Half Dome, winter sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, winter sunset, Yosemite. Incoming clouds prompted me to head to this spot to photograph Half Dome; luckily the sun broke through a gap in the clouds at the right moment. 50mm, 1/45th sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Our exceptionally dry autumn gave way to a series of storms recently, with lots of interesting photography weather.

During our recent workshop every day seemed to bring a new opportunity. The first day it was a clearing storm. The next day it was ice patterns with gold reflections. We photographed the moon rising next to Half Dome – twice – plus misty meadows, backlit oaks, and frosted pines. It was a lot of fun.

Most landscape photographers hope for interesting weather conditions like that. But constantly-changing temperatures, clouds, and fog can make things challenging, because it’s difficult to predict what might happen next. Taking advantage of those conditions requires flexibility, and a willingness to let go of preconceived ideas. You have to go with the flow.

When photographing Yosemite Valley I often don’t have a plan. I just drive or walk around, look, and wait for a spark of inspiration. Maybe I see some interesting light here, or mist there. Or something triggers an idea, and I think, “Oh yeah, that spot might be nice right now.” In landscape photography we don’t have any control over the weather or light, so I let the weather and light control me and tell me where to go.

On the last afternoon of our workshop we were photographing some beautiful backlit oaks against granite cliffs. It was sunny, but I kept checking satellite images on my phone, which showed clouds heading our way. I saw a misty meadow on one of the Yosemite webcams, which meant that other meadows might have mist too. Clouds and mist meant a chance for an interesting sunset. The trees could wait – it was time to move.

We ended up photographing Half Dome as those clouds moved in. It seemed at first that there might be too many clouds, but luckily the sun found a gap and broke through. The light faded, but then intensified again. It was a pretty special light show. The photograph at the top of this post shows one of those moments.

I’ve included two more recent weather-enhanced photographs below, along with extended captions to describe how they were made. It’s nice to have some photography weather in Yosemite again.

— Michael Frye

Moon rising above Half Dome and Cloud's Rest, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising above Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest, Yosemite. We planned to photograph this moonrise, but the band of lenticular clouds added a nice touch. 180mm, 1/20th sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Clearing storm, Valley View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clearing storm, Valley View, Yosemite. I had planned to photograph another moonrise this day, but this scene was too good to pass up. 20mm, 6 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, 7-stop ND filter to enable the slow shutter speed and smooth the water.

Related Posts: Winter Arrives in Yosemite; Misty Yosemite Valley

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.