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Why Washington State Is An Excellent Photography Destination

Washington state is my home. So I am biased. I have done probably 80% of my photography in this state. Photographs of the towering mountains, of the spectacular sunsets, of the traffic. So it is with a bit of pride I want to invite you to venture to the Evergreen State for some excellent photography opportunities.


Washington has not one but two mountain ranges; the Cascade range running the length of the state from North to South and the Olympic Mountains which stand isolated on the Olympic Peninsula. The situation of Seattle in between these two ranges gives it a likely spot to start and mountain photo quest. From here, hiking trails to 360 degree views amongst the peaks are only 45 minutes from the city.

While a number of the peaks are volcanic, they each have individual character. Mt.Rainier demands its own National Park and has gorgeous views from all angles with easy drive up locations. Mt. St. Helens, the one which blew its top in 1980, is your only chance to see a recently erupted volcano crater’s rebirth in the USA. Just before arriving in Canada is the North Cascades National Park, with no entrance fee and hundreds of mile of backcountry trails through sharp peak and a plethora of glaciers. Washington state also boasts to having the most photographed mountain in the world; Mt. Shuksan, pictured below (a certainly disputed claim, so let’s just say it’s one of the top three).

Image: Copyright Frank Kovalchek

Copyright Frank Kovalchek


Oh yes, rivers. The Cascade Mountains are named as such because of the vast amounts of water pouring down from the snow capped peaks, especially in the Spring and early Summer. Skykomish, Green, Elwha, Snoqualmie, just to name a few. Entire books are written on the named and unnamed waterfalls ripe for your shooting pleasure.

Image: Copyright pfly

Copyright pfly

Puget Sound

Whales, ferry boats, a mountainous backdrop. Puget Sound itself is not only a lifeline in the region but a great essay in itself. A multitude of beaches string from the state’s capital in Olympia north to the border with Canada and then extending out through the Straight of Juan de Fuca to the open Pacific Ocean. The Puget Sound is a true multiuse waterway with heavy cargo frieghters passing by luxury yaghts and sailboats flushing from the many marinas on the Summer weekends. Under the waves, if you fancy some diving photography, you will not be disappointed by the abundant and varied wildlife waiting in the Sound’s depths.

Image: Copyright pfly

Copyright pfly


While battles over development vs habitat conservation continue long past Washington’s famous Spotted Owl years, Washington is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Orcas, octopus, bald eagles, osprey, herons, black bears, grizzly bears, elk, mountain goats and even chipmunks! Sitting at the southern terminus for a number of migrating birds and a favorite northern stopping off point for a number of whale and orca pods, Washington offers birders and wildlife photographers ample opportunity to bring home some fantastic shots.

Image: Copyright skedonk

Copyright skedonk

Big City, Classic Shots

Seattle was built right on the waters of Puget Sound and in some cases, over it, as fill dirt was hauled up from as far away as San Francisco. The gorgeous waterfront setting, with an advantageous viewpoint from across Elliot Bay at Alki beach or on an approaching ferry boat, gives the city a classic cityscape set against the Cascade mountains. Zeroing in to city life, Pike Place Market is not only a tourist attraction, but a vibrant, colorful working market and a chance to get a feel for the city. Shopping districts, active nightlife, Art Walks and more give ample chances to capture the big city feel.

Image: Copyright Bala

Copyright Bala

The Dry Side

Washington is not all wet. Once over the Cascade Crest, heading East, the state dries out and opens to a variety of agricultural and recreational uses. Famous for its apples, Washington has long established itself as a quality wine producing region. The fields in the Yakima Valley provide not only a nice diversion from the bustle of western Washington, but a good study in leading lines, focal point with a good way to relax after a day of shooting.

Image: Copyright Lynn Suckow

Copyright Lynn Suckow

Distinct Seasons

One common thread binding humanity together is our almost universal obsession about the weather. In Washington state, the weather tends to have distinct seasons, although you might not hear that coming from various residents. It is gloomy and gray during the winter, with occasional shows in the lowlands (with world record setting snowfall in the Cascades). Yet it doesn’t last forever. Spring does come and with it the floor of the Skagit Valley, about an hour north of Seattle, bursts into a glorious profusion of yellows, reds and whites as tulips and other flowers come to life.

The flanks of Mt. Rainier as best shot during the Spring and into early summer as wildflowers shake off the cold. Summer itself can be a gamble. Some years it starts in June and other times it will last to mid September. On average, there are two very pleasant months with a bit of chill on either side. Still, July sees only approximately .75” of rainfall across the entire state and days with nearly 16 hours of light to shoot in, not including pre-dawn and dusk.

Autumn is stormy and a great chance to catch lightening storms. Autumn colors aren’t as profuse as the hills of the East Coast, I will admit, but leaving the city behind and heading to the mountains will reveal a quality display. When winter finally sets in, the snow draped mountains and forests offer endless wandering and photo opportunities for those with a warm jacket and a sense of adventure.

Image: Copyright Wonderlane Wonderlane

Copyright Wonderlane Wonderlane

Image: Copyright Dene' Miles

Copyright Dene' Miles

Image: Frank Kovalchek

Frank Kovalchek

Image: Copyright Minette Layne

Copyright Minette Layne

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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