The Pacific Northwest of the United States hosts some of the most beautiful temperate rain forest in the world. The forests of Olympic National Park showcase the very best, and this moss-covered wonderland offers seemingly endless photo possibilities.
Where: There are actually four rain forest areas within Olympic National Park: the Hoh, Sol Duc, Queets, and Quinault forests. Each offers similar photo opportunities, although each forest has its own slightly unique character. The Hoh Rain Forest and its Hall of Mosses Trail are especially popular. Sol Duc is has a developed area and a resort, although plenty of wild rain forest can be found along the quiet road leading to the resort or along the trails emanating from the road into the wilderness. Quinault and Queets are much more rustic and less well-traveled, opening up boundless exploration. You can also photograph in Olympic National Forest, which is adjacent to Olympic National Park, although there is some logging in these areas.
When: Although the rain forest is photogenic all year, the best times to make photos are spring, summer, and fall. Late April and early May is when ferns unfold, and everything is covered in fresh green. In October, leaves turn with the autumn season, adding a splash of orange, red, and yellow. By the end of October, the autumn leaves have dropped and the ferns have entered their winter dormancy, and the forest becomes slightly less colorful until spring returns.
Photography: If you venture into the forest, please be aware that it can be very easy to get lost, so don't stray too far from a trail or road. The rain forest can be very difficult to traverse in any event, so you're probably best off using a trail or road to explore. If you walk into the forest, step with care to avoid leaving any permanent traces.
Compositions in the rain forest can be very challenging. You can use a longer lens to isolate a portion of the scene. When using wide-angle lenses, it is generally a good idea to avoid having sky in your photos, as the bright sky at the top of the image frame will draw the viewer's eye away from the beautiful color down below. Look for trees that form simple, graphic shapes to bring coherence to an otherwise visually chaotic scene. Lots of the vine maples in the forest have graceful, curving shapes, making them perfect to help clarify your visual designs. Radiating patterns of ferns can make compelling foregrounds that lead the viewer's eye deeper into the composition.
Overcast light is the easiest to work with, and some light rain can really saturate the colors. Consider using a polarizer filter to reduce glare and optimize the color of the scene. Most photographers avoid the rain forest on a sunny day, as all of the mixed light and shadow make contrast in the forest seemingly unmanageable. This is a mistake, however, as backlighting makes the moss-covered trees look like they are glowing from within. Working with backlighting on a sunny day can be very challenging, but if you are patient and persistent, the reward is unique and compelling rain forest images.
On sunny days, the best times to make photos are the hour or two before sunset or after sunrise. The sunlight will be colorful, giving backlit ferns and moss a golden glow, and the sun is low enough in the sky that you can easily incorporate it into your compositions. Stop down to a small aperture (f/11, f/16, or f/22) to create an attractive "star burst" effect.
Learn more: The best place to learn more about the rain forests of Olympic National Park is on the park website.