Redwoods in Stout Grove

Tips for Coast Redwood Photos

Continued from: Coast Redwood Information


2010 - 2015 by M. D. Vaden

Lens & gear feedback is first, followed by a few redwood photography ideas


Lens selection

Redwood Photography by Mario Vaden displayed framed

The lenses your bring may be your most important decision. I have seen great great looking photos taken with and without filters. Some photographers come to the redwoods first time knowing how large the trunks are, but overlook space. A 70-200mm is near useless unless you want to reach Elk in the meadow of Prairie Creek. But 200mm will reach Methuselah's Beard lichen 100 feet overhead. Among trails and groves, 85mm seems too long. I use 85mm for portraits with some added trunk for texture. It may take 80 feet distance to get a full trunk in a frame. 85mm may serve more use in Humboldt Redwoods where there is more open space.

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. 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 the 16-35mm on full frame.

If you supplement light for portraits (individuals, engagement or wedding), ponder what you hope to achieve. Although I prefer natural light, flash can look superb for people. But when it comes to redwoods, bark, moss and foliage, flash seems to rob the mood from the forest. This type of setting is an experiential situation, not merely an event. Using supplemental light sparingly may instill and emotion into the photo that perfect facial lighting may not offer. Your choice ...

Before traveling, find a wall or something 20 ft. wide and 30 ft. - 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 will show if your lens collection is adequate or not.

For examples, 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, from about 50 ft. away. That's still a tight fit. 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 .. standing on a log. 24mm would not have worked. Both lenses sqeeze-in what you see, and should convey some lens needs.

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

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. The Aracata, Eureka area has some good bird locations, plus the beaches and lagoons.


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

  • Carry or have extra batteries on hand
  • I feel flash robs the mood from the image.
  • For every horizontal redwood photo, maybe take another vertically
  • The wet season, October - June, is the best season
    • 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 washed off evergreens and ferns
    • Colorful mushrooms are more abundant
    • The number of seasonal brooks flowing 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
  • If light looks great ... don't chat about it ... get moving ... it can change in mere minutes ... take the shot 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 those two adjacent parks may help tackle this
  • 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, face the lens side away from your body / sweat
  • A tiny compact umbrella may be your ticket to nice photos on rainy days
  • Get up a daybreak. Almost every day yields an awesome shot the first 2 hours of daylight, or the final 2 hours
  • If there is cloud and overcast, good chance the entire day is great for photography
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods Drury Parkway offers an "Avenue of the Giants" look 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.

Personally, my take is that when the light seems perfect everywhere in an image, it looks artificial.


Fisheye Lens

If you have one, or have the knack, go for it. Otherwise, there are very few fisheye coast redwood forest images that look good.