Redwoods, Fog, and Serendipity

Sunbeams through the redwood canopy, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Sunbeams through the redwood canopy, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Weather always plays a big role in landscape photography. I study the weather so that I can put myself – and my workshop students – in the right place at the right time. But a little luck always helps.

During my recent workshops up in the redwood country we found some wonderful juxtapositions of fog and sunlight. One morning, during the second week, we pulled up to a trailhead and everyone immediately got out their cameras because we saw beautiful godbeams right from the parking area. But, as it turns out, we didn’t need to rush. Usually these sun-breaking-through fog moments are fleeting, but it turns out that we were right at the top of a relatively stable fog bank, so the mixture of sun and fog lasted for hours along parts of the trail. The photograph above is just one of many sunbeam photographs I made that morning, and everyone in the group came away with some great images from that day.

The week before, we were driving toward Trinidad to photograph sea stacks along the shore, but when we passed a meadow enveloped in fog I took a detour, because I thought there was a good chance that we’d be able to photograph the sun breaking through the fog. As the fog burned off we were able to position the sun behind a row of redwoods at the edge of the meadow, and photograph the sunbeams shooting out and up above the trees. The photograph below is one example.

Planning is vital in photography, but so is flexibility. We can’t control the weather, but we can adapt ourselves to it, and sometimes that means deviating from your plan. Serendipity can be a photographer’s best friend.

I bet most of you have experienced one of those serendipitous photography moments, so please feel free to share stories and links in the comments!

— Michael Frye

Sun rising through fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Sun rising through fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Related Posts: Back From the Redwoods, and the Lightroom 5 Release; In Redwood Country

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBooks Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, and Exposure for Outdoor Photography. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

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21 Responses to “Redwoods, Fog, and Serendipity”

  1. Eric says:

    Great photos! Your work always inspires me to get out and take more pictures.

    I had a moment like that last winter. It had been raining and overcast all day. It was a Friday and I just felt like getting out and shooting, so in the later afternoon when the rain let up, I headed out, planning to do some long exposure black and whites. The sky was just too flat and gray for color photos.

    As I got to the beach, some golden sunlight started filtering through the clouds. I ran down the beach like a madman as the most beautiful sunset materialized. I swear I heard angels singing as I clicked my shutter, and created one of my most powerful landscape images to date.

  2. Mike says:

    I was on my way from work to pick my daughter up at the high school. I was at work late because of a storm and I was needed to help restart the inspection equipment. Anyway, I had just enough time to make it to the school when I passed a field illuminated by a break in the clouds with the storm still in the background… my daughter would understand if I was a few minutes late. I turned the car around, pulled into a lot and captured a few images. This is my favorite:

  3. Michael,

    Another beautiful image, someday I will join you for your Redwoods class.

    If you follow my link to my website, you will see an image that I captured early one morning on Pfeiffer’s Beach, in Big Sur.

    I had been shooting waves coming through iconic rock formations common to Pfeiffer’s Beach. I was getting ready to head back for breakfast, when I looked up, and saw the most beautiful light traveling through some Cypress trees.

    Can’t remember all of the details, maybe card full, battery done, but I had to run back to my car, run back to the spot; and quickly grab the image that you will see on my blog.

    I did everything so fast , left all the car doors open, but was rewarded with a good memory, and a nice image.


    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks for the story Bruce. Beautiful light in your photo! Is it just me, or is it a little distorted? It seems sort of flattened at the top. But beautiful just the same.



    Here is the blog address for the Big Sur image for all to enjoy.


  5. Vivienne says:

    Hi Michael,

    Gorgeous sunbeams!

    There are a few forest preserves along my drive to work that I often like to stop at in the mornings. In the autumn, I’m usually checking for conditions conducive to fog and mist – less so in the spring. This past spring, as I was getting ready for work, I noticed dense fog outside that hadn’t been forecast. I quickly got my gear together and stopped at the forest preserve. The trees were pretty well leafed in, so I wasn’t expecting much fog to penetrate through, but there were enough gaps in one area to allow in the fog. It was raining lightly, and I had left my lens cloth behind. Luckily, my favorite shot had no raindrops on the lens. Also fortunate for me, I got back to my car before the rain hosed down on me.

    • Michael Frye says:

      Lovely image Vivienne, and thanks for sharing the story! Rain and fog sometimes go together, and if you can keep your camera dry and lens free of water drops there are some good opportunities there.

  6. vincent heying says:

    I have spent some time in New Mexico. More specifically in Georgia O’Keefe country 65 miles north of Santa Fe.

    Under a clear blue sky, the area lacks photographic interest. The passing thunderstorm creates interesting scenes.

    As you can see from the attached photo – without the storm clouds, the scene would be very dull.

    As a result my partner maintains the only good pictures I have are photos of clouds.

    (Unfortunately, this is my first web upload. The colors have really washed out in this example.)

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks for sharing the link Vincent. Clouds are one of those magic ingredients, and makes your photograph work is the contrast between the sunlit mesas and dark clouds behind. The colors don’t look washed out to me, but of course I haven’t seen any other versions. For online viewing it helps to preserve colors if you convert JPEGs to sRGB.

  7. John Szarkowski said that weather was Ansel’s main subject. Serendipity and faith in it was my father, Philip Hyde’s primary tool and mine too.

    • Michael Frye says:

      I think John had a point about Ansel, though to me it was not just weather, but a combination of weather and landforms. And if you have faith in serendipity you’ll be rewarded — eventually!

  8. This is a very nice shot. Didn’t know you blogged, you do it about as much as the twitter thing, not much! Haha, well it’s a very nice shot in the big trees.

  9. Phenomenal shots! Those crepuscular rays can be hard things to capture!

  10. [...] of Special Light and Weather in Landscape Photography; Storms at Last! Six Images From Tunnel View; Redwoods, Fog, and Serendipity; Embracing [...]

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