On a Sunday morning nine days ago I headed up to Yosemite Valley as a small storm was clearing. This system was on the warm side, so it rained at the valley elevation (around 4,000 feet). But there was still some snow on the ground from previous storms, and rain on top of snow is a fog-generating machine, so I figured there would be lots of fog and mist.
And there was lots of mist when I arrived in the valley. I climbed up to one of my favorite off-the-beaten path viewpoints, thinking to capture a classic Yosemite clearing storm. But when I reached that spot it became apparent that the mist wasn’t wrapping around the cliffs as I’d expected. Instead, I saw a shallow layer of fog covering the length of the Valley floor, with the tops of tall ponderosa pines poking up through the fog layer. Which looked gorgeous.
So I switched gears, and focused on the patterns of trees and mist. I mostly used my 100-400mm zoom to pick out small parts of the scene, but sometimes used a wider lens to include a bit more.
The patterns changed constantly as the fog ebbed and flowed through the valley. I’d pick out an interesting area, compose, focus, and make an exposure. Sometimes I’d wait and capture the same composition again as the fog shifted. But no particular area stayed interesting for long, so I’d stop, look around, see where the mist and trees looked most eye-catching at the next moment, compose, focus, press the shutter again – and repeat.
I happily photographed the fog and trees for over two hours. I made around 200 photographs of those trees, and narrowed that down to a few favorites, which I’ve included here. Let me know if one of these stands out to you as your favorite.
While I’ve photographed trees and fog on the valley floor before, it was never quite like this, where I was able to photograph those scenes for hours, with constantly-changing mist, from a new vantage point. And the light was beautiful. In winter, most of the valley floor stays in shade all morning, but as the sun rose higher it lit the cliffs across the valley, bouncing a golden glow down onto the fog. The whole experience felt like scratching a long-standing itch I’d never been able to reach before, which was very satisfying.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He lives near Yosemite National Park in California, but travels extensively to photograph natural landscapes in the American West and throughout the world.
Michael uses light, weather, and design to make photographs that capture the mood of the landscape, and convey the beauty, power, and mystery of nature. His work has received numerous awards, and appeared in publications around the world. He’s the author and/or principal photographer of several books, including Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, and The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite.
Michael loves to share his knowledge of photography through articles, books, workshops, online courses, and his blog. He’s taught over 200 workshops focused on landscape photography, night photography, digital image processing, and printing.