One of my favorite locations I visited in Namibia was the Damaraland region. I was staying at the Mowani Mountain Resort – a collection of beautifully architected bungalows settled in among giant boulders. Each structure was connected by a series of footpaths, and situated so that each room felt completely isolated. I felt as though I had the entire landscape to myself.
Luckily there was an interesting cloud bank to the west, blocking the sun and allowing its light to radiate into strong beams. The only element missing was a herd of desert-adapted elephants roaming the desert floor.
I had two camera bodies with me for the shoot, one mounted to a tripod with a medium zoom (24-70mm) and the other with a telephoto zoom (100-400mm) which I was hand holding. This way I could capture the larger scene with the tripod, and still shoot the sun’s transition through the western clouds as a dominant subject with the telephoto. The photo above was taken at 170mm, emphasizing the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds.
After the sun had set, the landscape radiated a deep blue, beckoning me to keep firing the shutter. This is a crop of a much wider panorama. Sometimes these photographs that appear more muted lend themselves to large wall hangings. Some day I may do just that.
As usual for a sunset landscape session, the action was over too quickly. Soon it was time to pack up the gear, have a quick sleep and prepare for an early safari the next morning.
A couple of weeks ago I made a trip north to shoot old growth redwoods during the spring rhododendron bloom. It was my first time to the area and was quite an experience. First of all, I found the landscape quite challenging. Once I entered a redwood forest, it was a sensory overload, with subjects to shoot everywhere. The forest was so busy with life that it became difficult to distill each shot down to an individual subject. I could shoot everything from a super wide angle with trees converging into the fog, to macro detail shots of leaves, moss and flowers.
I visited several old growth forests in the vicinity of Redwoods National Park. However, I never visited the park itself, as the oldest forest is preserved in several state parks in the area. These California state parks contain the first trees to be saved from the lumber mills, with the national park encompassing whatever land was left unprotected decades later.
This time of year is very popular for photographers because of the massive rhododendron bloom throughout these forests. The best way to capture the flowering bushes against the giant redwood trunks is to wait for thick fog to permeate the forest, which luckily happens quite often this time of year.
Fog does two things – first, it evens out the lighting in the forest by diffusing sunlight. This prevents the harsh contrast sometimes seen in thick forests when thousands of small light beams spotlight the vegetation. Cameras can’t capture this kind of contrast, and the fog cuts it out completely. Secondly, fog fills in behind the closest trees and greatly simplifies the scene. Instead of seeing a dense forest and all its detail behind the closest redwoods and rhododendrons, you instead see a misty fog. The viewer’s eye can stay focused on the main subject matter.
In addition to capturing my main target, the forest provided opportunities for macro shots as well. Walking along the trails, I always kept an eye out for interesting patterns formed naturally. I found the large green leaves of false lily-of-the-valley intertwined and zoomed in to pick out a pattern among the leaves.
Naturally, there were also other interesting subjects, such as this fungus growing on a decaying tree branch.
The last morning I was in town, I was greeted by a light steady rain. Normally this kind of weather would see me rising, checking the window, and then jumping back into bed. However the rain also came with more fog, which actually created ideal conditions for more forest photography. Not necessarily the best conditions for me, but with my camera well protected with its own rain gear, the resulting photos came out just fine.
The forest offered more than just lush green vegetation and enormous trees. Some of the older trees had large gashes and burns which lent to more graphical than subjective photographs. Here the negative space formed by the dark burn marks frames and offsets the light window to a distant tree.
Once the fog cleared, there were moments of magical, ethereal sunlight filtering through the canopy. I loved finding backlit ferns juxtaposed against a much darker wall of redwood. The photo below contains a bonus element of a double swoop of sorrel framing the bottom of the photo.
It was a brief, challenging weekend. I’m not sure if I quite hit my stride in the redwood forest, which is usually an indicator that another visit is in order in the near future. There were difficult shooting conditions with the rain, and the sheer complexity of the forest had me scratching my head more than once. It is times like those that I have to take my hands away from the camera and just sit with the surroundings, listening. More often than not, it will tell me where to point my lens next.
As I said in an earlier post, the trees were the real stars of the show on my recent trip to Grand Teton National Park. Fall colors were bursting from every leaf, and the mixture of coniferous and deciduous gave the changing leaves a nice backdrop from which to pop.
Composing coherent tree photos is not easy. It is the epitome of finding patterns in chaos. In some cases I was able to juxtapose the shapes and colors of tall, white, narrow trunks with the round colorful leaf canopy as seen in the photo below. Given that I wanted to stack the trunks against one another to create a continuous pattern of lines, I shot this one from a distance with a telephoto lens.
There are other occasions where I want to be closer to the trees, and seek patterns just in the trunks. In the following photo I was inside an aspen forest, and really liked the character of the boulder that these trees were growing around. But the real thrust of this photo is again a linear pattern created by the trunks.
This photo took quite a while to compose, as I wanted to avoid conjoining trunks in order to maintain that clean linear pattern throughout the photo. As you can see in the background, the distant trunks were carefully placed in between the tree in the foreground, so as to avoid any overlapping.
Weather played a part in my tree photographs, as it did with the grand landscapes as well. After a storm passed through, I had a nice rainbow to play with for over an hour. Moving up and down a riverbed, I found this stand of trees that I could compose the rainbow behind. I was careful to run the rainbow up into the right corner of the photo, to create a strong corner.
Of course there were those foggy mornings as well. When I took this photo, I was up above the Snake River, and watched for a while as the changing fog moved like a living thing among the trees and distant hills. Landscape features were hidden, revealed, and back again, as if controlled by a grand magician working his craft.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorites – Aspen Embrace. There were many things I loved about these two photogenic trees. Not only does the aspen look like it is hugging the lone fir, welcoming it into its grove, but texturally, I love the stark, solid fir needles against the ethereal aspen leaves. Here the composition was straight forward – I only cropped it to a more traditional 4×5 aspect ratio as I felt the subjects’ spacing worked better with that framing. (Careful observers will note that this fir tree also makes an appearance in the first photo above.)
Even though the nearby forest fires cause some smoke issues on the first few days of my trip, the timing of the fall colors couldn’t have been better. I’d love to spend more time in this part of the country next fall – there were definitely a lot of great opportunities there.
This photo was taken in Corbett, Oregon, from the backyard of some good friends. They live high on a cliff overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge. This panorama was taken at sunset looking west toward Portland.
I grew up in Corbett, and I always enjoy going back to visit. The town is a kind of jewel, sitting close to Portland, close to Mt. Hood, and surrounded by forest and farmland.
Every time I visit, I try to take some time to explore the area with my camera. I don’t have to wander too far to see first hand why Oregon is hailed for its natural beauty.
Please be sure to click on the image above to see a larger version.