Clearing Autumn Storm

Clearing Autumn Storm, Yosemite Valley (11/9/21) Elliot McGucken

Clearing Autumn Storm, Yosemite Valley (11/9/21) Elliot McGucken

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (1937) Ansel Adams © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

In Ansel Adams’ classic 1937 photograph, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley was dusted with snow. The photograph was taken in early December.

In Elliot McGucken’s tome to Adams’ photograph (seen above), Yosemite Valley is flecked with autumn color. The photograph was taken in early November.

The days that Adams and McGucken photographed from similar locations (Adams reputedly from Inspiration Point and McGucken from Tunnel View – near each other, but not the same locations) were near matches in cloud formations, though Adams’ scene was snowy and McGucken’s “autumny.”

These comparisons of McGucken’s images present near-duplicative color juxtaposed with black and white versions. Adams’ original was a gelatin silver print made from an 8 x 10″ negative, shot at 1/5-second at f16. McGucken shot with a Fujifilm GFX 100 medium format mirrorless digital camera, using a GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR lens at focal length 42.5 mm, equivalent to 32 mm on full frame, at f10, 1/160 and ISO 200.

McGucken exclaimed, “What a year it was! I am leaving Yosemite today after almost three weeks here. The fall colors were the best that I remember.” He continued that Peak is almost past, “but there is still a lot of glory to be found throughout the Park if one ‘Goes Now!'”

Clearing Autumn Storm (2021) Elliot McGucken

Clearing Autumn Storm (2021) Elliot McGucken









Clearing Autumn Storm (2021) Elliot McGucken

Clearing Autumn Storm (2021) Elliot McGucken








McGucken had a video camera running in time lapse while he was taking these pictures. Here is that footage. It demonstrates how clouds move and what’s needed to capture a moment of perfection. Patience is required. All good things come to those who wait.

Photographer’s Bridge, Merced River, Yosemite Valley (11/10/21) Elliot McGucken

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.


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Panorama of Yosemite Valley including Merced River, El Capitan, Three Brothers, Royal Arches and Sentinel Rock (11/8/21) Elliot McGucken

Pan was the Greek god of the wild, of fields, groves, wooded glens, the nature of mountain wilds and of … sex. Well, true to the Greek god, Elliot McGucken’s “PANoramic” photograph of Yosemite Valley is just plain sexy.

To make the panorama involved 13 shots with a wide angle 17mm lens on the Fuji GFX100 (17mm on medium format = 14mm on full frame field of view).Elliot was able to break out several individual images from the panorma, one of which follows. (click to enlarge)

Elliot said “Great light and high (yet, still) water made the glorious autumn reflections possible today.” That, of course, and a great photographer.

Elliot, you did Pan proud.

Merced River, The Three Brothers, Yosemite Valley (11/8/21) Elliot McGucken

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
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The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour, Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken gives new meaning to The Golden Hour with these fresh images from Yosemite Valley. The golden hour is the hour following sunrise and preceding sunset, each day. It is when light is warmest.

The Golden Hour, Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

He and John Chen were in Yosemite Valley at closing time, as John said, to down these “last call” shots.

Merced River, Upper Yosemite Fall reflection, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

Yosemite Valley’s black oak will continue to hold autumn color for another week or so, though much of the luster seen in these shots diminishes each day. (click to enlarge)

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley (11/5/21) John Chen

Gates of the Valley, Yosemite Valley (11/5/21) John Chen

Upper Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Valley (11/5/21) John Chen

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Valley (11/5/21) John Chen

Merced River, Sentinel Rock, Yosemite Valley (11/5/21) John Chen










Southside Drive, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

Upper Yosemite Fall reflection, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken








The Three Brothers, Upper Yosemite Fall reflection, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

El Capitan, Upper Yosemite Fall reflection, Yosemite Valley (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken











The Golden Hour, Tunnel View (11/6/21) Elliot McGucken

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.


The Range of Light

Merced River, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani

Ansel Adams believed the Sierra Nevada (snowy range) to be misnamed. He contended that a better description would have been The Range of Light.

Yosemite Chapel, Yosemite Valley (10/29/21) Elliot McGucken

Adarsh Dattani and Elliot McGucken visited Yosemite Valley this past weekend and nothing they photographed dispels Adams’ contention.

