Light and Weather

There’s Fog, and Then There’s Fog

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, northern California, USA

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, northern California. Some dense coastal fog helped simplify this forest scene and add a soft, ethereal mood. 35mm, 1.5 seconds at f/16, ISO 200.

I half-jokingly refer to our redwoods workshop as the “Chasing Fog” workshop. The northern coast of California is definitely fog-prone (though there are never any guarantees). And fog can add so much to photographs of the redwood forests, or scenes of the meadows, rivers, or coast, so I try to take advantage of fog whenever and wherever I find it.

But fog is also fickle stuff. We’ve been going up to this corner of California every year since 2011 (except 2020), and every year I see the fog behave in new ways. Sometimes the fog will get into a pattern for a few days in a row, but inevitably that pattern gets disrupted by something – high pressure, low pressure, a cold front, a wind shift – and the pattern changes, or the fog disappears completely.


Simplifying Forest Scenes

Lichen-covered rhododendron, northern California, USA

Lichen-covered rhododendron, Northern California. This was an overcast day, and the soft, even light helped simplify this complex scene, and emphasize the color contrasts between the pink rhododendrons and various shades of green. I used a long lens to isolate the rhododendron against a dark, leafy background. Moving closer with a shorter lens would have required looking up at the top of the tree, forcing me to include bright, distracting patches of sky. 159mm, 1/4 sec. at f/16, ISO 800, polarizing filter to cut reflections on the leaves.

Forests can be challenging to photograph. They’re beautiful, but cluttered, and often visually chaotic.

Creating order out of that chaos requires finding ways to simplify things. That’s one of the reasons fog is so helpful for these scenes: it obscures the background, reducing the clutter. (It also lends a wonderful atmosphere to the photographs.)

During our recent workshop in the redwoods we did get some fog, and even sunbeams. I’m sure I’ll post some of those photos down the road.

But there were also many occasions before, during, and after the workshop when we didn’t have fog, and I was photographing forests in soft light, or with sunlight filtering through the trees. What then?


River Light

Winding river, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Winding river, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona. 78mm, 20 seconds at f/11, ISO 100, 10-stop ND filter.

In 1540 Spanish Conquistadors became the first Europeans to ever see the Grand Canyon. They greatly underestimated the scale of what they were seeing. Looking down from the rim they thought the river was six feet wide (the average width is actually 300 feet). Rocks that they thought were as tall as a man turned out to be 300 feet high.


Misty Dogwood

Dogwood, mist, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood, mist, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, California. 50mm, 1 sec. at f/16, ISO 800.

On a stormy afternoon in April, before we left for the Grand Canyon, Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley and found the dogwoods beginning to bloom.

They were just coming out. When the dogwood blossoms first emerge their petals (actually bracts) are green, then change to white. On that April day many were still green, but maybe half had turned white already. That was an early appearance for dogwoods – April 11th. But with such a dry winter and spring this precocious bloom wasn’t all that surprising.


A Rare Storm

Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall during a clearing storm, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall during a clearing storm, Yosemite NP, California

Something rare happened last Tuesday: it rained. We’ve received very little rain here in the central Sierra since January 1st, but on Tuesday Yosemite Valley got .43 inches – not exactly a deluge, but something.

Claudia and I went up to Yosemite Valley on Tuesday afternoon, hoping to find some interesting light. We did see a faint rainbow at one point, but then clouds closed in, and it rained steadily until after sunset. We drove home in a downpour (and actually our town of Mariposa got more rain than Yosemite).

The next morning I rose early and drove out to the Merced River Canyon, hoping to find fog enveloping some of the late-blooming redbuds. But the fog and mist in the canyon hovered at least a couple hundred feet above the canyon floor – above redbud level – so I kept driving up to Yosemite Valley.


Wind, Dust, and Light in Death Valley

Dunes in a sandstorm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Dunes in a sandstorm, Death Valley, California. Made before our workshop from a spot overlooking the dunes. I used my longest lens here (400mm), and even then had to crop this slightly. A brief lull in the wind allowed me to use a slowish shutter speed (1/10th sec.) at 100 ISO and get a sharp photo. As you can see, some photographers did make it out to the dunes that morning. One of them is kneeling down to take a picture, which I wouldn’t recommend, as there’s a hundred times more sand blowing around at ground level than at eye level in conditions like this. 400mm, 1/10 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Claudia and I just got back from spending another two weeks in Death Valley. This time I was teaching a workshop for Visionary Wild with my co-instructor Jerry Dodrill.

Jerry, Claudia and I scouted together before the workshop, and hung out and explored a bit afterward. Jerry is a super nice guy, and a great photographer and teacher (you can find his website here, and Instagram feed here). We really enjoyed spending time together and teaching together, and our workshop group was wonderful, which made it all even more fun.