My most recent trip saw me spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, travelling around Washington and Oregon. Home to cities, temperate rainforests, mountains, and some exceptionally rugged coastline, the PNW is a very unique location.
But in an area that is famous for its drizzle, don’t ever let the risk of getting a bit wet put you off visiting. The region offers something to suit all needs, whether you enjoy hiking through the national parks or passing the time in one of the many microbreweries or coffee shops.
Photography is, of course, a big draw too and I was preparing myself for something of a challenge with this trip. Now I’m back and in full image review mode I wanted to share with you some of my immediate takeaway tips and advice.
1) Dress like a local
Let’s deal with this one right from the outset: it rains frequently in this region. And along the coast it can feel decidedly cooler with those Pacific breezes. May is still very much a shoulder season here and you’ll still find snow at the higher altitudes in June. The usual rules apply: dress in layers, bring a lightweight waterproof jacket and, unless you plan on staying in the cities, pack some good quality walking boots.
2) Plan when you visit
Whatever time of year you visit there will be pros and cons. We visited in May when the national parks were quiet, the wildflowers were in bloom, and the waterfalls flowing strongly. The downside was that there was still snow on the ground which prevented us taking on some hikes. Everything will be accessible in July / August but the trade off is those peak crowds. Ultimately, there is no ‘right’ time to visit – just consider what is most important to you and plan accordingly.
3) Pick a mid-range zoom
Everyone knows that I usually advocate primes but I’m going to confess that I found a mid-range zoom to be the most versatile. The wider end is useful for landscapes and street photography but that bit of reach is really helpful for detail shots of plants and compressing perspectives when up in the mountains. I purchased a Fuji XT-2 specifically for this trip and the 18-55mm was the ideal partnership of weight, convenience and image quality (more on this camera in another post).
4) Embrace the challenge and get creative
The colours and ambience of the PNW inspired me to think and shoot more creatively than a lot of other destinations I have visited. It’s not all grandeur and wide vistas – you do have to search for your shots – and the unpredictable weather means you need to be flexible with your plans. Whether it is long-exposure, macro, astrophotography, or creative editing techniques, just go with the flow as it will force you to try new things. Don’t get too hung up on capturing ‘the shot’.
5) Don’t forget your lens hood
Forgive me for possibly one of the most boring tips I will ever give but I learnt the hard way when I forgot mine. You will take a photo in the drizzle here – it’s almost a cast iron guarantee – and it is much, much easier when you have a lens hood protecting your glass from all those pesky droplets. If you don’t have one, be prepared for lots of lens wiping between shots...
6) Work with the conditions
The Pacific Northwest just oozes mood at every turn so don’t be disheartened by a grim forecast. Those grey clouds merely enhance the whole vibe of the place and looking back I can see that some of my favourite photos were taken on overcast days. You will likely encounter layers of low-hanging cloud in the mountains and thick fog along the coast. Embrace the Cascadia gloom and use it to your advantage to create some really unique and atmospheric shots.
Have you visited the Pacific Northwest recently? Have any tips to share? Comment below!