Reflections along the Merced River, winter, Yosemite. I tried several different versions of this photograph. I initially wanted to include a wider view, with more trees on the sides, but a distracting log just out of the frame on the right bothered me. In the end I liked this tighter, simpler, distraction-free version better.
Yosemite Valley received two doses of snow this past weekend, first on Friday night, and then again on Sunday night. I wasn’t able to make it up there on Saturday, but Claudia and I drove up early Monday morning after the second snowfall.
The storm had cleared around midnight, and temperatures then dropped down to 25 degrees. Below-freezing temperatures inhibit the development of fog and mist, so the skies were clear when we arrived in the valley. But we found three to four inches of fresh, fluffy snow coating all the trees.
Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Thursday morning; focal length was 75mm
As I mentioned in my last post, the fog display on Thursday morning might have been even better than Wednesday morning. It didn’t look very promising at first. There was no fog at our house, and none in Mariposa either, so I knew I had to go lower. Claudia was with me this time, and we decided to take a back road that headed west into the lower foothills. At one point we crested a ridge, and there, below us, was the sea of fog.
Again I was fortunate to find a good viewpoint looking toward the southeast. This time there was a layer of high clouds above the fog, already starting to turn color with the sunrise. Best of all, a double-peaked hill was poking up out of the fog in that direction. The image at the top of this post is an early one from that morning, with a brilliant sunrise above the fog and hills.
After the sun rose, the fog lifted into some nearby ridges, getting high enough to almost – but not quite – obscure that double-peaked hill. Soft backlight filtered through the high clouds, bringing out beautiful textures in the fog (see the two images below).
Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, Wednesday morning
After the episode of dense fog in the Central Valley that I mentioned in my last post, the fog lifted into what meteorologists call a stratus deck last week – essentially a layer of fog that’s slightly above ground level. From the Central Valley the stratus deck would look like a low overcast. If you were to drive out of the valley into the Sierra, you’d climb into the clouds, and into a layer of fog, and then eventually get above the fog and into sunshine. And if you could find a hill or ridge that rose above the stratus deck, you’d be able to look out over a sea of fog.
That sight should be familiar to people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere along the California Coast. When I lived in the Bay Area in the early ’80s, I remember driving along Skyline Drive on the Peninsula and looking out to the west over a sea of fog covering the ocean. At that time my interest in photography was in its infancy, but it was a beautiful sight. I’ve had that mental image in my mind ever since, and have long wanted to make photographs from above a sea of fog.
Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills
As regular readers know, I love fog. It’s a little like snow in the way it can transform an ordinary landscape into something dreamlike.
We’ve had a lot of interesting fog around here lately. Last week the fog was very dense in the Central Valley, sometimes persisting all day rather than burning off in the afternoon. One morning we made an early trip into the lower foothills of Mariposa County, an area with rolling, grassy hills and scattered oaks (I’ve posted images from there before). I was hoping that the fog would be thick enough to push up from the Central Valley into these foothills, and it was – just barely. We were right on the edge of the fog, which was actually perfect – foggy enough to create a misty, ethereal mood, but not so foggy that it completely obscured the landscape.
Sandhill cranes, fog, and the setting moon, San Joaquin Valley, CA
Although I specialize in photographing landscapes these days, I also enjoy photographing the masses of migrating birds that spend the winter in California’s Central Valley. And while I won’t pass up an opportunity to capture a close-up wildlife portrait, most of the time I’m trying to include some of the animals’ habitat. I’m really attempting to photograph landscapes with birds in them, and, as with other landscapes, use the light, weather, and moment to convey a mood.
Last Tuesday morning Claudia and I made another trip down to one of the wildlife refuges in the Central Valley. As usual, I hoped for fog, but knew that if the fog didn’t materialize there would be a nearly-full moon setting to the west, which also might help to add some mood to the photographs.
As it turned out, we got both. We found some low-lying mist, but it wasn’t thick enough to obscure the moon. I just needed some birds to add to the mix, and fortunately we found a flock of sandhill cranes roosting in a pond with the moon behind them.
Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, California, December 18th
I’m grateful to live near Yosemite Valley, one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. But in photography, light is more important than subject. My most popular image of 2014 featured an orchard in the Sacramento Valley – with exceptional light. I’d rather photograph an “ordinary” scene in great light than an extraordinary scene in dull light.
Last month Claudia and made an early-morning drive to one of the wildlife refuges in the flat-as-a-table-top expanse of the San Joaquin Valley. I was hoping for fog, which is common on winter mornings in the Central Valley. Instead, I found the beautiful clouds and reflections shown in the photograph above. In this case, the flat landscape helped, making it possible to catch the orange ball of the sun just as it crested the horizon. The light, clouds, colors, and reflections helped to convey a nice early-day mood.