Lembert Dome and Mount Dana rise above Tuolumne Meadows on a cloudy summer morning
This is yet another of the stopped-on-my-way-somewhere-else photographs, often made unexpectedly as I encounter something I wasn’t really looking for and get distracted — though another way to put it is that I quickly fall into a different mode of seeing when I photograph, and I begin to recognize the potential in subjects that I might otherwise not have noticed. In this case I was headed towards a specific location that I had planned to visit this morning, with a rather specific subject in mind. I set out and, as almost always, my “photographer’s brain” engages and I start seeing potential photographs everywhere. There is a tricky balance sometimes between stopping for the thing I see right here and sticking to a plan to photograph that other thing that I want to see. (This is an old question in photography with the extreme answers ranging from “never pass up a subject in front of you for one that you might see elsewhere” to “make a plan and stick to it if you want to get the photograph you have in mind.” The truth is complex, situational, and depends as much on good fortune and good guesses perhaps as much as on any rational considerations.)
In any case, I skipped past a few opportunities/distractions but ended up stopping for this one. This is a fairly well-known view in this part of the Sierra, though not everyone sees it right at sunrise. I’ve often stopped to admire the scene and on occasion photograph it, usually with some beautiful haze partially obscuring distant details and perhaps making closer details clearer by contrast. Since I am familiar with the view and had a good idea of what I wanted the photograph to look like, stopping for a few minutes was sufficient to make the photograph… and I was back on the road to my original destination.
It is still summer here in the San Francisco Bay Area — but something changed this past week, and it is clear that summer is on the decline now. Autumn, my favorite season, arrives in a matter of a few more weeks.
We have had some very hot weather here in the West, but this week things were different. Although the smoke of western wildfires is still adding haze to our air, the edge is off of the heat here. One morning the furnace actually kicked on for a few minutes before I woke up and shut it off. About a week ago sunset was earlier than 8:00 PM for the first time in months and the rate at which daylight hours shortens continues to accelerate. Over the weekend we walked to a nearby store to get ice cream in the evening, and we wished we had brought jackets. (As a long time California resident, I’m not completely fooled though. Even though the signs of change are here, I know we still have more hot spells ahead of us.)
Right on schedule, photographers’ thoughts turn to fall colors. In the last week I’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of shared photographs from previous autumns, featuring those beautiful colors that we hope to see again this year. People are starting to post questions — where is the best color? what is the best time to go? what will happen this year? Reports of “the earliest color ever!” have started to appear — as they do ever year at about this time! Continue reading Autumn Color is Right Around the Corner→
Morning haze and tree covered glacial ridges, Yosemite National Park
This is a view that has long caught my attention. It is very close to a place where [i]every[/i] park visitor stops to take in a famous view, but I suspect that quite a few miss this view in their anticipation of the stop for the more famous overlook. Some years ago a group of friends and I had an unusual experience here. One of my long-time backpacking buddies and I love listening to classical music on long drives, and we sometimes attempt to time the music so that particularly appropriate and impressive points in the music may coincide with our arrival at appropriate and impressive places. (Full backpacking and music geekery into one thing, and that’s what you end up with! ;-) We we listening to Mahler’s second symphony and we managed to hit the overwhelmingly powerful conclusion of that work right as we came around the bend to see this view. Needless to say, that made an impression on me, and the place is both special on its own and now associated with that experience.
Music aside, this is a stunning bit of Yosemite high country scenery, and it is perhaps (somewhat ironically) revealed even more clearly in the morning haze seen here. In the foreground trees manage to eke out an existence on the nearly solid granite slabs of a glaciated dome. Another similar ridge rises in the middle distance with more trees. And it keeps going. On the other side of that ridge there is a huge and deep valley, but across its expanse there is even more of the glaciated granite terrain, all of it highlighted in the early morning back-light.
Forest edge in evening light with forest sloping upwards toward Sierra crest peaks
This is most certainly not an iconic view, but I’m sure that many fellow Yosemite high country aficionados have been to this spot and gazed at this and the surrounding view. (Part of one Yosemite high country icon does appear in this photograph, but it is the bottom part.)
