I drove up to the park early and started at Tunnel View, then moved to several other places in the valley, and didn’t stop photographing until the sun had melted most of the snow out of the trees. It was definitely a fun morning, and I’ve included a few of my photographs here.
Archive for the ‘Yosemite Photo Conditions’ Category
The snow melted quickly, and in the afternoon some small (also unpredicted) showers moved through the valley. Driving through rain I noticed the sun starting to break through, and realized that a rainbow might become visible from Tunnel View. Sure enough, when we arrived at Tunnel View we found a rainbow arching over the valley. We grabbed a couple of quick, handheld photos, but the rainbow faded quickly.
It was frustrating, especially since this was the second time I’d arrived at Tunnel View just a little too late to catch a rainbow. But I reasoned that the conditions were right, and the same thing could happen again, so we waited. Eventually another shower moved through, and a patch of blue sky teased us into thinking that a rainbow might appear, but that hole in the clouds closed up and it started sprinkling again. We finally decided to give up and go elsewhere. As we were packing our gear, I noticed that the sky looked a little lighter to the west, so we drove through the tunnel to see what things looked like on the other side. Promising, as the sun was breaking through and hitting the canyon near Cascade Fall.
Part of this was the materials. You had to decide, before you put in a roll of film, whether you wanted to photograph in color or black and white, and then you were committed to that choice for the next 36 frames. This encouraged you to stick with what you liked and knew best.
Also, color and black and white required different skill sets. Apart from the ability to “see” in color or black and white, processing and printing color film was (and is) difficult, and most color photographers, even serious ones, avoided it by using transparency film and outsourcing the processing and printing to labs. You could do that with black and white too, but getting the most out of black-and-white film required (and still requires) doing it yourself, with access to a darkroom, and possession of considerable printing skills.
As you can tell from the photo, there are still lots of poppies in this area. Since my last visit, patches of orange have spread up the hillsides further, and while I don’t think this year’s display will approach the vibrance of 2009 or 2012, there are plenty of poppies, and plenty of poppy photographs to be made. The redbuds are also progressing nicely. They’ll probably reach their peak in about five to ten days, but there are many photogenic specimens now.
The poppies may not last long, however. A fairly substantial storm is forecast to reach us on Tuesday night and Wednesday, with half and inch to an inch of rain expected in Yosemite Valley, and up to ten inches of snow above 7,000 feet. Poppies like sun, so the rain is likely to make some of the already-blooming poppies pack it in for the season. There may be some areas where poppies are just starting to emerge that may not be affected, or may even benefit from the rain, but we might not see extensive blooms after this storm. The redbuds, on the other hand, probably won’t be affected by the rain, and should still be great photo subjects for another couple of weeks.
Yesterday afternoon Claudia and I walked along the beginning of the Hite’s Cove Trail, where I made the accompanying photograph. I’m always looking for patterns, and found this zigzag design on the steep hillside above the trail. This is one of the few situations where I’ve used straight-on frontlight. I usually prefer soft light (shade or overcast) for colorful subjects like this, but direct frontlight is the next-best thing, since the light is even and nearly shadowless. And since poppies only open when they’re in the sun, frontlight is sometimes the best option.
The redbuds have also made progress. About 60 percent have started to bloom, though most of those are not fully out yet. I’d guess that they’ll peak in a week or two, but you can find some photogenic specimens now.
The best poppy blooms in this area often follow dry winters. Wet winters create a thick, tall carpet of foothill grasses that crowd out the poppies, while drier conditions lead to sparser grasses and more room for poppies. The two best blooms I’ve seen, in 2009 and 2012, both occurred after below-average winter precipitation. It’s too early to tell whether this year will be that good, but the rapid spread of flowers within the last four days is a good sign. If things keep progressing the bloom could be spectacular by next weekend. Or not. I’ll keep you posted!
While the window of best light on Horsetail Fall has passed, any precipitation brings the potential for a photogenic clearing storm. Based on the forecast, it looks like we’ll see some clearing tomorrow, and again on Saturday or Sunday (or maybe both). We’re approaching the best time of year to photograph Tunnel View and Valley View (a.k.a. Gates of the Valley), because the late-afternoon light is balanced between El Capitan on the left and Cathedral Rocks on the right. If a storm clears late in the day that will create ideal conditions at both of those classic views. Of course I describe both of these spots, and many others, in The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, available as both a softcover book and iOS app.
Sunday evening a workshop student and I joined the throngs of photographers near the El Capitan picnic area. Some thin clouds muted the the light a bit, and then thicker clouds cut the light off entirely just before it would have reached its peak intensity and color, and before the cliff behind the fall was in complete shade. But Horsetail still put on a good show, as you can see from the accompanying photo, made at 5:28 p.m.
Unfortunately the little boost in water level from Saturday’s showers probably won’t last long, and a hoped-for storm tonight and tomorrow now looks like it will bring only a slight chance of showers. I think Horsetail will keep flowing for at least the next week, but the flow will probably be pretty meager. Still, it doesn’t take much. With a clear sunset even a little bit of water can turn into a strip of neon orange. I’d guess the water flow will be similar to 2012; you can see what that looked like in this post from that year.
It now looks like the rest of February is likely to be dry. We really need a miracle March!
— Michael Frye