Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite National Park’

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Moon setting over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting over Tenaya Lake, Saturday morning, 5:42 a.m.

“I have always been mindful of Edward Weston’s remark, ‘If I wait for something here I may lose something better over there.’ I have found that keeping on the move is generally more rewarding.”

— Ansel Adams

Sooner or later, every landscape photographer has to decide whether to stay put and hope that the light gets better, or move somewhere else.

Last Saturday morning, on the last day of my Hidden Yosemite workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery, we rose early and drove to Tenaya Lake to capture the moon setting over the water. On our way there we noticed low-lying mist in Tuolumne Meadows. We photographed a beautiful moonset over the lake, but as soon as the moon dropped below the ridge we drove back to Tuolumne.

The mist was still there. First we ran out to a small pond to catch the sun lighting some small clouds above the high peaks to the east. Then we spotted a herd of deer off to the left in the mist, so we quickly changed lenses and photographed them until they moved away.

By then the sun was hitting Unicorn Peak, so we walked about a hundred feet north to get a reflection of the peak in the pond, and waited until the sun grazed across the foreground.

Then light started hitting the mist and trees behind us, so we moved again to get closer, and put the sun behind trees where we could see sunbeams and starbursts.

And then the sun rose higher, the mist disappeared, and the show was over. The whole sequence lasted about 40 minutes.

In this case, the light and fog were changing quickly, so we had to switch lenses and move our feet if we wanted to catch those fleeting moments. But three years ago, during the same workshop, a similar situation required waiting patiently for the light to change.

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Photo Critique Series: A Spectacular Cloud Formation in the Yosemite High Country

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Lenticular Clouds, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, by David Silva

Lenticular Clouds, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, by David Silva

It’s been awhile, but I thought it was time to post another photo critique. This time I’ll look at an image by David Silva from Yosemite’s high country.

Light and Weather

David found some amazing lenticular clouds flowing over Yosemite’s high peaks just before sunset. (Where was I that day?) David told me that he and his wife were driving over Tioga Pass to the eastern Sierra when he noticed some interesting clouds forming. He considered stopping earlier, but decided to push on to Olmsted Point, and was able to make it there in time to catch the light on the clouds and peaks before the sun set.

This was perfect timing. There’s a nice orange glow on the highest peaks, creating a warm-cool color contrast. The last light highlights Mt. Conness in the distance, creating a small-but-important focal point. The clouds fit into the gap between the peaks is perfectly. There’s a beautiful, dramatic, late-day mood to the scene.

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150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Storm clouds over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Storm clouds over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Within National Parks is room – glorious room – room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.
— Enos A. Mills

Exactly 150 years ago, on June 30th, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, giving Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the state of California to be preserved. This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. (Yosemite National Park was created in 1890 to protect the lands surrounding Yosemite Valley, and in 1906 the valley and Mariposa Grove were returned to the federal government and incorporated into the national park.)

Photography played a vital role in the creation and passing of the Yosemite Grant legislation. The public thought that the early stories about Yosemite Valley were exaggerated, and drawings and paintings could be manipulated, so people only began to appreciate the magnificence of the valley when they saw proof in the form of photographs by Charles Weed and Carleton Watkins. Watkins’ photographs of Yosemite were displayed in the halls of Congress, and may also have been shown to president Lincoln by Senator John Conness. (You can see an exhibit of Watkins’ photographs at Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay Area through August 17th.)

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Déjà Vu in the High Country

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Setting sun, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Setting sun, Tuolumne Meadows, 7:39 p.m. Thursday (as the sun sank behind the ridge)

Last week some unseasonal showers reached Yosemite. The showers didn’t bring heavy amounts of precipitation, but enough snow fell at higher elevations to temporarily close Tioga Pass and the Glacier Point Road.

On Thursday the Tioga Road reopened. Since Claudia and I are heading up to the northern coast of California soon for my redwoods workshop, we thought this might be our last chance to go up to the Yosemite high country for awhile, so we decided to drive up to Tuolumne Meadows for the afternoon. There were still some clouds and showers in the area, so the prospect of some interesting weather made the idea even more enticing.

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Spring in Yosemite

Sunday, April 27th, 2014
Three Brothers after a spring snowstorm, Saturday morning

Three Brothers after a spring snowstorm, Saturday morning


We had great conditions during my Yosemite workshop for The Ansel Adams Gallery this past week. The dogwoods were blooming, there were lots of fresh, green leaves everywhere, and we had some interesting weather. It rained all day Friday, but Saturday morning we found clearing skies and an inch of new snow. This photograph of Three Brothers was made as the sun hit the rock faces and generated copious quantities of mist; you’ll find a couple of other images from the week below.

The dogwoods are still in good shape, and should be photogenic for at least another week or so. And the dogwoods at higher elevations (along highways 41 and 120, and in the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias) are just getting started, and should last for two to three weeks.

I’m off to North and South Carolina tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to photographing eastern dogwoods, waterfalls, and whatever else we find!

— Michael Frye

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Dogwoods Have Arrived

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Dogwoods over the Merced River at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwoods over the Merced River at sunset, from last spring

The last time I was in Yosemite Valley was just over a week ago, and only a few dogwood blossoms had appeared by then. I returned to the valley yesterday, and found that the dogwoods had fully emerged already. This is one of the earliest blooms I can remember, but that’s not terribly surprising with the warm and dry spring we’ve had.

Although the flowers will last a couple of weeks, they’re most photogenic when new and fresh, so they’re near peak now. The valley is quite beautiful, with lots of fresh, bright-green leaves everywhere, the waterfalls flowing – and of course the dogwoods. The waterfalls will peak early this year, probably by early May, if not sooner, but for the moment it seems like a pretty normal spring.

Meanwhile, there are still some nice poppy displays in the eastern end of the Merced River Canyon, near El Portal, but they’re fading fast and will probably be mostly gone by next weekend. It’s been a great year for poppies though – one of the best I’ve seen. There will be a variety of other flowers blooming in the canyon for awhile, but these typically aren’t found in big patches, so they’re more suited to closeups rather than broader views.

I start a five-day workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery today, and then will be heading to North and South Carolina right after that, but I wanted to give you a quick update first. I’ll post further updates and photos when I can! This is one of my favorite dogwood images from last spring.

— Michael Frye

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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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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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Another Clearing Storm, and a Horsetail Fall Forecast

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Misty sunrise, Half Dome, Merced River, and clouds, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Misty sunrise, Half Dome, Merced River, and clouds, from yesterday morning

Northern California received some desperately-needed rain over the weekend. Most of that rain fell further north, so while Yosemite Valley got around 2.6 inches of rain, Blue Canyon, along Interstate 80 west of Lake Tahoe, got over 9 inches. But I’m not complaining. I’ll take whatever we can get, and those areas further north need the rain just as much as we do.

Like the last storm, this one also had a good sense of timing, clearing just before sunrise Monday morning. I rose early and photographed at several locations in Yosemite Valley, but my favorite image was this one of Half Dome from along the Merced River. I’ve posted other sunrise images from this spot before, but the cloud formations above Half Dome yesterday were exceptional.

The snow levels with this system were high, above 8,000 feet most of the time. I haven’t been able to find snow totals for Tuolumne Meadows, but Mammoth Mountain got two to three feet of snow, and Tuolumne probably got similar amounts.

The waterfalls in Yosemite Valley got a big boost from this storm. Their flow will diminish as the immediate runoff from the storm dissipates, but that new high-elevation snowpack will help feed the waterfalls for awhile, and we should see near-normal water flow for at least the next month or so.

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