“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.
Again, we noticed fog in Tuolumne Meadows on our way to capture the moon setting over Tenaya Lake. After photographing the moonset we returned to Tuolumne, but on that occasion the fog was much thicker. We couldn’t see the sky above us, but the sun had to break through the fog eventually, so we waited.
There was more water that year, so we walked out to a large snowmelt pond in the meadow. Within about twenty minutes we started to see hints of light, then glimpses of distant peaks and ridges. Soon we were photographing a spectacular scene the with sun, fog, and mountains reflected in the pond.
On both of these occasions the decision about whether to stay or go seemed pretty obvious. Last Saturday we simply followed the light at the moment, and that led us from one spot to another. Three years ago there wasn’t much happening when we returned to Tuolumne, so we had to wait.
But these decisions are not always so easy. I wish I could give you a simple formula for deciding whether to stay or go, but there isn’t one. It helps to have some experience and knowledge of weather patterns, so you can take an educated guess about what the weather might do over the next five, ten, or thirty minutes.
Also, trust your instincts. In situations like these I sometimes get a strong feeling that I should move, or stay. I don’t think there’s anything mystical or psychic about this. It’s just the right side of my brain instantly analyzing all the available information – the weather, the wind, the time of day, the time of year, etc. – and reaching a conclusion long before the left side of my brain can slowly, painstakingly work through all the variables. Any time I’ve ignored that feeling I’ve regretted it, and every time I’ve listened it’s been right. We all know more than we think we do.
— Michael Frye
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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 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.