Category Archives: Photographs: Coastal Redwoods

Photographs from the coast redwood forests of California

Redwood Forest

Redwood Forest
Redwood Forest

Redwood Forest. Muir Woods National Monument, California. July 11, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Redwood trees growing in a gully at Muir Woods National Monument

I had a couple of primary goals on this visit to Muir Woods National Monument: I thought it might be a good location to shoot on this overcast summer day since the high fog softens the light that can otherwise be quite challenging inside the redwood forest. I also wanted to play with a new ultra wide-angle zoom lens, and I figured that this would be a better place for that activity than spending time in an urban setting… even though the latter might allow for more objective lens testing.

I typically arrive at Muir Woods very early in the morning, partly for the quality of the light in the forest at that time of day and partly for the very practical reason that the hordes of tourists from San Francisco are still mostly having coffee back at their hotels! However, I did not get there quite as early this time, and as I entered the park I could tell that it would not be too long before those hordes finished their coffee and began arriving. So I took a side trail up out of the valley of Redwood Creek (the location of the popular nature hike loops) and climbed up towards higher ridges. I was not alone on this trail but there the number of other hikers was reasonable, and for reasons ranging from aesthetic to objective (e.g. – testing that lens) this turned out to be a good choice. As the trail climbed, the views opened both above and below my camera position, and it was possible to shoot straight toward the trees and show a bit more of their height. Here a group of younger redwoods grows closely together in a small valley.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Ocean View Trail

Ocean View Trail
Ocean View Trail

Ocean View Trail. Muir Woods National Monument, California. July 11, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The Ocean View Trail traverses a grove of young trees, Muir Woods National Monument

First let me get a few preliminaries out of the way. Despite the title of this photograph, there I no “ocean view” here, and despite hiking a good distance up this trail I never saw one — perhaps due to the fog but also to never getting high enough above the valley or out of the trees. Second, and perhaps of more interest to some who use Canon equipment, I had a chance to work with the new Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS lens for the first time on this shoot. I’ll have more to say about that in a separate post, since I know that quite a few folks are interested in this lens. All I’ll say on that technical subject here is that I was not disappointed! (Link goes to site sponsor B&H Photography.)

The conditions on this morning were those of a typical San Francisco summer day — in other words, it was foggy! There are, at least from my point of view, significant advantages to this. It can be quite warm in Northern California this time of year, especially if you get away from the coast, so the cool coastal fog is almost always a welcome relief. The fog also softens the light, and when shooting in a forest like this one that is often quite important — brighter sunlight can send light beams to the forest floor that make for very wide dynamic range and a harsh effect. And, not insignificantly, the fog means that this photographer doesn’t have to get up quite so early to have this wonderful, soft light. This trail branches off from the very popular (absurdly popular  at the wrong times on the wrong days) main trail up the valley of Redwood Creek, with its easy access to the redwood trees. The Ocean View trail climbs, steeply at times, at first through redwoods and then at times through more open vegetation. In this section all of the trees appear to be very young and packed together closely. I liked the patterns of their dense trunks and also the slight glow of light on the trail.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Young Redwood Forest

Young Redwood Forest
Young Redwood Forest

Young Redwood Forest. Butano Redwoods State Reserve, California. June 1, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A forest of young second-growth coast redwood trees, Butano Redwood State Park

Today’s post will swing in essentially the completely opposite direction from yesterday’s, which featured a photograph made in one of the very driest and most desolate areas of a very dry and desolate place, Death Valley National Park. So today I share a photograph from a lush and green location, one of California’s redwood state parks—this one the Butano Redwoods State Park, near the California coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

The first day of June was a foggy one in the Bay Area and along the Central California coast, so it seemed like I might be able to find the fog-sun boundary a bit later in the morning that usual. With that in mind I drove over the hills to the coast and then headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Cruz, eventually turning onto a road that heads back up into the coastal Santa Cruz Mountains range. A few miles back from the ocean, I found the edge of the fog at this state park, where I walked up the valley of a creek running through the second-growth redwood forests, stopping frequently to make photographs of the lush green terrain until the fog cleared and the light became too intense.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Redwood Forest, Spring

Redwood Forest, Spring
Redwood Forest, Spring

Redwood Forest, Spring. Butano Redwoods State Park, California. June 1, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Dense spring growth and fog-filtered light in the forest at Butano Redwood State Park

I’ll stick with the redwoods theme for a bit longer and share another photograph from my recent first-time photography visit to the Butano Redwoods State Park along the California coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. I had not visited this park before, much less photographed it, though I had photographed along the access road that leads to it from the Pacific Coast Highway. It is a pleasure to actually “discover” a new park so close to home!

