If you are lucky enough to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see one of my images in the July-August issue of Bay Nature, a regional magazine. This photo is of Berry Creek Falls in the heart of Big Basin State Park, one of California’s beautiful displays of coastal redwoods. As is typical in a dark forest, this was shot on a tripod at slow shutter speed. I’ve blown this up to 20 x 30 inches and it looks fantastic, even with your nose pressed against the photo.
The day brought perfect conditions for waterfall photography – bright overcast skies and the high water flow of spring. It serves as a great reminder of our state when it is not in the midst of a drought crisis (in other words, I didn’t shoot it this year)!
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.
Check out next month’s newsstands for the latest issue of Backpacker Magazine. They are running one of my photos as part of an article about the Skyline To The Sea trail, which runs from the crest of the Santa Cruz mountains to the ocean.
I took this photo while out shooting on spec for a different article a few years ago. That one never made it to publication, but with photography, you never know when you’ll get a second (or third or fourth, etc) chance!
A couple of months ago I wanted to photograph some of the great waterfalls in Big Basin State Park at their highest water flow. My brother Jake was kind enough to join me for the hike, and put up with me taking photos along the way. We hiked the Berry Creek Falls loop, which is one of the premier hikes in the park. The loop is about 10 miles, with the waterfall section about half way through.
The day was overcast and drizzly – perfect for forest photography. The trail out to the falls meandered through a coastal redwood forest, with massive trees on either side of the trail.
Eventually the trail meets up with Berry Creek, which ultimately makes several drops on its way to the Pacific Ocean, creating a series of waterfalls, each with their own unique characteristics. The waterfall below is Golden Cascade, which is actually made up of two sections – upper and lower cascade. The upper cascade seemed to glow a dull orange in the soft filtered light of the forest.
At the very bottom of the cascade was a small pool surrounded by a mud bank and the root system of a fallen giant. Water poured over the bark of a long-dead log. Because the mud bank surrounded the pool on all sides, in order to get this shot, I set up my tripod sideways, with the legs sticking into the soft bank behind me. I held the tripod against the slope so that the pressure kept if from moving. From this tight angle, my widest lens couldn’t cover the entire falls. In order to compose the picture, I used a panoramic stitching technique to combine five total vertical photos.
Finally we came to Berry Creek Falls, the tallest (and most picturesque) waterfall along the loop. There is a nice observation deck about halfway up the falls that offers the hiker a good view.
After this point the trail ascends up the other side of the ravine from the falls. There is a point at a bend in the trail that offers a great view of the falls through the forest. The shot below was another panoramic composite of about 7 photos. Once stitched together, it created a TIFF file of over 1 GB (an 81 megapixel image), which allowed me to make a 20 x 60 inch print.
Finally, the trail connected up to Waddell Creek and followed it up-river. After witnessing the waterfalls, this creek bed was no less scenic. Lush green moss and ferns blanketed the rocks and soil along the creek as the trail wound back up the mountain.
As we climbed away from the creek, a soft rain came down and cooled us on our final ascent. Overall, it was a perfect time of year and a perfect day on which to experience the park. The weather kept most hikers away, giving us long stretches of this normally busy trail to ourselves.