Archive for the ‘clouds’ Tag

Eclipse Mania: Weather Worries   9 comments

A spectacular composite eclipse image from 1999, by Fred Espenak.

Can you believe the eclipse is only a few weeks away?  I can’t wait!  I’m concluding my series on planning for this eclipse by tackling perhaps the most difficult thing to plan for: weather.  But it really isn’t just about weather.  It actually has more to do with psychology.  I’m doing what is unusual for me, including images from other photogs.  Click on the image to go to the source web pages.

Weather: What, me Worry?

As you talk to other eclipse enthusiasts, the subject of clouds and weather is sure to come up.  It is probably the most over-thought aspect of chasing solar eclipses.  But I can’t really blame people for worrying.  Who wants to travel and spend a lot of money getting to a spot to watch an eclipse, only to be clouded out at totality.  Weather on eclipse day is something that all of us must prepare to accept.   But even though there is no changing the weather, a bit of thought and planning beforehand might help save the day.

Monitoring weather forecasts in the days leading up to the eclipse will help you plan, but only if you have solid backup plans.  This previous post discussed backup plans in some detail.  Satellite imagery in the 24 hours leading up to totality might lead you to choose one viewing spot over another.  If a large front is moving in, you will be faced with a dilemma.  You could wake in the wee hours of the 21st and drive to escape it.  But I only recommend such drastic action if there is little doubt that the sky will be covered by clouds and only if you know you can escape the front in plenty of time.

Most of all, don’t obsess about weather before the eclipse.  I am a landscape photographer but I don’t scan weather apps. prior to a shoot, preferring to scan the sky.  I never complain about weather because photography for me is about making the most of what you’re given.  Of course eclipses are different.  Clouds can completely negate the experience.  But you still can’t change the weather.

Let’s say the forecast is for mostly cloudy skies on eclipse day.  Before you go running off trying to out-run weather, realize you’ll be spending the hours leading up to the eclipse in a less-than-ideal manner.  Will you make it somewhere in time?  Or will you be forced to pull off the road just before totality?  Will you end up driving into cloudy conditions while the place you left opens up just in time?  The best plan may be to have faith and patience in equal measure.

Will the clouds clear out in time or will they block the view? Partial phase about a half hour before the 2016 Indonesian eclipse.

Yes, the clouds cleared! Indonesia eclipse of March, 2016.

A Lesson in Patience

The 1999 total eclipse in Turkey taught me a lot about clouds and over-thinking.  We were in a perfect spot on a mountain-top in the north-central part of the country.  That eclipse happened to also be in August, and that area is similar both geographically and climatically to parts of the inter-mountain west where the upcoming eclipse will happen.  In late summer Anatolia is typically dry and hot, with afternoons that commonly see isolated clouds and thundershowers.

Clouds started appearing just before the start of the partial phase and, predictably, our group’s anxiety rose.  There ensued an argument over whether to abandon the mountain and go out onto a wide plain that lay before us to the west.  The reasoning was simple: no orographic lifting on the plain and so less chance of clouds.  Air masses get pushed up a mountainside, cooling and condensing to form clouds.

After much hand-wringing debate it was decided to split the group, with one contingent heading out onto the plain and one remaining on the mountain.  I decided to stay up on the mountain.  That was partly because my girlfriend and I were comfortable picnicking and sipping some Efes pilsen I had smuggled in.  But it was also because the most experienced eclipse-chaser in the group (an author who was about to see his 14th eclipse!) had decided to stay put.

Those lucky enough to be on the Oregon Coast will be first to see the eclipse. Enjoy!

Clouds increased as the partial phase wore on.  I was having too much fun to care, playing with kids from a nearby village and joking around with the soldiers (they let me drive an armored vehicle!).  The government had insisted on our group being protected in the remote area.  As totality approached the air suddenly cooled.   Minutes before it happened most of the clouds dissipated.  I saw for the first time how during a solar eclipse the atmosphere can change in interesting ways.  It’s more noticeable when you’re elevated, such as on a mountain.  It was a spectacular eclipse!

The moral of the story is this: don’t stress a few clouds on eclipse day.  It can only negatively influence your experience.  Yes, a storm front will do a great job of hiding the eclipse.  But as far as partly cloudy skies go, keep the faith and stay positive.  The cooling of the atmosphere just before totality could stabilize the air enough to decrease the big puffies just in time.  By the way, the group that went out onto the plain also got a clear view of the Turkey eclipse.  But it was still satisfying to be one of those who had chosen to chill out on the mountain.