Earlier on this visit to the park I had walked out into this landscape to photograph in the meadow, on low hills, among trees, and alongside a river. As I passed by here again on this early evening I stopped and was entranced by the warm evening light on the trees at the edge of the meadow and by the further forest-covered slopes rising into the alpine zone and eventually above tree line to the elevations where there is little but rock and tundra plants. While the landscape often seems rather static during the day, at moments like this near the beginning and ending of the day the landscape changes dynamically as light shifts and highlights and then shadows subjects. I had only a brief moment to make this photograph (and a couple of others) before the light lifted from the trees and left them in shadow.
Afternoon light and haze, clearing storm clouds, eastern Sierra Nevada
In early August I was (of course!) once again in the Sierra for several days. This time the main event was to be a short backpacking trip with long-time back-country friends — a “taking it easy” trip to a beautiful group of lakes in the Rock Creek drainage. Our plan was to meet on at the trailhead or on the trail, to do the short hike to a central lake, set up a base camp, and relax and explore for a few days.
I decided to head up early, partly to have a bit of time to adapt the elevation, but also to do a bit of photography. (My backpacking partners were more “normal” people — not “abnormal” photograph-obsessed folks like me!) Arriving in the Yosemite high country at noon on a Friday in August, I did not spend much time at all trying to find a campsite there, instead heading straight over the crest and down to a less crowded spot. With camp set up, it was time to go make some photographs. Taking advantage of my east side location, I decided to head south a short distance along US 395, where I could find beautiful vistas of high desert terrain rising to the crest of the Sierra Nevada, augmented on this day by dissipating storm clouds and a bit of haze from early season wildfires.
A small grove of high elevation pine trees in morning Sierra Nevada light
Although I visit the Sierra frequently, it has been some time since my last real backpacking trip and even longer since I last me up with my “Talusdancers” friends. The Talusdancers go way back — to a time about two decades ago when a loosely organized group of us began joining regularly for Sierra backcountry trips that ranged from a few days to longer than a week. In early August I had the opportunity to get these things back on track, with a three-day backpack trip in the eastern Sierra with three of the old gang. I arrived before the others, was on the trail by mid-afternoon, and had set up camp and was fixing dinner before the sun set. My friends apparently got to the trailhead much later and didn’t start hiking until about 6:00 PM. As the sun was setting I heard the “holler” of my friend Owen coming from across the valley, and I yelled back to let him know I as there. They soon arrived, and I can report that there are few things more wonderful that meeting up in the backcountry with good friends you have not seen for some time!
Our camp was on a rise above the shore of a sub-alpine lake, a very familiar Sierra Nevada setting. Beyond the lake to the west the terrain rises, past more lakes and thinning trees, into the alpine zone, and eventually to Sierra crest peaks and ridge lines. To the east there was a long valley with several more lakes, ending at a drop off between the descending canyon walls, and in the far distance we could see the high desert of Owens Valley and even further off the line of the White Mountains. We camped in the midst of an open grove of small, high-elevation lodgepole pines, common Sierra trees, but always beautiful in the early morning light.
An elephant seal sleeps among its kin on a California beach
Traveling up and down the California coast, it is hard to avoid eventually encountering the elephant seals. Historically they were once very common along this coastline, and their numbers have recovered considerably in recent decades. There are now several places where they are very accessible, and in large numbers — if you ever do the Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway you will certainly encounter at least one such area. In fact, that’s what we were doing on this July trip. We were mainly there to photograph landscapes and seascapes, but that didn’t prevent us from making a photographic detour to photograph these animals.
Here the coast highway comes very close to an elephant seal rookery, and the animals are more accessible than in any other location that I’m aware of. (At others you must walk long distances, and in some places they have hauled up on beaches so isolated that you can only watch from a great distance.) At first I was fascinated by their sparring and other more active things they do. The more I have photographed them, the more I have looked for and sometimes found ways to photograph them even when they are not active — and this specimen, sleeping among others of its herd, is anything but active!