Half Dome, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani

Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani








Upper Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Elliot McGucken

Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Elliot McGucken

El Capitan, Merced River, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Elliot McGucken








El Capitan, Merced River (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani

Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani

El Capitan (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani








Alpenglow, Merced River, Half Dome (10/29/21) Elliot McGucken

Alpenglow, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley (10/30/21) Adarsh Dattani


A Child’s Perspective

Liliana Beatley, Thompson Lake, Plumas County (10/29/21) Michael Beatley

A grandparent is blessed when one’s grandchild shows interest in the interests of the grandparent. As one, I know the feeling. It’s an intense feeling of love and bonding.

Liliana’s First Field Trip (10/29/21) Michael Beatley

So, when Michael Beatley’s granddaughter, Liliana, asked if he might teach her how to take photographs, he did what grandparents do best. He passed on what he knew and loved to someone he knew and loved more deeply.

They packed up cameras and headed from Meadow Valley, near Quincy, to Thompson Lake. It was early afternoon and the aspen were reflecting in the lake. “A perfectly beautiful day,” he reminisced. On the drive back toward Meadow Valley on Big Creek Rd, the road was lined with dogwood, black oak and bigleaf maple, all dazzling in their autumn dress.

The sunlight was hotter in the afternoon than a schooled photographer would prefer, but after all this was Liliana’s first day in school … photography school. There’ll be time for more technical lessons later. This was all about fundamentals.

Michael had spent “some pre-shoot time going over the SL3 Canon she would use.” He talked about composition and other basics, but also encouraged her to shoot whatever she thought would make a great photo. After the initial instruction, she was on her own with no direction as to what to shoot.

There were, of course, blurred shots due to her quickness with the shutter, but many were quite well-focused, he boasted. (click to enlarge)

When they got back and I’d encouraged him to send hers along, as well, he said, “All of her shots were her own, and I was surprised at what she shot. I never saw the mushroom, the backlit, faded Indian rhubarb. The Dogwood shots were all her own … for me it was a special day.”

Michael, I’m sure it was for Liliana, as well.

  • Thompson Lake, Plumas County – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!
  • Big Creek, Plumas County – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!
  • Meadow Valley, Plumas County – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!



Bishop Beauty

S Fork Bishop Creek, Inyo County (10/5/21) Jeremy Johnson

Gorgeous scenes like this take effort to find. They’re there in the woods, but not by the side of the road. Jeremy Johnson shares the beauty he found searching hidden places near the South Lake Rd in Bishop Creek Canyon where Peak and Patchy color are juxtaposed, creating breathtaking moments, like this.

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Colorful Camera Phone

Sagehen Summit, Mono County (10/2/21) Michael Tolchard

The images seen on this site are taken by all types of cameras, from the big beasts made by Nikon, Canon, Leica, Sony, Fujifilm and others to ubiquitous camera phones. When submitting these images, color spotter Michael Tolchard dismissed himself as, “just a hack with a decent cell phone camera.”

Camera phones take great pictures. They may not be publishable in a magazine or have the quality to be printed in large format, but they capture color and light beautifully and look great on websites.

Good composition isn’t something a camera can correct. Some improvements can be attained with post-processing/editing software, such as Adobe Lightroom, but it takes either an artistic sense or being exposed to lots of well-taken photographs to develop an eye for what looks best.

Michael got these right. Here’s a look at what you can capture during three days in the Eastern Sierra, with a camera phone. (click to enlarge and scroll right to view)

In addition to submitting a respectable body of work, Michael scores a First Report for Poole Powerplant Rd., which had previously never been singled out.


A World With Octobers

Philip Reedy replicated our Thanksgiving Day tradition by creating a video of his favorite photographs from this past autumn.

Phil had a lot of beauty from which to choose. He produced 127 submissions in 26 different articles, as the top contributor of 88 color spotters in 2020. Phil’s photographs remind us why it gladdens the heart that we live in a world where there are Octobers.

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Still Life

White alder, smooth whiteleaf manzanita, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

After these images arrived from the Upper Sacramento River, photographed by Philip Reedy, I accused him of transforming himself from a magazine cover photographer to a gallery photographer.

Oregon ash, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

Phil was out on one of his many trips scouting locations and photographing possible covers for fly fishing magazines.

White alder, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

Yet, he spent a few moments away from the river to notice these images of autumn waning.

Phil wrote, “I started at Sims Flat for the nice view of Mt Shasta, then on the Castella so see what remained of the colors along the river.  From there I hit Conant and there were a lot of gorgeous leaves along the railroad tracks.  The leaves were all on the ground at the Castle Crags picnic area, but they were fringed with frost and quite lovely.  

