Last year I spent the last few days of May in Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, taking in the magical beauty of the dogwood blooms among the majestic giants. It was such an incredible experience, that I had to go again. For those of you who may not have browsed through my website, or if you just need a reminder as to why this place is so magical, I thought I’d bring out my crown jewel from last year to start this off.

“Life Among Giants” ~ Sequoia National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 2.5 sec
Processing: I took an additional exposure at iso 800 and a faster shutter speed to make sure the deer came out sharp, and blended that in with the main exposure.

I’ve accepted that it’s rather unlikely I’ll ever top this image in the genre of wide angle forest scenes, so this time around I focused on some other concepts. Incidentally, it was rather interesting to me to note that the star dogwood in that shot had but a few blooms this year, same with the other dogwood I photographed last May. Overall the bloom this year wasn’t as spectacular as last year, but there’s always some trees that are putting on their best. The dogwoods, however, are just an accent to the real treasure here – the Giant Sequoias. To me, their most striking features are their commanding and majestic presence. While “Life Among Giants” shows the trees together as a forest in a very special way, my favorite part of hiking through the forests here is seeing lonely giants pop up in the midst of ‘lesser’ conifers. They emerge out of the greenery with their striking red and orange trunks, silent and powerful. You just have to stop and stare, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. So, my girlfriend Ali and I headed out to the parks, and spent our first day doing a few little day hikes. I found a few incredibly promising Lupine fields that I’ll hopefully be able to revisit once they bloom sometime this next month, but other little flowers were already out in force.

“Magic Carpet” ~ Sequoia National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 24-105mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/22, 1/5th sec
Processing: I used an additional exposure at f/10 to bring a little blur into the background

For sunset we wandered through my favorite grove, where I took “Life of Giants” last year. I learned in making that image that a little bit of direct yet soft light makes a huge difference with the Sequoias – bringing out the color and depth that simply evaporates under more diffuse conditions (which are generally considered ideal photographic conditions for forests). So I spent the time actively searching for a combination of showy dogwoods and that special light. Eventually, I found it.

“Spring Snow” ~ Sequoia National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 70-200mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/5.6, 1/40th
Processing: Using some curves adjustments I was able to reduce the impact of some distracting branches, which dramatically improved the image.

The following morning, together with the 5:45am sunrise, I set out to find something new. I had a few hours before the sun would finally make it over the Sierra crest and into the west facing canyons, and I wanted to catch it right as that was happening. It wasn’t long before a Giant struck me in that majestic way I described. Wreathed in dogwoods, I knew it wouldn’t get better for this particular kind of image. I set up, and waited. An hour passed, and finally the first rays of light entered the scene, adding a subtle but delicate touch to the dogwoods.

Flowers for Giants II
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 70-200mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 0.6 sec
Notes: I shot this as a 2-shot panorama to retain maximum detail, I also took an additional image so that I can make a horizontal composition, but prefer the vertical. I needed the higher iso to freeze the light motion in the leaves and flowers.

I got back to the tent, woke up Ali and got ready for our short backpack (she lives on a 26 hour day, instead of the normal 24 that most of us do, which means she sleeps an extra 2 hours). One of the most magical Sequoia experiences I’ve found is that of Redwood Canyon. I have precious few (one to be exact) images from the canyon itself, though the ridge on the side was the site of my winter excursion in December. The canyon is just so dense that it’s nearly impossible to photograph, but it’s a superb place to experience. Our destination, however, was a bit further down from the Sequoias, a place called “Big Springs”. Along with the dogwoods, Sequoias, bears, etc., Redwood Canyon is home to one of the two largest caves in California – Lilburn Cave. It’s an actively researched cave (there’s a little hut that the scientists stay at for the summer) with about 25 miles of passageways. Once you get past the end of the Sequoias the creek sort of disappears into the ground, except for a few special re-appearances along the way with precious little waterfalls and pools. The forest turns into a rather dry and bland place compared to the previous mile and a half. Then, suddenly a stream emerges from the side of the canyon – Big Springs. I’m not talking about a little seeping spring, no, this is a real creek, I’m actually tempted to call it a river. The icy cold water rushes past moss covered boulders, and from then on the canyon takes on a new form – clearly carved by a faster and bigger flow than higher up, and the greenery erupts as if you were in the Colombia River Gorge, while only 100 yards away is a dry oak scrub forest. I gave in to the urge to explore, and once the trail ended, the fun began: this was true wilderness.

