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
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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.
Beautiful work, Michael!
Thanks so much Bill!
I certainly appreciate your comment of returning to the same location & seeing in what occurs rather than forcing yourself to find something “new”. I’ve lived in this house for around 15 years and have frequently photoed the same sunset view from time to time during that time. More clearly, I walked about 12′ across the rail of my deck perhaps 15′ from my door. That’s my range. I just posted a group of images on Flickr’ from the last 3 weeks. I thought the variations in the image pairs were interesting.
Thanks Bruce. I like your series, and I think projects like that can be really interesting. Have you ever seen Richard Misrach’s book Golden Gate? It’s long out of print, but you might be able to find a used copy. For three years he photographed the exact same view, with the exact same composition, of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from his deck in the Oakland Hills. The variety of those images is amazing – created only by opening the shutter at different times with different light.
The simplicity of light in the woods is amazing. Beautiful images. Truly enjoy your work.
Thanks so much Mike!
You have created beautiful work as always.
I just made my first trip to Redwood NP and SPs. We arrived on May 21 and photographed through May 24 before moving on to the Oregon coast. I only found a few in the north near Jedediah Smith State Park and south of Crescent City on 101. And we had very little fog until our last day.
Were you there in that time period? I ask because I want to return to try once more for the magical trifecta of redwoods, fog, and rhododendron. Should I target closer to the end of May next time to give myself the best chance of capturing the three together? I know there’s no guarantee but I want to try once more to maximize my odds since I wi be traveling from the East Coast when I try again.
Thanks for any advice you can give. And thanks for consistently producing such beautiful images.
A few rhododendron that is!
You outdid yourself again. Great new artistic creations. I see these making the Top 10 easily!
Thanks very much Karl!
Thanks Rick. As I said, the rhododendrons were late this year, but they’re highly variable in both the abundance and timing of the bloom. Go now if you can. Next year, who knows? They can bloom anywhere from mid May to late June.
To anyone who’s been with you in the redwoods, these images evoke an overwhelming longing to be there.
Glad they evoke that Bonnie – you should go!
Stunning images Michael! The Fogbow is INCREDIBLE! Wish I could visit there….but living on the East Coast presents challenges!!! I definitely want to take a workshop with you there! for THAT I would travel cross country!! Thanks for these beautiful images!
Thanks so much Claire! That was a pretty special fogbow.
Thank you Kouros!
Ridiculously good. Beautiful trees, sun rays and fog.
Hey, why not a rainbow?! What the hell, maybe I’ll throw in an owl while I’m at it…
Sorry just a little jealous.
Ha! One of my workshop students once asserted (half-jokingly) that the whole point of photography was to make your friends jealous. When you photograph that elusive unicorn it’ll be my turn to be jealous.
Incredible and inspiring images as always! I am planning to head there in a week for a few days but I am a bit overwhelmed with all the different locations I’ve researched as I’ve never been. Which parks or areas should I target first? Do I need an off-road vehicle? Thank you!
Thanks Michael! You don’t need an off-road vehicle. For redwoods I’d concentrate on Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek state parks, and maybe the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood NP.