A hazy late-summer day at a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake, Yosemite National Park
With all of the recent urban and street photography I have been posting — which is a bit seasonal pattern, given my travel tendencies — I’m also making an effort to go back through some older photographs from last year to find landscape photography that escaped my notice on the first pass. This always happens with photographs — for some reason certain images don’t make sense right after I make them, but when I come back to them later on with a fresh eye I see potential that I missed. Right now I’m revisiting late-summer photographs from a week-long backcountry stay at a Yosemite lake.
For me, this photograph holds many of the subtler elements of the High Sierra experience — not the spectacular grand vistas, but something deeper and ultimately perhaps more powerful. In this beautiful late-season time of year, the meadow grasses around this quiet lake have finished the wild growth phase of summer and have already turned golden-yellow in preparation for autumn and then winter. Lower angle light comes over the shoulder of the granite ridge whose base is visible beyond the trees. Widely spaced trees stand at the edges of the meadow and even trace weaknesses in the granite slabs on the higher slopes.
Morning light and reflections on the rocky shoreline of a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake
A wonderful thing about making photographs is that I get to travel backwards and forwards in time almost at will. Here it is in the middle of winter, and by looking back a few months in my archive I can go right back to a beautiful late summer week spent photographing around a Yosemite subalpine lake with a couple of friends. All of the sensory memories come right back: the stillness of the morning lake as the first sun worked its way through high clouds and haze, the memory of carrying my camera around the perimeter of that lake every morning as I looked slowly of subjects, the first colors of Sierra autumn.
We camped here for a full week, working intensively to photograph in and around one small area. If you haven’t done this you could be forgiven for wondering how in the world one could spend an entire week in area not much larger than a mile or two across. In fact, I still have those doubts at the start of any trip like this. All I can say is that, inevitably, the end of such a week comes too soon, I depart with many things left unphotographed, and I often return to these places again and find even more to see and photograph.
Evening light breaks through clouds to light trees growing on granite slabs along the Tuolumne River
This photograph takes me back to mid-summer days in the high county when I spent a big chunk of time in the Tuolumne Meadows area making photographs in July. It was an odd year — July seemed almost normal, despite the historic drought, except that it looks more like a normal August, with virtually all snow gone, low water in the creeks, and fairly settled weather.
One evening a group of us joined forces to wander along the Tuolumne River in evening light. Here we stopped at a curve where the river curves around a section lined with large granite slabs. It was cloudy, but a bit of late-day light slanted in from the left.
The shoreline of a Yosemite backcountry lake in the late season
This lake was our home for a good week this past September. I was among a small group of photographers who spend a week or more doing this every year. This year we camped by the shore of an accessible backcountry Yosemite lake. We woke up every morning to views of this lake and we went to bed in the evening with such images still in our minds.
At times on this visit the light was very subdued. Early on this was because of intense wildfire smoke — some of the worst I’ve encountered in the range. Near the end of the trip a Pacific weather pattern swept through, and in its wake there was a period of several days of raining, cold conditions.
Morning light and forested shoreline reflected on the surface of a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake
It is way past time to share this photograph — it has been sitting here since I made it back in July! The location is a familiar one to those who visit the Yosemite high country and drive across Tioga Pass Road, but sometimes I do stop at those iconic locations and make a photograph, especially in a quiet and uncrowded morning like this one.
Lakes like this one are among the places that often make me wonder if visitors have any idea what they are missing. So many people, for practical reasons or because they don’t know better, come to such places in the middle of the day or in the afternoon. While they are certainly beautiful at any time, these locations are almost (but not quite always!) at their most beautiful at the very beginning and very end of the day. Lakes like this one are often completely still at dawn, sometimes with a bit of fog rising from their surface, and the surroundings are usually quiet and uncrowded. Even in a spot like this one — where I can assure you there were crowds later in the day — I can have the place virtually to myself.
Snow from an early autumn storm dusts the high peaks above Eastern Sierra aspen trees
I made this photograph on an early autumn morning, on a day with conditions that were either difficult or special, depending on your point of view. After several days of photographing aspen color in the Eastern Sierra, this was my final morning of this particular trip. The weather had mostly been “nice” — perhaps a bit unusually so for this time of year, but in line with the pattern of California drought that was now in its fourth year. But on my last night of this trip an early fall storm blew in, and overnight it snowed lightly on my camp.
Looking at this as an opportunity, I was up early in the morning. I headed up higher into the mountains where I knew there would be plenty of the aspen color that I had photographed during the past few days, but now altered in appearance by this “interesting” weather. It was cold enough that light snow was sticking on the higher peaks, and at my elevation it was that raw kind of weather that is windy and just cold enough to “try to snow.” The overcast softened the light, bringing more illumination to shadows and intensifying the autumn colors.
Early evening light shines on granite slabs along the Tuolumne River as afternoon clouds dissipate behind nearby peaks
As I post it in November, this photograph takes me back to a wonderful Sierra trip last summer. I spent a few days in July camped at Tuolumne Meadows, doing a bit of hiking and a lot of photography. Each morning and evening I was out with the camera, in the meadows or somewhere else along Tioga Road. Although it was the fourth summer of California drought in the Sierra — a drought that did serious damage to the Sierra environment — on these July days it was almost possible to not think about that. There had been rain and it was the green time of year in the high country.
One evening I went out, this time by vehicle, to look for subjects. I had only a vague idea of some general things to photograph back along Tioga Pass Road, so I was easily distracted by anything that happened to catch my attention. Before I even left the Meadows I caught sight of some trees that were lit in an interesting way, so I turned around, drove back, and pulled out along the road. There were other cars there already and I hoped my sudden arrival didn’t annoy anyone, but I quickly saw a pair of photography friends at one of the vehicles. After exchanging greetings we decided to hear across the meadow together. By the time we got to the other side yet another couple of photography friends showed up! Mind you, none of this was planned. We all teamed up and spent a beautiful evening among friends making photographs along the Tuolumne.