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).

Smoke has a lot of negative connotations, so we don’t think it can be beautiful. That same kind of mental block affects our attitudes towards many other subjects as well. But if we can get past those mental blocks we can find beauty everywhere. One of the joys of photography is that it encourages us to really look at the world closely, and see beyond our preconceptions to find beauty and meaning in surprising places.

Since I know that many of my readers are wonderful, imaginative photographers, I bet many of you have found beauty in unexpected places. If you’ve transformed something ordinary into something sublime, please post a link your images in the comments!

— Michael Frye

Three Brothers on a smoky morning, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Smoky view of Three Brothers, Monday morning

Sun setting through smoke from the El Portal Fire, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP and Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Sun setting through smoke from the El Portal Fire, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP and Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Related Posts: A Surreal Night; Creating Depth: Beyond the Wide-Angle Formula; Night Photography Workshop

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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.