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?
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.
Raven, trees, and crags, Yosemite
One of the most difficult tasks in landscape photography is deciding where to go. It seems simple, but it’s anything but, especially when the weather is changing quickly. Would I be better off staying put, or trying someplace else? Where (and when) will the light be most interesting?
It helps to know an area well, so you have a better idea about which spots might give you the best opportunities under different conditions. It also helps to know local weather patterns. And when cell service allows, I’ll use satellite, radar, and webcam images to see beyond my immediate field of view, and make a short-term weather prediction.
Three Brothers, Sentinel Rock, and the Merced River at sunrise, Yosemite. On Saturday morning the sun broke through the clouds just after sunrise to light the Three Brothers. 19mm, 1/20 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
Aside from one big storm in late January, it’s been another dry winter here in central California. So any forecast for precipitation – even a small amount – piques my interest.
On Monday Yosemite Valley got two-tenths of an inch of rain, then another two-tenths early Saturday morning. That’s pretty meager, and often such small storms don’t add enough moisture to the atmosphere to generate any mist. But surprisingly, both of these small systems created lots of mist in the valley.
Snow-covered pines, Mariposa County, California. I found some snow-plastered trees in the fog as the storm was clearing.
Last week’s big storm played out mostly as predicted, dropping large amounts of rain and snow throughout much of California. The Yosemite area was right in the bullseye of the atmospheric river, but all of the Sierra Nevada got a healthy dose of rain and snow. Yosemite Valley’s rain gauge measured 6.67 inches. Other nearby areas received amounts ranging from four to eight inches, with one weather station just south of Yosemite recording slightly over ten inches.
Coastal mountains areas from Santa Cruz down to Santa Barbara reported impressive rainfall totals, with ten inches of rain in many gauges, and one spot along the Big Sur Coast, Chalk Peak, recording over 15 inches of rain in three days. A mudslide near Salinas damaged a number of buildings, and a section of Highway 1 south of Big Sur got washed out, but I think we were lucky to escape this big storm without more widespread damage.
Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise. I made this image after a light snowfall – accompanied by some beautiful mist – in 2017.
Last Tuesday the Sierra got hit by a big wind storm. Events like this are called “Mono winds” around here, since the wind comes from the east, in the direction of Mono Lake. But similar winds are called “Santa Ana winds” in Southern California, or by various other names around the world. They’re katabatic winds that flow from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure, accelerating down the leeward slopes of a mountain range. For Mono winds, that means high pressure over Nevada, and low pressure over the Pacific, with the winds flowing from east to west down the long western slope of the Sierra Nevada, accelerating as they descend.
We lost power for about 36 hours, and a large oak fell across our driveway, but we were lucky. Some nearby areas were hit harder, with many homes and vehicles damaged or destroyed by falling trees. Wawona, in the southern part of Yosemite National Park, was devastated. Some neighborhoods are still without power.