Fall Into Winter

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Behind the scenes of this photo


Taken along the Merced River in Yosemite National Park on October 28th, 2013

In late October 2013, a decently-sized storm hit the Sierra, bringing cold, wet weather to the area. Where I live this manifested as an series of rain showers. But in Yosemite Valley, which is higher and colder, the precipitation came in the form of snow. The Yosemite Conservancy webcams showed a winter wonderland, with the Sierra high country covered in white. Even Yosemite Valley was getting dusted. With the weather forecast predicting the storm breaking up around sunset, I put my butt into high gear and drove to the park. Once I got inside Yosemite’s borders the rain I had been driving through turned to snow and my windshield was getting plastered with thick, fat flakes. Amazingly, despite the unequivocally wintry conditions, the park’s dogwood trees were still resplendently displaying their vibrant fall foliage. Everywhere I looked I saw bright pinks, reds, and oranges. One of my first stops once I hit Yosemite Valley was a bend in the Merced River which boasted this amazing view of El Capitan and a the clearing storm. And while the snow on the Valley floor had already melted off, the storm itself was still swirling around El Cap, creating a beautiful contrast between fall and winter.

View more beautiful Yosemite photos here.

Home Stretch

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Behind the scenes of this photo


Taken at Tioga Lake just outside Yosemite National Park on November 12th, 2013

I love all kinds of landscapes, from the coast to the desert, but the truth is that I am a mountain boy at heart. Because I live in the Sierra Nevada foothills I get to pass through some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in the world, including the wondrous scenery along Tioga Pass. Even though this spot, Tioga Lake, is a good 2 hours and 45 minutes from where I live, it still feels like it’s close to home. And it’s tough not to feel incredibly fortunate when you have a backyard this beautiful.

View more stunning Yosemite photos here.

Weak Spot

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Behind the scenes of this photo


Taken during a clearing storm at Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, on October 28th, 2013

If you ask me about shooting the classic photography icons, 99 days out of 100 I will rail against it. “No!” I will shout, “they are beautiful but boring! You can find so much more interesting and unique stuff just by taking a look around and gambling with uncertainty.” In other words, 99% of the time I’m a vociferous proponent of making your own tripod holes. But I have my weak spot. My kryptonite, if you will. If you don’t know this spot, it’s known as Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, and on any given night you might find 80 photographers lined up cheek to cheek to photograph the incredible view. In most cases I’d avoid a scene like that like the plague. But when it comes to Tunnel View, I just can’t resist. It’s too dang awesome. It’s also one of the best places in the world to watch a clearing storm, so a few weeks back when a snowstorm dumped fresh white goodness in the park, I cruised up to the View to watch the coincidence of sunset and storm. And I’m glad I did because the light at sunset was quite lovely, plus I ran into a few other photographers I’m fans of but had never met. It turns out sometimes there are perks to shooting the icons.

View more stunning Yosemite Photos here.

Inversion

Half Dome reflected in Mirror Lake, Yosemite.

 

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park on February 3rd, 2014

So the thing about Half Dome is that it’s big. Really big. Like sticking almost-a-mile straight up out of the ground big. And Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley sits right at Half Dome’s base, meaning that the Dome’s reflection appears to go down into the ground for that same almost-a-mile. That’s a lot of vertical real estate, especially when you’re trying to take a picture of the two. So unless you’re using a fish-eye lens, a tilt-shift, a panoramic set-up, or some ridiculously wide-angle lens, it’s just about impossible to get Half Dome and its reflection in the same frame. So on a visit to Mirror lake in early February I decided that rather than attempt the impossible with the gear I currently had with me, I would pick and choose which part of the scene I wanted to focus on: the Dome or the reflection, but not both. For this shot I chose the reflection, framing the contours of Half Dome with a granite boulder sitting at my feet at the edge of the lake. To create this final presentation I rotated the original image 180 degrees, so that down became up, and then I flipped the shot horizontally to mimic the look of Half Dome itself as viewed from this spot. 

Mammoth Mirror

Mammoth Mirror - Winter Sunset, Tioga Lake, Yosemite
Taken at Tioga Lake near Yosemite National Park on November 12th, 2013

While running down the east side toward Death Valley for a workshop I lucked into a great sunset over the Yosemite high country. A recent storm had left snow above 9,000 feet and the high peaks above Tuolumne Meadows were particularly striking. The skies were clear over Lee Vining as I drove south on Highway 395 but more or less on a whim I turned east on 120 and began the long incline up toward Tioga Pass. As I lugged up the grade some fast moving clouds blew into view from the west and I could see gold light streaming through the sky. I had hoped to make it all the way to Dana Meadows before the good light hit but when I reached Tioga Lake the flood of rich light through the clouds was too good to ignore. I jumped out of the car and hurried down to the lakeshore where the calm evening had stilled the lake to a mirror’s smoothness. Once the initial burst of golden light had faded a rich pink filled the sky above Mammoth Peak and the Kuna Crest. I zoomed in to create simple scene of those lovely distant mountains framed by the closer snow-capped mountains on either side.

