Misty ridges, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Misty ridges, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 400mm, 1/200 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

A few days ago I checked to see if fog might be pushing up into the Sierra foothills again. It’s often hard to get a good picture of what’s happening with the weather in the predawn darkness, but things looked promising enough to make me grab my gear and drive out to one of the local viewpoints.

When I arrived it was light enough to see that there wasn’t a distinct band of fog below. Instead, I found diffused layers of mist. That wasn’t what I was looking for, so for a second I considered turning around and heading home. But I was already up, and out, and then I spotted Venus and the crescent moon poking through some clouds, so I decided to photograph that. And then… I might as well hang around for sunrise.

Venus and crescent moon, sunrise, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Venus and crescent moon, sunrise, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 189mm, 1 second at f/8, ISO 320.

The sunrise was rather pretty, but I couldn’t find the right composition to complement it. As the sun rose a bit higher, the light brought out more definition in the misty hills below, so I started to look for views of the ridges. Many otherwise-suitable views were blocked by trees, but I eventually found some spots where I could use a telephoto lens to pick out portions of the scene below.

I spent the next half hour or so photographing patterns in the hills with my 100-400mm lens. And I ended up liking some of those images a lot. The low-lying mist, backlit by the morning sun, made all the little ridges and trees stand out from each other, creating wonderful patterns. I had never photographed anything quite like it before.

To me that just reinforced a lesson I’ve learned over and over. In landscape photography, where we can’t control the light, or weather, or the arrangement of mountains, rocks, lakes, rivers, and trees, we’re the ones that have to adapt. Luckily, nature is incredibly varied and beautiful, so if we don’t get the conditions we expect, or hope for, there’s always something else to see.

— Michael Frye

Misty morning in the Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Misty morning in the Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 111mm, 1/90 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Related Posts: Waves of Fog; Breaking Through; A Monster Storm

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.