Photographing Nature’s Giants – Sequoia National Forest

The Sequoia National Forest was the first stop on my three-week American road trip. I’d always wanted to visit this place after seeing photos and movies featuring the Giant Sequoias. I only had one full day in the park, but that’s generally enough to scratch the surface and get some decent images. Photography wasn’t a huge priority for me here, I more wanted to see the trees and experience the place for myself, it really is a magical place to see, and the smell of pine hits you like a wall as soon as you drive into to the park.

A famous shot along the Big Tree Trail in the Seqouia National Forest

If I were to ever go again to try and photograph this place properly, I’d aim for a good week here. Like all forest photography, it can be really challenging to find compositions that work. You can often see things which you think look amazing, but capturing it with a camera becomes a huge challenge. Light plays a larger role here too perhaps more than other forests, and the place really does come alive in the mornings and evenings, especially with wildlife.

Other Areas

As well as the trees themselves, there are lots of awesome locations offering different types of photography which I didn’t get to visit. Moro Rock, Eagle View the King’s Canyon area and countless viewpoints along Highway 198 give you huge vistas to work with. I did manage to visit Beetle Rock for sunset, which is only a stone’s throw away from the Giant Forest Museum, and with the granite cliff tops and forest in the backdrop, it’s a great spot to grab a sunset photo.

Beetle Rock sits in the Sequoia National forest, a large granite rock face scaling down from the Giant Forest Museum

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Photo notes:

  • I got away with a 24mm lens for most of my photos, but if you want to get the popular ‘ant’s eye view’ shots of the Giant Sequoias, you’ll definitely need something more towards 15mm – I was forced to do vertical panoramas, which aren’t fun to process.
  • The larger Sequoias are very difficult to photograph properly if you’ve never seen them before, they’re a lot bigger than you first imagine. Despite their size, the forest is still ‘busy’ with other trees, meaning you can’t back up all that much to frame photos. I don’t think the ‘bottom up’ views of these trees are much good and don’t do them justice, so didn’t end up taking all that many.
  • Compressed shots of the trees work really well and help eradicate the busy-ness of the forest,  just focusing on capturing the base of the tree and incorporating some kind of reference of scale is a good way of communicating the size and cleaning up compositions – forget to try to fit the whole trees in a frame unless you find a decent spot at distance. A couple of my favourite shots from this trip were at 40-70mm, but being on my own I didn’t have many options of referencing scale, which is easiest done by posing someone by the trees.
  • Morning and dusk see a lot of wildlife come out the woodwork. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a bear, but I was lucky enough to have a deer walk right in front of my frame at dusk. I kept a 70-200mm in the bag just in case, even if the weight did make the heat even more unbearable.
  • Shooting with a drone here would be an awesome way to grab some unique shots, but I’m not certain if these are allowed in the park (Always check with a ranger!), although I didn’t see any ‘No drone’ signs which I saw in other National Parks. Having said that, there’s a lot of wildlife in the forest, and I don’t think it’s responsible to fly drones around them, so perhaps limiting drone use to the daytime when the wildlife is out the way would be ideal.

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