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National Geographic

Biggest, Tallest Tree Photo Ever

At least 1,500 years old, this 300-foot giant in California's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has the most complex crown ever mapped. Michael Nichols/National Geographic) hide caption

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Michael Nichols/National Geographic)

National Geographic photographer Michael Nichols is one of the world's foremost wildlife photographers. But he recently said that he'd happily spend the rest of his life photographing trees. Of course, the folks over at National Geographic would almost certainly never hear of it. Nichols' newfound love developed after a serious, yearlong relationship with redwoods.

National Geographic sent Nichols to spend an entire year in California's redwood forest. His mission was to capture the majesty of some of the tallest trees on Earth, some of which date back before Christ. And if you've ever photographed in a forest, you'll understand the challenge this presented. There's no capturing the awe one feels before these monoliths that measure, in some cases, upward of 300 feet.

In a recent lecture at National Geographic in Washington, D.C., Nichols described his frustrations. Eventually, though, he devised a way to do redwoods justice. It involved three cameras, a team of scientists, a robotic dolly, a gyroscope, an 83-photo composite and a lot of patience. (And, OK, maybe it's not the Biggest, Tallest Tree Photo Ever — but it's the biggest one I've ever seen.) Here's how they did it:

The photograph appears as a huge foldout in the the October issue of National Geographic magazine, which hits newsstands today and is definitely worth reading. The magazine, with the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Save The Redwoods League, also sent explorer-in-residence Mike Fay on a transect from the southernmost redwood in Big Sur to the northernmost tree near Oregon's Chetco River. It took him and his hiking partner, Lindsey Holm, more than a year of non-stop hiking to complete the trek of more than 2,000 miles. It also took three pairs of shoes.

Redwoods have been heavily forested over the past few decades and are only just now beginning to replenish in numbers. With the enormous collection of data compiled by Fay and other conservationists, we now know more than ever about this thin stretch of ancient forest along the California coast. To learn more, check out the extensive coverage on ngm.com.

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