Light and Weather

Photographing an Icon

Maroon Bells in autumn, White River NF, CO, USA

Maroon Bells in autumn, White River NF, CO, USA

Some photographers love photographing icons, and try to visit as many as possible. Others avoid them at all costs.

But I think most of us have mixed feelings about them. These iconic spots have a certain undeniable appeal. There are good reasons, after all, why these places have become iconic: they’re great locations. With the right conditions, it’s possible to capture some beautiful images at these spots. They work.

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Lightning at Mono Lake

Lightning at dusk, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Lightning at dusk, Mono Lake (35mm, 30 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 250)

The Detwiler Fire is now 85% contained, and emitting little smoke. As I mentioned in my last post, Claudia and I never felt that our house was in serious danger, but sadly, 63 homes were destroyed in the fire. None of our friends lost their homes, which we’re grateful for, but we feel for those who did lose their homes, even though we don’t know them. I’m sure that’s a very tough thing to go through. It is heartening, however, to see the community come together to help those who lost their homes.

The fire started a week before our Starry Skies Adventure workshop on the eastern side of the Sierra. Initially the fire was spewing out tons of smoke, and sending it over the mountains to the east, so Yosemite and the Mono Lake area were pretty socked in. But as the week wore on the smoke diminished, and by the time our workshop started the skies were remarkably clear.

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Deep Freeze in the High Country

Reflections in ice sculptures, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Reflections in sculptured ice, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF. Abstracts and telephoto lenses seem to go together, so I started off using my 70-200 zoom. But just to try something different I got down near the edge of the lake and tried using a wide-angle lens, and these wide-angle abstracts turned out to be some of my favorites. (35mm, 1/20 sec. at f/16, ISO 100)

This past winter’s record-setting snowpack in the Yosemite high country has left tons of snow and ice lingering into July. Tioga Pass finally opened on June 29th, and Claudia and I headed over the pass on July 3rd to scout for our Range of Light workshop. We found little snow below 9,000 feet, but above that altitude the hiking was tough, requiring either long detours to avoid snow, or traversing tedious, slippery, sun-cupped snowfields.

That meant we couldn’t get to certain locations during the workshop, but as compensation we got to photograph roaring creeks and rivers, and partially-frozen lakes. When frozen lakes melt you can often find beautiful patterns where ice and snow mix with patches of open water. On the last evening of the workshop we went to Saddlebag Lake, which had some amazing ice patterns. Better yet, the ice went into the shade around 6:30 p.m., while the rusty-colored mountainside on the opposite side of the lake stayed in the sun for another hour, casting beautiful gold and orange reflections in the water. This was kid-in-candy-store stuff to someone who likes abstracts as much as I do.

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Seizing an Opportunity

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA. A hike through the fog led me to some of the most vivid rhododendrons I had ever seen. (70mm, 1 second at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer.)

Continuing to look back at photographs from this past spring, here are some more images from our trip to the redwoods.

One morning prior to our workshop Claudia, Robert and I drove from Crescent City down to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, hoping to see fog, but found that the marine layer was too high, above even the highest portions of this park, which reaches up to 1,200 feet in elevation. So we continued south, and hiked out to a favorite beach to check on conditions. Later that morning, on our way back through Del Norte, the ever-unpredictable fog had lowered. In fact, I saw fog in an area where I had rarely seen it before. I had long wanted to photograph this redwood forest in the fog, and here was my chance.

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Lupines and Fog

Sun rising over a field of lupines, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sun rising over a field of lupines, Redwood NP. I put the sun behind a tree to reduce flare, and bracketed five frames, two stops apart, then blended the exposures using Lightroom’s HDR Merge. (16mm, f/16, various shutter speeds, ISO 100.)

Before our recent redwoods workshop Claudia and I drove inland, toward the higher elevations of Redwoods National Park, and found a beautiful, dense patch of lupines in one of the “prairies,” as they call them in that part of California – an open, grassy area amid the dense surrounding forests. We also found some photographer friends there, Terry Donnelly and Mary Liz Austin, and met two other photographers, Ed Callaert and Bruce Jackson. It’s amazing how you meet photographers in the most out-of-the-way – yet beautiful – places.

On that first afternoon the light wasn’t particularly special, but I did manage to make one image I liked (the first one below) in soft light after the sun set. Two days later, in Crescent City, we woke early and saw a high fog bank, or marine layer, and thought maybe we might see fog among the lupines. Claudia and I arrived about 15 minutes before sunrise, and the lupines were right at the top of the fog bank, which was perfect, creating an opportunity to photograph sun, fog, and lupines together.

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Double Rainbow

Double rainbow from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Double rainbow from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I’m always looking for interesting weather. On Sunday the forecast called for a chance of showers and thunderstorms, so that afternoon Claudia and I decided to brave the weekend traffic and head up to Yosemite Valley.

The traffic actually wasn’t too bad, and we did encounter some rain. After a small shower passed through we went to El Capitan Meadow and spent some time photographing azaleas. I kept checking the radar on my phone, and saw that another, stronger shower was headed our way. With clear skies to the west, and this new shower coming from the southeast, that meant we could see sun hitting rain – and a rainbow. Claudia was in another part of the meadow, so I texted her and said, “Maybe we should go to the Tunnel.”

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