Small Scenes in Grand Landscapes

Merced River Dogwoods, Blue and Gold 3

It’s been a hot, dry summer throughout the US and that has led to no shortage of clear, sunny skies in the West. While most folks prefer that type of weather, bright sunlight and contrasty shadows can cause challenges for landscape photographers like myself who prefer dramatic weather, colorful sunsets and clouds. But even in such conditions, there are still so many subjects to photograph! This summer, I was fortunate to be able to spend a little quality photography-focused time in three of the West's most beautiful national parks: Redwood, Grand Teton, and of course, my favorite, Yosemite National Park. All three of these locations are known for their grand landscapes of towering trees and majestic mountains, but clear skies don’t always make for interesting, wide angle landscape images, and so, I spent more time photographing up close and intimate small scenes of nature, which have absolutely become my favorite images on my travels this season.

In May, I had the pleasure of participating in a one-day, private workshop with renowned nature photographer, William Neill. Despite many logistical challenges due to COVID, we finally landed on a date to meet up and photograph Yosemite Valley at the height of dogwood blossom season. The weather provided a clear, windy day with variable light conditions, from full shade before sunrise to mid-day with bright sun. The images taken that morning while exploring up and down the Merced River were by far my favorite of the day. Gorgeous gold and blue tones were reflected in the river just before direct sunlight hit the dogwood blossoms, and were a result of shaded granite cliffs on the south side of the valley causing cool colored reflections, while the warm, gold tones were a reflection of the cliffs on the opposite north side in bright, direct sunlight.

Merced River Dogwoods in Shade, Leaning Tree

Later that sunny afternoon, a dense clump of lupine groundcover at the side of the road provided an immersive macro photography opportunity. Grabbing a large umbrella from the car, William used it as a tool to diffuse the bright sunlight and control blown out highlights for even illumination. Typically, when I use my macro lens, I default to a shallow depth of field to bring a selected focal point into focus while blurring the background, but in this image, used a narrow aperture of f/22 to accentuate the repeating patterns of these lupine leaves and bring them into sharp focus throughout the entire frame.

Lupine Leaves 2, Yosemite National Park

During our annual Memorial Day weekend camping trip to Redwood National and State Parks in California’s north coast, my husband and I stopped at Redwood Creek viewpoint on our first morning with the intention of photographing some wide angle landscape scenes. Although fog was laying low in the hills and would normally have been my preferred subject, the dew covered grasses right next to our camper really caught my eye instead for photographic opportunities. The way the dew sparkled in the morning light inspired me to instead focus on the tiny, macro world at my feet, using the sun to backlight the dewdrops.

Dew Covered Grass Bokeh, Redwood NP

Grand Teton in June normally experiences cool temperatures during the day and cloudy thunderstorms in the evening, but this season was far from normal, with blazing temperatures in the 90’s, clear weather, and bustling, late summer crowds. While exploring along the shoreline of Jackson Lake under bright, sunny skies, the sunlight and reflected water ripples on these multi-colored stones under the lake’s surface caught my eye for a small scene opportunity. With bare feet in the cool water, photographing hand-held and unencumbered by a tripod, I experimented with increasingly fast shutter speeds to best capture the ripple reflections on the rocks.

Jackson Lake Stone Ripples

While the rest of the photographers stayed close to the banks of the Snake River to photograph the morning light on the Tetons at sunrise, I worked this gorgeous patch of lupine nestled in the cottonwood trees instead. This allowed me to wander, play and experiment solo, to find many compositions.

Lupine Bokeh, Grand Teton National Park

A short hike to Hidden Falls, a gorgeous 100-foot cascading waterfall in the Tetons, is accessible by boat shuttle across picturesque Jenny Lake. Even though it was only a short, mile long hike, my camera bag felt especially heavy and I was kicking myself for bringing my large 100-400mm zoom lens. I felt vindicated, though, when I found myself wanting to zoom in on smaller details of the waterfall, such as this small tree growing precariously out of the rock. Using burst mode on my camera, I’d wait until the water rushed down the rock behind the tree to make it stand out better in the composition.

Hidden Falls Pine, Grand Teton NP

With unusually hot weather and clear skies in the West this summer, all I could do is make the most of the conditions Mother Nature provided, forcing me to seek out more intimate landscapes that tell a story of the beauty of the Tetons, Redwoods and Yosemite.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In