In rare air

A birds-eye view of the Olympic Peninsula

Come be an eagle.

Come experience the Olympic Peninsula like you’ve never seen it before in a just-released book, “From the Air: Olympic Peninsula,” co-authored by pilot/photographer Dave Woodcock and nature writer/poet/essayist/ TimMcNulty, both of Sequim.

Scores of large format, fine-art photographs fill its 160 pages, each more breathtaking than the last, and McNulty’s “you are there” narratives take readers back 60 million years to the peninsula’s geological formation, then forward to its present topography.

Swoop down to 2,000 feet and glide with Woodcock over frothy waves swirling around sentinel sea stacks, shoreline waters that morph from royal blue to deep turquoise, crystalline mountain lakes among emerald forests.

Soar high above the Olympics to 10,000 feet and survey the boundless vistas of razor-ragged spires, diamond-glinting glaciers and powdered-sugar peaks.

Finds a collaborator

Woodcock began aerial photography 20 years ago. That led to local slide shows as his collection of birds-eye views of the peninsula grew. Inevitably, someone said, “You could do a book,” and a seed was planted in 2007.

“My initial thought was a book from Hood Canal to Forks,” Woodcock said.

“In November 2008, I met with a botanist from Olympic National Park to identify foliage in my photos and he told me I needed to get Tim’s book, ‘Olympic National Park, A Natural History,’ and I read it twice.”

“He gets a special commendation for that,” McNulty laughed.

“Dave told me he was a pilot and photographer and would I be interested in participating? We started talking and I was just knocked out by the lovely composition and beautiful clarity in his photos. ‘Sign me on!’ I said.”

Watershed by watershed

The next step led to many conversations on how to design the book from canal to coast. McNulty realized dividing the peninsula by its watersheds was the way to convey its natural order.

“Watersheds are a way to connect people to where they live,” McNulty said.

“It’s a way to divvy up the peninsula and a great organizing way for the book. I told Dave about places to photograph, so he was shooting intensely to fill out the outline.

“I was personally excited to see photographs of places I knew very well from my personal exploration of 30 years and I also saw the project as an opportunity to share with others its grandeur and help people appreciate the phenomenal beauty of this place.”

The book’s format begins with McNulty’s “The Olympic Peninsula: A Story of the Land,” followed by powerful narratives and dazzling photos on Hood Canal and the

East Olympics; the Rainshadow and Dungeness River; the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Elwha River; the North Olympic Coast and Hoh River; and the South Pacific Coast and Quinault River.

“We had to figure out how to put the project together and we knew we’d have to self-publish,” Woodcock said.

He assembled a team of book designer Magdalena Bassett and editor Kate Reavey, plus Sandy Frankfurth to market the book. This week, Frankfurth is busy delivering some of the 750 hard copies and 4,250 soft copies around the peninsula to bookstores and gift shops.

“I shot thousands of photos. On a typical day, I’d have 1,000 to 1,500 images from a four-hour flight – that’s 20 gigabytes,” Woodcock said.

“I’d have one eye on the camera and one eye on the terrain where I’m going.”

His plane is a 180 hp Aviat Husky A1B, a narrow two-seater specially designed for mountain flying.

To identify panoramas and landmarks, Woodcock’s D3 Nikon is hooked to an external GPS unit pinpointing

the latitude and longitude. Once the images are downloaded, topographic software locates and identifys landmarks.

For stability during shooting the camera is mounted on a handheld gyro stabilizer. The entire setup weighs about 10 pounds.

Once the side window is open and secured, Woodcock sets the planes flaps and trim for slow flight. With an airspeed of 60-70 mph, he controls the rudders with his feet to yaw the plane right or left composing his shots. Shooting three to five frames per second, an average flight will yield up to 1,500 images of RAW files.

High winds, rough rides

Tight turns and turbulence challenged him and his aircraft.

“You have to have total trust in your machine,” he said.

“For example, I shot the cover photo right after a storm with hurricane-force winds, which left the south side of Mount Olympus covered in snow and ice.”

What did each man hope to gain from his own contribution to the book?

“I felt it would be a nice thing for my two kids and grandkids to have and pass through the family as a legacy,” Woodcock said, “but more importantly it catches a point of history.

“The book shows the coast, mountains, glaciers and areas of property development as it is in 2010. It will be interesting to compare these photos in 50 years. It also gives people a look at the area from a viewpoint that they probably never have experienced and shows parts of the peninsula they would have never seen. I wanted to share that.”

To McNulty, it’s personal as well:

“With all my writing I try to foster descriptions so people will appreciate this magnificent land we live in and foster a willingness by everybody in protecting this place.”