Redwoods in Stout Grove

Photos in the Coast Redwoods | Tips

Continued from: Coast Redwood Information


2010 - 2015 by M. D. Vaden

Lens gear feedback is first, followed by a few redwood photography tips.


Lens selection

The lenses your bring may be your most important decision. I have seen great great looking photos taken with and without filters. But if your lens doesn't fit the space, you may leave with next to nothing.

Quite a few photographers come to the redwoods first time knowing how large the redwood trunks are, but overlook space. A 70-200mm is near useless unless you want to reach Elk in the meadow of Prairie Creek. Although, 200mm may be perfect if you want to reach some Methuselah's Beard lichen draping from branches far overhead.

Among trails and groves, 85mm seems too long. I use 85mm 1.2 for portraits with some added trunk for texture, or when there is 80 feet to squeeze in an entire 16 ft. trunk and a couple of people. 85mm can get more use in Humboldt Redwoods where there is more open space.

f/2.8 lenses will help under canopy. The 1.8 or 2.0 range of primes is nice, but field of focus will be thin if you want to milk the lens aperture for all its worth. Zooms are excellent for space constraint, and there are many locations where you can't walk back and forth. Especially if you don't want to thrash vegetation.

My photos are taken with crop and full sensors. The lens I use most often on trails is 24-70mm f/2.8. If I could only take one lens, its the one. I also use 11-16mm f/2.8 on a crop and the 16mm end on full frame. For certain huge redwoods, its the only thing that will work. You may want similar to 16-35mm on full frame, with the compliment of a less wide second lens for other stuff.

Before traveling, find a wall or something 20 ft. wide and 30 ft. to 80 ft. tall. Pretend its a trunk or a wide gap along a trail. Try and capture that entire size, standing just 20 ft. away and 40 ft. away. That there will show if your lens collection is adequate or not. There will be scenery along trails where you photograph a bridge or grove with 100 ft or more ahead. But some spots put 12 ft. huckeberry or a trunk against your back and your massive subject is just 25 ft. feet in front. If all you have is 35mm, forget it.

For examples to conclude, go back to my main redwood page and look for two photos. One has a women in shorts leaning on a redwood. That grove was open compared to many. Taken full frame, 50mm 1.2 @ f/1.6 from about 50 ft. away. Even camera sideways, that's a tight fit. Background in bokeh, but I got a nice print on canvas. The other is a woman in a red dress by a huge redwood. Space very tight. The trunk was only 20 ft. away. Used full sensor, 16-28mm 2.8 ... hand-held @ f/2.8 .. standing on a log too. 24mm would not have worked. Both lenses sqeeze-in what you see, and should convey some lens needs.

At least for my photography in the redwoods, I use f/1.2 to f/2.8 for trails and groves.

If I could only bring one lens, it would be the 24-70mm. If two lenses, then add 11-16mm or 16-35mm. If three lenses, add 135mm or 70-200mm.

There can be a lot of bird photography along the redwood coast. Not so much in the redwoods. So outside the forest if you are photographing birds, good chance you know exactly what you need.


Here are a few suggestions for taking photographs in the Coast Redwood forests.

Redwood Photography by Mario Vaden displayed framed
  • Carry or have extra batteries on hand
  • For every horizontal redwood photo, maybe take another vertically
  • The wet season, October - June, is the best season for redwood photography:
    • Views are more numerous because leaves have fallen
    • Mosses and lichens moisten and greens seem to look best
    • Rain moistens needles on the ground, enriching the color
    • Trunks become more colorful
    • Dust has been washed off evergreens and ferns
    • Colorful mushrooms are more abundant
    • The number of seasonal brooks flowing is increased
    • Less visitors, making photography in popular locations easier
  • For size comparison
    • Stand to the side of the redwood vs. center to convey size
  • Many best redwood photos are due to right place & right time
    • Fog may or may not be present in a Rhododendron patch
    • Lady Bird Johnson grove does not get rays of light every day
    • Do not expect the best ... but look for the best you can find
  • Some folks like circular polarizers to lessen white gleam on wet leaves
  • Using 2 second timer can lessen chance of moving the camera
  • If light looks great ... don't chat about it ... get moving ... it can change in mere minutes ... take that beauty now
  • Capture 5 times more pics than you might usually take
    • For the 2009 National Geographic, Nichols took 10,000+ photos, using a mere handful
  • The farther back you stand, the less the lens should taper the upper trunk
  • If you can't get the whole redwood in one shot - try a photo stitch
    • Photograph the redwood trunk in sections
    • Overlap the frames
  • For portraits, bridges at Prairie Creek trail and James Irvine trail within 1/2 of the visitor center are photogenic.
  • Red and marroon fabrics are particularly good for portraits
  • Sun rays are unpredictable. A Crescent City motel and Del Norte Redwoods may help tackle this. Virtually side-by-side.
  • Many people aim cameras upward at the canopy. If there is mist, clean the lens between photos
  • If you put your lens cap in a pocket, put the lens side away from your body / sweat
  • A tiny compact umbrella may be your ticket to nice photos on many rainy days
  • Get up a daybreak. Almost every day yields an awesome shot the first 2 hours of daylight, often the final 2 hours
  • If there is cloud and overcast, good chance the entire day is great for photography
  • With DSLR, a f/2.8 lens is often nicer than f/4.0 ... if you don't own, consider renting one
  • On the return hike , look again at the best you photographed going in. Often it's better going out, worth another go
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods Drury Parkway offers an "Avenue of the Giants" road shot if you don't make it to Humboldt


HDR / High Dynamic Range Imaging in the Redwoods ?

Give it a try.

Some views it seems to look worse. For other photos, it seems to do better ... salvaging them.