Photoshoot: Avenue of the Giants

If you ever decide to take a road trip from Southern California to Oregon here are a few words of advice. Get from Los Angeles to San Francisco as fast as you can, but keep your windows up and use recirculated A/C. The drive is brown and boring with a handful of stinkers dairy farms along the way. Once in the Bay Area, the drive to middle Northern California is beautiful… but it doesn’t stop there… the rest of the way to the Oregon border is nothing short of breath taking. However, the caveat is that from San Fransisco to Oregon, you must take the scenic route: Highway 101.

Click through for our road trip adventure, more pit stops than a Nascar race… and of course our Avenue of the Giants photoshoot!

As you snake your way north along the 101 Highway, you’ll pass many small towns. Some are spooky and Amityville-ish (no thanks!), but others are quaint and Smallville-esque (Kay has a bladder the size of a peanut, so during our many pit stops I took the time to snap lots of pics.. including one of her outlasting the stench of a port-o-potty). I’m a dead man if I ever post that pic… so don’t even ask.

Anyways, taking this scenic route will add an extra hour or so of driving… but the reward at the end of the journey is more than worth it. Waiting for you is a stretch of clover covered forests of towering redwoods, some of which are well over 2000 years old. It’s aptly called:The Avenue of the Giants; a 30 mile alternate scenic route that takes you off the 101 and then guides you right back onto it. For most people, the magnificent Redwoods are a must stop and see… for picture whores like us, it’s a must-stop and shoot. Yays!

Truth be told, we had already planned for this shoot way back… it was a chance we just could not pass up, so we were pretty excited. That morning of the shoot, we loaded up the car… Kay got all done up… and we were on the road singing road trip songs so badly it made this year’s cast of American Idols sound pretty decent. *yikes* (you know they all suck this year!)

Here are the photos below, hope you like them as much as we enjoyed shooting them. Next stop? Oregon sand dunes! Check back soon for those photos.

We couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous spot we found; a giant fallen redwood surrounded by smaller trees as if they were mourning his end. Even more so, the floor was covered with thousands of vibrant clovers! It was the picture perfect location, we couldn’t have asked for more. Here’s some info and a few BTS shots.

Main light:
SB600 x 2 speedlights in a Photoflex medium softbox. The towering trees blocked the harsh sunlight to create the perfect shady spot. The speedlights were easily able to light up the subject. The lights were triggered wirelessly with RadioPopper PX triggers to allow us free range.

Edge light:
There were spots where the light broke through the canopy giving us an option to use as an edge light. Some of the shots above display this. The high overhead sunlight produced a harsh edge.. but as the sun lowered it become much softer. This is one of the reasons why the setting sun is the “magic hour” for taking photos.

In an effort to get different shots, we used the Nikon D700 along with a mixture of prime lenses: the 35mm f/2 (wide sweeping shots), 50mm f/1.8, and 85mm f/1.4 (dreamy portraits). A wider 20mm-24mm lens would’ve been nice to try out… but that’s still on my “wish list” ;p

  • KAY you look like a fairy in these photos. inspired. keep up the greatful work. Promps goes out to you too.

    DO you both work, or is photography your full time job? do you have a studio open yet?

  • cynthia said:

    beautiful new pictures u two! love the greenery, the clovers, and the mossy trees, the redwood trees are pretty amazing.....n love the dress, kay!

  • Grace said:

    Kay, you're always so gorgeous! So do you land as beautifully as you look when you're jumping in the air? I love the pictures.

    My husband just got me a dslr camera for Mother's day and I haven't done anything with it yet, but I'm learning so much from ya'lls website!

  • Mk said:

    I LOVE the color of your dress Kay! The redwoods look absolutely beautiful. They're on the bucket list for both the husband and I. I feel like I'm constantly saying this but you two make such a wonderful team. Your pictures always turn out wonderfully. Come to think of it, do you ever get any "bad" shots? Maybe you should post 1 or 2 and state why they're not good. Just a thought so we "non-photographers" know what "bad" shot looks like.

  • mdx said:

    AHHHHH....breathtaking! Luv the shots! Kay is beautiful as always. I LUV THE REDWOODS..and Kay.

