Light and Weather

Monsoon Sunsets

Cathedral Range and reflections at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Cathedral Range and reflections at sunset, Yosemite. We huddled under trees for about an hour, waiting out a rainstorm, and were rewarded with this beautiful sunset.

Every summer we get periods of monsoonal moisture pushing up into California from the south, producing afternoon showers and thunderstorms. One of those periods coincided with our recent workshop in the Yosemite high country, and we got to photograph some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

On the second afternoon of our workshop we hiked over a ridge to an alpine lake basin. There were some thunderstorms in the area, but none were very close when we started our hike, so I thought we might stay dry – and we had rain gear just in case.


Smoky Landscapes

Osprey bringing a fish back to its nest at sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Osprey bringing a fish back to its nest at sunrise, Mono Lake. A thin band of smoke hung on the horizon to the east, turning the sun into a nice orange ball as it crested the horizon. We had watched an osprey bring a fish back to its nest on the tufa towers on a previous morning, so this time I was anticipating it. As the sun rose I heard the adult at the nest calling, so I got ready, setting my shutter speed to 1/350th of a second to freeze motion (at f/8 and ISO 100). The other adult flew in low and fast from the right, then rose up to the nest as I held down the shutter button. The bird is just a small accent at this size, but would be clearly visible in a big print.

Unusual conditions can provide interesting opportunities for photographs. Any unusual conditions – even things we don’t normally think of as photogenic. Photographers typically avoid smoke, for example, but smoke can create some wonderful atmospheric effects.

The Ferguson Fire started on the second day of our recent workshop in the Yosemite high country, but we didn’t see any smoke at first. Then on our fourth afternoon (Sunday the 15th) smoke started pouring over the mountains from the west. Instead of bemoaning our luck, we just went with it, sought out subjects that might work with the conditions, and ended up finding some interesting stuff, especially around sunrise and sunset.


Lupines in the Fog

Clearing rain storm with lupines and oaks, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Clearing rain storm with lupines and oaks, Redwood NP, CA; 11:44 a.m., 32mm 1/60th at f/16, ISO 400.

On our journey to far northern California last month, Claudia and I found some nice patches of lupines up in the hills away from the coast. Naturally I thought fog would add just the right touch to the lupines, but since the elevation was over 2,000 feet it would take a high fog bank or some low clouds to envelop this area in fog.

Luckily we got that high fog bank one morning. We drove up early, in case the sun broke through, but it stayed socked in for the first hour, with a light breeze moving the flowers and making photography challenging. Then the wind picked up and it started to drizzle. I heard a rumble. Could that be thunder? There were showers in the forecast that day. I heard another rumble: definitely thunder. That was a first for me – hearing thunder while wrapped in fog. It was kind of cool, but also a sign that I should retreat to the car.


Chasing Fog

Sunset and sea stacks, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sunset and sea stacks, Redwood NP, CA. Sometimes the sun can slide underneath a fog bank (or marine layer) just before sunset, as it did on this evening before the workshop. (The shutter speed was 2 seconds.)

Claudia and I recently returned from another trip to the redwoods, and once again we had a great time. I love this area so much; it feels like one of my spiritual homes.

One of the reasons I love this area is because it’s so foggy. In fact I sometimes half-jokingly refer to our redwoods workshop as the “chasing fog” workshop. Every morning I get up early and check the weather, trying to find out if there’s fog, and if so, where. And wherever there seems to be the best chance of finding fog, that’s where we go. Fog adds so much mood to any scene – especially redwood forests – so it’s well worth chasing.


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite, May 14, 7:13 p.m. 29mm, 1/45 sec. at f/8, ISO 100, polarizer.

It’s the classic dilemma of landscape photographers: whether to stay and wait, hoping for better light, or go elsewhere.

My friend Evan Russel from The Ansel Adams Gallery and I were standing at the stone wall at Tunnel View last Monday, hoping for a rainbow to appear. Evan told me he was thinking about going to Glacier Point. I was thinking the same thing. He told me that at times like this he thought of The Clash song Should I Stay or Should I Go:

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double


Glacier Point Sunset

Half Dome and clouds at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite (7:44 p.m.)

The Glacier Point Road opened early this year – on Saturday, April 28th. Then it closed again two days later due to a chance of snow. When Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley on Tuesday to check on the dogwoods the Glacier Point Road was still closed.

On Wednesday afternoon I finished writing a post about the dogwoods, and then decided to look at the Yosemite webcams. The forecast called for a chance of showers and thunderstorms over the high country, and sure enough, the webcams showed some cloud buildup. I called the Yosemite road and weather number (209-372-0200), and lo and behold, the Glacier Point Road was open! At this point it was already 4:30 in the afternoon, but the sun wouldn’t set until 7:50, so there might still be enough time to get up to Glacier Point. I told Claudia the Glacier Point Road was open, and she didn’t hesitate: “Let’s go!”