Saturday, February 28, 2009

Merced River Poppies

It's still winter in Yosemite, but spring has arrived at lower elevations. Poppies have exploded along the Merced River west of the park. They're blooming across the river from Highway 140 between Briceburg and the rock-slide detour. The largest, densest patches have sprouted in places burned by the Telegraph Fire last summer, although other poppies are starting to appear in the usual spots further east in the canyon.

I used a 200mm lens to make the image above on my way back from Yosemite this morning. Unfortunately there's no easy access to the poppies from 140, as they're all on the opposite side of the river, but it's possible to photograph them from near the road with long lenses.

The best light on Horsetail Fall is over. In early February the water flow in Horsetail was too low for good photographs. Later in the month the flow increased, but clouds blocked every sunset except one, on February 19th. Consider yourself lucky if you photographed it that day! There were many disappointed photographers in Yosemite this past month. The light on Horsetail in early March can be nice, with a golden glow late in the day, but it's not the neon orange light that everyone is after.

Water volume in all the Yosemite waterfalls is gradually increasing, and should continue to increase during March and April. A lot of snow has melted, although most of the valley floor is still snow-covered. The forecast is calling for a series of storms next week, which is good news, as we still need more rain and snow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Horsetail Fall

On Thursday evening I photographed Horestail Fall from near "Rowell's View," one of the small clearings east of the El Capitan picnic area. Two friends and I arrived about 4:30 and got the last two marginal parking spaces. There were easily 100 photographers in the vicinity, most set up right in the plowed parking area - not the best view in my opinion, as it's too directly underneath the fall. But once we left the picnic area we were virtually alone.

On Wednesday morning Horsetail was a trickle, but two days of warm weather had increased the flow to perhaps average or slightly-below-average February levels. The light was slightly muted by some haze, but Horsetail still glowed nicely, as you can see by the photo at right. Last night was cloudy, tonight looks the same, and tomorrow and Monday the forecast calls for rain. So Thursday might have been the one good day for photographing Horsetail Fall this year! By Tuesday we are beyond the window for the best light, although it can still be good, especially if the sun breaks through some clouds at the right time.

But all the "bad" weather has done great things for the snowpack, and bodes well for waterfalls and flowers this spring. Keep it coming!

Snow and... Poppies?

On Wednesday morning I got up early to photograph in Yosemite Valley. I knew there was fresh snow in the valley, but I was also hoping for some mist and clearing storm conditions. Sadly there was no mist - just clear blue skies. But it was still beautiful. I made the photo above in a snowy grove of oak trees.

Driving home to Mariposa I was shocked to see poppies - poppies! - along the Merced River west of rock slide detour. It just seems way too early for poppies, but apparently one warm day was all it took. Many were blooming in areas burned by the Telegraph Fire last summer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

One Storm After Another

The next in a long series of winter storms is due to arrive in Yosemite tomorrow. This one is expected to be warmer than the previous two or three; the forecast calls for a snow level of 5000 feet, so it will probably rain at 4000 feet in Yosemite Valley. But the snow level often drops at the tail end of a storm, so it's possible that the valley floor will get a dusting of fresh snow on Tuesday. Those of you living in the Bay Area who've already been drenched by rain may be surprised to hear that we're not expecting this storm until tomorrow, but it's stalled and moving slowly.

This past week it snowed in Yosemite on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with some misty, clearing-storm interludes in between. I took the photo above on Monday afternoon from Tunnel View. I don't often make black-and-white images, but this scene was perfect for it. Sunrise yesterday morning looked spectacular on the Turtleback Dome web cam, and I was sorry I didn't make it up there.

There is now plenty of snow on top of El Capitan to feed Horsetail Fall, but temperatures have been cold, so melting has been slow. We need at least a few warm clear days to get the flow going. The forecast calls for some dry days later this week, but I don't know whether that will be enough.

