Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite Valley’

March Light

Thursday, March 5th, 2015
Late afternoon view of Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiratoin Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Late afternoon view of Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiratoin Point, Monday afternoon

It’s the time of year when both El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall get late-afternoon sunlight when seen from the west end of Yosemite Valley. In winter, El Cap get that late-day light, while Bridalveil stays in the shade. In summer it’s the opposite, with the cliffs to the right of Bridalveil Fall (like the Leaning Tower) receiving the last glow in the evening, while El Cap goes into shade earlier. But in early March (and around the end of September) the light balances well on both sides of the valley, making it a great time of year for photographs from Tunnel View and Gates of the Valley (aka Valley View).

Knowing this, I watched the weather closely on Monday. Some showers moved through, and it seemed like the last chance of seeing interesting clouds for awhile, so I decided to hike up above Tunnel View to a spot near Old Inspiration Point (I’ve described previous journeys up this trail here and here). I got there in time to catch one moment with beautiful cloud shadows. I especially like the shadow near the bottom of El Capitan (in the photo above).

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Rocks and Clouds

Sunday, March 1st, 2015
Half Dome and clouds from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

“Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape… Even if we do not know our geology, there is something in the face of a cliff and in the look of a granite boulder that gives us pause.” — John Burroughs

Photography has a great ability to showcase contrasting textures, which is perhaps why hard rocks and soft clouds fit together so well. In Yosemite the rocks are a given; they’re always there. It’s the clouds that are more elusive, especially during these dry years.

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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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Will the Approaching Storm Revive Horsetail Fall?

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

This photograph from 2009 shows what an average February flow in Horsetail Fall looks like

After a wet spell in December, the rain spigot got turned off. Yosemite Valley received seven one-hundredths of an inch of rain for the entire month of January. San Francisco set a record for January that can never be broken, with no measurable precipitation.

Not surprisingly, there isn’t much water in Horsetail Fall. In fact there’s no detectable flow at all – just a little dampness near the top. But forecasters are predicting a significant storm this weekend. They’re actually expecting two pulses, one tonight, and another on Sunday night. Total rainfall for the weekend could exceed four inches if the forecasts are right.

Horsetail should get a short-term boost from this storm. Whether that boost lasts longer depends on the exact snow level. Horsetail is fed by melting snow from a small drainage on top of El Capitan lying between 6,200 and 7,600 feet. The predictions for this storm put the snow level at 8,000 feet. If the actual snow levels are a little lower, and Horsetail’s tiny watershed gets some significant snow, then the runoff from that snow melting could last for a couple of weeks and provide at least some flow during the prime photography period later this month. If the snow levels are higher, and Horsetail’s drainage gets only rain, the water will run off quickly and won’t provide a lasting increase in the flow.

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Yosemite Valley Fall Color

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Big-leaf maples along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Big-leaf maples along the Merced River, yesterday afternoon

Yesterday afternoon Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley to check out the fall color. We photographed the oaks in El Cap Meadow, then walked along a stretch of the Merced River that I hadn’t explored in depth before – imagine that! But conditions were right, with maples and cottonwoods adding lots of yellow color to the riverbanks. I’ve included a few photographs from yesterday above and below.

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First Storm

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
Half Dome and clouds reflected in the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds reflected in the Merced River, Saturday afternoon

It was good to hear the rain drumming on the roof Friday night. We’ve seen occasional showers during the summer and fall, but Friday brought the first significant storm of the winter rainy season, dropping over an inch of rain in Yosemite Valley, and over a foot of snow in the high country. Everyone in California is hoping for many more storms like this over the next six months.

The storm started to clear around midday on Saturday, so Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley that afternoon. It turned out to be a really beautiful afternoon in the valley, with lots of autumn color, and some great light and clouds. We found a wonderful scene near the east end of the valley, with clouds and mist-wrapped Half Dome reflected in the Merced River. I included some cottonwood leaves in the foreground to give the image a touch of autumn (right).

