Archive for the ‘New Images’ Category

More Birds, and a Horsetail Update

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
Moon, Venus, and Ross's geese, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Moon, Venus, and Ross’s geese, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

I’ve been working on a book deadline, so haven’t been able to get to Yosemite Valley and check on Horsetail Fall recently. But I did break away from the desk on Friday to go down to the Central Valley and photograph birds. At first the light was rather uninspiring, because the fog I was hoping for had lifted into a low overcast. But it turned out to be a great day. I photographed one of the biggest goose takeoffs I’ve ever seen, with perhaps 30,000 birds lifting off at once; one of the photographs below shows part of that group. Later, the sun broke through the stratus deck to create some beautiful sunbeams, and at dusk Venus and the crescent moon appeared (above).

As for Horsetail, the flow diminished quickly after the last rainstorm, and from reports I’ve heard there is basically no water in it – just a bit of dampness. There is another storm predicted for today and tomorrow. This is expected to be both colder and weaker than the last storm, with snow levels around 6,000 feet, but limited moisture. Horsetail might get some help from this system, but probably not much. Even if this storm turns out to be bigger than predicted, any precipitation in Horsetail’s drainage will fall as snow, so there won’t be a significant boost in flow until the sun comes out and melts some of that snow. It’s supposed to be sunny Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so maybe by Wednesday or Thursday we could see a decent water flow in Horsetail.

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Subject, Meet Light

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Ross's geese taking flight at sunset, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Ross’s geese taking flight at sunset, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

It should come as no surprise to any photographer that the interaction between subject and light is important. In fact, I’d say that this interaction is the essence of the whole thing; it’s what photography is all about.

But which comes first? Do you look for an interesting subject, and then find the right light for it? Or do you look at the light first, and then find a subject that fits the light?

I think both approaches can work. But having said that, I almost always think about light first. What’s the light now? What might happen to the light in the next five minutes, ten minutes, hour, or two hours? I try to anticipate how the light and weather might change, decide what kind of subject(s) could work with that light, and only then decide where to go.

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Yosemite Falls by Moonlight

Thursday, February 12th, 2015
Upper Yosemite Fall illuminated by the rising moon, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Upper Yosemite Fall illuminated by the rising moon, Monday night

After photographing Horsetail Fall on Monday evening I was thinking about heading home, but it occurred to me that this might be the perfect night to make a photograph I had been thinking of, with Upper Yosemite Fall backlit by the rising moon. The moon was due to rise about 11:00 p.m. Consulting PhotoPills, it seemed like the angle and phase of the moon were about right. And with the waterfalls so full, plus cloud-free skies, it seemed unlikely that I’d ever find better conditions.

So I decided to go for it. I had dinner at the Food Court at Yosemite Lodge, then connected to the Lodge wi-fi and answered emails for awhile. About 8:30 I headed up the trail.

Hiking the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail in the dark was a strange, surreal experience. I’d been up this trail at night before, but under a full moon. Prior to the moonrise Monday night it was very dark, with the only light coming from the stars. I had to use my headlamp to negotiate the rocky trail, and the bright light ruined my night vision. When I came around the bend where you typically get your first view of the upper fall, I could hear it, and feel the spray, but couldn’t see it at all. I had to turn off my headlamp and let my eyes adjust for a minute, and then I could just make out a tall, skinny triangle of less-than-pure-blackness ahead of me – the waterfall.

I didn’t get as wet as expected going past the base of the fall; I’ve been soaked at this spot before, but the water level apparently wasn’t as high this time. But the waterfall was loud. I arrived at my spot early, and had time to try out different compositions before the moon rose.

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After the Storm

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunrise from Tunnel View, Sunday morning

Yosemite Valley got about three inches of rain from the storms over the weekend. That’s not a drought-busting amount, but it helps, and I’m grateful for every drop.

The first wave of rain arrived Friday night, and lingered through Saturday. Early Sunday morning I looked at the satellite and radar images online, and saw thin, high clouds moving in ahead of the next system. Thinking that those clouds might light up at sunrise, I made the trip up to Tunnel View. Soon after I got there a bit of color appeared behind Half Dome, and then within minutes the whole sky caught on fire. It turned into the most colorful sunrise I’ve ever seen from that spot; you can see a photograph above.

The second wave of rain arrived Sunday evening. It started slowly, but around 9:30 p.m. a band of heavy rain passed through Mariposa County and headed toward Yosemite. I was actually out driving during this squall, and had to stop and pull off the road four separate times because it was raining so hard I could only see about 20 feet ahead.

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Another Beautiful Moonrise

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Moon rising above Half Dome from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising above Half Dome from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

During my workshop in Yosemite last week we photographed a spectacular moonrise on Monday evening from Tunnel View. A band of lenticular clouds hung in the sky in the distance, and just before the moon rose the sun broke through the clouds behind us and lit up El Capitan and Half Dome with vivid shades of orange.

