How to Take the Ultimate Mount Rainier Photo

How pros photograph the mountain—angles, locations, time of day, and more.

With Bruce Barcott, Craig Romano, and Charlotte Austin By Allison Williams July 19, 2012 Published in the August 2012 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Jeff Marsh

The Early Bird Gets the Sho
“It just becomes a big white mass” when you shoot Mount Rainier midday, says photographer Nathan Hardebeck, who manages a photo gallery Packwood, just off the park’s southeastern corner. Mountain guide–turned–photography teacher Adam Angel doesn’t risk missing what he calls “magic” light, just before sunrise: He stakes out his favorite sites at Reflection Lakes near Paradise when it’s still dark, led only by a headlamp. He’s ready for the first signs of sunrise: “I’m shooting, shooting, shooting, and then the cars all come screaming into the parking lot, everyone jumps out…but the show’s over.” If you do arrive late, circle around to Sunrise for late-in-the-day light.

Sweat a Little 
To get unique, blockbuster shots of wildflowers, shutterbug Douglas Dietiker heads up the Mazama Ridge Trail east of Paradise. “I go up with about 25 pounds of equipment,” he says. “It’s usually better to get off the beaten path and go hiking around.” Another lung-busting photo op is outside the park at High Rock, where a fire lookout from 1929 sits above a 600-foot cliff and stares straight into the face of Rainier. The two-mile trail starts just outside Ashford. 

Embrace the Weather (As If You Have a Choice) 
Ideally you want to capture Mount Rainier when it’s “out” and not obscured by its cloud cap. But don’t sweat the cirrus: “When you have a lot of cloud cover on top, it creates a dramatic effect,” says Hardebeck. “It’s tricky, but it’s also the trickiness that makes it neat.” Try using a polarizer, a filter that fits over the camera lens, to reduce pesky light reflections off those clouds.

Take a Big Step Back 
Wide-angle lenses can capture the whole mountain from inside the National Park, but for the classic, full-skirt Rainier—picture the sketch on your license plate—you don’t need to pay admission. Bring your biggest lens to side roads off Highways 410 and 12; pros explore logging roads in the area, albeit with great caution and, even better, four-wheel drive. The southeast, particularly Eatonville, produces the familiar angle used on much of the park-produced materials. But that brings us to:

Shoot Now, Not Later 
Hardebeck manages Packwood’s Hancock Gallery and Cafe, and he can point to one of the gallery’s classic mountain shots that has effectively gone extinct. The photographer once framed his subject with tall trees and a rustic barn near Eatonville, but now that sightline is flanked by suburban subdivisions. “On the western side, it’s being built up,” says Hardebeck. “It’s just harder and harder to find an unobstructed shot of Rainier.”

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