Light and Weather

Above the Fog

Oak tree above a fog layer, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Oak tree above a fog layer, Mariposa County, California. 150mm, 20 seconds at f/16, ISO 50.

Fog in California’s Central Valley will occasionally lift into what meteorologists call a stratus deck, where fog rises above the valley floor and settles into a low layer of clouds. From the floor of the Central Valley it looks like a low overcast, but if you drive into the Sierra foothills you’ll climb into the fog, and then above it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know that I love fog. It’s highly photogenic stuff. Fog here in the foothills is much less common than in the Central Valley, so it always piques my interest, giving me a rare opportunity to photograph some of the numerous, beautiful, foothill oaks in the fog, and even better, a chance to get above the fog. If conditions are right, I can sometimes climb a peak or ridge where I can look out over a sea of fog, with the peaks of the Sierra to the east, and nothing visible in any other direction except the cloud tops.

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The Beauty of Backlight

Backlight Photography, Pines, oak, and mist, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Pines, oak, and mist, Yosemite, Thanksgiving weekend. 70mm, 1/45th of a second at f/16, ISO 100.

Over Thanksgiving weekend I photographed a beautiful, misty morning in Yosemite Valley (see this previous post). Looking through my photographs later I realized that almost every one was backlit. And that made sense, as mist looks wonderful with backlight. So do other translucent objects like clouds, leaves, grasses, flowers, raindrops, and so forth.

Translucent, backlit objects stand out best against a dark background. And that’s one of the great, overlooked features about photographing in Yosemite Valley: you can often use the cliffs as a dark backdrop. It’s like draping a giant black cloth behind your subject.

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Autumn Blizzard

Photographing an Autumn Blizzard with a fast shutter speed: Aspens and conifers in a snowstorm, Uncompahgre NF, CO, USA

Aspens and conifers in a snowstorm, Colorado. 120mm, 1/125th of a second at f/11, ISO 400.

In early October a series of storms brought rain and higher-elevation snow to the mountains of Colorado. Claudia and I spent several long days chasing the weather, and I found many intriguing combinations of weather and color, including aspens with snow, fog, clouds, and sunbeams. But I never found aspens with snow and fog. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

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Eyeing the Weather

El Capitan and the Merced River at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River at sunset yesterday evening



Several storms rolled through here last week. The largest of those dropped over two inches of rain in Yosemite Valley, and left a dusting of snow on the Valley floor Friday morning, but I couldn’t get up there early that day because Highway 140 was closed by mud and rock slides in the burn scar from the Ferguson Fire.

A smaller but colder storm was due to arrive Saturday, this time promising a chance for more significant snow. By noon Friday all the roads into the Valley had reopened, so I took a detailed look at the weather forecasts to see when this next storm might clear. Most of the information seemed to point to a clearing sometime after sunset on Saturday. But there was one item in the Hourly Weather Forecast on the National Weather Service website that hinted that the storm might clear before sunset. This graph showed sky cover (cloud cover) staying at 77% until 9:00 p.m., then dropping to 40% by 10:00 p.m. – well after dark. But the line showing precipitation potential dropped abruptly from 90% at 2:00 p.m. to 40% at 3:00 p.m. Hmm. Here’s what that looked like:

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Misty Morning in Yosemite Valley

Misty sunrise, Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Misty sunrise, Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite. This was a very contrasty scene, so I bracketed five exposures, each two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. The settings, for what they’re worth: 16mm, various shutter speeds at f/11, ISO 100.

I don’t like getting up early. I’m really more of a night owl, and it’s always an unpleasant shock when the alarm jars me out of a deep sleep at oh-dark-thirty. But I force myself to rise early any time there’s a chance for an interesting sunrise, because if I don’t I might miss something special, and then I would kick myself.

After a very dry autumn we finally got two storms last week. The second storm moved through on Friday and Friday night. All signs indicated that it would clear sometime around sunrise yesterday (Saturday), which could be great timing. So I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., pried myself out of bed, made some breakfast, and drove to Yosemite Valley.

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Autumn into Winter: Part Two

Sunbeams and aspens, Dallas Divide, CO, USA

Sunbeams and aspens, Dallas Divide, Colorado. Claudia and I were headed to a more distant aspen grove, hoping to find snow on the trees, but saw some great sunbeams breaking through the clouds and decided to stop at Dallas Divide. We ended up staying for half an hour, with sunbeams moving across the landscape the whole time. For this image I bracketed five shots, two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.



In my last post I mentioned how much I love the transition from autumn to winter, with splashes of yellow amidst beautiful white aspen trunks, snow etching the trees, and the feeling of the long, cold winter settling in. Here are a few more attempts to capture that mood from the mountains of Colorado.

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