Light and Weather

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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Staying Flexible on a Snowy, Misty Morning

Sun breaking through fog in an oak grove, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sun breaking through fog in an oak grove, Yosemite, 8:06 a.m. yesterday

Friday’s storm got cold enough to drop a couple of inches of snow on Yosemite Valley. The storm cleared during the night, but showers lingered until the wee hours Saturday morning. It seemed possible that we might find some mist at sunrise, so Claudia and I drove up early to Yosemite Valley.

Indeed there was some mist, and broken clouds overhead. That seemed like a perfect combination for Tunnel View; if the clouds lit up it would be a gorgeous sunrise from there. But soon after I arrived at Tunnel View the clouds dissipated. There was still some mist down in the valley below, but it would take awhile for the sun to get high enough to light that mist, and without clouds to block it the sun would be right in my face, making it difficult to avoid lens flare.

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Horsetail Fall, El Capitan, and a Cloud

El Capitan and Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite

I rose early yesterday morning to go up to Yosemite Valley, thinking the storm might clear just after sunrise. But showers persisted, and the sun didn’t break through until almost ten o’clock. By the time I finished photographing it was almost noon, so I decided to stay in the valley until sunset.

In the afternoon typical after-storm condensation clouds formed around the rim of the valley. Thinking those clouds might add something to a photograph of Horsetail Fall, and allow me to capture something a little different from my other images of this waterfall, I headed for a spot with a good overall view of El Cap and Horsetail.

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