Archive for November, 2010

Another Snowy Weekend

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Half Dome and El Capitan, sunrise

Half Dome and El Capitan, sunrise

I can’t remember seeing so much snow in November. Saturday brought another storm, and six inches of new snow to the valley floor. I went out in the blizzard Saturday afternoon to photograph snowy trees (my wife Claudia posted a photo of me in the Ahwahnee Meadow on my Facebook page). The storm cleared during the night, and Sunday was another one of those great Yosemite days—a beautiful sunrise, and fresh snow everywhere. The photo above was made from Tunnel View shortly after sunrise, and I’ve included a couple of other photos from the day below. As you can see in the last image, there is still, amazingly, some fall color in spots.

Curiously there were few other photographers in the valley. Only two other people captured the sunrise from Tunnel View—locals Evan Russell and Walter Flint. I spotted a few tripods later in the day, but was surprised there weren’t more, especially with such great conditions on a holiday weekend. Maybe no one could get reservations near the park. Or, perhaps perhaps people were actually spending time with their families instead of devoting every spare moment to photography. Imagine that! Well, with luck we’ll get many more photogenic storms this winter.

Golden reflections in the Merced River

Golden reflections in the Merced River


Snow falling from oaks, Ahwahnee Meadow

Things to be Thankful For

Thursday, November 25th, 2010


I love Thanksgiving because it’s such a universal, inclusive holiday. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs everyone has something to be thankful for.

As photographers, we can be thankful for the beautiful, amazing, infinitely varied world we live in, a world that provides an endless supply of great subjects to photograph.

We can also be thankful to Daguerre, or Talbot, or whoever really invented photography, for creating this wonderful medium which gives everyone an opportunity to express themselves.

I’m thankful that photography forces me to really pay attention to everything around me instead of thinking about the mundane day-to-day problems that could so easily occupy my thoughts.

I’m thankful for the inspiring work of all my fellow photographers. You never cease to surprise me!

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to live near and photograph Yosemite for over 25 years. It’s such a special place, and a great privilege to become so intimately acquainted with it.

I’m very thankful for my family, and especially for my wonderful wife who’s always been so patient with and supportive of my photography.

I’m particularly thankful for all of you—fellow photographers, blog readers, Yosemite lovers—for reading, listening, and commenting. Your participation makes writing this blog fun, and it’s great to be able to talk about my love of photography with others who share that passion.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(P.S. The critique series is taking Thanksgiving week off, but will be back next week. See you then!)


More Snow

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Sunset clouds over Cathedral Rocks yesterday evening

Another cold storm arrived early this morning. Rain turned to snow at my house in Mariposa about an hour ago, and the sky is full of big, fat flakes. I was in Yosemite Valley yesterday afternoon, and found about a foot of wet snow in the meadows. There could be another foot before this latest storm ends. Looks like we’ll have a white Thanksgiving!

There’s still some nice fall color in Yosemite Valley, especially in the eastern end. The oaks adjacent to Cook’s Meadow and the Ahwahnee Meadow have retained most of their leaves, and you can find colorful dogwoods between Curry Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel.

From the comments on my previous post it sounds like many of you braved the slippery roads and made it up to Yosemite this past weekend. It was a beautiful weekend, and I bet some of you got great photos! I’m always interested in seeing what people have captured, so please feel free to include links to images in the comments.


Sunset clouds over Cathedral Rocks yesterday evening


A Change in the Forecast

Friday, November 19th, 2010
Photographer at Tunnel View on a snowy morningPhotographer at Tunnel View on a snowy morning

When I wrote my post the other day (First Snow?) it looked like Yosemite Valley might get a few inches of snow this weekend. Now forecasters are predicting one to two feet above 4000 feet, and 8 to 12 inches above 3000 feet. There’s a big difference in driving conditions between the two scenarios. Please go only if you’re really prepared to deal with serious winter driving.

