Sea stacks at dusk, Redwood NP. After the sun had set we saw this little strip of orange light near the horizon through a gap in the clouds. I used a 10-stop neutral-density filter to lengthen the shutter speed to 30 seconds (at f/8, 200 ISO; focal length 111mm) in order to smooth out the water.
We recently returned from our annual trip to the northwest corner of California, land of fog, ferns, giant redwoods, and wild, rugged stretches of coastline. I always love going back to this area with its damp, primeval moodiness. And once again we had a great time during our workshop, enjoying the wonderful food and atmosphere at the Requa Inn, and spending time with a fun group of participants.
As usual, the weather did its best to be completely unpredictable. Fog rolled in and out almost at random. We had sun, and overcast, and everything in between. We found some great fog in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove on the first morning of our workshop, and later caught some fleeting fog in Del Norte State Park. And the rhododendron bloom was better-than-average, at least in Del Norte. The rhododendrons are highly variable, both in the quantity and timing of the bloom. I’ve been visiting this area every year since 2012 around the end of May and beginning of June, and I’ve seen one or two years better than this one, but also some years where the blossoms were rather scarce. In any case we found some nice juxtapositions of redwoods and rhododendrons, and that’s all you can ask for.
Here are some photos I made under the varied weather conditions during our workshop, along with extended captions to explain how the photos were made. We had some nice fog before the workshop too, and I’ll post some of those images at some point also. I can’t wait to go back!
— Michael Frye
Trail through the redwoods, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood NP. This trail through a ferny glade in the fog seemed to be made for a photograph, but the composition was challenging. Some branches prevented me from moving further to the right, but I pushed the tripod as far to the right as I could to get some separation between the two large trunks toward the right side of the frame. I nearly always use a polarizing filter in forests like this to cut shiny reflections on leaves – especially when the leaves are wet, as they were here. (32mm, 2 seconds at f/16, 100 ISO.)
Redwoods, douglas firs, and rhododendrons in fog, Redwood NP. We found better redwood-and-rhododendron juxtapositions along the road near the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, rather than in the grove itself. I positioned the camera carefully to get good spacing and separation between the five main tree trunks here. Again, I used a polarizing filter to cut the reflections on the wet leaves. (97mm, 8 seconds at f/16, 100 ISO.)
Sea stacks and waves, Redwood NP. I liked the pastel colors created by sunlight filtering through late-afternoon clouds. I used a long lens (200mm) to zoom in on these two rocks, and a 10-stop ND filter to lengthen the shutter speed to 4 seconds (at f/11, 200 ISO). That was slow enough to smooth out the water, but fast enough to preserve some of the shape of the waves. I made over a dozen frames with the exact same composition and settings to try to capture one frame with a nice wave pattern.
Clouds and sea stacks, Crescent City, California. This might look like sunset, but was actually made about 45 minutes before sunset, as sunlight poured through a distant gap in the clouds, hit the water, and bounced up to light the underside of the clouds closer to shore. Once again I used a 10-stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed (to 15 seconds at f/16, 50 ISO) and smooth out the water. With this jumble of rocks and sea stacks it was impossible to avoid cutting at least one rock in half on either the left or right side of the frame, so I deliberately chopped rocks in half on both sides of the photo to keep things in balance. I paid close attention to the triangular rock on the left edge, and its mirror in the lower-right corner.
Cascade and ferns, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, California. It’s hard to find interesting, photogenic cascades in the redwood forest, but I loved this little fall, surrounded by ferns. (50mm, 0.7 seconds at f/16, 400 ISO. Focus-stacked.)
Trail through the redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, California. It can be difficult to photograph a forest scene with splotchy sunlight like this, but there was enough late-afternoon sunlight flooding into this west-facing hillside to make it worth trying. To balance the contrast I bracketed five frames, two stops apart, and blended the exposures with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. (19mm, f/11, 100 ISO, shutter speeds from 1/125 sec. to 2 seconds.)
Rhododendrons over a trail through a redwood forest, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, California. On this morning we found fog early, then it dissipated, and then it returned just as we were getting ready to leave. So we ignored our empty stomachs and put breakfast off long enough to make a few more photographs of the foggy forest and rhododendrons. (70mm, 1/5 seconds at f/16, 100 ISO, polarizer.)
Redwoods and rhododendrons, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, California. Walking along a trail I noticed this rhododendron poking out from between massive redwood trunks. I tried to fill most of the frame with just trunks, ferns, and the rhododendron. (1/4 second at f/16, 800 ISO, 70mm, polarizer.)
Related Posts: Arranging Sea Stacks; Planning for Flexibility; A Magical Morning in the Redwoods
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael 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.