  • Julie said:

    Do you think such beautiful pictures could be achieved without bringing a huge main light? How about just an add-on camera flash? Btw, beautiful pictures (as always).

    • tyger said:

      You bring up a good idea for a possible future post: Things to keep an eye on when taking photos or How to avoid "bad" photos. But generally, most people will just machine-gun the trigger button w/o consideration of the composition. This leaves them "hoping" for decent shots instead of ensuring good shots. Some of our bad shots happen when we forget to carefully compose first before pressing. What's the result? A nice pose but there's a background tree branch "growing" out of the subject's head. These are things you may not see right away, they sometimes end up in the photo unexpectedly.

      A built-in "ON-camera" flash has technical limitations. You will have a tough time lighting up your subjects properly (creatively), especially with creative wide open apertures. Typical shots with on-camera flash will look like DMV mug shots.

      An external speedlight attached to your camera hot-shoe may allow you to overcome these technical limitations, but it depends on how new (feature sets) your speedlight is. YES you can produce beautiful photos with just an on-camera speedlight... but you will have to jump through hoops to get the same picture. The best rule of speedlights is: TRY to get your flash off-camera. Your light now becomes off-axis directional and gives you depth, as opposed to the flat on-axis DMV type mugshots. If not, then your best technique when limited to an attached speedlight is to bounce your light. If you are indoors this can work well, you aim the flash head off walls to bouce light back to your subject. What happens when you are outdoors? This is where on-camera lights struggle the most. Because you don't have the luxury of walls/ceilings to bounce from, you now need to use a reflector to bounce off. The reflector can be attached to the flash (Demb flip-it) or a typical reflector panel held near the subject. Also, because your light is attached to the camera, you lose power as you step back. And the farther your light is from the subject, the more harsh the shadows will be. This can limit what you are trying to achieve creatively.

      I can go on and on about this =). But I'll end with a few basic rules of lighting: 1) Try to get the light off-camera. This adds depth to your composition and gives you creative freedom to "shape" a person's contours (good or bad) with shadows to your liking. 2) The closer and bigger the light source... the softer the shadows will be. (this is why softboxes give off very pleasing shadows. They turn your small 4" speedlight into a 3ft light box. They are also placed very close to the subject, just barely out of the frame.

      Also, it's worth noting that because it's usually just the two of us.. we pack very lite. When buying gear, we always take this into consideration... they must be very portable. The softbox you see up there, folds up and packs into a small bag no bigger than a portable umbrella. =)

      I might start up a new post for these types of discussion, thanks everyone for your input. As always, please do let us know what you'd like to see/read on this blog =)

  • Youa said:

    this that pandora? ;)

    kay looks beautiful. nice work on the photos. i love it!

  • digit said:

    Everyone/everything is a giant compared to Kay! Driving through the Redwoods was really dream-like, can't wait to go back there. The little green chair is perfect for the setting. And Kay looks perfectly tiny next to the trees. Breathtaking!!

  • Kab said:

    I took up photography as only a hobby and am not experienced enough to comment on lighting, but I must say that the photo where Kay is resting her left elbow on the stool - the lighting is stunning. It doesn't wash her out like the others. Although all the other photos are well composed, the desaturated look doesn't do it for me. It gives Kay the dag ntseg (yellow ear) look.

  • Kab said:

    Excuse my Hmong spelling, I meant to say daj rather than dag.

    Also, it'd be great to get some post-processing advices.

  • Youa said:

    Quick question for Tyger: How do you process your photos beginning from the camera to posting it on the blog? I can never get my photos to be as clear as yours.

  • tyger said:

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. =) The clarity of a photos is very dependent on a combination of camera body - lens - settings. Once you have taken a "clear" picture you import it onto your PC than export it for the web. A quick rundown of our process is: Camera RAW >> import to Lightroom ~ creative effects if wanted (using Lightroom / Photoshop) >> export as smaller JPG to web.

    For the most part, we do very little "photoshopping". I want the subject to still feel as though they are getting a photo of themselves, not a plastic looking barbie doll. Any kind of photoshopping done is usually to remove minor blemishes or add overall creative tones (like the hazy purple ones you see above).

