Morning reflections, dogwood and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Morning reflections, dogwood and the Merced River, Yosemite, Saturday morning

We had a nice spring storm on Friday. Here in Mariposa we heard some loud thunder, and experienced a torrential downpour for about ten minutes. We got about half and inch of rain altogether, but Yosemite Valley got an inch and a third, which is a big total for April. Snow fell on the rim of the valley, and the Glacier Point Road, which had opened on Tuesday, was closed again temporarily.

The storm cleared after sunset on Friday, and Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley early on Saturday morning, hoping for mist. There wasn’t much mist, but we found some dogwoods in a small patch of fog near the base of Middle Cathedral Rock, which kept me busy for awhile. Later, as the sun started to reach down into the valley, I photographed more dogwoods against the background of the Merced River, with golden reflections in the water.

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April 17th, 2016

The Mist Trail at Night

Vernal Fall and Liberty Cap at night with a lunar rainbow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Vernal Fall and Liberty Cap at night with a lunar rainbow, Yosemite. 20 seconds at f/4, ISO 6400

Claudia and I made a nighttime trip up the Mist Trail recently. The ostensible purpose of this hike was to look for lunar rainbows, and we did find some, as you can see from the photos. But that was just a bonus. The real reward was being up there on a beautiful, moonlit night, with the roar of the falling water filling our ears, and having this normally-crowded trail completely to ourselves. It was so much fun.

The moon will be full on Thursday night, and with the good water flow this spring I expect that many photographers will be making their way to Yosemite to photograph lunar rainbows on Yosemite Falls. Don Olson has posted lunar rainbow predictions for Lower Yosemite Fall, but the spray will be soaking the bridge below the lower fall, making it hard to keep lenses dry during long exposures. Unfortunately Don hasn’t posted any predictions yet for Upper Yosemite Fall, and my trigonometry skills aren’t good enough to make those predictions myself. I think lunar rainbows will be visible on the upper fall from Cook’s Meadow at some point on Thursday evening, and the following couple of nights, but I can’t be positive!

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April 14th, 2016

First Signs of Dogwoods

Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite Valley, from April 21st, 2007

Last year the dogwoods in Yosemite Valley bloomed two or three weeks sooner than normal. This year they seem to be on a more typical timetable, but may still arrive a bit early.

Claudia and I were in Yosemite Valley on Tuesday afternoon, and saw the first signs of the dogwoods blooming. When dogwood blossoms first appear they’re small and green. Over the course of about a week or so they gradually become larger and brighter until they turn completely white. (Except for the centers, which become yellow-green. Those centers are the real flowers; the white “petals” are actually bracts.) On Tuesday there were lots of green blossoms, and only a few white ones. We didn’t see a single tree with all-white blossoms, only a few that were partially white. But that should change pretty quickly. There should be a few trees with all-white blossoms by this weekend, and I’d guess that the majority will be in full bloom by the end of next week.

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April 11th, 2016

Focus-Stacking Season

Poppies, lupines, goldfields, and tri-colored gilia, Merced River Canyon, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Poppies, lupines, goldfields, and tri-colored gilia, Merced River Canyon, Wednesday afternoon. A focus-stacked blend of four different frames.

It’s spring, which means it’s wildflower season, and focus-stacking season.

There’s been a secondary poppy bloom in the eastern end of the Merced River Canyon near El Portal. No big swaths of poppies, but smaller patches, and some of those patches are mixed with other flowers, which always makes things more interesting. Claudia and I spent the afternoon up there on Wednesday, and had a great time. I’ve included a couple of my favorite images from that day here.

As I was processing the images later, it occurred to me that all of them required focus stacking. Literally every single one. And this is very common for me when photographing wildflowers. I don’t need focus stacking often in other seasons, but in spring I use this technique all the time. It’s just difficult to get everything in focus with one frame when photographing wildflowers. I’m frequently picking out a particularly dense patch of flowers, and using a telephoto lens to emphasize patterns and visually compress the space, making the flowers look closer together. Even with careful focusing and f/22 it’s impossible to get everything in focus with a long lens raking across a field of flowers like that. But even with wide-angle lenses it’s sometimes difficult to get everything in focus with one frame, because I’m getting really close to the foreground flowers, so there’s a tremendous amount of depth.

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Rainbow, mist, and Yosemite Falls, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow, mist, and Yosemite Falls, March 14th

I recently wrote about photographing a clearing storm from the Four-Mile Trail, but that was actually my second journey up that trail last month. The first time was a week earlier, on March 14th, as another rainstorm cleared early in the morning. At that time I hadn’t been up the Four-Mile Trail in several years, but I remembered that you could see some great views of Yosemite Falls from the trail, and the unusually high early-spring water levels in falls made it seem worth trying.

