Cloud-shrouded Mount Conness towers above the domes and forest of Tuolumne Meadows
I’ll take a break from the recent urban, night, and street photography and go back to the high country with a photograph from about this time a year ago. I spent a few days in the Tuolumne Meadows area, photography in the high elevation areas of the park. This was a particularly memorable evening that started without a specific plan, led to a surprise meeting with friends and photographs, including a hike down a river to a lovely area of granite slabs, and concluded with sunset back in the big meadow.
As we came back up the river we split up — some heading up onto a nearby high prominence and others (that would be me!) hanging out along the edge of the meadow, between the base of a granite dome and a large herd of grazing deer. As the final sun light touched the tops of the highest peaks, fog formed around the summit of Mt. Conness up along the Sierra crest.
Trees grow at the base of a granite face, Yosemite National Park
I originally worked up this photograph for an article on the relationship between supposed realism in photographs and post-processing. (“Photographs And Reality: A Complicated Relationship”) I selected it because the scene posted a particular common challenge, namely a dynamic range that was wider than the typical dynamic range of presentation media, and because capturing the full scene required me to make some exposure decisions that intentionally produce an original “straight out of camera” image that wasn’t lovely, but which protected the scene data I would need to work with the photograph in post.
The subject is a group of large-trunk trees growing on granite slabs at the base of a Yosemite high country granite dome. This landscape — more or less the landscape of much of Yosemite — is interesting in so many ways. Here the trees seem to somehow grow out of little more than cracks in solid granite, and shortly beyond where they stand the rock becomes too steep and too solid to support more large trees. While such scenes can be found throughout the park and in many more inaccessible areas, this one is right alongside Tioga Pass Road!
Forest and granite boulders at the water’s edge, subalpine Sierra Nevada lake
I’m looking backwards and forwards with this photograph. Backwards to a visit of more than a week to a Yosemite backcountry lake with a couple of photographer friends near the end of last year’s summer season — a season that brought another year of drought and tremendous wildfires. All of that aside — but, boy, did we deal with wildfire smoke! — we had a beautiful period of late season light on many days, and a few days of rain from an early season storm near the end.
And I’m looking forward… to getting back into the summer Sierra before too much longer. Spring has been quite busy since our last big adventure, a visit to Death Valley back at the end of March, and aside from bird photography and a few odd trips here and there, well, it is really time to get back into the field for a more extensive period. Tioga Pass Road has now been open for a couple of weeks, and the High Sierra awaits. I hope to be back there soon, and back at places like this one and it this high country light.
A colorful High Sierra granite cliff and trees in soft light
Sitting here on a late-winter day, this late September week spent photographing in the Yosemite back-country seems so far away. (At the same time, as I watch the inevitable progress of the seasons, the upcoming summer season seems closer and closer!) Three photographers headed out to a back-country lake, where we set up a base-camp for something like nine days of photography. It might seem like photographing in one tiny area for a week might exhaust its possibilities. In fact, at the start of such a trip I often harbor such fears — but by the end of every one of them I am again reminded that it virtually never works that way. The more time spent looking in such a place, there more there is to see, and at the end of such a trip there are, inevitably, things left to be photographed on the next visit.
Not far from our camp was a rocky area that we often crossed in order to make our way around the perimeter of a nearby lake and to get to areas a bit further away. After climbing slabs the route dropped into the lower extent of a deep gully traveling down from higher terrain, and eventually I began to know these rocks and this gully very well. We had “interesting” weather during our stay, and on the day I made this photograph the light was muted by various factors including clouds and wildfire smoke.
The 31st annual Yosemite Renaissance Exhibit opens this weekend in Yosemite Valley. Come on by if you are in the park! The free opening Artists Reception is on Friday, February 26 at 5:30-7:30pm in the Visitor Center Gallery. The show then runs from Saturday, February 27 though May 1.
Yosemite Renaissance features artists who work in and around Yosemite and the Sierra. It includes a range of media — photographs, painting, ceramics, sculpture, and more.
I’m honored that one of my photographs was again included in the exhibit — for the fourth year in a row. This time it is a photograph I made at Devil’s Postpile National Monument last year: “Basalt Columns, Lichen, Autumn Plants”
Trees grow on a peninsula at a Yosemite subalpine lake, late summer
We have passed nearly halfway though our annual circuit around the sun since I made this photograph. It is now slightly past midwinter, and the photograph was made in late summer, a few weeks before the arrival of solar fall, though the signs of autumn were already everywhere in this drought-affected portion of the Sierra backcountry.
The haze in the atmosphere beyond the peninsula with its sunlit trees comes from wildfires that were burning all over Yosemite and the rest of the Sierra. One small one was burning just across a nearby ridge and a more distant but larger fire periodically fill the air with thick smoke. Wildfire smoke is a normal feature at the end of the season, but this year it was much worse than normal. Fortunately, every day the winds shifted, the smoke moved away, and we got some beautiful near-autumn weather — time to enjoy the golden-brown meadow grasses, walks around the lake, and the occasional climb up onto grants slabs that rose from its shoreline.
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.