If you do still go you’ll have to bring chains of course, but make sure they actually fit! Try them on in your driveway first. It’s no fun attempting to put chains on for the first time in the middle of a blizzard, only to find that they’re too small. Also, I recommend taking Highway 140, as this is the lowest elevation route into Yosemite Valley. However it looks like even this route will have snow outside the park near Midpines on Saturday night and Sunday.

If you’re an experienced winter driver, by all means go, and have a good time! If you’re not experienced you might want to rethink your plans.


First Snow?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010
Forecasters are expecting a cold stormto arrive this weekend. The snow level is predicted to drop to 4000 or 5000 feet on Saturday, and possibly lower on Sunday. Yosemite Valley, at 4000 feet, may get its first snow of the season.

While the fall color is past peak, the oaks have kept most of their leaves, so we could see that rare combination of snow and fall color this weekend.

In the meantime, a stretch of warm weather has allowed Tioga Pass to reopen, but it will probably close again when the forecast storm arrives around Friday night.

It could be a great weekend for photography in Yosemite, but if you come make sure you’re prepared for winter driving! Four-wheel drive is very helpful, but you’re required to carry chains even if you have four-wheel drive.

I may be in the valley on Sunday, so if you see me be sure to say hello. Good luck!


More Images From That Magical Day—and a Call for Photographs

Thursday, November 18th, 2010
Half Dome and the Merced River, 7:41 a.m., November 8thHalf Dome and the Merced River, 7:41 a.m., November 8th

Even on a hot, crowded, cloudless day in August Yosemite Valley is a beautiful place. But sometimes it outdoes itself and puts on a show.

Last Monday, November 8th, was one of those days. At the peak of fall color, a rainstorm cleared during the night and left beautiful mist and clouds in its wake. As I wrote earlier, I found photographs everywhere.

I know a few other photographers who were in Yosemite Valley that day, and I thought it would be fun to see what everyone else did, and collect a portfolio of images—a portrait of Yosemite on one autumn day. So I’ve set up a Flickr group to do just that. If you were in Yosemite on November 8th, please upload some of your images so we can all see them. There are no limits to how many photographs you can include, but try to edit and show only your best work. Subject matter could be anything; the only restriction is that the photographs must have been made within the borders of Yosemite National Park on November 8th, 2010. And if you know anyone who was in Yosemite that day who might not read this blog, please send them a link and urge them to submit.

I’ve started things off by uploading 14 of my images from that day to the Flickr group. I look forward to seeing what everyone else captured!


Photo Critique Series: “Dogwood” by Mark Wilburn

Friday, November 12th, 2010

“Dogwood” by Mark Wilburn 

This week’s photograph was made by Mark Wilburn in Yosemite Valley. By having his image chosen for this critique Mark will receive a free 16×20 matted print from Aspen Creek Photo. If you’d like your images considered for future critiques you can upload them to the Flickr group I created for this purpose.

Overview, Composition, and Light

This image was made just a few days ago, on November 6th, near the peak of fall color in Yosemite Valley this year. In fact I was nearby, teaching a private workshop, when Mark made this photograph. I exchanged some pleasantries with a man who said he read my blog, but I didn’t get his name. Then when I contacted Mark about using this image for a critique he told me that was him!

Anyway, I know exactly where these dogwoods are: near Gates of the Valley, also known as Valley View. The dogwoods in this area are striking right now, but not necessarily easy to photograph. It’s one thing to find a colorful subject; it’s another to build a strong composition around that color.


A Magical Day

Monday, November 8th, 2010

What a magical day it was in Yosemite Valley. The storm cleared overnight, and Claudia and I rose early to make the drive to the park. We saw a misty sunrise, a dramatic sunset, and beautiful fall color. Everywhere I looked there was another photograph, and another, and another—all demanding to be captured. I did my best to oblige. Here’s a morning view of Three Brothers in the mist; I’ll post more images soon.

Although some leaves were knocked down by the storm, most survived, and it looks like we’ll still have plenty of autumn color through this weekend.











First light on Three Brothers, around 7:00 a.m. this morning



Yosemite Valley Fall Color is Peaking—Finally!