Temple of Snow

Cathedral Rocks and Merced River in Winter, Yosemite National Park

Taken from the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley on December 27th, 2012

It’s become somewhat of a tradition for me to snow camp in Yosemite during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. This year, on my first night in the trip I walked along the Merced to one of my favorite views of El Capitan. Unfortunately the light and clouds weren’t cooperating over the Captain so I headed back toward the car. Halfway there I noticed this little pine tree in “snow monk’s” pose. The blissfully-smooth Merced river was providing elegant reflections of the Cathedral Rocks and as the sun sank lower in the sky it filled the clouds with a luscious, wine-colored light. I’m not religious but I certainly was worshiping in the Temple of Snow that night.

Lyell Twilight

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Taken deep in the Lyell Canyon in Yosemite National Park on July 2nd, 2013.

Having hiked about 8 miles into Lyell Canyon from Tuolumne Meadows I noticed beautiful Kuna Creek cascading down the eastern flank of the canyon. Thinking the creek might provide an interesting viewpoint for a photo, I waded across the (freezing) Tuolumne River, battled my way through a surprisingly thick aspen grove, and scrambled up a few hundred feet of talus to find this spot, where I had a fantastic view of the Lyell Canyon to the north, and Mt. Lyell (highest peak in Yosemite), Mt. Maclure, and Simmons Peak to the south. The clouds had actually disappeared in the late afternoon but swept back in in force to catch the warm tones of the high country twilight.

A Time of Change

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Taken in Yosemite Valley at Tunnel View on May 9th, 2013

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park. In early May Yosemite was hit by a thunderstorm that involved, according to a local park photographer, the most intense downpour of the last 15 years. As I waited and watched the roads and parking lots turn to rivers, pea-sized hail crashed down on my car in a deafening cacophony. Then, as quickly as it began, the tempest abated. And I had one thought: get to Tunnel View to watch the clearing storm. I arrived to see some of the most beautiful and dynamic light I’ve ever seen at this vista, and I made a number of dramatic photos. As the rain clouds cleared I used a 10-stop ND filter to create this 120-second exposure of the incredible dynamics of the Valley.

Mythic

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite, Black and White

Taken at Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley on May 9th, 2013

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park. In early May Yosemite was hit by a thunderstorm that involved, according to a local park photographer, the most intense downpour of the last 15 years. As I waited and watched the roads and parking lots turn to rivers, pea-sized hail crashed down on my car in a deafening cacophony. Then, as quickly as it began, the tempest abated. And I had one thought: get to Tunnel View to watch the clearing storm. I arrived to see some of the most beautiful and dynamic light I’ve ever seen at this vista, and I made a number of dramatic photos. This intimate shot of Bridalveil is one of my favorites from the evening as for me this scene epitomizes Yosemite’s timeless and mythic beauty.

Pohono Bloom

Yosemite dogwoods in bloom near Pohono Bridge

Taken in Yosemite National Park on April 25th, 2013

Despite following the driest winter on record for the Sierra, spring 2013 came to Yosemite Valley in full force. As usual the waterfalls were spouting like colossal fountains, but even more spectacular were the Yosemite dogwoods, which were blooming profusely throughout the valley. I’ve never seen such abundance and incredible vibrancy in the blooms, and I was like a kid in a candy store: racing from one pullout to the next as the light changed, snapping away at the blooms over the Merced River.

Dome Light

Thunderstorm above Half Dome at sunset, Yosemite Valley

Taken in Yosemite National Park on April 24th, 2013

In late April 2013 warm temperatures brought afternoon thunderheads to Yosemite a few days in a row. On this day they continued to build up throughout the afternoon and even dropped some rain on the valley for a few brief minutes. Luckily for all the photographers in the park the clouds also managed to stick around through the evening, where they caught the warm light of sunset. This shot was taken from a bend in the Merced just off the Yosemite Village overflow parking area which provides an amazing view of Half Dome. A neat little spot most people don’t know is even there because it’s hiding behind a bunch of parked cars. 🙂

Gates of Winter

Yosemite Valley View Winter Sunrise

Taken in Yosemite Valley at Valley View on December 29th, 2012

I was winter camping in Yosemite Valley. After a lovely snooze on a bed of snow, thermarests, and cozy blankets, I got up early on the morning of December 29th, 2012 to catch the sunrise. I drove to El Capitan meadow to assess the light and it looked like the most interesting display would be happening to the east. Knowing the layout of the park, I decided that Gates of the Valley would be a perfect place to watch the sunrise. Arriving at the Gates, I noticed a few other photographers already set up. Not wanting to stand right next to anyone and noticing these fantastic tufts of snow-covered grass in the Merced, I waded out into the river to shoot. The sunrise started off blandly and I thought it was going to be a bust, but after 30 minutes of patient waiting the clouds broke up enough to let these lovely salmon and lavender splashes of light in. What a way to start the day!