Yosemite Photo Conditions

Yosemite Fall Color

Big-leaf maple leaves along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Big-leaf maple leaves along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite. 19mm, 2 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer.

Claudia and I spent Friday in Yosemite Valley checking out the fall color. And it was beautiful. The big-leaf maples, in particular, were quite colorful.

It was a clear, sunny day, so there wasn’t any weather to add drama to the valley landscapes. When the weather and light aren’t that interesting I tend to narrow my focus and photograph smaller subjects. And for those subjects, conditions were perfect. The low autumn sunlight kept some parts of the valley in shade virtually all day, and that soft light was perfect for highlighting the autumn color. Plus, from the south side of the Merced River you could look toward sunlit cliffs on the north side of the valley and find beautiful, golden reflections in the shaded water.

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Autumn in the Eastern Sierra

Autumn scene along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Autumn scene along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

We just finished our workshop on the eastern side of the Sierra. When I arrived a few days before the workshop the aspen color was rather mixed, with bare trees, green trees, and every stage in between. But the weather was cold, and things turned quickly. By the time our workshop started most of the green leaves had turned yellow and orange, and we found lots of beautiful color – particularly along the June Lake Loop.

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Deep Freeze in the High Country

Reflections in ice sculptures, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Reflections in sculptured ice, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF. Abstracts and telephoto lenses seem to go together, so I started off using my 70-200 zoom. But just to try something different I got down near the edge of the lake and tried using a wide-angle lens, and these wide-angle abstracts turned out to be some of my favorites. (35mm, 1/20 sec. at f/16, ISO 100)

This past winter’s record-setting snowpack in the Yosemite high country has left tons of snow and ice lingering into July. Tioga Pass finally opened on June 29th, and Claudia and I headed over the pass on July 3rd to scout for our Range of Light workshop. We found little snow below 9,000 feet, but above that altitude the hiking was tough, requiring either long detours to avoid snow, or traversing tedious, slippery, sun-cupped snowfields.

That meant we couldn’t get to certain locations during the workshop, but as compensation we got to photograph roaring creeks and rivers, and partially-frozen lakes. When frozen lakes melt you can often find beautiful patterns where ice and snow mix with patches of open water. On the last evening of the workshop we went to Saddlebag Lake, which had some amazing ice patterns. Better yet, the ice went into the shade around 6:30 p.m., while the rusty-colored mountainside on the opposite side of the lake stayed in the sun for another hour, casting beautiful gold and orange reflections in the water. This was kid-in-candy-store stuff to someone who likes abstracts as much as I do.

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Moon Setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, spring of 2017

Every year, around the third week of February, the sun sets at just the right angle for Horsetail Fall. With clear skies and enough water, the backlit waterfall glows with a brilliant orange color, lit by the setting sun.

Some years ago it occurred to me that the setting moon could create the same effect. In the spring of 2010 I had a chance to try this, and it worked beautifully. As I wrote back then, I walked up to one of my favorite Horsetail Fall viewing locations early in the morning, and saw an amazing sight: that beautiful, low-angle backlight on the waterfall, with the cliff behind it in the shade. It looked like sunset in February, only with stars in the sky above it. And the camera captured what my eyes couldn’t see – the orange glow created by the setting moon:

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High Water in Yosemite

Half Dome and oaks in flooded Leidig Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and oaks in flooded Leidig Meadow. My chest waders came in handy on a couple of occasions. Here I waded into Leidig Meadow to capture these flooded oaks framing Half Dome. (Focal length: 21mm; five bracketed exposures blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.)



This past winter brought near-record amounts of snow to the higher elevations of Yosemite, and now all that snow is melting and filling the rivers, creeks, and waterfalls. About a week-and-a-half ago, warm temperatures were predicted to create minor flooding in the Yosemite Valley, so Claudia and I drove up early and found a beautiful, water-filled park. The meadows were partially flooded, and the waterfalls roaring. We hadn’t seen such high water since June of 2011, but this time the deciduous trees still had that fresh, bright-green color, and the dogwoods were still blooming.

We spent a couple of nights in the valley, staying at a friend’s house, and had a great time photographing and just enjoying the park. Here are some images showing the high water, with extended captions.

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Spring in Yosemite

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I haven’t posted here in awhile because I just finished back-to-back workshops in Death Valley and Yosemite. But I wanted to give a quick update on conditions in Yosemite Valley. In short, it’s beautiful. At the start of our workshop last week most of the dogwoods were still in that greenish stage, but by the end of the week most of the blossoms had turned white, and were in great shape. It looks like an above-average year for dogwoods, as many trees have plentiful blossoms. They will continue to bloom for a couple more weeks, but they’re most photogenic early, while the blossoms are still fresh, and before the leaves get too large (which tends to hide the flowers).

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