Light and Weather

Moonrise, Moonset

Moon rising above Mono Lake and the White Mountains at sunset, CA, USA

Moon rising above Mono Lake and the White Mountains at sunset, CA, USA

We had a wonderful time during our workshop in the Sierra high country last week. The locations around Tuolumne Meadows, Tioga Pass, and Mono Lake are some of my favorites, and we had a great group of people to share them with. We also had several opportunities to photograph the rising and setting moon above these striking landscapes.

In this previous post I wrote about some of the common misconceptions about photographing the full moon. For example, many people assume that full-moon photographs are taken at night, but in fact most are taken at sunrise or sunset when the light of the moon and landscape are in balance. And it’s often better to take these photographs on the days before or after the actual full moon, not when the calendar says “full moon.” That post helps explain some of the gyrations of the sun and moon so you can understand the best times to photograph the moon above a landscape. There are also some excellent apps that can help you pin down precisely where and when the moon will rise and set. The best of these are PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, and I used both to figure out where and when to take our group during the workshop.

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What’s Happening Now

Oaks and azaleas in the fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Oaks and azaleas in the fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA



One of the biggest challenges in landscape photography is deciding where to go and what to photograph. Technical skill and an eye for composition are always important, but it certainly helps to put yourself in the right place at the right time.

Of course everyone has their own preferences about the types of subjects and images they’d like to photograph, and that’s always part of the equation. And different people can have different but equally successful approaches to finding the subject matter that suits them.

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A Magical Morning in the Redwoods

Sunbeams in a redwood forest along the northern California coast, USA

Sunbeams in a redwood forest along the northern California coast

We always hope for fog when we go to the redwoods. Fog helps to simplify busy forest scenes, but also adds a touch of mood and mystery that seems to fit the primeval feeling of these groves.

Before our workshop last week we found fog along the Klamath River, and valley fog in some meadows, but none of the coastal fog that typically envelops the California coast in summer. The coastal fog is much more widespread than the other types of fog, and it’s the only kind of fog that gets thick enough and high enough to penetrate into the redwood forests. That coastal fog typically forms when it’s hot inland, but temperatures just hadn’t reached summer levels yet.

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Along the Klamath River

Foggy sunrise along the Klamath River, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Foggy sunrise along the Klamath River, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Claudia and I are in Crescent City scouting for our upcoming redwoods workshop. I love coming back here. The lush forests and wild coast are such a contrast to our mountain home in the central Sierra. The subjects here allow me to try some alternative techniques and approaches to photographing the landscape, but above all I’m trying to convey the feeling of this area, which is very different from Yosemite. The Sierra Nevada, or “The Range of Light,” as John Muir put it, seems like a bright, new, shiny jewel to me, while the temperate rainforests of northern California have a primeval mood that makes you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time a few million years.

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Another View of Yosemite Falls

Rainbow, mist, and Yosemite Falls, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow, mist, and Yosemite Falls, March 14th

I recently wrote about photographing a clearing storm from the Four-Mile Trail, but that was actually my second journey up that trail last month. The first time was a week earlier, on March 14th, as another rainstorm cleared early in the morning. At that time I hadn’t been up the Four-Mile Trail in several years, but I remembered that you could see some great views of Yosemite Falls from the trail, and the unusually high early-spring water levels in falls made it seem worth trying.

I had a vague memory of finding some good views of the falls that weren’t very far up the trail, but apparently my memory was faulty, as all the lower views were partially obscured by trees. I found a decent view about 600 feet above the valley floor, but kept going up and up the switchbacks until I reached some better spots. On the way I also saw misty scenes looking west toward Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan, which I had to photograph, giving me a convenient excuse to stop and rest:

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A Different Point of View

Half Dome and North Dome at sunrise from the Four-Mile Trail, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and North Dome at sunrise from the Four-Mile Trail, 8:07 a.m. Tuesday morning

A small storm rolled through Monday night. The showers tapered off during the wee hours Tuesday morning, and I rose early, hoping to once again photograph a clearing storm in Yosemite Valley.

The moon was nearly full, and I actually got to the valley early enough to capture some images of the clearing storm by the light of the setting moon. Then some clouds moved in. I looked at the radar images on my phone, and saw a band of showers approaching. It looked like the showers would reach me around sunrise, and pass through pretty quickly. Hmm. I might have just enough time to hike up the Four-Mile Trail to a spot with a view of Half Dome that I’d been wanting to try.

It would be a gamble. Staying near the roads on the valley floor would give me more flexibility; I could wait to see what happened with the weather, and within five or ten minutes be at one of my favorite, familiar locations. But on this morning I wanted to try something different, so I decided to take a chance and go for it.

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