I had a vague memory of finding some good views of the falls that weren’t very far up the trail, but apparently my memory was faulty, as all the lower views were partially obscured by trees. I found a decent view about 600 feet above the valley floor, but kept going up and up the switchbacks until I reached some better spots. On the way I also saw misty scenes looking west toward Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan, which I had to photograph, giving me a convenient excuse to stop and rest:

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March 27th, 2016

Wildflower Hunting

Poppies, lupines, and oak, Figueroa Mountain, Los Padres NF, CA, USA

Poppies, lupines, and oak, Figueroa Mountain

Claudia and I took a few days this past week to look for wildflowers. It doesn’t seem like a great year for flowers, at least compared to some past years, but we did find some nice patches.

Our first stop was Carrizo Plain National Monument. We had heard some promising reports from this area, and we found extensive patches of yellow hillside daisies along the south and east sides of Soda Lake. We also heard that there are large swaths of purple phacelia in the southern part of the monument, but we didn’t make it down that far. However the Temblor Range, on the eastern edge of the Monument, seemed very dry. There were patches of daisies in the Temblors, but none of the multi-colored hillsides you’ll see in the best years. If you’ve never been to the Carrizo Plain in the spring it’s definitely worth going, as you’ll find some large swaths of beautiful flowers on the valley floor, and a bit of searching will reveal mixes of different species that work well for more intimate scenes. But if you’ve been to the Carrizo in a great year you’ll probably be a little disappointed with the display this spring.

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March 24th, 2016

A Different Point of View

Half Dome and North Dome at sunrise from the Four-Mile Trail, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and North Dome at sunrise from the Four-Mile Trail, 8:07 a.m. Tuesday morning

A small storm rolled through Monday night. The showers tapered off during the wee hours Tuesday morning, and I rose early, hoping to once again photograph a clearing storm in Yosemite Valley.

The moon was nearly full, and I actually got to the valley early enough to capture some images of the clearing storm by the light of the setting moon. Then some clouds moved in. I looked at the radar images on my phone, and saw a band of showers approaching. It looked like the showers would reach me around sunrise, and pass through pretty quickly. Hmm. I might have just enough time to hike up the Four-Mile Trail to a spot with a view of Half Dome that I’d been wanting to try.

It would be a gamble. Staying near the roads on the valley floor would give me more flexibility; I could wait to see what happened with the weather, and within five or ten minutes be at one of my favorite, familiar locations. But on this morning I wanted to try something different, so I decided to take a chance and go for it.

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March 20th, 2016

San Joaquin Valley Sunset

White-faced ibises, goldfields, and a vernal pool at sunset, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

White-faced ibises, goldfields, and a vernal pool at sunset, San Joaquin Valley, Calfornia

There’s often an element of luck in landscape photography. Of course, as Ansel Adams said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” You have to try to put yourself in the right place at the right time, and then make the most of the opportunities you get. But sometimes luck goes above and beyond.

Yesterday Claudia and I made a day trip to the Bay Area on business, and on our way home we decided to check out some vernal pools in the San Joaquin Valley. Vernal pools fill with water during the winter rainy season, and then slowly evaporate during the spring. As they evaporate, flowers grow along their shores, sometimes forming concentric rings of color. As California’s Central Valley got plowed and paved over, vernal pools became increasingly scarce, so they’re home to several rare species of plants and animals. Most of the remaining vernal pools can be found along the edges of the valley, where the land rises slightly, but the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge complex and Great Valley Grasslands State Park have preserved some vernal pools in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, and that’s where we headed.

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March 17th, 2016

Redbuds and Poppies

Redbuds in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa Country, CA, USA

Redbuds in the Merced River Canyon, Monday afternoon

The redbuds have been coming along nicely in the Merced River Canyon, along Highway 140 west of Yosemite. I drove through the canyon on Monday, and most of the redbuds were blooming. Not all of those that were blooming were fully open yet, and some redbuds were still just budding. On the other hand, I saw a few that were starting to leaf out. Overall I’d say they were not quite at peak, but there were plenty of beautiful redbuds to photograph. They’ll probably peak around this weekend, or next week.

It was harder to tell what was going on with the poppies in the canyon. In late February it was starting to look like we would have a great year for poppies. There were a couple of very colorful hillsides in the western part of the canyon, and the bloom was spreading further east. But since then we’ve had a lot of rain. While rain is usually good for wildflowers, poppies like warm sunshine — at least once they begin blooming. A stretch of cold, rainy weather will cause already-blooming poppies to pack it in for the year and go to seed.

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Sun breaking through fog in an oak grove, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sun breaking through fog in an oak grove, Yosemite, 8:06 a.m. yesterday

Friday’s storm got cold enough to drop a couple of inches of snow on Yosemite Valley. The storm cleared during the night, but showers lingered until the wee hours Saturday morning. It seemed possible that we might find some mist at sunrise, so Claudia and I drove up early to Yosemite Valley.

Indeed there was some mist, and broken clouds overhead. That seemed like a perfect combination for Tunnel View; if the clouds lit up it would be a gorgeous sunrise from there. But soon after I arrived at Tunnel View the clouds dissipated. There was still some mist down in the valley below, but it would take awhile for the sun to get high enough to light that mist, and without clouds to block it the sun would be right in my face, making it difficult to avoid lens flare.

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