Dogwood, mist, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood, mist, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, California. 50mm, 1 sec. at f/16, ISO 800.

On a stormy afternoon in April, before we left for the Grand Canyon, Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley and found the dogwoods beginning to bloom.

They were just coming out. When the dogwood blossoms first emerge their petals (actually bracts) are green, then change to white. On that April day many were still green, but maybe half had turned white already. That was an early appearance for dogwoods – April 11th. But with such a dry winter and spring this precocious bloom wasn’t all that surprising.

I’ve photographed dogwoods frequently over the years, so on that afternoon I wasn’t particularly focused on them unless something unusual caught my attention. Instead, Claudia and I wandered around the valley chasing the light and clouds for awhile, but I had a hard time finding a scene or situation that seemed to work.

Then a shower moved in. It started snowing. The snow wasn’t sticking, but added a misty look to the atmosphere, like fog. I thought of a dogwood I had noticed earlier along the river, one that was already in full bloom, and it occurred to me that it might look cool with that snow-shower created mist.

By the time I arrived at the dogwood, found a composition, and set up my camera, the snow had abated a bit. But what the heck, I had everything set up, so I might as well take the photograph. I had to wait for a lull in the wind to keep the dogwood sharp during the long exposure required (1 second). And while I waited the snow started falling a little harder, making the scene look foggier. Perfect. I captured frames whenever the wind died down, and some of these worked – they were sharp – while the falling snow, blurred by the slow shutter speed, added a misty look to the scene.

It’s rare to see dogwoods in fog, so I was happy to find any way to get that kind of atmospheric effect in a photograph, regardless of how it was created. The mist adds depth, and creates a soft look that, to me, complements the soft and delicate subject.

The timing of our Grand Canyon trip coincided with the typical dogwood bloom in Yosemite Valley, so we thought we would miss the dogwoods, but that seemed like a worthwhile tradeoff. As it turns out, the dogwoods bloomed early, and we were able to see them after all. That was a nice bonus – especially when the weather added some atmosphere to this scene along the river.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Dogwoods in Yosemite Valley; Dogwood Composition

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.