Thursday, September 18, 2014

Published 9:37 AM by with 4 comments

The Magnificent Redwoods of California

I distinctly remember how I felt when I was given my first goldfish as a child. I couldn't wait to get home from school every day to ogle over it because it was so special to me. That feeling has stayed with me throughout my life. Not for the long-deceased fish, of course, but for other things, usually creative in nature. When I collaborated with other musicians in my various bands, for instance, I would religiously record our new musical ideas and listen to them at night on my headphones. I felt like I possessed them in a way.

Everyone who creates, I'm sure, feels the same way about their art. In recent times, I feel it about certain photographs I make. There's something about the magic they possess, like they have bottled up the feeling of being there, and are not just limited to their two dimensions.

When I recently visited the redwoods in California, I sensed that magic and I wanted to capture it. The first morning, Linda and I drove through The Avenue of the Giants, as it is called, and decided to walk the Drury/Chaney Grove Trail. It was an easy 2.5 mile loop showcasing some amazing old growth redwoods. Being among these behemoths was much more moving than I expected. Their scale, for one thing, put my own stature into perspective but it was something else. Of course I wanted to photograph every single tree I saw but I knew capturing these trees needed the respect they deserved. I didn't want to just do a run-and-gun shoot-from-the-hip kind of thing, I wanted to slowly take it all in, be mindful of the specific trees I wanted to shoot and pay attention to how I composed them. I decided to revisit the trail early the next day by myself. 

The thing about this area in September is that few, if any, people walk the trail until about 9:30 or 10 in the morning so it was a privilege to be there alone and made for a very memorable experience. From a technical perspective, the darkness of the forest made handheld shooting impossible for what I had in mind. I wanted a wide depth of field, which meant a small aperture and also a low ISO, for optimal quality. Normally, I would need a lot of light for this kind of requirement but I brought along my tripod and used the timer on my camera to fire some long shutter photographs (around 10 seconds apiece). With no wind or movement anywhere, the conditions where ideal. I used the timer so I wouldn't have to touch the camera to engage the shutter which might have compromised the sharpness of the shot. I also used a light meter to ensure accuracy of exposure.

It's hard to convey how tall these trees are so I avoided the straight up in the air kind of shots. However, I loved the leaves surrounding this particular redwood so it got my attention.

As I was leaving the trail with Linda the first day, I noticed the soft light bathing this tree. It gave the subject a nice sense of separation and depth, but mostly it was the mood that appealed to me.

This tree is awesome in the true sense of the word. There is something so complex about it and the composition, to me, is really dynamic. Almost like it just forced itself into the ground like a sword. The subtle light nicely enhanced its every crag.

In an effort to vary my shots, I got closer to my subject. What impressed me the most about this one was the thickness of the bark and, of course, the light.

Not everything has to be on a grand scale, of course, and these clover-like plants were everywhere. They were each about 10 times the size of a shamrock. I like the contrast between the delicacy of these plants against the massive coarseness of the trees.

In a forest like this, direct sunlight is rare in terms of where it precisely falls. This sunspot disappeared as quickly as I captured it.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this bush-like growth was Bigfoot. It was a little unnerving stumbling upon it while I was there alone. One thing that I found to be unique in this forest was the absolute silence. Birds only made themselves heard in between very long intervals of quiet. This enhanced the sense of eeriness I felt.

I placed myself in this photograph for scale and I also wanted a human presence. Because the shutter speed was so slow, I would have had to stand dead still for about 8 seconds to be sharp but I moved a little on purpose to obscure my features and become anonymous in the frame.

This experience was one of the highlights of my travels so far and I get that feeling of being there once again in all its three-dimensional glory when I look at these photographs. I will return here whenever I get the chance.



dreamjosie said...

Words fail. You captured everything so beautifully--the mood, the delicacy, the quiet, the character of these ancient ones

Fred Wishnie said...

The realization and feeling of our insignificance is overpowering when you're there isn't it? One of my favorite places. Love your take on it.

Steven Dempsey said...

Thank you Jo. Fred, it is overpowering and I love that. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we think is important but, ultimately, we are on earth less than a quarter of the time these trees continue to grow. I don't hear them complaining :)

Glenn Lacey said...

The scale of the shot with you in it transports me there.