© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Don’t Forget the Small Details of the Grand Forest

Hiking through the Pacific Northwest, one is in awe at the grandeur of the old growth forests. The monster trees 20-30 feet in diameter and 200 feet tall. The Ones so large, other trees grown on them. They’re so large, when they fall, they take out all the trees around them. The trees that make you feel like you’re on Pandora.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Grace Ward Lithodora on the side of the Mountain Loop Highway east of Granite Falls, Wash.

When I lived in Colorado, I loved shooting the scenery. The endless mountain peaks and ranges, the wildlife, the vastness and isolation.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

The fiddlehead of a Sword Fern begins to unfurl under the canopy of the old growth forest near Mount Pilchuck in the Snoqualmie-Mount Baker National Forest near Granite Falls, Wash.

What I learned was that it wasn’t just the big wide open spaces that made the Colorado Rockies beautiful, but also the imperfections of nature and the tiny life under the huge canopy of the forest.

I noticed this one day as I sat on a boulder after hiking up to American Lake. The way the logs were scattered this way and that along the shore, the trees that were tipped over in the forest, the dying foliage. The imperfections that added to the beauty of nature.

I also began observing the little things which happen on the forest floor. Tiny flowers bloom in a sliver of light, mushrooms sprout in the moss-covered floor, the nurse logs that keep life fresh. The creeks which water the gardens of the undergrowth.

All the little things that our eyes and brain pick up, but what we fail “to see.” The moss growing on the limbs adding to the green, the new fern on the forest floor, the details that actually make the forests beautiful.

Another thing I learned is that shooting landscapes also taught me patience in my photojournalism. Because sometimes, you have to wait to capture the story telling moment. You have to look beyond the obvious and seek out the as sometimes the smallest detail can tell the biggest story.

During yesterday’s hike up to Lake Twentytwo near Mount Pilchuck, I spent some time looking around and began noticing how life finds its niche in the vastness of the forest.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Spore grow out from the side of a rotting log along the trail.

There are the large, old growth trees, the smaller bushes and the moss which hangs from each and every limb. There is also the ferns, the berries, the swamp lanterns, the new fern growing from a rotting stump. All part of the ecosystem that makes up the forest.

The last time I hike this trail several weeks ago ( Hiking to Lake Twentytwo ) I regretted not bringing my 55mm macro. This time around I didn’t forget.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Tiny leaves grow along the trail. As I am no botanist, and cannot identify these from the web, I can only say these line just about every nurse log on the forest floor.

Shooting in macro takes a special skill: patience. Patience to seek subjects, patience to find compositions, patience in setting up your camera, and patience in focusing. Especially focusing.

Because of the macro lens’ inherit shallow depth of field, your focus must be critical. You are not just focusing close, you are focusing as close as several inches from your subject. Even in your aperture is set at f/16, the depth of field is extremely shallow. So you must be very critical when focusing.

Example for my 55mm f/3.5 Nikkor Macro on my D300s.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Three fiddleheads of Western Fern grown from the forest floor.

The depth of field at f/16 for that lens when focused at 6 inches is essentially from 5.9 to 6.2 inches. Really narrow. At 3 inches, the DOF is essentially paper-thin. This is why focus is critical.

And also why it is very important to use a tripod. Due to weight constraints, I did not carry my tripod. What I did was brace my self against whatever I could find to stabilize myself to get a decently sharp image.

What that means is that I laid on the ground and got dirty. Leaned up against the trees, in the mud, contorted myself into weird shapes, but mostly had fun exploring the small side of the forest.

My camera, lens, and settings for these images:

For the high-resolution and accurate color, I used my Nikon D300s with my Micro- Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 manual focus lens attached. The lens was built in the early 7os. Yes, old, but still tack sharp. It’s missing the rubber grip on the focusing ring, but that’s a minor issue.

As I needed some depth of field, albeit very shallow, I set my aperture from f/8 to f/16 and used manual metering.

As it was dark due to the canopy from trees, I metered in camera and underexposed one stop attempting to keep my shutter speed above 1/30th of a second. This helped prevent any motion blur of camera shake.

As I was hiking and concerned about weight, I did not carry a tripod. A lesson learned that I need to buy a lighter, yet sturdy, tripod.

So next time you go for a hike or ride, don’t forget the small stuff that makes the scenery beautiful.

Thank you for stopping by

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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  1. Beautiful images!! I’m astounded that you were able to get such crisp images shooting hand-held at 1/30th. Well done!

    Your photos make me anxious to get up there and shoot. Hope to see you while I’m there.


    1. Thanks Bronson for stopping by.

      Forcing my self to be steady & having a healthy dose of patience helps.

      I would recommend a tripod. Even a smaller light tripod.

      You’ll find a lot of this type of growth when you’re here for your visit.

      Have a great day


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