This past June I attended a truly unique photographic workshop. What made it so unique? First, location, for sure. It was billed as “The Mystic Forest: Redwoods Along the Northern California Coast. And that it was! The northern Californian coastal redwoods are both unique and mystical. Second, the workshop was offered and lead by an idol of mine, Michael Frye. Michael is a landscape and nature photographer and author of several books. One of which I have had in my photography library almost since I first picked up a camera and continue to use every time I visit Yosemite, The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite. The pages are dog-eared to the point of starting to fall out of their binding. I actually now use the digital version. Even if you’re not a photographer and you plan to visit Yosemite, you should have this book.
We were based at a wonderful, unique bed and breakfast inn, The Historic Requa Inn. Our group took over the entire inn. The rooms are all different, each with their own personalities, comfortable and extremely welcoming. I stayed in room #22 called Fern Canyon, a corner room with an expansive view of the Klamath River. I slept in a four-poster king-size bed and bathed in an old claw-footed bathtub. Need I say more? They fed us three amazing meals a day conforming to our erratic, unconventional schedule. When we came dragging in after a 15 or 16-hour day, we found port, wine, and freshly baked cookies awaiting us. Heading up to the redwoods? Be sure to check out The Historic Requa Inn.
I believe the most truly unique elements of this workshop were the comradeships we developed and the bonding of the entire group. Certainly Michael, his assistant, Robert Eckhart, and Claudia Welsh, Michael’s wife, all contributed to the atmosphere of caring and attentiveness. Staying at the Requa Inn certainly stimulated the cohesiveness of the group. We ate together, we shared our photographic victories and failures, we drank wine, port and hot chocolate before we dragged our tired bodies up to bed, and we laughed and cried together. We became, for a time, a family.
I dedicate this blog to all the participants, to Michael, Richard and Claudia, and to the wonderful crew at the Requa Inn. Thank you all for making this an exceptional and matchless adventure. I would like to share five images with you. Each tells a story about a time and place that will live in my memories and heart forever.
I’ll begin with the image shown above at the beginning entitled “Redwoods, Rhododendrons and Fog.” Photographing the redwoods can be demanding and frustrating for many photographers – yours truly certainly included. With low light, distracting branches and high dynamic range producing an uncluttered composition and a properly exposed image becomes a challenge. Phases like “Don’t bury the lede,” “Less is more,” and “Simplify” immediately come to mind. This small patch of redwoods located right next to Highway 101 was not an ideal spot to photograph, but one of the rare locations were a few rhododendrons were in bloom. Blooming rhododendrons proved to be elusive this year as they bloomed later than normal.
False Klamath Cove is a sheltered beach located about five miles north of the Klamath River. The low hanging fog and clouds blocked out the sunrise the morning we were there, but the mild temperatures, little wind and the low tide created a photographer’s playground. Our group spent over two hours here before heading back to the Requa Inn and a fantastically delicious breakfast.
The cove is, more or less, about 2,000 feet long and ends at the mouth of Wilson Creek. I decided to walk down the beach and start at the south end and work my way back north towards the mouth of the creek. I’m really glad I did.
As I started setting up my camera and tripod, I didn’t notice the lone starfish at first. The waves would sweep around the large rock covering up the starfish momentarily before rushing back out to sea. Once I did notice him (or her), I worked quickly before the incoming, rising tide had a change to conceal the starfish from my view for good. A long exposure helped smooth out the water and added a sense of tranquility to the otherwise tumult of the ocean waves. Within a few minutes after shooting this image, the starfish had vanished.
I took a little artistic license during processing and left my little starfish friend in his natural color.
It took some effort to hike down to this beautiful, well-hidden, little cove. It took even more effort to hike back up to the cars after dark. We had to climb over boulders, waterlogged fallen trees and debris just to get back to the trail, then hiked about a mile uphill with heavy backpacks and tripods. I believe everyone there would agree with me, the effort was more than worth it.
Arriving an hour or so before sunset, we all played with waves and various other compositions while we waited for the light show to begin. There weren’t a lot of clouds plus the low-hanging fog on the horizon appeared to be thickening. We all hoped for a nice sunset, but with such conditions, you just never know.
As the sun sank towards the horizon, the sky lit up with color. Working fast, I took several short exposures. Then settled down to take this longer exposure in order to smooth out the incoming waves and highlight the streaks of color in the sky. Yes, the light show was a big success and put smiles on all our faces.
One afternoon, we ventured to an overlook a few miles up the road from the Inn. Below, the mouth of the Klamath River rambled by. As we drove up the mountain we encounter a dense fog. We couldn’t see the river below nor the picturesque, sandy little beach. The fog had almost obliterated the sun. Using a neutral density filter, I was able to shoot directly into the sun and produce this eerie-looking image. Not the image I had imagined on the drive up, but nice anyway.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove is quite popular and can become crowded along the one-mile loop trail that meanders through old-growth redwoods, Douglas fir and tanoak. One way to avoid a swarm of humanity is to arrive early – like very early. We arrived shortly after sunrise and pretty much had the entire grove to ourselves the two hours plus we were there.
This particular tree caught my attention as it stood off by itself with tentacles of moss dangling from its branches seemingly dwarfed by the mighty redwoods. I stopped and just stared for several minutes. The wind blew softly causing the hanging moss and leaves to sway to and fro. Almost like a slow-motion tree dance. The forest seemed unusually quiet (considering there were 12 or 13 of us photographing along the loop). It took awhile for me to get set up and adjust my camera settings perhaps because I, too, moved in semi-slow motion. It was as if I didn’t want to disturb this little tree or the tranquility that surrounded it.
Of all the images I took on this trip (over 1,000 by the way), this image and this little tree speaks to me the most. I processed the image in color, but felt something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t carry me back to those quiet, personal moments I spent just gazing at this scene before getting down to the business of setting up my camera. Reprocessing it in monochrome (black and white) did the trick. As I look at this image on my computer screen, I can blank out any noise or distractions and return to the peaceful, misty, almost sacred, natural world that cloaked around me.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed and if you did, please share with your friends on social media. You can see more of my images on Gail Berreman Photography and my Facebook page. If you would like to receive my future blogs, please subscribe here.
Remember to get out and enjoy the outdoors and nature. Be sure to look for and “See the Extraordinary in the Ordinary.”