Yosemite Winter in Black and White

No matter how advanced digital photography gets in color capturing and printing technology, there will always be a special place for black and white photography in Yosemite.

John Muir was spot-on when he christened this natural gem the “Range of Light.”  The rugged 2,000+ foot granite walls sheltering the narrow Yosemite Valley, with its northeast-southwest orientation, make for spectacular plays of reflected light and deep shadow all through the year.  Anyone who photographs in Yosemite is aware of the challenges that such hard contrasts in light can bring to a full color image.  But when viewed in black and white, these hard stops reveal texture, form, gravity, and emotion that aren’t immediately obvious in the full color scene.  There is a sensitivity and richness that comes through when the color is stripped away and the landscape laid bare.

Ansel Adams was, of course, the king of black and white Yosemite photography.  If he were alive today and had the option to record his vision in color, I wonder if he would see things differently?  I’m secretly glad he didn’t have a palette of technicolor tools at his disposal.  There’s a reason why, despite having access to advanced technology, millions of photographers continue to emulate his style.  Adams’ images are so clear, so honest, so strong yet delicate in their handling of light and darkness.  It’s like watching a ballet unfold frame by frame.  Without the beautiful distraction of color, a whole new world opens up that invites a new kind of contemplation.

This January was my first winter camping trip to Yosemite.  Although I did not approach every scene with the intent of capturing it in black and white, I found that I was often pulled that direction in my editing.  White snow, black shadows, bare tree branches outstretched against a pale gray sky…all lent themselves perfectly to the black and white approach.

What do you notice first in each of these images?  Would you see something different if they were in color?











Fall in Love with Yosemite


Pssst…I’l let you in on a local’s secret: Yosemite National Park is horrible in the summer.  When the waterfalls are raging and the days are long and warm, there is no place I’d rather NOT be than Yosemite.  During this extremely popular time of the year, there are throngs of people and cars clogging every walkway and road, dirty air fed by forest fires and Central Valley smog, and a dry, sweltering heat that leaves me pining for air conditioning and a freezer full of Mint Oreo ice cream.

Pretty much every month outside of June, July, and September is better for visiting, although I think Fall is the best. There’s a cool crispness to the air…mmmm, that pristine mountain kind filled with the fresh, lung-scrubbing fragrance of damp pine needles and joyously littered with a colorful confetti of falling leaves.


There’s also that glowing, golden sunshine that bathes the Valley Floor during the day, a luscious light that only comes at this time of year.  It’s warm and beautiful, especially as it illuminates the face of Half Dome in the mid-afternoon.

A face I never tire of.
I always say “I won’t photograph Half Dome this time!!”  But that’s lazy-talk.  All it takes is challenging myself to look at this classic image from a new perspective.  There are a million ways to “see” Half Dome, and I intend to capture them all!

This past weekend Steve, Mila, and I went “glamping” (i.e. tent camping, but with enough kitchenware and bedding to stock a Macy’s Home Store) in the shadow of the world’s most famous monolith.  What ensued were several days of peace and rejuvenation in this idyllic park.  Although I said I’d go easy on the photography  this trip (really, how many pictures of Yosemite Falls do I need??), I scrapped that idea once I immersed myself in the splendid beauty of Yosemite.

A recent rain storm had erased the memory of summer, wetting the soil and refilling the High Sierra watershed, bringing the famed waterfalls to life again.  The fall colors were peaking, the light was amazing, and I just couldn’t help myself!!  Scroll down to see more of my photos from our Yosemite Fall “Glamping” Trip.

Have you been to Yosemite?  If so, when is your favorite time of year to visit?  Litter my my blog with comments, I’d love to hear from you!



P.S. – One of these days I’ll post on the finer points of “glamping.”  Mila still doesn’t understand it – like why would you take all the comforts of home to someplace that’s NOT home – but believe me, it’s kind of a thing these days!

