Oak and grasslands at sunset, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Oak and grasslands at sunset, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 31mm, five frames blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge, each frame at f/11, ISO 100.

While looking through my photographs from last year, I realized there were many images that I hadn’t had a chance to post before.

One of those was this photograph of a lone oak at sunset in the Sierra foothills. I made this on April 6th, during the first lockdown. Yosemite was closed, and we couldn’t travel outside our county, but Claudia and I felt lucky to live in the Sierra foothills, where we could easily drive to some beautiful spots without encountering any other people. We explored and photographed places we hadn’t been to before, and it was fun discovering these new locations in our backyard.

On this day there were thunderstorms rolling up from the south, so we drove out to the lower foothills, where the weather seemed most interesting at the time. At one point we waited out a torrential downpour, then drove further, to an area where we’d seen some nice scattered oaks on a previous trip.

All the land in this area is private property, so we were limited to photographing from public roads. But along one of these backroads we found this lone oak, with a little zigzag draw in the foreground, and the Central Valley beyond. It seemed like a ready-made composition.

It was raining lightly when we arrived at this spot, but we could see clear skies to the west, so I hoped the sun would dip underneath the clouds as it set. As you can see, that happened, producing a few minutes of gorgeous light. It was still raining lightly, which made it difficult to keep the camera and lens dry. We even saw a rainbow behind us, but I couldn’t find an interesting composition in that direction, so I kept concentrating on this scene to the west.

Looking back, this image seems to embody how I feel about last year, and the year ahead. Those early days of the pandemic were difficult ones, with so much uncertainty. Things seemed to get a little better after that, then worse, then a little better, then… well here we are, in the darkest days of the pandemic yet, but with vaccines offering hope. I feel like we’ve been riding through a series of torrential thunderstorms, each one worse than the last, but out near the horizon we can see a gap in the clouds, offering hope that the sun will finally break through.

— Michael Frye

P.S. There’s still time to cast your vote for my best images of 2020. Just go to this post and use the form at the bottom. Polls close at midnight Pacific Time tomorrow (Monday, January 4th). Thanks to all of you who have voted so far!

Related Posts: Storm Over the San Joaquin Valley; A Storm Brewing; My Best Images of 2020: the Nominees

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.