“Scott Embrey and I made the drive down to Ash Camp just below the dam on Lake McCloud.  I went mainly went to work on fly fishing pictures, but there were bright orange leaves on the ground everywhere.  This looks like it could be excellent in October, next year.”

The area is definitely past peak. Though, as is obvious from Phil’s photographs, even after the forest has dropped nearly all its leaves, there is still life to be found.

For those who must know, the uppermost photograph was taken by a Nikon D850, 1/40 sec at f16, ISO 200, 24-70mm f2.8 lens at 50mm.

  • Upper Sacramento River – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • McCloud River – Past Peak, You Missed It.
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Side by Side

When two similarly experienced photographers accompany one another on the same shoot, to the same locations, at the same moments and with exactly the same equipment. You might expect sameness.

There is similarity between these side-by-side images, because Philip Reedy and I convoyed north Friday morning to photograph fall color and migratory birds at the same locations at the same time. We each carried the same bodies and lenses: Nikon D850 cameras with Nikkor 200-500mm, f. 5.6 lenses. The similarity ended there.

Driving separately, out of shared pandemic precaution, we arrived soon after dawn at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. Phil voiced what I’d been thinking, “There were several times when we were driving through Live Oak that I wanted to stop, because the light was so good.”

He was right, we should have stopped. We’d just passed huge blocks of walnut trees, heavy with golden leaves, and I’d similarly wanted to pull over. Phil noted an orchard that had been carpeted with gold.

Lesson learned: When the light is perfect, stop and take pictures right then. Great light is what’s important, not what you plan to be the subject.

Upon arriving at Gray Lodge, thousands of birds lifted off in one massive, morning-light, mass ascension as they sought rice fields elsewhere. We’d missed it by a moment.

Filled with regret not stopping first in Live Oak, we circled Gray Lodge realizing the birds that remained weren’t leaving, a good scene for birders but not for us. So we headed back beside a long line of trees fronting Rutherford Rd, then north 20 miles to our second objective, Agua Frias Rd. Robert Kermen had drawn a map indicating where he’d seen Sandhill Cranes foraging. They chose to be elsewhere that day, but where?

Just when we’d struck out, we made new luck, stopping at a backlit Walnut Orchard. Phil saw it as filled with golden light; I saw it as darkly shaded with fluorescent- banded trunks.

“We’ve gone a good ways north,” Phil observed, “Almost to Chico.” I responded, “There’s a good place near here, juse south of Chico. It’s an archway of trees overhanging Midway Rd.” And, we were off.

I told the story. Phil showed the beauty.

Encouraged, we decided to head back toward Live Oak. Maybe those walnut orchards we’d seen would still be good. The experience in the orchard on Agua Frias Rd. taught us light can be soft, not harsh, beneath the canopy.

I found a time-worn orchard shed . Phil found an orchard layered with leaves.

It was after noon, but there was still one more place to visit on the return home, the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge near I-5. We’d visited it last year at the same time, but were there soon after daybreak, not this late. I set the Nav which cut us cross-country along backroads around the Sutter Buttes toward Colusa. Then on E. Butte Rd. it happened. I saw Sandhill Crane in a rice field.

Sandhill Cranes, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) John Poimiroo

They were wary. A car or truck passing on E. Butte Rd. didn’t bother them, but stop and they moved away. This image was taken at 500mm, a hundred yards from the cranes and standing behind my SUV. Any closer and they’d walk elsewhere.

Phil shot using his car as a blind, but was hoping for more action. We got it soon after when we stopped a few rice paddies south. There, the geese we’d seen ascending that morning from Gray Lodge were spread out across the paddy. No sooner had we stopped and set up, than …

Mass Ascension, Snow geese, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) John Poimiroo
Mass Ascension, Snow geese, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) Philip Reedy

We eventually got to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, where photographers said there hadn’t been much action. So, we joined them in shooting pictures of a few ducks on logs by the birder’s platform. A brrr of motor drives would whine occasionally when a duck flew in to land. We were told the Snow Geese hadn’t shown up. They were elsewhere.

Note: Following our return, Phil was disappointed in the sharpness of his photos. He thought it was the lens, but when he discovered a UV filter on the lens (which he hadn’t noticed previously), took it off and took side-by-side comparison shots, the reason for blurriness was evident.

Lesson learned: If you use protective filters on your long lenses, remove them before taking photographs!

  • Walnut Orchards, Gridley, Live Oak (95′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuges (49′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!