A Rainy, Misty Day in Yosemite Valley, and a Quick Fall Color Report

Tree, Tunnel View

Tree, Tunnel View

It rained in Yosemite Valley on Monday afternoon, but my private workshop student Dale and I didn’t mind too much. While we got a little wet, the rain generated beautiful, ethereal scenes perfect for black-and-white photography. To me the mood was reminiscent of those Chinese paintings with misty hills and trees, so I looked for compositions that could emphasize that feeling. Here are a couple of my favorites.

You’ve probably heard that bad weather can be great for photography, and there’s certainly some truth to that. For me, having photographed Yosemite Valley so many times, I think any unusual conditions fire my imagination.

Upper Yosemite Fall

Upper Yosemite Fall

While photographing at Tunnel View we were treated to a striking sight: a young woman in a skimpy, strapless, red-and-white dress, with gold high-heeled shoes, posing for a photographs with a man in a white shirt and tie. I assume they’d just been married…

Anyway, I quickly changed lenses and snapped a couple of photos of this scene—you can see one at the end of this post. Note what the other woman in the photograph is wearing, and the umbrella; it was about 50 degrees and raining lightly. Also, check out the shoebox on the ground, accompanied by a pair of worn sneakers. The woman in the red-and-white dress walked out in those sneakers, changed into the gold stilettos for the photos, and then, as soon as they were done posing, put the stilettos back in the box and stepped into the sneakers.

I started thinking about the lengths that this couple went just to get a few photos… and then realized that Dale and I were standing out there in the rain just to get a few photos… Sure, we were dressed more appropriately for the conditions, but we were also out there a lot longer! So we weren’t that different after all. I think we all have the ability to ignore discomfort for the sake of a photograph.

Meanwhile, there was very little autumn color to be seen in the valley. A few leaves here and there have begun changing, but that’s it. This is not terribly surprising, as I usually expect to see the peak color in late October or early November, but autumn is definitely late in Yosemite. I haven’t heard any reports of fantastic color over on the eastern side of the Sierra either; the aspens there seem to be late as well. We’ll be heading over to Lee Vining next week, so I’ll be able to give you a first-hand report. And if you’ve been out photographing fall color, please let us know what you’ve found in the comments!

On another note, I just finished writing a new eBook (more about that later…), and have had a busy workshop schedule, so I haven’t been able to do a critique in awhile, but I’ll try to post another one soon. Thanks for your patience!

—Michael Frye

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.


Dressed for the weather

Dressed for the weather

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21 Responses to “A Rainy, Misty Day in Yosemite Valley, and a Quick Fall Color Report”

  1. I love those Chinese painting moods! BTW, absolutely no color on dogwoods or black oaks in Giant Forest in Sequoia.

  2. Hi Michael,
    I have spent the last 2 weekends in Bishop Creek and have seen some stunning fall color and fresh snow creating the most amazing contrasts.
    Last weekend, I drove 8 hours from Yosemite Valley (my home) to Bishop during the big snowstorm so I could see it all in person! Please check out my photos and let me know what you think!
    Thank you!

  3. scientifantastic says:

    Was up Bishop Creek last weekend. No real color at all, mostly green. Whatever color there was had been destroyed and was black/brown/yellow. South lake area was the best along with lake sabrina. Missed north lake, but heard it was not great. Nothing up at virginia lakes or conway summit. i give it 2 weeks to start changing

  4. Michael Frye says:

    Steve, thanks very much for the kind words about the photos, and for the report from Sequoia. Autumn is late everywhere around here!

    Kristal, thanks for the link. It looks like you did indeed find some nice color, though I see a lot of green in those photos as well. But the mixture of snow and aspens is great – you really got lucky with that!

    Sci, thanks for your report also. Seems like you and Kristal have a different view of the conditions, which is not unusual. I think things will improve before two weeks, but two weeks is probably about right for peak conditions in the areas near Lee Vining – June Lake, Lee Vining Canyon, Lundy Canyon, etc.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Isn’t it great the gifts of beauty that nature gives us when we stop and look!? These are wonderful photos in the mist.
    I am interested in catching good fall color in Hope Valley, if anyone has info about that occurence, I would like to hear it. Thanks.

  6. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks Cynthia – glad you like these images. I hear about Hope Valley pretty frequently on CalPhoto, so if you haven’t joined that yet I’d recommend doing so.

