Light and Weather

Canyon Moods

Dappled light above the Colorado River, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona. I used a neutral-density filter (probably seven stops) to slow the shutter speed to three seconds and smooth the water, and had to wait for moments when the wind was calm at the camera position, lest the wind vibrate the camera and blur the photo during the long exposure.

I left the Grand Canyon just a week ago. Once again I co-led a ten-day raft trip down the canyon with my friend Jerry Dodrill for Visionary Wild. And once again it was an amazing trip.

This journey is hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it. It’s more than just a photography trip – although the photography is fantastic. It’s a true wilderness adventure, immersed in the depths of this magnificent canyon for ten days, sleeping under the stars, living by the rhythm of the sun, moon, and river, sharing the experience with a small group of like-minded people. It’s unforgettable.


Meanwhile, Back in Yosemite…

Pines, mist, and Lower Cathedral Rock, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Pines, mist, and Lower Cathedral Rock, Yosemite NP, California (March 30th)

In between trips to Death Valley, Anza-Borrego, Big Sur, and Arkansas (for the eclipse), Claudia and I found ourselves at home, near Yosemite. Not a bad place to be.

When at home I always keep my eye out for interesting weather. And even though we didn’t have any really big storms this past winter, we had lots of smaller storms, and therefore many opportunities to photograph misty scenes of clearing storms.


A Dynamic Valley

Dunes in a sandstorm at sunrise, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Dunes in a sandstorm at sunrise, Death Valley NP, California

Death Valley is a dynamic place. While the appearance of other landscapes frequently changes because of weather and seasonal changes, in Death Valley the land itself undergoes routine transformations caused by wind and water – especially the infrequent, but highly destructive, flash floods.

Last August Tropical Storm Hilary dumped over two inches of rain on Death Valley, washing out roads, closing the park for two months, and filling Badwater Basin with water – a resurrection of ancient Lake Manly. We visited Death Valley in late December, and got to see and photograph that lake, though it was shallower by then. (You can see some of my photos from that trip toward the bottom of my year-end-photos post.)


Snow and Sunbeams

Half Dome and sunbeams, winter sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and sunbeams, winter sunrise, Yosemite NP, California

I’ve felt like a hamster on a wheel lately, running nonstop just to keep up with the most essential tasks. But I finally have a moment to breathe, and time to write a blog post!

I made the photographs here in mid-February, after a weak storm moved through the Sierra. In a common pattern, it rained in Yosemite Valley during most of the storm, but the temperature dropped at the tail-end, leaving a dusting of new snow. At least that’s what I saw on the webcams early that morning. But when I arrived in the west end of the valley at first light, I didn’t find any new snow. Could it have snowed in the east end of the valley (where the webcams are), but not the west end? Sure enough, that’s what happened. The east end of the valley is slightly higher in elevation than the west end, and sometimes that’s enough to create a dusting of snow in the east end while the west end gets only rain.


Half Dome and Fog

Half Dome above a fog layer at sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome above a fog layer at sunrise, Yosemite NP, California. This is actually two frames from my 50mm lens stitched together, as that lens wasn’t quite wide enough, but my next widest lens (35mm) was too wide.

After photographing the trees in fog I described in this recent post, a few mornings later I went up to Yosemite Valley again as another storm was clearing. I climbed up to a different spot, with a view of Half Dome, and once again saw the valley floor covered in a shallow layer of fog, with trees poking out.

But this time I also saw high clouds, and some mist wrapped around Half Dome. Under those conditions the higher clouds often light up before sunrise, but not this time; probably some clouds farther east, out of sight, blocked that early light. But later, as the sun rose higher, it broke through and backlit the clouds and mist. My favorite moment is shown above, with that backlit mist, and trees poking out of the fog below.


Trees and Fog

Trees and waves of fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Trees and waves of fog, Yosemite NP, California

On a Sunday morning nine days ago I headed up to Yosemite Valley as a small storm was clearing. This system was on the warm side, so it rained at the valley elevation (around 4,000 feet). But there was still some snow on the ground from previous storms, and rain on top of snow is a fog-generating machine, so I figured there would be lots of fog and mist.

And there was lots of mist when I arrived in the valley. I climbed up to one of my favorite off-the-beaten path viewpoints, thinking to capture a classic Yosemite clearing storm. But when I reached that spot it became apparent that the mist wasn’t wrapping around the cliffs as I’d expected. Instead, I saw a shallow layer of fog covering the length of the Valley floor, with the tops of tall ponderosa pines poking up through the fog layer. Which looked gorgeous.