Despite these storms, rainfall totals are still only about 50% of average. In a normal year, Yosemite Valley would have received 26.9 inches of rain since last July 1st, however the current rainfall total for the season is only 12.9 inches.
While the window of best light on Horsetail Fall has passed, any precipitation brings the potential for a photogenic clearing storm. Based on the forecast, it looks like we’ll see some clearing tomorrow, and again on Saturday or Sunday (or maybe both). We’re approaching the best time of year to photograph Tunnel View and Valley View (a.k.a. Gates of the Valley), because the late-afternoon light is balanced between El Capitan on the left and Cathedral Rocks on the right. If a storm clears late in the day that will create ideal conditions at both of those classic views. Of course I describe both of these spots, and many others, in The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, available as both a softcover book and iOS app.
Sunday evening a workshop student and I joined the throngs of photographers near the El Capitan picnic area. Some thin clouds muted the the light a bit, and then thicker clouds cut the light off entirely just before it would have reached its peak intensity and color, and before the cliff behind the fall was in complete shade. But Horsetail still put on a good show, as you can see from the accompanying photo, made at 5:28 p.m.
Unfortunately the little boost in water level from Saturday’s showers probably won’t last long, and a hoped-for storm tonight and tomorrow now looks like it will bring only a slight chance of showers. I think Horsetail will keep flowing for at least the next week, but the flow will probably be pretty meager. Still, it doesn’t take much. With a clear sunset even a little bit of water can turn into a strip of neon orange. I’d guess the water flow will be similar to 2012; you can see what that looked like in this post from that year.
It now looks like the rest of February is likely to be dry. We really need a miracle March!
— Michael Frye
Like the last storm, this one also had a good sense of timing, clearing just before sunrise Monday morning. I rose early and photographed at several locations in Yosemite Valley, but my favorite image was this one of Half Dome from along the Merced River. I’ve posted other sunrise images from this spot before, but the cloud formations above Half Dome yesterday were exceptional.
The snow levels with this system were high, above 8,000 feet most of the time. I haven’t been able to find snow totals for Tuolumne Meadows, but Mammoth Mountain got two to three feet of snow, and Tuolumne probably got similar amounts.
The waterfalls in Yosemite Valley got a big boost from this storm. Their flow will diminish as the immediate runoff from the storm dissipates, but that new high-elevation snowpack will help feed the waterfalls for awhile, and we should see near-normal water flow for at least the next month or so.
This image was a lucky accident. I was standing next to my car along a tour route at one the wildlife refuges in the Central Valley, looking at a large flock of sandhill cranes and Ross’s geese, when I saw this egret flying by. I quickly turned, pressed the autofocus button on the back of the camera, followed the bird, and held the shutter button down as the egret landed.
The photograph languished in my archives for awhile before I processed it. Maybe I didn’t realize its potential right away because it was such a grab shot. But I did finally process it recently, and found several things to like about it.
First, there’s the contrast. Most of the frame is dark, but the two key elements – the bird and the road – are lighter, so they stand out. Any time you can place a light subject against a dark background, and have that subject stand out cleanly and distinctly against its surroundings, you have the potential for a strong image. There’s no sunlight in this photo, so the contrast isn’t created by sun and shade, but by the juxtaposition of a white bird against dark vegetation. But it doesn’t matter how the contrast is created, as long as it’s there. (The same idea also works for dark subjects against light backgrounds. I talk more about both kinds of contrast in this post.)
Last Thursday, Yosemite Valley got two inches of rain, the first real precipitation in almost two months. Higher elevations got snow, and the temperature dropped enough to give the Valley a slight dusting at the tail end of the storm. The main part of the storm cleared around midday on Thursday – not the best time for photography, though still beautiful. But then showers resumed Thursday night, with the last of them moving through just before sunrise. Perfect timing.
My two brothers were visiting from Washington State, and the three of us rose early, drove up to Yosemite Valley, and headed for one of my favorite spots along the Merced River. The sun broke through the clouds and illuminated El Capitan briefly before the fog thickened and all the cliffs disappeared. But after about ten minutes El Cap re-emerged, the sun broke through, and we were treated to a classic Yosemite clearing storm. The first photograph here is probably my favorite from the morning, but I’ve posted a couple more images below, including a later image from Tunnel View – still a photogenic spot at 10:00 a.m.
But finally the forecast is calling for rain and higher-elevation snow this week. It’s not supposed to be a big storm, but we’ll take what we can get. The main pulse of this system is due to arrive Thursday, but showers might linger into Friday or even Saturday. Snow levels are expected to stay at around 7,000 feet on Thursday, but may drop to 4,000 feet on Saturday, so it’s possible, though not likely, that Yosemite Valley could get a dusting of snow.
One morning, while driving an obscure little road in the Sacramento Valley, Claudia and I stumbled upon an orchard filled with fog. As far as we could tell there was no other fog within 50 miles, because there’s very little moisture anywhere, but for some reason this one spot had fog – possibly because the trees had been watered recently, creating moisture that condensed in the cool morning air.
Seeing the sunbeams cutting through the mist underneath the trees, I grabbed my camera and tripod, and quickly framed a few compositions, one of which is shown above. Within five minutes the fog had burned off, leaving us with yet another clear, warm, dry January day.
We had a great response to the PhotoPills giveaway, with nearly 300 people putting their names into the hat. We assigned each person who entered a number, and used a random number generator to select the five winners. And the winners are…
John (email starts with jwtrone)
Congratulations to the winners! You’ll each receive an email shortly from Claudia with a code for downloading a free copy of PhotoPills. And if you didn’t get lucky this time, the app is only $9.99, and well worth the price.
Thanks to all of you who participated, and good luck with your moon photos!
— Michael Frye