Light and Weather

Return to the Redwoods

Young and old redwoods, northern California, USA

Young and old redwoods, Northern California. Soft sunlight filtering through the fog added a beautiful and unusual mood to this scene, and I loved the juxtaposition of young and old trees. 25mm, 1/6 sec. at f/16, ISO 800.



Until last year, Claudia and I had visited the redwood forests of northern California nine years in a row. The pandemic interrupted that streak, but in late May this year we were able to return once again, and spent almost two weeks in the area.

It was great to be back, as I love this part of the world. While Yosemite has been my home, both physically and spiritually, for over 35 years, returning to the redwoods also feels like coming home. It’s a much different environment – damp, cool, foggy, lush, and overgrown – and that’s what I love about it. Many places look like they could be sets from a Jurassic Park movie (which, of course, they were). It’s not hard to imagine dinosaurs roaming this terrain.

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Spring Storm at Glacier Point

Half Dome, Nevada Fall, and rainbow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, Nevada Fall, and rainbow, Yosemite. I made this photograph shortly after the rainbow first appeared. 28mm, 1/4 sec. at f/11, ISO 100, polarizer.

It’s fun getting wet. Seriously – ask any kid. And for photographers, sometimes you need to stand in the rain, or the spray of a waterfall, to see some dramatic light – including rainbows.

Last weekend a small low-pressure system moved through our area, and forecasts called for some afternoon thunderstorm activity. It looked like the best chance of rain was Sunday, so Claudia and I made our way up to Yosemite Valley that afternoon.

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A Yosemite Icon

Clearing spring storm, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clearing spring storm, Tunnel View, Yosemite, Monday morning

Last Sunday, for the first time in over a month, we got some significant rain. Well somewhat significant anyway – half an inch.

It looked like the storm would clear around sunrise on Monday morning, which could be good timing. I drove up to Yosemite Valley early, and, as I often do, went to Tunnel View to get an overview of the valley and assess the conditions.

And the conditions looked promising, with lots of mist, and some higher clouds that could light up at sunrise.

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Spring in the Sierra Foothills

Poppies and foothill pines, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Poppies and foothill pines, Sierra Nevada, California. 91mm, 1/60 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

We didn’t get any storms here in the Sierra between mid March and late April, and therefore no chance to photograph interesting weather. So what else could I photograph? What was happening that might provide opportunities to make a compelling photograph? Well it’s spring, so… flowers? That would seem logical.

But by California standards, it hasn’t been the greatest year for wildflowers. We had a dry winter, so the desert and semi-desert areas that sometimes display vast carpets of flowers have stayed brown. No “superbloom” (a word that seems to get applied to any above-average wildflower season these days).

Yet Claudia and I managed to find some beautiful patches flowers in the Sierra foothills. Around here, sometimes drier years produce good blooms, while in wet years the grasses can quickly grow tall enough to crowd out the flowers.

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Trees in Snow

Oak in a snowstorm, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Oak in a snowstorm, Yosemite. 253mm, 1/15 sec. at f/11, ISO 400.

In my last post I described how the most recent snowstorm led to some beautiful light and clouds – especially late in the day.

But when I arrived in the valley that morning it was still snowing. So I did what I always do: I asked myself, “What’s happening now?” In other words, what was interesting or unusual about that moment? What was unique and special in this place I’ve photographed so many times before?

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Drawing With Light

El Capitan emerging from clouds, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan emerging from clouds, Yosemite. 78mm, three bracketed frames, each at f/11, ISO 100, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.

You can make a photograph without a camera, or lens, but you can’t make a photograph without light. The word “photograph” literally means “drawing with light.” Light is the essence of photography.

If light is our medium, it stands to reason that exceptional light has the potential to lead to exceptional photographs. It’s not a guarantee, of course; you still need to find a composition that works with that light, and execute the photograph technically. But the potential is there.

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