Sunday, November 7th, 2010
Cottonwood leaves and reflections in the Merced River, Yosemite
Cottonwood leaves and reflections in the Merced River, Yosemite


What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, October 31st, the color in Yosemite Valley was progressing, but still not there yet. Yesterday I returned to the valley for a private workshop and found colorful leaves everywhere. All the deciduous trees—maples, dogwoods, cottonwoods, and oaks—are turning. Green leaves, abundant a week ago, are now in a small minority. All four species of deciduous trees are close to, or at, their peak autumn color.

Most years the maples and dogwoods turn before the oaks and cottonwoods, so the color is spread out over several weeks. It’s unusual for all these trees to be near peak at the same time, and I’ve seldom seen the valley look more beautiful than it did yesterday. I don’t know how long this will last. A significant storm arrived today, and forecasters are predicting one to two feet of snow above 6000 feet. While it probably won’t snow in Yosemite Valley, at 4000 feet, the rain will knock down some leaves—although surely not all of them. I’m planning to go up to the valley again tomorrow when the storm clears, so I’ll let you know what I find.

This storm has closed Tioga Pass. The pass closes for the winter after the first significant snowfall in November, so it will probably remain closed until spring. My favorite eastern Sierra locations, only a few hours away during the last five months, now require seven hours of driving to reach! I’ve always wanted to visit Mono Lake in winter, so maybe this will be the year, but if not then I’ll return when the pass reopens in May or June.

My five-day workshop, The Digital Landscape: Autumn in Yosemite, finished last week. While the autumn color had not yet reached its peak, we still found many colorful leaves to photograph, and saw some fantastic light and weather, as you can see from this view of Yosemite Falls as a storm was clearing. The group was diverse and interesting, with participants from Sweden, Belgium, New York, Texas, and Minnesota. I think this is the first time I’ve ever taught a Yosemite workshop with no California students! Anyway, thanks to everyone in the group for making this a fun class.

Clearing Storm Over Yosemite Falls
Clearing Storm Over Yosemite Falls



The Dead Have Their Day—Again

Thursday, November 4th, 2010
Dead of the Dead procession, Hornitos, California
Day of the Dead procession, Hornitos, California


Last year Claudia and I attended theDay of the Dead (All Soul’s Day) celebration in Hornitos for the first time. Hornitos is a tiny town in the Sierra foothills near my home in Mariposa. During the 1850s over 15,000 people lived there; now the residents number less than a hundred. But every November 2nd the town’s population swells, and several hundred people form a silent, candlelit procession from the town up a hill to the old church and graveyard, where they participate in a ceremony honoring the departed.

As I wrote last year, Claudia and I both found the ceremony moving and inspiring, and knew we had to return. Tuesday night we attended the event for the second time. We loved it, again; in our noisy world it’s wonderful to see hundreds of people holding candles and walking silently, solemnly through the night to an old graveyard. Although neither of us are practicing Catholics, we can appreciate rituals that help connect us with some of the more essential and elemental aspects of life and death.

About the Photograph

Last year I made some good images, but it’s difficult to photograph something like this when you’ve never seen it before, don’t know what to expect, and only have one chance at it. This time I had a plan. I positioned myself where I could see the curving line of the procession walking up the hill toward the church. With the camera locked on a tripod I made an exposure at dusk to capture some of the ambient light, then made a further series of long exposures as the procession passed by. The pieces were assembled in Photoshop. The squiggly lines were made by candles that people held as they walked up the hill. The blue streak is actually the viewing screen of a video camera dangling from a man’s shoulder as he walked up the hill—a nice touch of color, and the line helps fill in an otherwise empty space in the composition.

Some photographs are created spontaneously; others require planning. This is obviously an example of planning, as is my photograph of Horsetail Fall by moonlight. But most of my best images were made by simply reacting to what I saw around me—fleeting light or weather, or maybe just aninteresting arrangement of elements that could make a compelling composition. Planning and flexibility are both essential tools in a photographer’s kit.

Next November 2nd I may leave the camera at home and actually join the procession. Then again, I might not be able to resist trying to capture an event with such rich photographic potential. Either way, I’ll be there.