There is a certain moment at dusk when the warmth of sunset blends into the coolness of twilight.  It only lasts a minute, but it’s worth every second!
Three of the best things in life: My two favorite traveling buddies and a hot thermos of coffee.
You’re my best friend.
I was taking a picture of the berries on the dogwood tree when this little robin hopped in front of my lens – a much more interesting subject!


Curious things happen at the intersection of darkness and light.
Sooooo refreshing to see Yosemite Falls flowing again.  It always breaks my heart when the water runs dry.
When your humans take you camping, and you’re like “meh”.
The secret forest.
Camping is fun, no?
You know how hard it is to take a handheld macro shot of a patch of mushrooms in the shade?  Next time, I’m bringing a tripod. :-p
Mirror Lake…aptly named.
Serenity at Valley View.  It’s easy to miss this gorgeous vista on your drive out of the park – but trust me, it’s well worth the stop.




Lake Tahoe by Boat

A couple of weeks ago Steve and I embarked on yet another camping adventure – but with a twist!  We dusted off Steve’s classic Ski Nautique, dumped all our gear into water-proof totes, and hit the road for a boat camping weekend on Lake Tahoe.

Ahoy!  Our classy (and classic) waterski boat may be small, but she is mighty.  This little lady can still turn heads – and some tight turns! – on the water.

A few things to know about boat camping:

  1. All the stuff that used to fit in the back of your truck now needs to fit in your boat.
  2. All the stuff in your boat needs to stay dry (easier said than done).
  3. Your boat still needs to FLOAT once loaded down with all your stuff.
  4. People who aren’t used to seeing tiny boats loaded 4′ high with ice chests and fire pits are going to stare at you.  Wave and smile, wave and smile…
  5. Once you get to your campground, you need to unload your stuff and get it to your campsite.  Enter wheelbarrows and very bumpy dirt trails.
  6. After you unload your stuff, you have to moor your boat.
  7. After you moor your boat, you need to get back to shore.  Oops, this is where an inflatable kayak would have come in handy…

When condensed like that, boat camping can sound like a drag!  But it really is a lot of fun. Especially at Emerald Bay, which is hands down one of the prettiest places in all of Lake Tahoe.

Emerald Bay sunrise.  Not all that glitters is green.

Camping at Emerald Bay gave me a good excuse to get up at dawn for sunrise photography.  Actually, I had zero excuse NOT to get up, as the bay was right at my feet every morning, beautiful and serene, beckoning me with bright colors or placid waters.  I had so much fun documenting its many different looks and moods in the few short days that I was there.

Hey, that’s ME!  I’ve started to “put myself in the picture” on my photography adventures.  I like how this image reminds me of my place in this moment.
Sunbursts.  I can’t help myself.  🙂
Stand-up paddle boarding is big on Lake Tahoe.  Nothing like a sunrise stroll around the bay to bring life into perspective.
When I woke up and saw that there were no clouds in the sky, I was bummed.  But then I realized that there is beauty in what is not there, too.
Every day, something different.  Maybe the clouds aren’t as dramatic, but the lake is freakishly calm.  I like how these dead branches seem to melt into the sublimely smooth water.

Sunsets, by the way, weren’t too shabby either!  Although the sun sets behind the mountains that encircle Emerald Bay, afternoon storm clouds sometimes reflect the colors of a glorious sunset, giving us a window into something that we cannot see.



Boat camping at Emerald Bay is quite remote, as there are no markets or restaurants within walking distance.  You can’t just casually jump in your car to head to the store to pick up some ice, or go for a tour around town.  What you CAN do is jump in your boat and head to the nearest marina for food, supplies, and good ol’ lakefront entertainment.

On the road again…heading to The Beacon for goods and grub.  And maybe an ice cold pint in their Sand Pit.  Lake living at its finest!
Getcha motor running’…
Just some starlings on the dock that caught my eye.

The Beacon is known for its tropical cocktail, the Rum Runner.  Perhaps señor had a few too many?

While we sipped libations in the Sand Pit and listened to live music from local bands, a rumble of thunder echoed in the distance.  I checked the weather forecast on my phone and saw a storm warning for the lake for the next hour or two.  A quick pitstop quickly turned into a dinner break as we waited out the weather.

