Light and Weather

Looking Back to Yellowstone

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. 26mm, 1/125 sec. at f/11, ISO 320.

It’s been a busy year. Looking back through my images I see lots of work that I haven’t had a chance to post yet, including some favorites from our September trip to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone doesn’t have many iconic views, or the kind of dramatic mountain vistas that photographers are often attracted to. But there are endless photographic opportunities – if you look. And I think it can sometimes be easier to find scenes and images that express your own vision in a place like Yellowstone, where there’s lots to photograph, but nothing is laid out for you. You have to explore and find your own path, which tends to naturally lead you in different directions than others might take.

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Sunlight and Waterfalls

Tree shadows, rainbow, and waterfall, California, USA

Tree shadows, rainbow, and waterfall, California. Claudia and I photographed this waterfall in soft light the evening before, but I came back the next morning hoping to see tree shadows when the sun got high enough. And sure enough, eventually trees cast beautiful striped shadows across the fall, creating a sunbeam-like effect. But I didn’t expect to also see a rainbow interspersed with the tree shadows – a nice bonus. I used a telephoto lens to fill the frame with the most eye-catching part of the scene, a polarizer to enhance the rainbow, and a neutral-density filter to slow down the shutter speed and give the water a soft, silky appearance. 135mm, 3 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer, ND filter (probably a 7-stop filter).

I love waterfalls. Who doesn’t? Besides their beauty, large waterfalls cast negative ions into the air, and negative ions supposedly have health benefits – making people feel refreshed and renewed, helping regulate sleep patterns and mood, reducing stress, and boosting the immune system. Or not; the scientific evidence is mixed at best. But whatever the reason, people seem magnetically drawn to waterfalls.

And of course waterfalls are quite photogenic. Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to visit several waterfalls I’ve never photographed before. And while soft light usually works for waterfalls, I tried to seek out more unusual lighting conditions that could give the photographs a different look and feeling. That meant using sunlight, but waterfalls usually reside in basins and canyons, so they don’t often get that warm, low-angle light that we’re often looking for. And when the sun does get high enough to strike the fall, it’s often filtered through trees, creating splotchy light. Splotchy light can be harsh and downright awful, but sometimes, under the right circumstances, it can work. And – again, under the right circumstances – backlight can highlight a waterfall’s spray. And while front light is usually flat and boring, with waterfalls it can create rainbows.

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Morning Mist in Yellowstone: Part 2

Fog along the Firehole River, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Layers of fog, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. Early one morning I climbed a low hill, trying to gain some elevation so I could look down on the fog. After sunrise I noticed beautiful sidelight raking across this scene of a meandering river, so I raced along the hilltop to get a better view and composed this image. I like the horizontal layers of light and dark, punctuated by the vertical, curving column of steam that added a necessary visual focal point. 160mm, 1/20 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.

As I said in my last post, I love photographing fog and mist, so here are more misty images from our trip to Yellowstone. I explain my approach to photographing these scenes in that previous post, but the captions here contain more detail about the specific photos shown.

— Michael Frye

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Morning Mist in Yellowstone: Part 1

Sun rising through fog and steam, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Sun rising through fog and steam, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. Standing on a low hill, I moved to position the sun behind the column of steam, in order to avoid lens flare and prevent the sun itself from being completely blown out. With this extreme constrast I bracketed five frames, two stops apart, and blended the exposures with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. 100mm, bracketed shutter speeds, f/11, ISO 100.

If you read this blog regularly you know that I love fog and mist. And few places generate fog and mist as consistently as the thermal areas of Yellowstone during cold weather. Warm, moist air rising from the geysers and hot springs into the colder surrounding atmosphere creates a perfect recipe for mist formation.

During the first part of our stay in Yellowstone the daytime highs were in the low to mid 80s. But the daily temperature fluctuations were tremendous, so the next morning the thermal areas would be near freezing – a difference of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 28 degrees Celsius). So despite unusually warm days for early September, we still found plenty of steam and fog in the mornings. And toward the end of our stay a cold front came through, temps dropped, and we saw even more mist.

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Into the High Sierra: A Memorable Morning

Morning rainbow over a high-country lake, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Morning rainbow over a high-country lake, Sierra Nevada, California. A stitched panorama captured the brief rainstorm and rainbow that appeared at this spectacular lake. (Unfortunately panoramas look rather small here on the blog, but you can click on the image to see it larger.)

A few days after the big deluge on our trip into the Sierra high country, the creek near our camp settled down enough to allow us to cross it, which opened up some new terrain to explore.

Claudia, Franka Gabler and I decided to get up early one morning and hike to a nearby lake for sunrise. The distance wasn’t far, but involved two creek crossings, plus a steep ascent. Sunrise would be just after 6:00 a.m., but we left at 4:30 to give ourselves plenty of time.

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Thunderstorm

Thunderstorm over the Central Valley, CA, USA

Thunderstorm over the Central Valley, California. I blended a series of frames, taken over the course of about 40 minutes, to create this image. Each frame was 20 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 400, and the focal length was 50mm.

Last Wednesday subtropical moisture pushed up from Mexico into California, triggering thunderstorms in parts of the state that rarely see them.

I kept my eye on these storms, but more out of curiosity than with any particular photographic ambitions. That night, as Claudia and I got into the hot tub on our deck (a nightly ritual), we could see an almost continuous series of distant lightning flashes to the southwest. This got me thinking about where I could find a view of this thunderstorm. We got out of the tub, and I took a close look at radar images. One thunderstorm south of Merced looked to be dissipating. But another cluster of cells over Fresno and Madera seemed to be strengthening and moving north, towards us.

I hemmed and hawed a bit. Did I really want to go out in the middle of the night chasing thunderstorms? What if they dissipated before I could photograph them?

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