Forest, Dome, and Distant Mountain. Yosemite National Park, California. August, 7, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
A last beam of sunset light illuminates the granite slabs of Lembert Dome and the distant slopes of Mount Dana above Tuolumne Meadows
This afternoon of a day when I was in the area of the Sierra crest near the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park had turned murky, with a combination of wildfire smoke and high clouds that largely killed the interesting light as the “golden hour” approached. I decided to drive along Tioga Pass Road as the day came to an end, and look for whatever interesting light might appear. There is a lighting condition that can sometimes turn a “blah” evening into something amazing in the Sierra – though I wasn’t too optimistic on this evening. On an evening when clouds overhead obscure the late-day light, the clouds sometimes end a bit to the west of the high country, and as the sun drops below those clouds to the west there may be a last-minute glow that must be seen to be believed. You most certainly cannot count on this happening – sometimes the sun simply drops behind clouds and the light goes out. But if it is a possibility I will often go to great lengths to be ready for it.
Even knowing about this light, I was surprised on this evening – twice! In the first instance I had thought I saw a very subtle lightening and intensification of color on the shoulder of one distant ridge far up in the distant Rafferty Creek drainage, so I quickly found a place to turn around and return to a roadside pull-out where I thought I could photograph it. As I quickly worked to set up my tripod and camera… the glow faded and disappeared. I looked around for evidence that it might return – a bit of light elsewhere in the landscape – but seeing none I got back in the car. I had driven no more than 30 seconds down the road when the entire landscape to my south and east lit up with glorious warm light! I quickly – again – turned around and drove back and managed to get a couple of shots before it disappeared again. I then went on down to Tuolumne Meadows with a vague plan to look for interesting light or to photograph an exceptionally large herd of deer that I had seen on an earlier evening. When I arrived, the light was not stunning, but the deer where there, so I put on my “wildlife photographer hat” and a long lens. As I photographed them in less than amazing light, I saw a bright spot in the clouds to the west that just might line up to send a beam or light across the meadow from west to east – and sure enough, a moment later the light began to gradually build. Since I had no time to move or change lenses at this point, I thought about what I could do with the long lens before this light disappeared, so I focused on Lembert Dome, bathed in this light at the far end of the meadow and with the more distant slopes of Mount Dana beyond.
G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.