The weekend before last, my pictures from one local redwood forest got rave reviews. This weekend, another redwood forest — arguably much more spectacular — and I get yawns. For good reason, mind you, the pictures from the previous week were much better.

The main culprit (beyond my photographic ineptitude) is the sun: it does crazy things to the visual canvas of the forest and drives a camera’s metering system batty because it can’t figure out how to set shutter, aperture, ISO, etc., so some part of the picture comes out overexposed, another comes out underexposed, and almost none of it feels properly lit. Here’s an example from Saturday’s hike at Big Basin Redwoods State Park:

Big Basin creek

To the human eye, it’s a lovely setting with still water to produce nice reflections. Direct sun, however, plays havoc with the camera, creating a leopard-spotting effect that makes it almost impossible to glean a good photograph.

Now, for comparison, a shot taken two weekends ago at Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, on a day when the whole park was clouded in by fog from the coast:

Purisima Creek Trail

Here you can actually see what the trail and the vegetation look like because clouds deflect direct sunlight and prevent the leopard-spotting effect.

I’d love to know what real photographers do in these settings. Using a flash might help the foreground but you’d still get blown-out areas beyond the flash’s range. I’m sure the better cameras (I still refuse to pay more than $300 for mine) can handle these light variations better.

This’ll be something I’ll be working on this summer in the local parks; I don’t plan to spend my weekends sweating out the miles under direct sun as I’ve done in summers past.

Any tips y’all can pass along are welcome.