Dark Places

Recently a friend said she appreciated that I “allowed the dark places to stay dark” in a photograph of rocks and sand. That comment struck a chord; I had been thinking about inviting more darkness into my photography.

The urge to photograph a particular thing or place erupts from a myriad of sources, some of which are unknown to me. But one reason I make photographs is to share a place, a moment, a detail or an impression with others.

One way of conceptualizing the process of photography, for me anyway, is that I am making maps of my world as I photograph it. Here is the tree, here, the rough bark, over there, the repeating pattern of a fern and there, its reflection or shadow.  A curve, a shade of green, a shape, a texture….I notice the details as well as the whole scene, and I want to share it all. I want to faithfully record all the bits of data, the way a map does.


1. Photograph as map. Little is left to the imagination; you won’t get lost here.

Maps present the facts in an evenhanded way, shedding enough light across the surface so that every important detail can be read. I’ve always loved maps and in photography I often gravitate towards brightness, preferring well-illuminated images.

But what about the dark places, what about the shadows? Especially in winter with its clouds, low sun and short days, darkness comes into the foreground. Why fight it? In this data-heavy world maybe it makes sense to allow more darkness to manifest, if only to balance the plethora of visual information.

Dark places don’t appear on maps, not anymore. But like the blank places on old maps that elicited so many questions, darkness can play an important role in photographs. So I’m acquiescing to darkness, trying to refrain from lifting out the shadows. Here’s a group of photos that invites darkness in.


2. On a late October afternoon lingering rays of sunlight illuminate a clump of ferns at the edge of an algae-coated wetland. The deep blue areas are reflections of a bright, clear autumn sky.


3. Same day, same location.


4. After a gentle snowfall the pale coating on logs and leaves does little to lighten a dark corner of the lake.


5. Freezing rain left an assortment of water droplets and ice pellets on the slender twigs of a Snowberry bush (Symphoricarpos albus).


6. Rain begins to fall on a lake at dusk. The sun has set, and what little is left of the light is mesmerizing. It’s getting really cold but….just a few more photos. You know how it is.


7. After sunset on a mid-winter day, all is dark except for a bog in the middle of the lake.


8. Deep shadows fall across a wetland in a forest, on an October afternoon.


9. The Yellow pond lily leaves are curling up and turning brown, but the Douglas fir trees won’t give up their color. The lake must have risen long ago and killed the trees. They still stand tall.


10. A late summer view of the same lake.


11. Another day, a different angle, in black and white.


I’m going to try to keep the importance of darkness in mind. Of course I would never abandon the light. Below there are more photos from the same location, which is a shallow lake surrounded by forest, called Little Cranberry Lake. The photographs represent eight different walks around the lake, between August 2018 and February 2019. I’ve come to love the trails in this preserve. Walking the trails in sunny and overcast weather, in the rain or just after a snowfall, there’s always something new to see.


12. The same photograph as #11, processed differently.



13. Trails at Little Cranberry Lake are rocky and full of roots.


14. A favorite spot on one trail by the lake cuts underneath a vertical cliff where Redcedar trees enjoy the constant moisture.



15. Reflections in the lake in late November, when the grasses were fading.



16. On the same day, a light rain began to fall. The water was absolutely still.



17. In a third photo of reflections made the same day, a moss-covered log supports an array of  plants.


18. A glorious September sky is reflected near the edge of the lake.



19. This isn’t spring green – the photograph was made in the middle of January. The edges of this shallow lake provide no end of reflections to study.



20. Here are the same greens, on land now, also in January.



21. Bracken fern decays beautifully, turning various shades of yellow, gold, orange and brown. This is from a September walk.


22. A pair of mushrooms rises between the dead fronds of a Sword fern. There’s plenty of moisture in this bed of moss.


23. I hope this is a slick of algae or bacteria on the wetland, not oil.


24. Light, wet snow on lichens makes a kind of miniature winter wonderland.


25. A honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) plant and a Snowberry bush seem to shiver in the fresh snow.


26. An infrared treatment in black and white gives the impression of snow. The photo was taken in February but on this day no snow fell.


Little Cranberry Lake is part of a collection of about 2800 acres of protected forest land on Fidalgo Island. Purchased in 1919 by a local power company, the forest was logged by the company for income for 60 or 70 years. In the late 1980’s local residents began to document how the practice of clearcutting was destroying the forest. A Friends of the Forest group coalesced and made their voices heard, along with residents who wanted trails, not logging in the island’s forests. Clearcutting ended in 1989, and now the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) are permanently preserved and managed for recreational use.


Low Tide

I hadn’t planned to go to the beach; I didn’t know the tide was going out. I thought I might walk along a trail in Deception Pass State Park that wanders through the forest and along the shoreline. With the sun hanging low in the southwest, North Beach was looking chilly though, no sun there! I parked and considered my options. Steps away from the car, there’s a point of land where sunny West beach swings around a corner and takes a different name: North Beach. I hadn’t explored West Point (imaginative names!) because I’d been there at higher tides, when the water was high up on the rocks. Now as I looked down, the receding water revealed a wealth of complex shapes where the rugged promontory is wearing away bit by bit, as water works its infinitely patient way through rock.

Little sand-filled coves were strewn with smooth round stones, as green as moss, as orange as the sunset, as white as snow and as pretty as could be. Crags of ink-black rocks streaked with white rose from the water in a multitude of crenelated shapes. Smooth gray rocks were covered with softly delineated streaks from evaporating water that lingered in the crevices.

I scrambled down and picked my way through the intricate contours of rock and sand, waiting when necessary for an outgoing wave to jump across narrow rivulets. In one sheltered cove, the logs which had floated up on high tides and jammed behind the rocks were still white with frost on this sunny afternoon. I felt a dank chill there and the air smelled sharp with minerals. Off shore, two seals relaxed and let the swift tide carry them out of the pass. Hundreds of sea birds, too far out to identify, churned the air, their feet clapping the water as they struggled to take off.  An eagle flew low over the water’s surface, weighed down by a big catch, probably a sea duck. A second eagle followed close behind, then they vanished behind a forest-topped island.

What could be better than losing myself in this wonderland?




































As the sun began to set, people gravitated to West Beach to watch, cell phones in hand. Thirty miles to the southwest the Olympic Mountains were silhouetted against a nacreous sky like a strip of torn construction paper. Gulls stood solemnly on rocks warmed with orange sunlight, and the glassy water barely shimmered as the current quieted. Low tide, sunset.






One last picture, with the phone…






Your photographer



A google earth image of this location which appears to have been taken in summer during a very low tide is here.  Zoom in and you’ll see these rocks and the log-jammed cove, where someone may be sitting under a blue umbrella. The coordinates are N48.39  W122.66.

If anyone can tell me what the rocks I photographed are, I’d love to know.

And the colored sand, (#7 & #8) why is it arranged in those patterns, and what about those fine lines? Could it be that these are different kinds of finely crushed rocks with different magnetic charges, and when the waves wash the particles up, they fall into place relative to each another, something like iron filings around a magnet? That was the guess of one smart person I know. Or are some rock particles heavier, so they remain on the shore sooner or later than others do? There’s so much we don’t know.