Last winter was a strange one in the Yosemite area, with most of the precipitation coming in March, followed by a big, warm rainstorm in early April that created flooding in Yosemite Valley. That rainstorm melted much of the snowpack below 9,000 feet, so spring came early in those low- and mid-elevation areas. We found some nice flower displays at those elevations, but nothing exceptional.
Above 9,000 feet, however, the snowpack remained intact, even after the early-April flood. And that lingering snow led to an exceptional bloom in the highest elevations. Back in July, before the fires, Claudia and I photographed the flowers as much as we could, and we also led our Range of Light workshop group to a couple of our favorite flower spots.
In one area we found an abundance of hybrid columbines. The larger alpine columbines are typically found in rocky areas from 9,000 to 13,000 feet. Their smaller cousins, called crimson columbines, live along streams and in other moist areas between 4,000 to 10,000 feet. Where their ranges overlap they interbreed.
The hybrids usually take on the size and shape of the alpine columbines, with colors ranging between the red-and-yellow crimson columbines and the cream-colored alpine columbines, which often results in a beautiful mix of pale yellow and salmon pink. Claudia and I spent an afternoon happily photographing these hybrids, and even found one spot where they were mixed with purple heather and yellow western wallflowers.
We also found some dense patches of paintbrush, as you can see in the photograph at the top of this post, and other locations with colorful blends of many different species.
As often happens with flowers, many of these images required focus stacking to keep everything sharp, or to throw the background out of focus while making all of the flowers sharp. You can learn more about focus-stacking here.
Alas, the flower season is always too short, and most of the flowers are gone from even the highest peaks now. But we had fun photographing them while they lasted.
— 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, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, 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: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has 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.