Thanks for reading.  Good luck and have a wonderful eclipse experience!

The sun sets over Pacific near the island of Iwo Jima after being eclipsed at noon: July, 2009.

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Single-image Sunday: Panorama   8 comments

Tucki Mountain looms as a storm moves in to Death Valley.

Tucki Mountain looms as a storm moves in to Death Valley.

I so rarely post panoramas that I noticed something: I’ve started to do fewer of them.  That’s a shame, and so in Death Valley recently I made sure to do a few.  This is one.  It isn’t too wide and skinny.  I have one of this scene which is, and it looks like a thin strip on the computer screen – not good.  Panoramas don’t tend to lack impact when viewed on a screen, but when printed out (especially large) they are spectacular.  Of course it isn’t cheap to print and frame a pano, but if you put it in the right spot, where it can be examined from fairly close-up, it’s worth it.

This image is similar to a more standard crop I posted for Friday Foto.  This was a fantastic storm that swept in toward sunset just as I had emerged out onto the top of the alluvial fan after hiking a canyon.  It was very windy, difficult to keep the camera steady enough for sharp shots.  In those cases it’s hard to use a tripod unless you weight it down.  Often it’s best, if you have enough light, to just hand-hold your shots with the lens’ image stabilization activated.

It’s springtime in the desert and other areas of southern California.  Beautiful flowers are blooming everywhere.  These moody stormy images aren’t exactly what people want to see right now.  But I love these conditions anytime I get to photograph them.  And that goes double when I’m in a spectacular location.

Looking down the valley as the storm moved toward me, blowing sand out ahead of it, was invigorating to say the least!  And being in an elevated position at the top of an alluvial fan allowed me to capture the distant hulk of Tucki Peak.  After this it got dark rapidly and I got to get wet as I walked down the fan into the teeth of the storm.  See below for some geologic details for Death Valley and Tucki Mountain.  Enjoy and thanks for looking!

ADDENDUM: GEOLOGY

Tucki Mtn. & Telescope Pk. are Death Valley’s two iconic mountains.  I’ve climbed them both but it’s been quite a long time since Tucki (it can be much tougher than the much loftier Telescope).  Tucki sticks outward into the valley in a position where it’s hard to miss.  Two or three million years ago the whole Panamint Range, including Tucki, began to slide northwestward off the top of the Black Mountains on the other side of the valley along what’s called a detachment, or low-angle normal fault.  In addition Tucki has been pushed up to form a “metamorphic core complex”, where erosion has exposed metamorphic rocks formed far beneath the surface.

Tucki has also been pushed north relative to the mountains across the valley along strike-slip faults related to the San Andreas Fault and plate boundary to the west.  Death Valley itself is a graben (German for grave) that opened under extensional stresses as a result of this shearing motion.  The bottom literally dropped out and now the valley floor lies below sea level.

Friday Foto Talk: Clouds   12 comments

Low clouds and fog filling the Columbia River Gorge help add impact to this image of the Vista House catching day's last light.

Low clouds and fog fill the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, helping to set off Vista House, subject of this recent image.

I think photographers take clouds for granted.  Most of us seem to believe there is nothing special or difficult about photographing them.  But most of us also seek out clouds when we are out shooting.  So I think they’re worth a second (and third) thought.  Whether doing landscape, outdoor portrait, street, really any photography is made more interesting with clouds.  They make the light that much nicer.

Winter weather brings moody clouds in the forests of western Oregon.

Winter weather brings moody clouds in the forests of western Oregon.

I’ve been going out in bad weather lately, looking for low-clouds and fog to set the typical atmosphere of the oft-stormy Columbia River Gorge near home.  It got me thinking about all the things one needs to consider when including clouds in photographs.  By the way I consider fog to be simply a cloud at ground level; blame the scientist in me.

So here are a few things to keep in mind when including clouds in your compositions:

      • When composing images, use cloud patterns to your advantage.  For example, when clouds form lineear patterns, use them to complement the patterns in your foreground.  They can help to define a vanishing point.  And layered clouds can help bring out the often more subtle layering in your foreground.  Also you can use clouds to help frame things, sort of like a natural vignette.
In this image from the Canyonlands area, Utah, layered clouds help to highlight the layers of color in the landscape.