In a recent interview I did for David Johnston and his Photography Roundtable podcast, we talked about using telephoto lenses for landscapes, and how using a longer lens is one way to simplify a composition. I use whatever lens seems appropriate for the situation – the lens that allows me to include all the essentials, but only the essentials. In the photograph above, that meant using my 70-200mm zoom at 183mm in order to fill the frame with the moon, Half Dome, that lenticular cloud, and the v-shaped notch below and to the left of Half Dome.

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Oceans of Fog: Part Two

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Thursday morning; focal length was 75mm

As I mentioned in my last post, the fog display on Thursday morning might have been even better than Wednesday morning. It didn’t look very promising at first. There was no fog at our house, and none in Mariposa either, so I knew Mt. Bullion wouldn’t work. Claudia was with me this time, and we decided to take a back road out into the lower foothills. At one point we crested a ridge, and there, below us, was the sea of fog.

Again I was fortunate to find a good viewpoint looking toward the southeast. This time there was a layer of high clouds above the fog, already starting to turn color with the sunrise. Best of all, a double-peaked hill was poking up out of the fog in that direction. The image at the top of this post is an early one from that morning, with a brilliant sunrise above the fog and hills.

After the sun rose, the fog lifted into some nearby ridges, getting high enough to almost – but not quite – obscure that double-peaked hill. Soft backlight filtered through the high clouds, bringing out beautiful textures in the fog (see the two images below).

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Oceans of Fog: Part One

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, Wednesday morning

After the episode of dense fog in the Central Valley that I mentioned in my last post, the fog lifted into what meteorologists call a stratus deck last week – essentially a layer of fog that’s slightly above ground level. From the Central Valley the stratus deck would look like a low overcast. If you were to drive out of the valley into the Sierra, you’d climb into the clouds, and into a layer of fog, and then eventually get above the fog and into sunshine. And if you could find a hill or ridge that rose above the stratus deck, you’d be able to look out over a sea of fog.

That sight should be familiar to people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere along the California Coast. When I lived in the Bay Area in the early ’80s, I remember driving along Skyline Drive on the Peninsula and looking out to the west over a sea of fog covering the ocean. At that time my interest in photography was in its infancy, but it was a beautiful sight. I’ve had that mental image in my mind ever since, and have long wanted to make photographs from above a sea of fog.

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Oaks in the Mist

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills

As regular readers know, I love fog. It’s a little like snow in the way it can transform an ordinary landscape into something dreamlike.

We’ve had a lot of interesting fog around here lately. Last week the fog was very dense in the Central Valley, sometimes persisting all day rather than burning off in the afternoon. One morning we made an early trip into the lower foothills of Mariposa County, an area with rolling, grassy hills and scattered oaks (I’ve posted images from there before). I was hoping that the fog would be thick enough to push up from the Central Valley into these foothills, and it was – just barely. We were right on the edge of the fog, which was actually perfect – foggy enough to create a misty, ethereal mood, but not so foggy that it completely obscured the landscape.

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“Ordinary” Landscapes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, CA, USA

Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, California, December 18th

I’m grateful to live near Yosemite Valley, one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. But in photography, light is more important than subject. My most popular image of 2014 featured an orchard in the Sacramento Valley – with exceptional light. I’d rather photograph an “ordinary” scene in great light than an extraordinary scene in dull light.

Last month Claudia and made an early-morning drive to one of the wildlife refuges in the flat-as-a-table-top expanse of the San Joaquin Valley. I was hoping for fog, which is common on winter mornings in the Central Valley. Instead, I found the beautiful clouds and reflections shown in the photograph above. In this case, the flat landscape helped, making it possible to catch the orange ball of the sun just as it crested the horizon. The light, clouds, colors, and reflections helped to convey a nice early-day mood.

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Picking My Best Images of 2014

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve recovered from your New Year’s Eve celebrations. Claudia and I are in surprisingly-cold Pasadena, California, visiting friends, and watching the Rose Parade a few blocks from our friends’ house.

Like champagne, Auld Land Syne, and the Rose Parade, it’s become a New Year’s tradition on this blog to pick out my best images from the past year, and once again I’m inviting you to help make these difficult choices. I’ve posted 40 of my best photographs from 2014 below, in chronological order. After you look through these, please post a comment listing your ten favorites.

You don’t have to list your ten favorites in any order, or even name them – just numbers will do. (The numbers are in the captions underneath the photographs. Also, you can click on the images to see them larger.) Once the votes are in I’ll post the top ten on this blog, and submit the final group to Jim Goldstein’s blog project, where he’ll be showcasing the best images of the year from over 300 photographers. The voting deadline is this Saturday, January 3rd, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific time.

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