Archive for the ‘Vision and Creativity’ Category

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).

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Wildlife Landscapes

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Sandhill cranes, fog, and the setting moon, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Sandhill cranes, fog, and the setting moon, San Joaquin Valley, CA

Although I specialize in photographing landscapes these days, I also enjoy photographing the masses of migrating birds that spend the winter in California’s Central Valley. And while I won’t pass up an opportunity to capture a close-up wildlife portrait, most of the time I’m trying to include some of the animals’ habitat. I’m really attempting to photograph landscapes with birds in them, and, as with other landscapes, use the light, weather, and moment to convey a mood.

Last Tuesday morning Claudia and I made another trip down to one of the wildlife refuges in the Central Valley. As usual, I hoped for fog, but knew that if the fog didn’t materialize there would be a nearly-full moon setting to the west, which also might help to add some mood to the photographs.

As it turned out, we got both. We found some low-lying mist, but it wasn’t thick enough to obscure the moon. I just needed some birds to add to the mix, and fortunately we found a flock of sandhill cranes roosting in a pond with the moon behind them.

(more…)

“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.

(more…)

Finding Rhythm

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Curious deer, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Curious deer, Yosemite

We all know that music has rhythm. Speech has rhythm too: the cadence of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs gives language its order and structure, and makes it easier to understand.

We don’t usually think of photographs as having rhythm, but they do – or, at least, good ones do. Most effective photographs have some kind of repetition, a pattern that helps give the image cohesion and rhythm.

The tenth issue of Photograph digital magazine just came out, and it includes an article of mine called “Finding Rhythm.” I’ve been thinking a lot about visual rhythm lately, so I was happy to have this opportunity to write about it for the magazine.

(more…)

The Power of Diagonals

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Half Dome at sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome at sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite. The dramatic light might grab your attention here, but the interlocking diagonal lines create a cohesive design and a sense of energy.


 

One of the keys to learning composition is to think abstractly. As Ian Plant says in his excellent ebook about composition, Visual Flow, “Learning to think abstractly about visual elements is the single most important thing you can do to improve your compositional skills.” The less you think about the subject, and the more you think about the underlying abstract design – the lines, shapes, and patterns – the better you compositions will be.

It’s often easier to think abstractly when photographing a small subject, like a pattern of leaves, or a series of cracks in ice. But it’s just as important to look for repeating lines and shapes in big, sweeping landscapes. One of the most common – and powerful – designs in these big scenes is a series of interlocking diagonal lines. Most hilly or mountainous areas have an abundance of diagonals, and diagonal lines give a photograph a sense of dynamic energy and motion – a perfect fit for dramatic landscape images.

(more…)

Knowing What to Look For

Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO, USA

Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO

 
Claudia and I have been busy since our trip to Colorado in early October, so I haven’t had a chance to post more images from our travels until now. But maybe that’s a good thing, as that time has given me a chance to reflect on the journey.

It had been a dream of mine to photograph the autumn aspen display in Colorado, and it more than lived up to my expectations. Colorado veterans said it was the best fall there in many years, and it certainly looked good to us. The sheer number of aspens covering the hillsides was astonishing.

The problem was that I didn’t know the area. At all. I’m usually writing about photographing Yosemite, or maybe the aspens on the eastern side of the Sierra, places that I know intimately. That knowledge is a big advantage, giving me a greater chance of being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the light, weather, and conditions.

(more…)

Autumn Light

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Late-afternoon sun in an aspen grove, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA

Late-afternoon sun in an aspen grove, Eastern Sierra. Backlight makes autumn leaves glow, but to avoid lens flare you have to either shade the lens (if the sun is out of the frame), or partially hide the sun behind a tree, as I did here.

 
Light is a vital aspect of any photograph, and always the first thing I think about when deciding where to go with my camera. The more you understand light, the better your photographs will be.

Any kind of light can work for fall color – under the right circumstances. But some kinds seem to work better than others. While photographing and leading workshops in the eastern Sierra, I was usually looking for backlight or soft light on the aspens – or best of all, soft backlight.

(more…)

Getting Down to the Essentials

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Wildflowers island and cascade, eastern Sierra, CA, USA

Wildflower island and cascade, eastern Sierra; 100mm, 1/2 sec. at f/16, 100 ISO

It’s been an interesting summer in the Sierra. Last winter was one of the driest on record, but over the last month or so we’ve seen a steady flow of monsoonal moisture flowing up from the southeast, leading to frequent afternoon showers and thunderstorms over the higher elevations. We even heard about an epic deluge two or three weeks ago that flooded the parking lot and some of the tent cabins at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.

That extra moisture has kept the streams flowing and flowers blooming in the high country longer than I would have expected. On Saturday Claudia and I hiked up one of the eastern Sierra canyons and found a pretty series of cascades, with an island of late-summer flowers in the middle.

Although I make my share of black-and-white photographs, I’ve always been attracted to color. I often look for color, then try to build a composition around it. As I tell my workshop students, color isn’t enough – you need to find a design to go with that color.

In this case, that design proved to be elusive. The most obvious composition was a wide-angle view with a patch of flowers at the bottom, and the upper cascade above. But there was a distracting pile of logs at the base of the cascade that cluttered the image, with no obvious way to eliminate or minimize the logs. I have nothing against logs, but in this case I was interested in the flowers and water, and the logs broke up the visual flow between the flowers and water, diluting the photograph’s message:

(more…)