Winter Compositions, Part 2 — Moving with the Light

Northern California finally received some much needed precipitation, which showed up over the weekend like a long lost friend. No one was muttering about the rain this time. It was a welcome visitor. In Yosemite, the waterfalls that only a month ago were but a trickle were finally flowing again, perhaps not as robustly as one might have hoped, but nonetheless, it was a hopeful sign.

Monday morning dawned a dark, mist-filled Yosemite Valley. The storm had cleared overnight, leaving familiar landmarks barely peeking through the dense fog. It was going to be spectacular. On mornings like these, it is hard to decide the best place to begin.  On the valley floor, the pre-dawn light was blocked by thick blanket of fog. Best to move to higher ground, so I decided to start at Tunnel View, high above the valley floor. Here is how it looked from that vantage point.

Sunrise Yosemite Tunnel View, February 2014

El Cap Morning Light, February 2014

From here, I had a decision to make. The fog layer was lingering near the ground, close to the Merced River. As I drove down towards the valley floor, the fog was beginning to break up with the morning light, creating an almost uniform vail over everything with some higher clouds casting shadows on the granite walls. The effect was this soft, pastel light with lavender hues in the shadows.

Lower Yosemite Fall After the Storm, February 2014

I continued up the valley, and found the sun just peeking over the rim, and with the mist still clinging to the ground, the sun started warming the wet earth and trees, making the mist move and rise then dissipate.

God Beams, Yosemite, February 2014

As I worked my way around the valley, the sun was getting stronger now, and the rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall was quite bright as a result. I spent a little time there shooting, but there was still so much more to see before the fog and mist completely disappeared. The rainbow on Yosemite Falls can be photographed on any clear, winter morning, but days like this were rare.

Upper Yosemite Falls Rainbow, February 2014

It was now about an hour and a half past sunrise, and the sun was warming things up quickly, making the mist seem like smoke, wafting from the trees. It was quite a beautiful sight.

Trees in the Mist, Yosemite, February 2014By two and a half hours past sunrise, the show was coming to a close, but there were still signs of mist along the Merced River. I spent the final hour of my morning session along the river, catching the last bits of the extraordinary light and mist before it was all over. On Tuesday, it was back to clear, sunny skies. Not that I’m complaining. There’s never any shortage of dramatic beauty here to photograph, but for a landscape photographer, days like Monday are a rare gift.

Merced River Mist, February 2014

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