We made three attempts to film in the pine forest over the last year, with various results and challenges. On our first attempt we had perfectly clear weather, with not a cloud in the sky. This can lead to some challenges in making beautiful photographs, but the starkness of both the landscape and trees against the blue sky offers a different sort of composition. Which one do you prefer?

We made three attempts to film in the pine forest over the last year, with various results and challenges. On our first attempt we had perfectly clear weather, with not a cloud in the sky. This can lead to some challenges in making beautiful photographs, but the starkness of both the landscape and trees against the blue sky offers a different sort of composition. Which one do you prefer?

Photo by: Ian Shive

Ian Shive

Finding the Oldest Tree in the World

One of the best aspects of working in California is the immense diversity that exists in the natural world, and how often I am surprised to find some other, new, and magnificent subject matter to photograph! This is exactly the case of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, located in the White Mountains of Inyo National Forest.

April 05, 2021

Capturing the location presents a number of challenges. The first challenge is that the location is far from anything. The nearest town with amenities is about an hour, but it’s a winding, slow-moving road, but it can be several hours if you go to the farthest pine grove, known as the Patriarch Grove. The forest is only accessible by one road, which is often closed during the winter months because of snow. Even if you get up there on a dry day, there is no guarantee it will stay that way since the elevation at the peak is around 11,000, feet, which means anything is possible. That’s just what happened to us on the last trip, when warm, clear, sunny skies were in the forecast but the mountains decided to make their own weather and dump several inches of snow on us.

Nature In Focus | Finding Methuselah
Loading Video...

The changing weather does allow for a variety of photographic opportunities, but also means you need to really be prepared to hit the trail. I find working in this area as much of a physical challenge as a creative one, as the high elevation also means a lot less oxygen than sea level. A heavy daypack with lenses and gear (and snacks and water) makes it only that much more challenging. Aside from the challenges of a high elevation, it tends to be very dry, which is also augmented by the elevation, so you need a lot of water to stay properly hydrated. Keep some in the car, too!


The trees can be found close to the road, but some groves are miles and miles back, so planning your hike is critical to success. I found that having a few days to visit the area is extremely helpful, especially if you don’t want to rush your compositions and take time to enjoy the beauty of the area. How often can you say you visited a place where the trees have been growing on a hillside for as long as 5,000 years? They truly are a marvel.

As always, leave no trace and please respect these incredible living things. It would be a shame if, after so many years of success, they could succumb to vandalism and human impacts on our watch.

Ian Shive

Ian Shive is a photographer, author, film and television producer, and conservationist who has been praised as the “leading chronicler of America’s national parks.”

Next Up

Exploring Miniature Worlds

Expansive landscape photographs are my passion, but they are only part of the story. To truly capture the natural world, sometimes simplifying to the smallest details can transform your creative opportunities.

Channel Islands: A Tale of Two Worlds

Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States, yet it is only about 20 miles from the coast of Los Angeles and the bustling surf and sand lifestyle of Southern California.

Are Whale Sharks Now the World’s Largest Omnivore?

A new study finds that whale sharks are the biggest omnivore, disproving previous research on whale sharks’ diets. Researchers were stunned when analyzing whale shark biopsy samples that contained lots of plant material as well as krill material.

The "Suicide Plant" Has the Most Painful Stingers in the World

This unforgiving plant will make you feel pain for years.

The Oldest Complete Fish Fossil was Discovered Thanks to Kung Fu

Back in 2019, three Chinese paleontologists were playfighting during a break from working in the Chongqing Province, China. One was kung-fu kicked into a rocky outcrop, causing rubble to tumble down and exposing an opening in the rock face. Inside, a spectacular fossil lay undisturbed, preserved for millions of years.

The Ancient Monkey Puzzle Tree Outlasted Dinosaurs. Now It's Facing Extinction.

The monkey puzzle tree is a remnant of the Jurassic era, more than 145 million years ago, surviving way past its ancient dinosaur counterparts. Reaching heights of about 160 feet, the evergreen tree has a lifespan of up to 700 years and stiff scaly branches with rigid spiral leaves. Monkey puzzle trees’ presence in the wild is shrinking and after million years, their very existence is now endangered.

70% Of Earth's Fresh Water Is Frozen

Our freshwater is locked up in the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

99% of Sea Turtles are Now Born Female. Here's Why.

Global warming is creating a crisis in sea turtles' gender ratios, where 99% of them are being born female. Sea turtle populations have been facing a significant population decline further exasperated by climate change.