I chose to visit on this day at least partly because of the promising light. It remained foggy and cloudy along the coast pretty much all day, so I figured that if I went inland a few miles toward the redwoods I might catch the thinning fog and the soft light that it can produce. I found a trailhead, loaded up the camera pack and tripod, and headed out. There was so much to see in this lush forest that I made very slow progress, stopping every couple of minutes to consider and sometimes make another photograph. From this spot along the trail I found a view past closer trees and on into more distant growth, and I stopped to make a few photographs. In this one I chose to work with a vertical composition to emphasize the slender forms of the second-growth redwoods and other trees reaching toward the light.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Redwood Trees

Redwood Trees
Redwood Trees

Redwood Trees. Butano Redwoods State Park, California. June 1, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Closely spaced coast redwood trees at Butano State Park

Going to this spot was a special and unusual pleasure. Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area almost all of my life (save my first four years in Minnesota) I know may way around much of the local outdoor scene quite well. From the time I was a small child my family spent weekends visiting the many area parks, often picnicking and then hiking extensively. Yet somehow I had never visited Butano Redwoods State Park, tucked into the coastal mountains between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, and a very quite alternative to some of the more popular and busy redwood parks.

I’m not yet any sort of expert on this park, but the central feature appears to be an intimate little creek flowing down a small and quiet valley. It looks to me like the area must have been logged many years ago, as there are old stumps of huge long-gone trees, and most of the living trees are relatively slender. But they are big enough to give the feeling of the redwood forest, and even in this dry year the place is lush and full of vegetation. And during my short walk to photograph in this watershed I saw only a handful of other people. I spotted this tightly spaced group of trees across the canyon and positioned myself so that I could photograph a wall of redwood trunks with a few slender trunks breaking up the larger patterns. A few moments later the thing fog overhead began to clear and the bright shafts of light made the forest beautiful… but almost impossible to photograph!

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Old and New Ferns

Old and New Ferns
Old and New Ferns

Old and New Ferns. Muir Woods National Monument, California. March 14, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

New ferns grow against a backdrop of last year’s dead ferns

These ferns are an easily visible part of the annual cycle of growth and decay in the redwood forest. At the right time of the year they can produce very lush green growth in some areas, but later on in the season they die back and they are instead dry and brown. Each spring, after rain and as the days get longer, the cycle starts again and the new green shoots appear against the backdrop of the old, dead plants.

This is such a spot, and the main frond is, indeed, this year’s new growth. The shriveled plants underneath, hanging straight down the bit of hillside, are the brown plants left from the previous year. I initially was thinking of a color photograph when I made the exposure, looking at the obvious contrasts between the new and old and especially between the green and brown colors. But somehow, as I looked at it in post, the color rendition wasn’t working and it started to feel like monochrome might be more interesting. (Yes, sometimes I do not know which way I’ll go with a photograph at the time of exposure, and the post-processing phase ends up being as much a time of discovery as the time when I make the initial exposure.)

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Redwood Forest, Muir Woods

Redwood Forest, Muir Woods
Redwood Forest, Muir Woods

Redwood Forest, Muir Woods. Muir Woods National Monument, California. March 14, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A tall, thin bay tree reaches for the light in front of a row of coast redwood trees, Muir Woods National Monument

This cathedral of redwood trees still brings me to a stop every time I walk up the main valley at Muir Woods National Monument. Typically I arrive very early in the morning, often before the park opens, when I can have the trail almost to myself. (I’m happy to share “my” park with the small number of other early morning visitors, who are usually very quiet.) This row of big trees is in a spot near where several trails meet up, and the light can range from deep shade to filtered sun.

The light is the tricky thing when photographing here. People are often surprised by just how little light may make it down through the canopy of the redwood forest. On this morning there was a layer of high clouds that muted the light, with only occasional breaks allowing more direct light. As a result, this was a 13 second exposure! The idea here was to find a “wall of trees” composition, with some depth from additional trees perhaps visible in the gaps among the main foreground group. I liked the visual dissonance of the single slender bay tree trunk curving across the scene to the left.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.