Light and Weather

A Break From the Storms

Mist, snow, and Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Mist, snow, and Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite NP, California

We had quite a series of storms in late December and early January. The Sierra foothills, where I live, didn’t suffer major flooding or mudslides, but there were lots of downed trees, power outages, and some washed-out roads.

Some nearby towns in the Central Valley, however, got some of the worst flooding in California. That includes Merced, which is about an hour’s drive from us, and Planada, a small town we regularly pass through on the way to Merced. The entire town of Planada was evacuated for two days earlier this month due to flooding.

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Winter Wonderland

Cottonwoods in late-afternoon light, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Cottonwoods in late-afternoon light, Yosemite NP, California

We’ve had a great start to the winter here in the Sierra, with several early-December storms bringing rain and higher-elevation snow. Precipitation is above average for Yosemite Valley at this point, which is wonderful. Some other recent winters have also gotten off to a strong start only to fizzle in January and February, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that this winter will be different.

This winter’s early-season storms have been on the cold side, cold enough to bring snow to Yosemite Valley several times. The most recent storm (December 10th and 11th) followed a typical pattern, starting with rain in Yosemite Valley (at 4,000 feet), then changing to snow toward the end of the system as the cold front moved through. That tail end was pretty strong, dumping about eight to nine inches of new snow on the valley floor.

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Oregon Moods

Crashing wave in late-afternoon light, Oregon coast, USA

Crashing wave in late-afternoon light, Oregon coast. We had to deal with off-and-on rain while trying to photograph large waves crashing against the shore. But then the sun broke through for about five minutes late in the afternoon, bathing this scene in beautiful light. Luckily we caught a few big wave splashes during those five minutes. 70mm, 1/500 sec. at f/8, ISO 160.

After returning from New Zealand I made a trip to the Oregon Coast for our annual workshop. This part of the world is very different from my usual mountain haunts, which might be why I enjoy it so much. There’s a wild, rugged grandeur to this coastline, and if you’re lucky enough to encounter some big waves that just adds to the sense of awe.

And we did experience some big waves. Watching – and hearing – those monsters crash ashore was an experience none of us will soon forget. But even under calmer conditions this area offers wonderful opportunities to capture moody scenes of fog, or stormy skies.

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Looking Back to Yellowstone

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. 26mm, 1/125 sec. at f/11, ISO 320.

It’s been a busy year. Looking back through my images I see lots of work that I haven’t had a chance to post yet, including some favorites from our September trip to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone doesn’t have many iconic views, or the kind of dramatic mountain vistas that photographers are often attracted to. But there are endless photographic opportunities – if you look. And I think it can sometimes be easier to find scenes and images that express your own vision in a place like Yellowstone, where there’s lots to photograph, but nothing is laid out for you. You have to explore and find your own path, which tends to naturally lead you in different directions than others might take.

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Sunlight and Waterfalls

Tree shadows, rainbow, and waterfall, California, USA

Tree shadows, rainbow, and waterfall, California. Claudia and I photographed this waterfall in soft light the evening before, but I came back the next morning hoping to see tree shadows when the sun got high enough. And sure enough, eventually trees cast beautiful striped shadows across the fall, creating a sunbeam-like effect. But I didn’t expect to also see a rainbow interspersed with the tree shadows – a nice bonus. I used a telephoto lens to fill the frame with the most eye-catching part of the scene, a polarizer to enhance the rainbow, and a neutral-density filter to slow down the shutter speed and give the water a soft, silky appearance. 135mm, 3 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer, ND filter (probably a 7-stop filter).

I love waterfalls. Who doesn’t? Besides their beauty, large waterfalls cast negative ions into the air, and negative ions supposedly have health benefits – making people feel refreshed and renewed, helping regulate sleep patterns and mood, reducing stress, and boosting the immune system. Or not; the scientific evidence is mixed at best. But whatever the reason, people seem magnetically drawn to waterfalls.

And of course waterfalls are quite photogenic. Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to visit several waterfalls I’ve never photographed before. And while soft light usually works for waterfalls, I tried to seek out more unusual lighting conditions that could give the photographs a different look and feeling. That meant using sunlight, but waterfalls usually reside in basins and canyons, so they don’t often get that warm, low-angle light that we’re often looking for. And when the sun does get high enough to strike the fall, it’s often filtered through trees, creating splotchy light. Splotchy light can be harsh and downright awful, but sometimes, under the right circumstances, it can work. And – again, under the right circumstances – backlight can highlight a waterfall’s spray. And while front light is usually flat and boring, with waterfalls it can create rainbows.

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Morning Mist in Yellowstone: Part 2

Fog along the Firehole River, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Layers of fog, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. Early one morning I climbed a low hill, trying to gain some elevation so I could look down on the fog. After sunrise I noticed beautiful sidelight raking across this scene of a meandering river, so I raced along the hilltop to get a better view and composed this image. I like the horizontal layers of light and dark, punctuated by the vertical, curving column of steam that added a necessary visual focal point. 160mm, 1/20 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.

As I said in my last post, I love photographing fog and mist, so here are more misty images from our trip to Yellowstone. I explain my approach to photographing these scenes in that previous post, but the captions here contain more detail about the specific photos shown.

— Michael Frye

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