Light and Weather

A Rare Storm

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

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

Storms have been rare in Yosemite during this dry winter. But on Monday evening a small, cold weather system moved down the coast and brushed the area.

I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. Tuesday morning to check on the weather and see if it might be worth driving up to Yosemite Valley. We had about three inches of fresh snow at our house in Mariposa, but Yosemite hadn’t received much precipitation – less than a tenth of an inch. Most of the rain and snow with this system fell further west.

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Chasing the Weather and Color in Colorado

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Claudia and I had wonderful conditions on our autumn trip to Colorado. As I said before, it wasn’t the best year for fall color there, but the weather more than made up for that, with rain, snow, fog, and lots of interesting clouds.

We chased the weather and color all over Colorado – or so it seemed. We reached the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state on September 27th, but found little color at that time. So we headed east and ended up near Twin Lakes, where I photographed aspens with snow and fog. Then we drove over Independence Pass and spent a couple of days around Aspen and Carbondale, braving the crowds to capture a misty view of the Maroon Bells.

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Yosemite Fall Color

Big-leaf maple leaves along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Big-leaf maple leaves along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite. 19mm, 2 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer.

Claudia and I spent Friday in Yosemite Valley checking out the fall color. And it was beautiful. The big-leaf maples, in particular, were quite colorful.

It was a clear, sunny day, so there wasn’t any weather to add drama to the valley landscapes. When the weather and light aren’t that interesting I tend to narrow my focus and photograph smaller subjects. And for those subjects, conditions were perfect. The low autumn sunlight kept some parts of the valley in shade virtually all day, and that soft light was perfect for highlighting the autumn color. Plus, from the south side of the Merced River you could look toward sunlit cliffs on the north side of the valley and find beautiful, golden reflections in the shaded water.

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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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