Making Photographic Lemonade in Olympic National Park

Sometimes we need to make lemonade from lemons. We don’t control the weather, the sun or clouds, nor even the subjects we like to shoot. There are those times when we show up on location and the variables beyond our control just don’t seem to want to cooperate. So, what do we do? Turn around and go home and wait for better conditions? No! We stay, adjust our expectations and dig into our bag of photographic skills to make the best of the situation, making the best lemonade we can from the lemons that are given to us.

I just returned from our workshop in Olympic National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the Northwest. We had folks from all over who had come to photograph the renowned beauty of the coast and the lush Hoh Rainforest. Normally, this region receives some of the most abundant and reliable rainfall in the country, up to 160” a year. It’s wet here, which is what makes the forest thrive and the rivers flow. For photographers visiting the Hoh and surrounding area, the best conditions to shoot are when it’s wet; the mosses and plants almost glow green and the diffused lighting is just perfect for shooting in the forest.

Leading up to the workshop, I was watching the weather, hoping for overcast or rainy skies. As the dates drew near, the forecast wasn’t looking promising. In fact, it was looking like we’d have clear skies and record-high temperatures. The worst conditions for photographing in a rain forest! A high pressure area had formed over the Northwest and didn’t show any signs of moving on during our workshop.

Determined to make some photographic lemonade for our group, we made plans to change the itinerary, locations and teaching topics to be more conducive to the challenging weather conditions. We switched locations to take advantage of the good light early in the morning and in the evening. Then, during the middle of the day, when the harsh light and shadows came, we would retreat inside for image reviews and instruction.

In order to photograph in the rainforest before harsh light and shadows made creating good images impossible, we had to be on location right as the sky began to lighten. This meant 3:30 am wake up calls and “wheels up” by 4:30am. We arrived at the Hoh around 5:30 and walked in to the Hall of Mosses. The lush greenery and hanging moss in this area is simply amazing to view, yet challenging to photograph as it’s such a chaotic scene.

Preaching the mantra to “slow down” and simplify to our clients, we enjoyed a couple hours of good shooting each morning.

Hoh Pano 5_19

Fern Log

Once the sun rose too high in the sky, it created those harsh shadows and bright spots, thus making it nearly impossible to create compelling images. We sought out the few areas that remained in shadow, where we were able to continue working for a while longer.

When we couldn’t shoot in the forest any longer, we headed to the nearby beaches to see what we could accomplish in the difficult lighting. Thankfully there were a few shady spots on the beach so we focused some of our effort on capturing details there.


One morning we were blessed with some light mist and sun rays coming through the trees, which made for some dramatic lighting. For wider landscapes in this challenging light, we concentrated on shooting in monochrome.

Ruby Rays


During the middle part of the days, the Olympic Peninsula reached near record-high temperatures with clear skies and bright sunlight. So, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed indoors to review the previous day’s work as well, as share some photographic techniques.

One of the benefits of sunny skies up there is that you may get a chance at a good sunset or two. With so many rainy days there, sunsets along the beaches there are not as common as you might think. Plus, with a fairly persistent offshore marine layer, the chances of photographing the sun dipping below the horizon are even smaller. On this trip, our lemonade was sweetened when we photographed two good sunsets along the rocky coastline at La Push and Rialto beaches.

La Push Sunstars

Beach LE

Heading in to Sol Duc Falls, another “must see” location in Olympic National Park, once again we had to be on site right as the sky began lightening, which meant an even earlier wakeup call because of the long drive. Once there, we enjoyed a couple of hours shooting in the forest, under diffuse lighting, capturing small creeks, the waterfall and other forest scenes. We worked hard to produce meaningful images in the limited window of time and everyone came away with several keepers they were happy with.



Transiting to Port Angeles under continued clear skies, we were happy because we had a productive few days under challenging conditions. Plus, our next day’s location would be picture perfect for a nice sunrise, and the weather was forecast to cooperate and stay clear for us.

Sunrise on Hurricane Ridge provided an amazingly clear panorama of the mountains with some subtle color overhead. It was an idyllic morning in the mountains and everyone was ecstatic over the results.


Then heading down the mountain at the end of the shoot, we received one final gift . . . the valley below was covered in a blanket of fog! We stopped and started shooting various scenes of the fog enveloping the tree covered hillsides, as giddy as kids. It was that little dash of sugar in our lemonade to make it so much sweeter!

Foggy Valley

Foggy Hill

Whether you’re on a workshop or shooting by yourself, sometimes conditions aren’t perfect and you need to adjust your expectations and mental models to make the best of the situation. Let go of that visualized shot you were hoping for and shoot with the available light using different techniques and processing to bring home your own lemonade.

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