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.
Pre-dawn clouds and misty light above the Sierra and San Joaquin Valley wetlands
This photograph comes from one of my first trips of this season to photograph migratory birds in California’s Great Central Valley, an endeavor that has come to fascinate me more and more over the past few years. Somewhere in the post-Thanksgiving time frame I become aware that the birds have begun to return, and I soon find time to be out there on beautiful, cold, and often foggy days to photograph them and the winter landscape.
On this season’s first trip I arrived, as I always do, before dawn. The range of possible conditions out here is quite large, and I might find anything from dense fog to rain to perfectly clear skies. This morning brought some high clouds, especially to the east over the Sierra crest, and some scattered pockets of fog. At first the cloudiness made me wonder if there would even be much of a sunrise, but as the light began to appear the sky above the clouds became a bit more
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.
September rain falls on a Yosemite backcountry lake
Autumn in the Sierra is time of wonderful transitions — it is my favorite time of year to be there. For the most part the weather is still beautiful, with warm days and pleasantly chilly evenings and early mornings. The light is special — it is hard to put my finger on the precise quality, but somehow it feels warmer and softer than in the summer. Meadows turn golden brown and many plants take on their autumn colors. It feels like everything is slowing.
There can also be storms. These are not the brief afternoon thunderstorms of summer. They are the first harbingers of winter — the large Pacific weather fronts that begin to push in and which will eventually bring winter snow. We had such a storm — though it was a gentle one — on our visit, and it rained off and on for the final two days of our stay. I made this photograph along the shoreline of “our” lake, with fall colors in the foreground and a passing shower in front of the distant peak.
Water seepage stains mark a wall of Cathedral Range granite, Yosemite National Park
During a week-long stay at a backcountry Yosemite lake my partners and I had plenty of time to explore our surroundings. A day in such a place is a joy, but we had a string of such days, with conditions ranging from Sierra blue sky, through wildfire smoke, to an early seasons autumn storm that dropped rain on us for a couple of days.
Being in one location for so long provides the opportunity to really get to know the place. After a day or so getting to know the main, iconic features, continuing exploration beings to reveal things that we miss at first. Across the valley from our camp was a long and low rock wall, at the base of steeply sloping granite walls and holding somewhat level basin. Not surprisingly, the evidence of water flowing over this wall was obvious, from the lush plant life to the beautiful water stain patterns.