Light and Weather

Can Intimate Landscapes Have a Mood?

Big-leaf maple in a burned forest, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Big-leaf maple in a burned forest, Yosemite

I’m always striving to make photographs that convey a mood. I want to do more than show what a place looks like; I want to capture what it feels like to be there at that particular moment.

It seems easier to convey a mood when photographing big landscape scenes during interesting weather. Just describing any kind of weather suggests a mood: sunny, cloudy, gray, overcast, rainy, foggy, misty, snowy, windy, calm – and so on. Combining weather with a compelling landscape almost automatically creates a mood.

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Lenticular Cloud over Mono Lake

Lenticular cloud at sunset, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Lenticular cloud at sunset, Mono Lake, California. 20 seconds at f/14, ISO 100, 7-stop ND filter.

We just finished our workshop in the eastern Sierra, and had a great time. We had to look a little harder for colorful aspens this year, but in the end we found plenty.

The workshop ended on Friday. Yesterday Claudia and I slept in a bit, then did an interview, packed up our classroom space from the workshop, and had an early dinner at the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining.

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Glowing Maples

Autumn kaleidoscope, northern Utah, USA

Autumn kaleidoscope, northern Utah. The upper-right portion of this photograph didn’t go into the shade until dusk, so I concentrated on photographing other things for awhile (like the next two images below). But I thought this was worth coming back to, as I loved the mix of colors and patterns. 180mm, 8 seconds at f/11, ISO 100.

As you can probably tell from my last post, Claudia and I had a great time photographing the maples in northern Utah. We even found some spots where the maples were mixed with aspens! Although 99% of the aspens in the area were still green at that time, I loved the juxtaposition of those greens against the reds and oranges of the maples – along with the white aspen trunks.

It’s great to get clouds, as we did for a couple of the photographs in that previous post from Utah. But we don’t have any control over the weather, so we have to adapt to the conditions. It’s hard to make big, sweeping landscape scenes work without clouds to add interest to the sky, so on sunny days I usually narrow my focus and concentrate on smaller scenes. And there were plenty of those in northern Utah, with the maples, aspens, and cottonwoods creating wonderful patterns, textures, and colors.

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Sierra Thunderstorms

Half Dome and Nevada Fall at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Nevada Fall at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite

While summer is the dry season in California, monsoonal moisture often pushes up from Mexico during this season, triggering afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains. But there hasn’t been much of that this year. It’s been one sunny day after another. While the typical late-summer monsoons made their way to Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado, they never reached this far west.

Last week, however, some of that monsoonal moisture finally arrived in the Sierra, and on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, clouds and thunderstorms developed over the high country.

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Exploring the Oregon Coast: Part Two

Creek flowing into the Pacific Ocean, Oregon coast, USA

Creek flowing into the Pacific Ocean, Oregon coast. 26mm, five bracketed exposures at f/16, ISO 100, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge, then blended back with one of the original images in Photoshop to eliminate ghosting.

Summer is fog season along the west coast. Currents and upwelling bring cool water to the surface near the shore, and when warm, moist air blowing off the Pacific encounters that cold water the air temperature near the surface drops to meet the dew point, creating the right conditions for fog formation.

Usually that fog layer lifts above sea level, so along the shore it looks like a low overcast. That stratus deck might break up late in the morning, but often starts to re-form toward sunset, building back into a solid overcast by morning.

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Ice in July

ice fingers, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

ice fingers, Yosemite. 200mm, 1/4 second at f/16, ISO 100, focus-stacked and blended with Helicon Focus.

I always try to drive over Tioga Pass right after it opens in hopes of finding still-snowy peaks, and melting ice on some of the high-country lakes. This year’s big snowpack delayed the full opening of Tioga Road until July 1st, so I thought there would still be lots of snow up there. But when we drove over the pass on July 2nd we found less snow and ice than I expected. The peaks had some snow, but not as much as in 2017, and the lakes near the road were ice-free.

Later, while scouting for our high-country workshop, I did find some ice on higher lakes, away from the road. And our workshop group got to photograph a small patch of ice on one lake before it all melted. I think if we had arrived at that lake one day later the ice would have been gone.

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