“Summer Stream” ~ King’s Canyon National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 16-35mm mkII, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 0.6 sec

“Verdant Wilderness” ~ King’s Canyon National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 16-35mm mkII, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 2.5 sec
Processing: I took this as a 4-shot panorama at 17mm (vertical orientation), since I didn’t have a lens wide enough. Fortunately the water foreground made stitching it rather simple (using PTGui). I also took a second exposure for each image at iso 1600 and 0.6 sec to bring in more water detail. PTGui makes it easy to stitch two sets of images with the same parameters, so a blend like this is relatively straightforward.

I skirted my way along the edge of the now steep canyon walls, and past a 10 ft deep crystal clear aqua colored pool (the stream almost had a glacial like style to it, emerging from deep underground has that effect I suppose). At the base of the pool was a slide that gently guided water along mossy banks to the next stage of the river, and, apparently, an American Dipper nest. They were certainly surprised to see me there – I doubt this stretch of stream sees more than a handful of people every year. In fact, I saw at least two pairs of dippers along this section of the canyon.

“Slide into the Wild” ~ King’s Canyon National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 16-35mm mkII, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 8 sec
Processing: I took an additional exposure at iso 3200 and 1/13th sec to blend in some more water detail. Unfortunately the small web jpeg is hiding much of that – you can get a better idea for the details from this crop.

Soon after (before it got dark!) I had to head back to camp, where Ali was studying physics flash cards for the MCAT’s. I think I was having more fun! She didn’t have it all that bad though, we couldn’t have found a more idyllic spot to pitch the tent.

“In Paradise” ~ King’s Canyon National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 16-35mm mkII, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/18, 0.5 sec
Notes: Live view was particularly useful here for optimizing the focus and aperture settings – those flowers were but a few inches from the camera, and yet I was just able to get everything in focus. The high iso was of course to freeze our inevitable movements.

We weren’t the only ones that found this canyon a special place – thousands upon thousands of ladybugs thought so too. Apparently there are some species that spend the winter hibernating in these large masses in the mountains, and we happened to be by one of their favorite spots.

“Woodland Ladies” ~ King’s Canyon National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DII, 24-105mm. polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/16, 0.6 sec
Notes: I needed the high iso to freeze the movement of the bugs – some of them were squirming around and crawling on the others. As you might have noticed, the high iso capabilities of these modern digital cameras are opening up so many amazing opportunities!

Well, I hope you enjoyed the vicarious experience of our wilderness adventure, be sure and get out to some fresh air yourself if you haven’t recently. I hear it’s good for the brain too!

4 Comments to “Slide into the Wild”

  1. Jason Denham says:


    “Spring Snow” and “Woodland Ladies” are particularly stunning images! Thanks for sharing. This is an area I’ve considered exploring in the future (I’m in WA) and now will look into it more intently. Thank you for sharing your photo set up thoughts and exposure information.

  2. John Wall says:

    Brilliant work! I love the two “pygmy” deer in the “Life Among Giants” shot. Interesting idea to layer the higher-speed water shot over the slow.

  3. aswirly says:

    Beautiful work you do! I love the Spring Snow and Verdant Wilderness shots. Gorgeous…

  4. Gift of Life says:

    […] is cold! If I’ve piqued your curiosity, I wrote a little more about this magical spot last year: camping in paradise (opens in new window). Me in Big Springs – the emergence of frigid cave water! Courtesy Wil van […]