    I hope this answered your question. If enough people think it's worthwhile, I could create a future post on our post production process.

  • Xia said:

    Kay, you are so beautiful. Do you ever get scared of bugs?

  • Mai said:

    Again, beautiful pictures!

    • @Susan
      Thanks! We've been given an opportunity to switch careers and do something we both love to do so we'll see where it takes us. No studio yet, also a work in progress. =)

      I was awestruck by it's grandeur when we drove through the Redwoods. Finding "our spot" was pure luck because there were tons of spots that looked just like it from the outside but as soon as we stepped into the forest it was like stepping into some enchanted wood. I kept wandering off to find a 4-leaf clover and Ty had to remind me , "your focus needs more focus."

      Thanks! Fortunately I have not broken/twisted/sprained anything yet but there's always a first for everything. =/ New camera means lots of new picture updates right?! I needs to see more of your gorgeous baby girl!

      Thank you nyab! <3 We should do a girls road trip one of these days!

      lol, everything we see on the screen either comes from imagination or inspiration....Pandora might have originated from the animators taking a trip through the Redwoods, who knows?! ahah

      So glad we found that chair together and you were a bad bad influence and so I bought it ahaha

      Thanks for your input! We are still learning as we go as well but have been happier with our results as time goes by so that gives us the boost of confidence we need to keep developing our skills. As for the lighting, we felt some of the photos had a "moody" feel to them so we tried to enhance it a bit in our post-processing.

      Thanks Xia! We just bought some bug spray and I'm definitely planning to use it!

      Thank you! =)

  • digit said:

    We're so bad but so good together!! :D

  • Julie said:

    Thanks for the advice! I think I will bring an external lighting that can attach to my hotshoe.

  • Na said:

    I really like redwoods-11 (I think that's the file name).

    I wonder what would change, if in redwoods-3 Kay wasn't wearing her shoes.

  • jenny said:

    i was wondering do u guys shoot in manual mode most of the time....and when shooting picture should i do the RAW quality and why... i am learning so this might sound silly....thnks

    • @Jenny

      When shooting natural light (no flash) I like to shoot in aperture mode so I can maintain creative control over the depth of field (how much separation/blur between our subject and the foreground/background -here is a good read on understanding DOF) and make it nice and easy by letting the camera do the guess work with shutter speed. When using flash though, manual is best to control the constantly changing light.

      Shooting raw takes up a lot of space but I prefer it because I don't have to worry about white balancing as much and there's more info stored so I can "recover" details that would not be possible with jpegs. =s

      Good luck and feel free to be super silly. =d

  • Ying said:

    I love these shots!!! love the greenery and the wood...kay you should've let your hair flow down!!!! definitely more of a nymph that way! =) but either way, your hair up or down, you look beautiful! I love that second shot of you with the clover over your eye!!!

  • mdx said:

    Kay, I'm surprised you'd even want to get on your hands and knees and butt to sit on such surface! Remember when we took tons of pictures back in the days and you'd be like..."ewww, i'm not going to sit there" and stared at me like i'm crazy, stupid or something...lolz.

  • Lori said:

    My gosh, those TREES *__*I would love to see the redwood forests one of these days. I can't even imagine the history held within a single one of those giant trees.

  • Lori said:

    Oh yes, and Kay looks amazing obviously lol. I love the dress and the color choices on her eyes.

  • pahoua said:


  • Maeshoua said:

    Wow, I'm just slack-jawed right now! You were in Crescent City, CA!!! that's my hometown, where the great redwoods live. How awesome! I'm soo glad you got to visit. lol I think our town is definitely one of those amity ville type but so beautiful! We're spoiled by the ocean as well as the forest. I'm no longer a resident though =( but the Evergreen State isn't so bad either (WA) have you ever visit Seattle before?! Great place as well! Thanks for sharing such astonishing photos. Looking forward to more =)

  • minggles said:

    wow Kay... it's just breath taking ... you look like a forest fairy in that pretty dress =) I need to borrow it - mail it to me=) LOVE the color - I haven't found any dresses in that exact shade =/

  • Danny S said:

    Very cool photos. I need to drive that stretch one day.