A serious storm sweeps across Lake Tahoe.  Not unusual for summer, but you want to avoid being on the lake when weather like this blows in…

I ordered the fish and chips.  Yum yum yum.  And waited.  Midway through my third filet, I looked outside and saw light breaking on the water.  My heart skipped a beat as I registered what sunlight combined with retreating storm clouds means.  Steve’s heart skipped a beat too.  Except what he was looking at was our boat, which had broken free of its mooring.  We both ran out to the shore and got to work.

A double rainbow!  One of the most vivid displays I have ever seen.  Thank you, thank you storm and the unscheduled dinner break that kept us here for THIS.
That happy feeling you get when you successfully photograph a double rainbow.
I chided myself for leaving my tripod back in camp.  Still, I managed to get this panorama by holding my breath, steadying my camera, and twisting my torso 210 degrees.  Oouf.

While heading out on the boat to explore the lake is fun, it’s also nice to explore Lake Tahoe from land.  Good thing there are plenty of opportunities for that right from our campground.  One day we hiked the Rubicon Trail, another day we walked around the south end of the bay, and one afternoon we toured the famed Vikingsholm Castle.  Sometimes we just chilled on the beach and read a book while the waves lapped at our feet.

The Vikingsholm Castle is a fixture on Emerald Bay.  This beautiful mansion was built at the turn of the 20th century and is a study in Scandinavian art and architecture.
I think the docent said this was a peasant chair.  Um, seriously?
Meals were shared in this dining room.  Although the hostess was gracious and welcoming, it was imperative that everyone show up at the appointed hour(s) to dine together.  Yes, there were four daily meals on the schedule, and you must be present for all!
Hood ornament from one of the vintage Dodge Rams that was used to chauffeur guests to and from the mansion.
There’s something ghostly about this “sun” room…*shivers*
Fannette Island, part of the Vikingsholm estate.  The little stone structure on the top is a tea house that was used in the summer.  Now abandoned and crumbling, it sure looks creepy under a threatening sky…
Hit the trail!  Rubicon Trail is one of the prettiest in all of Lake Tahoe.
Whoever built this bridge…rocks.
You can’t fully appreciate the bold green and blue hues of Emerald Bay unless you hike above the water.  The views from the Eagle Point Trail are especially stunning.
This guy totally gets the Dad of the Year Award for power boating this kayak (and his kids) back to shore during a serious cloudburst.  Fierce.

We even got treated to a 30 minute show by one of the resident osprey of the Emerald Bay.  These birds build their nests in the tops of the tallest trees, close to the shore, so that they can scan the water for fish with their insanely sharp eyes.  Then they swoop down and it’s like, sayonara fishie.   Such is the harsh reality of life in the wild.



Those who camp with us know that, well, we don’t really “camp”, it’s kind of more like “glamp.”  As in, dehydrated veggies and meals-in-a-pouch don’t even come close to our meal kit.  Here’s an especially tasty 2014 Tolosa Central Coast Viognier that we paired with, I am not ashamed to say, bacon mac ‘n cheese.  Chowzah!

What’s in your igloo?

Would I boat camp again?  Absolutely.  Would I do it immediately?  Probably not.  It’s definitely a more expensive way to travel, if you don’t already have a boat docked on the water, and you certainly aren’t as mobile as you are on land or foot.  Some of the peace and quiet of the outdoors is, understandably, shattered when you combine outboard motors with alcohol-fueled party boats.  But on the positive side it gets you out on the water to enjoy a new perspective, and isn’t collecting new perspectives the main reason why we travel?

Until next time…here are a few more images of water fun to whet your appetite for a lake adventure.



The M.S. Dixie II on her nightly dinner cruise around Emerald Bay.  If you don’t have your own vessel, this steamboat is a fantastic way to see the lake!
Two paddle boarders strike a pose against the Nevada mountains as they cruise by the mouth of Emerald Bay.
Wheeeee!!  Who wouldn’t want to try THIS on their next trip to Lake Tahoe?