By the way, you can find links to the National Weather Service's Yosemite forecast and the Yosemite web cams on the right.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two Photographs in Yosemite Renaissance

Two of my images have been included in the Yosemite Renaissance XXIV juried competition, including Oak Leaf Floating in the Merced River, above. The exhibit will be shown at the Yosemite Museum, next to the Visitor Center, from February 27th through May 3rd. A reception will be held on February 27th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., where prizes and awards will be announced. This is always a fun event, worth making a trip to Yosemite for!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Snow in the Forecast

The National Weather Service is predicting snow tonight and tomorrow down to 3500 feet near Yosemite, and they've issued a winter storm warning. They're expecting unsettled weather all week, with another system arriving Wednesday, and a third around Saturday. In the short term this could mean some great conditions for photography between storms. In the long term this is good news for the state's water supply, and for photographers hoping for waterfalls and wildflowers.

I was in Yosemite Valley Friday afternoon and all day Saturday for a private workshop. The valley received a few inches of snow Friday morning, but it had all melted by the time I got there. Saturday brought a mix of sun and clouds, though mostly clouds early and late in the day, blocking the best light.

Despite the clouds my student Tom and I found plenty of things to photograph. In the afternoon we headed to the river near the old Camp 6, hoping for Half Dome to emerge from the clouds. Some pretty light on the cottonwoods across the river caught our attention and we temporarily forgot Half Dome. I made a series of images with the white trunks of the cottonwoods and some orange willows, one of which you can see above.

Here's a little exercise for you: take a quick glance at this photo, then look away. Now answer this question: which is closer to the camera, the white cottonwoods, or the orange willows? After answering take a longer look. I know the image is small, but a close look will reveal that the willows are in front of the cottonwoods. In fact the willows were about 50 feet closer to the camera than the cottonwoods. A 200mm telephoto lens compressed the space and flattened the appearance of the image. Long lenses are great for creating visual juxtapositions between distant objects. I use this telephoto compression all the time to create abstract designs and patterns.

In fact I didn't just stumble upon this composition. I saw these trees from about two hundred feet further to the left. From that angle the willows were well to the right of the cottonwoods, and trying to include them both would have left too much space in between them. But I knew that if I moved to the right I could position the willows in front of the cottonwoods and might find an interesting juxtaposition.

This ability to think in three dimensions, to imagine what might happen if you move left or right, forward or back, up or down, is an essential photographic skill. Ansel Adams wrote that while sitting in a chair he would often mentally compose images of his surroundings, and imagine how the composition would change if he moved a little to one side, or higher or lower. This is a great exercise - try it sometime!

Here's hoping that the approaching storms will bring lots of photo opportunities and chances to exercise our composition skills.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rock Art Exhibit in Bend, Oregon

Five of my nighttime rock art photographs will be featured in the exhibit "Rock Art Perspectives: Pictographs and Petroglyphs," at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon beginning February 13th. The exhibit will also include photographs by David Muench, paintings by Native American artists, and finding by archeologists. A reception will be held on April 2nd. I don't know yet whether I'll be able to make it up there for the reception, but if you live in the area it sounds like an interesting show. You can see a few more of my rock art images in my Night Portfolio.

Monday, February 2, 2009

February Light

Conditions haven't changed much since my post from January 19th. Most of the valley floor has old snow, with breakable crust that's hard to walk on. But of course there are always things to photograph.

During winter here in the northern hemisphere the sun rises from the southeast and sets to the southwest. In Yosemite Valley this means that the rock formations on the north side of the valley, like El Capitan, Three Brothers (right), and Yosemite Falls, get hit by the sun early and late in the day, while the south side of the valley, including Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Fall, gets little sunlight. Half Dome receives nice sunset light all year, but in winter this late-day illumination rakes across its face, amplifying the texture of the rock.

February is a transition month as we approach spring. Sentinel Rock and Bridalveil Fall start to get some late-day light. The waterfalls have just a little more flow than in December and January. In February Upper Yosemite Fall often has a nice combination of early morning sun and a decent amount of water. Of course there's the famous sunset light on Horsetail Fall.

The forecast calls for rain and higher elevation snow later this week. Storms, whether they bring rain or snow, always provide opportunities for great clearing storm photographs.