Early this morning we drove up to Yosemite Valley again, hoping to see fog in the meadows. We found a little mist, but not much, so we decided to go back to El Portal, which had been very foggy when we drove through. I’m glad we did. There wasn’t as much color as in Yosemite Valley, but the fog more than made up for that. I’ve included my favorite image from the morning below, with the sun breaking through the mist and silhouetting the gray pines.

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East Side and West Side Color

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Quaking aspens, autumn, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens near Lee Vining, Sunday afternoon

Claudia and I got home last night after our two Eastern Sierra Fall Color workshops. We had a great time, as always. Both groups were really nice, the color was great, and some clouds added interest to sunrises and sunsets.

The color on the east side was a little early this year. When we left yesterday the lower-elevation areas like June Lake Loop, Lee Vining Canyon, and lower Lundy Canyon were at about peak. Mid- and high-elevation aspens were past peak, but you could still find colorful patches mixed with the bare trees (a photogenic combination, in my opinion). I’m sure there will still be good color in those lower-elevation spots this weekend, but probably not far beyond that.

On the drive home I made a short detour through Yosemite Valley to check on the color, and things are progressing slowly there. The bigleaf maples on the south side of the valley are starting to turn. There’s a nice patch of yellow along Southside Drive, underneath Middle Cathedral Rock (across from El Capitan). The maples in this area are perhaps 60 percent yellow and 40 percent green. Some maples near Pohono Bridge and the old dam are turning as well, but those areas are still predominantly green.

Elsewhere in the valley there’s little color so far. The oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods are showing just tinges of yellow and gold here and there. The maples will probably reach their peak in about a week or so, but it looks like the oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods won’t turn until the first or second week of November. Maybe we’ll get a dusting of snow during the peak color, like we did two years ago

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Back in the Sierra; Early November Magic in Yosemite

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

Stars Over Three Brothers

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Stars and clouds over Three Brothers, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Stars and clouds over Three Brothers, Tuesday evening; 20 seconds, f/2.8, 6400 ISO

Tuesday evening Claudia and I drove to Yosemite Valley. The moon was due to rise about 90 minutes after sunset, so I hoped to photograph the northern end of the Milky Way over Three Brothers, with the rising moon adding a bit of light to the peaks.

We got to the Valley well before sunset, but there were some interesting clouds, so we decided to head to Tunnel View, where we found the usual August assortment of tour buses and people taking selfies in front of the panorama. I photographed some interesting patterns of dappled sunlight and clouds, then, just at sunset, after the crowds had thinned, the sky turned pink and a beautiful array of tufted clouds drifted overhead (below).

We had a little picnic along the Merced River as we waited for the sky to get dark, then I started taking photos of Three Brothers. At first the clouds blocked most of the stars. But the sky gradually cleared, revealing more stars, and then, looking at the photos on my camera’s LCD screen, I could see the clouds taking on a pink hue, and a hint of light on Yosemite Point in the distance. This was the lunar equivalent of a predawn glow, with the moon still below the horizon, but already adding some light and color to the scene. My eyes couldn’t see the color, but the camera could (right).

Later, as the moon rose for real, the clouds and peaks turned gold, just as they would at sunrise. Again, it was too dark for the cones in my retinas to pick up the color, but the camera recorded it perfectly. And some of the cloud formations were spectacular, fanning out in big V shapes above Three Brothers (below).

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Smoky Beauty

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Sun rising through smoke from the El Portal Fire, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sun rising through smoke from Tunnel View, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Early Monday morning I drove up to Yosemite Valley, hoping that smoke from the El Portal and Dark Hole fires might create some interesting atmospheric effects. Yes, I went looking for smoke, something that photographers usually avoid. But smoke can impart a wonderful, ethereal quality to photographs – like fog, but with more color.

At Tunnel View the smoke was thick enough to give the scene a misty, painterly look, but not so thick that you couldn’t see anything. Eventually the orange ball of the sun appeared through the smoke, accompanied by a patterned cloud formation (above). Later, along the Merced River, the smoke lent a similar painterly mood to scenes of El Capitan and Three Brothers (below). And much later, near sunset, the sun turned into an orange ball again as it sunk into the smoke to the west (below).

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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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