Until last year, Claudia and I had visited the redwood forests of northern California nine years in a row. The pandemic interrupted that streak, but in late May this year we were able to return once again, and spent almost two weeks in the area.
It was great to be back, as I love this part of the world. While Yosemite has been my home, both physically and spiritually, for over 35 years, returning to the redwoods also feels like coming home. It’s a much different environment – damp, cool, foggy, lush, and overgrown – and that’s what I love about it. Many places look like they could be sets from a Jurassic Park movie (which, of course, they were). It’s not hard to imagine dinosaurs roaming this terrain.
The forests hadn’t changed much in our absence. To the redwoods, some of which have been alive for over a thousand years, the pandemic meant nothing. The ferns were in good shape, despite the dry winter. The rhododendrons bloomed late this year, but their bloom is highly variable, so even that seemed normal.
And while rhododendrons are nice, I’ll take fog and no rhododendrons over rhododendrons and no fog any day. And we had lots of fog, plus several occasions where we got to photograph sunlight breaking through the fog.
Photographing such a familiar place is both wonderful and challenging. My intimate knowledge of these locations makes it easier to know where to go in different weather conditions, which is helpful in adapting to the constantly-changing fog that’s so characteristic of this area.
On the other hand, it can be challenging to find new ways to photograph these familiar scenes. I never set out with the intention of doing something “different,” as I think that mindset can lead to making photographs that look forced and artificial. I’d rather just explore the forests, photograph whatever I’m inspired to photograph, and see where that leads. In the redwoods there’s a lot to see, with an infinite number possible subjects and views, so I’m constantly noticing new things, even on trails I’ve walked many times before. And the fog or light at a particular moment can transform an often-viewed scene into a completely new one.
Here’s a small portfolio showing some of my recent images from the redwoods. It was so good to be back, and we’re already thinking about returning later this summer.
— Michael Frye
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.