Clearing Winter Storm is my favorite Ansel Adams photograph. To me it captures the majesty and grandeur of Yosemite Valley like no other image.
(I wish I could show the photograph here, but I’d violate copyright laws in doing so. You can click this link to see Clearing Winter Storm. The image shown here is one of mine that was made on February 9th, 2009.)
The funny thing is, no one knows when this famous image was made. Ansel had a notoriously bad memory for dates, and various years have been given by him and others for this photograph, ranging from 1935 to 1944. In his book Examples, Ansel wrote that the image “came about on an early December day,” but again, his memory was not particularly reliable about such things.
A couple of years ago, Don Olson contacted me about dating this photograph. Don is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Texas State University, and he and his colleagues have used the position of the moon to find the precise date and time that Ansel captured two images: Moon and Half Dome, and Autumn Moon, the High Sierra From Glacier Point.
But there’s no moon or other celestial body visible in Clearing Winter Storm, which makes dating this photograph more difficult. When Don contacted me he wanted to know if the lighting in Clearing Winter Storm was consistent with Ansel’s statement that the image was made in early December. And my answer was no. In the photograph it appears that sunlight is striking Bridalveil Fall, and I told him that I didn’t think that Bridalveil Fall received any sunlight in December.
But I’m not 100% certain about this. I can’t remember seeing sunlight ever hit Bridalveil Fall in December, but then I’ve never sat and watched it all afternoon on a sunny December day to make sure. There may be a brief window in the early afternoon when the low winter sun slides between rock pinnacles on the south rim of Yosemite Valley and glances across the waterfall.
I searched through my files and found images with the sun striking Bridalveil in early February (like the photograph above), but not earlier in the winter. However, just because I don’t have a photograph of light hitting Bridalvel in December doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
So we need your help in solving this little mystery! I know a lot of my readers are regular visitors to Yosemite, and if you’ve captured a photograph that shows sunlight hitting Bridalveil Fall in December we’d like to see it. For that matter, we’d like to see photographs that show sunlight striking anywhere near Bridalveil Fall in December, including below the fall, to the left of it, or above it somewhere on Cathedral Rocks. The image doesn’t have to be from Tunnel View; it just has to include Bridalveil Fall or the western side of Cathedral Rocks.
If you have such an image, and it’s already online somewhere, you can post a link to it in the comments. Or you can email a JPEG of it to me, but please keep the file size small to start with — no more than 800 pixels on the long side.
If you send or link to a photograph, please note the date and time the image was made, and be sure that this information is accurate! I know it’s easy to have the wrong date and time set in your camera. However, the image may still be helpful if it has the wrong time, as long as you’re sure the date is correct.
Thanks in advance for your help! I’ll let you know what we find out.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite 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.
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