Redwood, maple, firs, and sunbeams, northern California, USA

Redwood, maple, firs, and sunbeams, northern California

We had a long, lingering autumn here on the west coast – especially in the Pacific Northwest. On our way up to Oregon in early November, Claudia and I stopped in some redwood groves to check on the fall color. And we found lots of it. It seemed like a good year for color throughout the Northwest, including the far northern corner of California where the biggest redwoods grow. Underneath the redwood canopy, vine maples and big-leaf maples – the same species found on the Olympic Peninsula, and throughout much of Oregon and Washington – can add splashes of color to the forest.

I had long wanted to photograph fall color in the redwoods, but it’s difficult to find the right conditions, especially since the best groves are a nine-hour drive from home. Some years the big-leaf maples just turn brown. And even if they do turn yellow the timing is highly variable. So we felt very lucky to find some good color this year.

Of course forests are challenging to photograph. They often look like a cluttered mess, and it can be difficult to find order amongst that chaos. So I looked for ways to give my compositions structure, and create some order out of that chaos. That meant, as I talked about in one of my posts about the Olympic forests, looking for patterns and focal points. Patterns help give the image order, cohesion, and rhythm. And I think nearly every image needs a visual focal point – one prominent spot for the viewer’s eye to latch onto first. Those elements are helpful with any composition, but especially important when trying to give complex scenes some organization and structure.

In the redwoods, the repeating vertical lines of tree trunks often created patterns. For focal points, I looked for a splash of color, or a prominent trunk, or really anything that caught my eye.

We only had one afternoon and one morning in the redwoods, as we had to get up to Oregon to scout for our workshop. But we had great conditions, with fall color, soft light, and even a little fog. It was great to scratch that long-standing itch to photograph the redwoods in autumn.

— Michael Frye

Redwoods and vine maples, northern California, USA

Redwoods and vine maples, northern California

Maple, redwood, and backlit lichen, northern California, USA

Maple, redwood, and backlit lichen, northern California

Big-leaf maple, northern California, USA

Big-leaf maple, northern California

Creek with vine maples and big-leaf maples, northern California, USA

Creek with vine maples and big-leaf maples, northern California

Redwoods and vine maples in fog, northern California, USA

Redwoods and vine maples in fog, northern California

Backlit redwoods and firs, northern California, USA

Backlit redwoods and firs, northern California

Related Posts: Olympic Autumn: Part One; Motion and Mood Along the Oregon Coast

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.