Light and Weather

Mono Lake

Tufa formations and osprey at sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Tufa formations and osprey at sunrise, Mono Lake, California

I love the diversity of our area. We live in the foothills on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, a region that includes rolling grasslands, oak savannah, chaparral, oak woodlands, and steep-sided river canyons. Just to the west of that is California’s Central Valley, an agricultural hub that also contains marshes and wetlands, hosting vast flocks of waterfowl in winter.

To our east lies the higher terrain of the Sierra, including the wondrous Yosemite Valley, plus magnificent conifer forests, meadows, canyons, rivers, lakes, and peaks. And when Tioga Pass is open we can reach the eastern side of the mountains in about two-and-a-half hours, where the trees give way to high desert, with sagebrush, junipers, pinyon pines, pronghorn antelope, wild horses, stunning views of the Sierra – and the uniquely beautiful shores of Mono Lake.


Melting Ice

Melting Ice #1

Melting Ice #1. 400mm, 1/15 sec. at f/16, ISO 100, two-frame focus stack blended in Photoshop.

Claudia and I love going up to the Yosemite high country in summer. But we hadn’t been able to get up there because the Tioga Road opened so late. We’d been over to the eastern side of the Sierra a couple of times (via Sonora Pass), and we were even able to get up to the top of Tioga Pass from the east side on the last day of our Range of Light workshop. But we hadn’t seen Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake, or Tuolumne Meadows since last summer, which felt strange.

Tioga Road finally opened on July 22nd, by far the latest opening date ever. And two days later Claudia and I headed up and over the pass. It was great to see our familiar high-country haunts again, with lots of water in the meadows and creeks, and flowers beginning to bloom. We kept remarking on how everything is happening so late this year – at least a month later than usual.


Eastside Flowers

Fields of arrowleaf balsamroot below Sierra peaks, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Fields of arrowleaf balsamroot below Sierra peaks, Inyo NF, California. It was a bit of a grunt to climb up this hill through the sagebrush, but I thought this higher vantage point would allow me to see a succession of layers from foreground to middle ground to background, which could add more depth to the image. The dappled light and clouds were perfect complements to the scene. This is a stitched panorama (three shots), made quickly to capture fleeting light. 50mm, 1/125 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.

Tioga Pass through Yosemite finally opened yesterday, July 22nd. That’s the latest opening date ever – by far. The previous record was July 8th, way back in 1933, before the road was even paved. In 1938, the year after it was paved, Tioga Road opened on July 5th. But since 1938 it’s always opened by the end of June, except for 1998, when it opened July 1st. Even in the prodigious snow year of 1983 it opened on June 30th.

An exceptional set of circumstances conspired to make this year’s opening so late. First, there was a lot of snow. There’s some debate about whether this was a record year for snowfall in the Sierra; it’s actually a hard thing to measure, as there are a lot of variables. But it was certainly one of the snowiest years on record.


Wind Clouds

Lenticular clouds at sunset, eastern Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Lenticular clouds at sunset, eastern Sierra Nevada, California

I don’t know many landscape photographers who like wind. Wind gyrates flowers and trees, making it hard to get sharp photos. It ruffles lakes, killing reflections. Wind can even shake a tripod-mounted camera, blurring images (especially with telephoto lenses). And it’s generally unpleasant to be out in the wind – especially when it’s cold.

But sometimes wind creates interesting opportunities. On the leeward side of a mountain range (usually the eastern side), or on isolated mountain peaks, wind often creates lenticular clouds, which can be incredibly beautiful and photogenic.


Character and Mood on the Northern California Coast

Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons, northern California coast. I’ve photographed sun breaking through fog in redwood forests many times, but it’s always a special treat. At this particular moment the sun highlighted the redwood trunk on the left, providing a visual focal point, with the ferns, rhododendrons, other trunks, and patches of sunlight all arranging themselves in a harmonious way. I consciously planted the tripod at a spot where I could see decent spacing and separation between the trunks.

Claudia and I have been traveling a lot this year, with trips to Mono Lake, Zion, Valley of Fire, Anza-Borrego and the Central Coast ranges for flowers, the Olympic Peninsula, and multiple visits to Death Valley – along with day trips to Yosemite, of course.

And recently we made another trip, this time to the northern California redwoods for our annual workshop there. But even though that was a long drive, it seemed like we were coming home, rather than leaving home. I always feel that way when we return to the redwoods, because I love that area so much.


Zion in Winter

Cottonwood in snow, Zion NP, UT, USA

Cottonwood in snow, Zion NP, Utah

After escaping Mariposa’s snowmageddon, and spending a few days in Death Valley, Claudia and I decided to head for Zion. I’d never photographed Zion with snow, and snow was in the forecast. Well maybe. We drove there on a Monday, and it looked like some higher elevations could get a dusting of snow Monday night, followed by a more substantial storm, with colder temps, on Tuesday night. The question was whether it would be cold enough to snow on the floor of Zion Canyon. That seemed iffy, but odds were decent enough to make it worth trying.

We arrived just before sunset on Monday, with enough time to drive up into Zion Canyon before dark. While we’ve been to this park many times, it had been a long time since we’d visited the main Zion Canyon, because most of the year it’s only accessible by shuttle bus, which isn’t very conducive to photography. But during the winter (outside of holidays) you can drive in. And it was great to be back. It’s such a spectacular place.