Archive for the ‘Yosemite Photo Conditions’ Category

Snow at Last

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Sunrise from Tunnel View after a snowstorm, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunrise from Tunnel View after a snowstorm, last Wednesday morning

In this dry winter, snow has been rare in Yosemite Valley, but last Tuesday night the valley got about six inches of new snow. Wednesday the skies cleared, and mist rose around the cliffs – a beautiful morning for photography.

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.

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Poppies Are Still Going Strong

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Poppies in the Merced River Canyon, Sierra NF, CA, USA

Poppies in the Merced River Canyon, yesterday afternoon

The poppies in the Merced River Canyon have defied my expectations. Not only did they survive the series of storms over the last two weeks, but the bloom has expanded further up the hillsides to some of the highest ridge tops, and east towards El Portal. The stretch on the north side of the river, about three miles east of Briceburg (and opposite the Slate Creek Bridge), looks particularly good, as does Grandy’s Hill a couple of miles further east.

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Rainbow Weather

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, 5:59 p.m. yesterday

Yesterday was a wonderful day for photography in Yosemite Valley. When I arrived before sunrise I found two inches of unpredicted fresh snow, and lots of mist. I met my two workshop students and we spent the next couple of hours photographing beautiful, misty, clearing-storm scenes from several spots: Tunnel View, along the Merced River looking at El Capitan and Three Brothers, and from Swinging Bridge toward Yosemite Falls.

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.

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Divided No More

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley with fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley with fog, Thursday morning

Not long ago, photographers were divided into two camps: color photographers, and black-and-white photographers. Sure, there were some people who did both, and even some who did both well, but they were rare. Most photographers specialized in one medium or the other – and I use that word deliberately, because it almost seemed like they were different mediums, not just different palettes.

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.

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Wildflower Update

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Poppies and canyon oak, Sierra foothills, Sierra NF, CA, USA

Poppies and canyon oak, Sierra foothills

I made this photograph yesterday in the Merced River Canyon, west of Yosemite. It’s hard to tell here, but I was actually looking straight down a steep hillside toward the oak, using the curving lines of the little gully to lead the viewer’s eye to the tree.

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.

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Hite’s Cove Poppies

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Poppies along the Hite's Cove Trail, Merced River Canyon, Sierra NF, CA, USA

Poppies along the Hite’s Cove Trail, Merced River Canyon, Sierra NF, CA, USA

Claudia and I drove up the Merced River Canyon yesterday and found that the poppy bloom has continued to expand since I last checked on Sunday. The flowers near the beginning of the Hite’s Cove Trail are near their peak, as are the other poppy patches down near the bottom of the canyon, especially across the river about three miles east of Briceburg. The bloom is spreading higher on some of the hillsides, and I’m hoping that trend will continue and we’ll see whole hillsides covered in orange like we did two years ago.

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.

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A Good Year for Poppies?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Wildflowers above the South Fork of the Merced River, Sierra NF, CA, USA

Wildflowers above the South Fork of the Merced River, March 25th, 2009

We’ve had an exceptionally dry winter, but a few well-timed storms in late February provided sufficient moisture for the poppies to start blooming in the Merced River Canyon, along Highway 140 west of Yosemite. I drove up the canyon on Wednesday and saw scattered patches of poppies. By yesterday afternoon the bloom had progressed considerably, with larger, denser swaths of orange on the hillsides.

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!

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Yosemite Storms

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Dappled light on Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiration Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dappled light on Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiration Point, Saturday afternoon

Two storms unfolded almost exactly as forecasters predicted last week. On Wednesday night the first system dropped about 1.5 inches of rain on Yosemite Valley. The second storm on Friday dumped almost exactly two inches of rain. Badger Pass, 3,000 feet higher than the Valley, got about 18 inches of snow overall.

Despite these storms, rainfall totals are still only about 50% of average. In a normal year, Yosemite Valley would have received 26.9 inches of rain since last July 1st, however the current rainfall total for the season is only 12.9 inches.

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Approaching Storms

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Clearing storm at sunrise, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clearing storm at sunrise, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

In our extreme California drought, any potential precipitation is big news. This week two storms are forecast to reach the Sierra Nevada: one tonight, and another, stronger system on Friday, continuing into Saturday. While these are colder storms than the last ones, it doesn’t look like Yosemite Valley will get any snow. The snow level is expected to drop to 4,500 feet on Saturday night, just above the valley floor (at 4,000 feet), so it’s possible the valley could get an end-of-storm dusting if the snow-level predictions are a little off. But lower elevations should get a couple of inches of much-needed rain, and the high country could get over two feet of snow – a very welcome addition to the snowpack.

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.

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Horsetail Fall Conditions

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Horsetail Fall just before sunset, Sunday evening, 5:28 p.m.

Yosemite got some showers on Saturday night, which helped to add a little water to Horsetail and create a decent flow – below average, but probably better than anything I’ve seen the last two years.

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

Related Posts: Another Clearing Storm, and a Horsetail Fall Forecast; Quick Horsetail Update

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