  7. DaleG says:


    Thanks for the great day and the great story with the young couple. I wonder who they thought the crazy ones were. The second benefit to the rainy day on Monday was that Tuesday was a great sunny day with the waterfalls flowing well.

    It was great meeting you and working with you.

  8. Michael Frye says:

    Dale, it was great meeting you too – it was a fun day, and watching that couple was a treat. Tunnel View has a circus atmosphere sometimes. Glad to hear that you had a good day on Tuesday!

  9. Kim says:

    Love Love Love the shot with the falls and lone tree at the bottom!!! Very special atmosphere caught!
    We were at Sabrina, North Lake and South Lake a few days before the storm and caught a few colorful shots, but the snow did brown out many of the trees. There are still some good spots going. We might take a drive up to Conway Summit and Virginia Lakes today to see what it’s like there. I also have friends who live at Mono Village in Twin Lakes and they say the colors are still good in that area!
    Fall…. my favorite time of year!

  10. I like these images and they are different from your other photographs. Interesting story and observations. They went to all that trouble and just by being there you were able to capture their efforts to look a certain way.

  11. Andrew Chan says:

    Michael – been meaning to ask if you’ve ever hiked up to The Diving Board. My friend and I are going to attempt the hike on Saturday to recreate “The Monolith”. I’ve studied the route a lot with info from the ‘net, but wondered if you had any tips/thoughts. Sunday, we’ve go over Tioga and make our way up to the Bristlecone trees and hopefully, Patriarch Grove. Thanks in advance.

  12. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks very much Kim! This image is a bit different for me, so it’s nice to hear that it struck a chord with you.

    David, thanks, glad you like these – and the story. Tunnel View is an amazing place to watch people as well as scenery!

    Andrew, I’ve never been to the Diving Board, so I can’t help you there. But it sounds like you’ve done your homework, so you should be fine. Good luck, and let me know how it went!

  13. Jay Gaskill says:

    Hi Michael

    I just found your blog a few weeks ago, this is my first comment.

    I was in Yosemite Sun,Mon 9-10&11 mainly to capture the Full Moon rising over Half Dome and Nevada Fall at sunset from Glacier Point. I the went over to Lee Vining 12-13-14th.

    The color on the June Lake Loop was showing quite well, but not at peak. The creek area above Grant Lake was the best on the loop.
    The lower part of Lundy canyon had good yellow. The Lake area appeared to be half to threequarters turned, the same at the beaver ponds above the lake. The upper slopes of the canyon had color. The storm did not appear to have any effect in Lundy. Jay

  14. Michael Frye says:

    Jay, I’m glad you found the blog, and thanks for chiming in and sharing your report from the June Lake area and Lundy Canyon. I’m headed over that way tomorrow, so I hope things will continue progressing!

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  17. Andrew Chan says:

    Hi Michael – I just wanted to follow up and let you know that my friend and I didn’t quite make it to The Diving Board. According to my GPS, we got within 0.5 miles on the side of Half Dome. We had gotten a little lost along the way and by the time we were in the final spot, it was already 3:30pm. And we were scared off by the steepness of the granite that we were scaling/scrambling and worried about coming back at dusk/in the dark. Alas, we will have to try again next spring/summer!

    • Michael Frye says:

      Andrew, sorry you didn’t make it, but no doubt it was a good adventure anyway. Better luck next time.

      • Andrew Chan says:

        Yes indeed. Every muscle was sore the next morning after walking 13.5 miles round-trip from 8am to 7pm. But now that I know the way, it will be faster next time. And I’m amazed that Ansel Adams was able to get up there in 1925/27. My friend wants to bring some light ropes and harnesses just for safety’s sake next time!

        • Michael Frye says:

          Ansel, Virginia, and friends were pretty adventurous. They actually went to Sierra Point first, then from there to the Diving Board. Here’s a link to some footage, shot mostly by Virginia, of their ascent. The person shown climbing out to the end of the Diving Board is Virginia (obviously someone else was operating the camera at that point). Ansel is wearing his signature Stetson. The man with the camera wearing the beret is not Ansel, but I forget who it was.


          • Andrew Chan says:

            Thanks for the link to the video Michael. They were much more adventurous than I think I am. I hope to make it up there next summer and will report back then!

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