At Tunnel View the smoke was thick enough to give the scene a misty, painterly look, but not so thick that you couldn’t see anything. Eventually the orange ball of the sun appeared through the smoke, accompanied by a patterned cloud formation (above). Later, along the Merced River, the smoke lent a similar painterly mood to scenes of El Capitan and Three Brothers (below). And much later, near sunset, the sun turned into an orange ball again as it sunk into the smoke to the west (below).
Claudia had said that the wildflowers were nice in the Yosemite high country, so we decided to go for a hike up there yesterday afternoon. We drove through El Portal sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. and continued up the Big Oak Flat Road to Crane Flat. Everything seemed normal. Near Yosemite Creek we passed the Dark Hole Fire. This is a lightning-caused fire that the park service is letting burn, but it looked pretty active yesterday afternoon, with a big smoke plume.
We continued on past Tuolumne Meadows, started our hike, and found some gorgeous wildflowers (you can see a photograph below). Then we returned to the car, and started home at about 10 p.m. Near Yosemite Creek I decided to stop and photograph the Dark Hole Fire (below), then we continued west back to Crane Flat, where we saw a ranger vehicle blocking the road down to Yosemite Valley.
We were surprised that the road was closed, since we’d just driven up it a few hours earlier. The ranger let us through, since we had a park sticker, but he told us there was no stopping, and to watch out for fire crews. Fire crews? We knew these crews weren’t for the Dark Hole Fire, as that was miles away, and still pretty small. What had happened?
— Ansel Adams
Sooner or later, every landscape photographer has to decide whether to stay put and hope that the light gets better, or move somewhere else.
Last Saturday morning, on the last day of my Hidden Yosemite workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery, we rose early and drove to Tenaya Lake to capture the moon setting over the water. On our way there we noticed low-lying mist in Tuolumne Meadows. We photographed a beautiful moonset over the lake, but as soon as the moon dropped below the ridge we drove back to Tuolumne.
The mist was still there. First we ran out to a small pond to catch the sun lighting some small clouds above the high peaks to the east. Then we spotted a herd of deer off to the left in the mist, so we quickly changed lenses and photographed them until they moved away.
By then the sun was hitting Unicorn Peak, so we walked about a hundred feet north to get a reflection of the peak in the pond, and waited until the sun grazed across the foreground.
Then light started hitting the mist and trees behind us, so we moved again to get closer, and put the sun behind trees where we could see sunbeams and starbursts.
And then the sun rose higher, the mist disappeared, and the show was over. The whole sequence lasted about 40 minutes.
In this case, the light and fog were changing quickly, so we had to switch lenses and move our feet if we wanted to catch those fleeting moments. But three years ago, during the same workshop, a similar situation required waiting patiently for the light to change.
The last photo might be the most unusual rainbow I’ve ever seen. Claudia, my workshop assistant Kirk Keeler, and I were walking out of the Whoa Nellie Deli after dinner last night when we spotted a rainbow. We drove quickly toward the lake, where we found a short, vivid section of the rainbow over a zigzag shoreline. The rainbow was formed by the sun poking through a small hole in the clouds and hitting a rain squall, which made it look like the rainbow was suspended in space and creating a sunbeam.
Forecasts call for similar weather over the next few days, so I’m looking forward to a great week with our group!
— Michael Frye
Light and Weather
David found some amazing lenticular clouds flowing over Yosemite’s high peaks just before sunset. (Where was I that day?) David told me that he and his wife were driving over Tioga Pass to the eastern Sierra when he noticed some interesting clouds forming. He considered stopping earlier, but decided to push on to Olmsted Point, and was able to make it there in time to catch the light on the clouds and peaks before the sun set.
This was perfect timing. There’s a nice orange glow on the highest peaks, creating a warm-cool color contrast. The last light highlights Mt. Conness in the distance, creating a small-but-important focal point. The clouds fit into the gap between the peaks is perfectly. There’s a beautiful, dramatic, late-day mood to the scene.
— Enos A. Mills
Exactly 150 years ago, on June 30th, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, giving Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the state of California to be preserved. This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. (Yosemite National Park was created in 1890 to protect the lands surrounding Yosemite Valley, and in 1906 the valley and Mariposa Grove were returned to the federal government and incorporated into the national park.)
