Seeing the trees for the forest

Tree and Sandstone, Virgin River Canyon, Zion National Park Canon EOS 5D Mark III 1/3 second F/11 ISO 400 109 mm

Tree and Sandstone, Virgin River Canyon, Zion National Park
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
1/3 second
F/11
ISO 400
109 mm

I’ve spent a lot of the last few months photographing “big picture” locations: Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, Bryce/Zion, Arches/Canyonlands, Yosemite. Visiting these spots, it’s impossible to not be sucked in by the grandeur, often at the expense of more intimate beauty right in front of you. But because nature’s beauty doesn’t need to shout, I make a conscious effort to mix intimate photo opportunities in with the grand stuff, and am always on the lookout for the subtle qualities that make a location special.

In early November, while Don Smith guided half of his workshop group to photograph Zion’s Watchman at sunset, I took the other half of the group (those who already had their Watchman shot, or who were just more interested in something less frequently photographed), up the canyon to the Temple of Sinawava. Meandering the trail up toward the Narrows, I demonstrated to those who stayed with me how I identify and photograph narrow depth of field, telephoto isolations of autumn leaves. As darkness fell, a few of us found ourselves more than a half mile up the trail with less than ten minutes to get back to the cars. Hustling back, I wasn’t even looking for photos when something about this tree against the red canyon walls stopped me. Even though I didn’t really have time, I quickly set up my tripod and composed, squeezing off three quick frames before jogging the rest of the way back to the waiting group with seconds to spare.

Leaves and Water, Yosemite

Leaves on Water, Yosemite
On the way back to the car after a particularly productive Bridalveil Creek shoot, I spied this group of leaves beside the trail, floating atop a small pool in the granite. People had been walking past it all morning, but I took a few seconds to compose this sweet little scene.

Rocks and Reflection, Valley View, Yosemite

Rocks and Reflection, Valley View, Yosemite
The big picture at Valley View is El Capitan, Cathedral Rock, and Bridalveil Fall reflected in the Merced River. But I’ve always enjoyed the view downstream, away from the primary scene. Here I found one tree, clinging to its fall color, reflecting in the glassy Merced River. I positioned myself so the foreground rocks were more or less evenly distributed and turned my polarizer slightly, removing just enough reflection to reveal the rocky riverbed. (Here’s the Valley View big picture scene from a few days earlier.)

Forest Wildflowers, North Rim, Grand Canyon

Forest Wildflowers, North Rim, Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon. Lightning. Rainbows. What were we doing traipsing around in a forest? Having a blast photographing a daisy carpeted aspen grove, that’s what.

Raindrops, Orchid in Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii

Raindrops, Orchid in Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii
The night before photographing this raindrop-laden orchid, I’d photographed the Milky Way above the Kilauea Caldera. For me this little scene was a reminder that not only is the Universe infinitely large, it’s also infinitely small.

Leaf, Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite

Leaf, Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite
The simplicity of a single, rock-hugging leaf above a rushing channel of Bridalveil Creek made it an instant personal favorite. As I blogged last month, I worked this one scene for at least an hour.

3 Comments on “Seeing the trees for the forest

  1. Although I do like the big picture photography, I don’t have the equipment to do it justice so I get frustrated.,I have; however, discovered that I like this kind of photography as well! thank you for sharing. My favorite, by the way is”Tree and Sandstone”, my next favorite “Rocks and Reflection”. .

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