Photography played a vital role in the creation and passing of the Yosemite Grant legislation. The public thought that the early stories about Yosemite Valley were exaggerated, and drawings and paintings could be manipulated, so people only began to appreciate the magnificence of the valley when they saw proof in the form of photographs by Charles Weed and Carleton Watkins. Watkins’ photographs of Yosemite were displayed in the halls of Congress, and may also have been shown to president Lincoln by Senator John Conness. (You can see an exhibit of Watkins’ photographs at Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay Area through August 17th.)
But we never made it to those sea stacks, because before we could get there we checked one more viewpoint, and immediately realized we didn’t need to go any further. We’d found a scene that practically composed itself, with all the elements nicely balanced and arranged: two stands of silhouetted trees on a ridgeline, with an offshore rock placed perfectly in the gap between the trees, and another rock spaced neatly out to the left. There was even a scalloped line of waves in the foreground to lead the eye toward that gap and the distant rock.
Yosemite has long attracted adventurous people who come to climb, hang glide, ski, or hike through its rugged, wild terrain. Our latest book, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, celebrates this spirit of adventure with 45 of my photographs, paired with inspirational quotes about adventure and wild places from people like Galen Rowell, Bill Bryson, Terry Tempest Williams, Yvon Chouinard, Edward Abbey, John Muir, Cheryl Strayed, Lynn Hill, Ron Kauk, and many others, plus a forward by Royal Robbins.
This is the third book in the Yosemite Meditations series, following the original Yosemite Meditations, and Yosemite Meditations for Women. As in the previous editions, my wife Claudia did a great job of editing the book, finding great quotes, and pairing them with the photographs. You’ll find a few sample pages below.
You can hear a bit more about the new book in an interview I did for the Valley Edition show on KVPR, Fresno’s public radio station. The show aired yesterday, but you can listen to it online at their website (my segment starts at minute 28 and lasts about ten minutes).
If you order Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers directly from us through the “Add to Cart” button below, Claudia and I will both sign the book(s). You can also order from the publisher, the non-profit Yosemite Conservancy, or from Amazon.
We hope you like the book, and really appreciate your support! We also want to give our thanks to the Yosemite Conservancy for their continuing commitment to publishing high quality books about the park, and for all the great work they do to help Yosemite.
— Michael Frye
Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers
Hardcover with jacket; approx. 6×5 inches; 96 pages
We arrived in Crescent City about five days before our redwoods workshop was set to begin. Our first night there some showers moved through, and at sunrise it was gray and raining. But online radar and satellite images showed that the showers might end soon, so I prepared to go out. Then through our hotel room window I saw a rainbow! We made a dash for the car, drove out to Crescent Beach, and luckily the rainbow was still there (right).
The weather then settled into a more typical pattern for the season, with frequent coastal fog and low clouds in the mornings, giving way to clear skies in the afternoons. This pattern should be familiar to anyone who has spent time along the California coast in summer.
This fog is the perfect complement to redwood forests. The rhododendrons were also putting on a great display this year, so for the first part of our workshop, and while scouting beforehand, we had beautiful conditions in the redwoods, with fog, rhododendrons, and even sunbeams.
But on the last day of the workshop the wind shifted and pushed the coastal fog offshore. This also happens frequently along the northern California coast, even in summer, as any disturbance in the weather pattern can change the winds and move the fog out to sea. But the offshore wind produced a different kind of fog – valley fog along the Klamath River. I didn’t think we would see valley fog during this visit, because valley fog usually requires damp ground from recent rains, and there hadn’t been much rain in the area. But apparently the river itself provided enough moisture to create fog.
This time the fog flowed along the river toward the sea, and it was local enough, and low enough, for us to get above it near the mouth of the Klamath River. It was a special treat to look out over the fog bank, and then to watch and photograph the sun breaking through the fog and lighting the surf.
Any moving subject – including waves – can lend itself to using slow shutter speeds. With ocean scenes, the blurred motion created by slow shutter speeds can convey a sense of motion more strongly than a frozen image would, or give the water an ethereal quality that adds to the mood of the image. Here’s a small portfolio of my slow-shutter-speed ocean photographs from before, during, and after our workshop, with the shutter speeds included in the captions for each image.