In this image from the Canyonlands area, Utah, layered clouds help to highlight the layers of color in the landscape.

      • Depending on what you’re shooting, the right amount of cloudiness is key.  So it’s worth trying to match the type of photography you’re doing with the clouds.  Some examples follow.
      • With landscape photography near sunrise or sunset, a broken, partly to mostly cloudy sky can yield amazing light.  The ideal situation is when the low sun peaks underneath the clouds.  The light bounces off and is refracted by the clouds on its way to your subject.  This lengthens wavelengths, making light more orange or red.  It also bounces that reddish light onto the landscape, and generally gives things a beautifully soft glow.  You can easily be skunked too, when the sun sinks into a bank of clouds while the rest of the sky has perfectly scattered clouds.  Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Light can be a little harsh & contrasty in the desert southwest.  Clouds very late in the day help soften things in this image near Moab, Utah.

Light can be a little harsh & contrasty in the desert southwest. Clouds late in the day help soften things in this image near Moab, Utah.

      • If you are shooting outdoor portraits, a relatively thin overcast sky can act like a giant soft-box, diffusing the light source so that it falls evenly over your subject.  Of course beautiful light at golden hour can result in wonderful portraits too.  But sometimes the light is just too warm on your subject and you need to adjust for that later on the computer.  Overcast skies give you light that ‘gets out of the way’.  Macro photography is similarly benefited when there is a continuous cloud cover.
This spring tulip has nice even light due to the overcast sky.  Clouds also blessed it with the droplets.

This spring tulip has nice even light due to the overcast sky. Clouds also blessed my subject with water droplets.

      • When low clouds and fog invade your scene, a scenario that’s very common at sunrise, you should not be too disappointed.  Shoot the fog if it looks good, or simply wait for it to lift.  Sometimes it begins to dissipate very soon after sunrise, giving you magical light and atmosphere.
Mist and fog shrouds the celebrated view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

Mist and fog shrouds the celebrated view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

The images above and below were shot at Mount Rainier National Park as this was happening.  Other photographers had arrived at this popular spot, only to be discouraged by the thick fog.  They drove away as soon as they arrived.  Meantime I was hanging around shooting the fog.  When the sun started breaking through, they rushed back (I heard slamming doors up on the road).  But the transition from fog to full sun was very quick and I was the only one who was able to catch it by the lake (instead of from the road).  I was too busy shooting to feel smug; that came later!

The fog lifts quickly!

The fog lifts quickly!

      • When the cloud cover is heavy and there is very little chance of seeing the sun, certain types of nature and landscape subjects shine.  This is a great time to shoot during the day, with none of the time pressures you feel at golden hour.  Another advantage: it’s a great time to try black and white.
An angry sky in the Columbia River Gorge develops as a warm moist front moves in right after a day of snow and freezing rain.

An angry sky in the Columbia River Gorge develops as a warm moist front moves in right after a day of snow and freezing rain.

      • Low, heavy clouds can lend a moody feel similar to fog.  I will often go out in the worst weather just to see if I can capture one of these moody scenes.  Be selective; featureless cloudy skies do not tend to create this atmosphere as easily.  Go for times of rapid weather changes instead.
The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon draws in clouds and rain, viewed from a small back-road.

Along a back-road in the Columbia River Gorge, with typical clouds and rain.

  

      • A day with continuous cloud cover, however, is a great time to shoot in the forest.  It’s similar to outdoor portrait and macro photography.  The light is even, without the hot spots that plague sunny days in the trees.  Since the light is usually very dim, bring a tripod.  While more open landscapes lack color in these conditions, the forest’s green-dominated colors are richer and more vibrant.  If it has rained recently, use a circular polarizing filter to tame reflections and make colors pop.  If things are real dim and dreary, go with the mood – try black and white.
A small creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

Forest Mist

      • Clouds can easily be the main element in a photo.  If they are interesting enough, you shouldn’t be shy about featuring them in your images.  For instance when crepuscular rays invade a foggy forest (image below), a situation my friend calls “Jesus rays”, I almost always shoot so that the foreground is subtle or completely absent.
Winter is a great time to catch fog in the redwoods of northern California.

Winter is a great time to catch fog in the redwoods of northern California.

      • And speaking of  making clouds the focus of your shots, you can always shoot nothing but sky.  This rarely makes a good image on its own, but can always be combined (composited) with other images that lack a nice sky.  I can count on one hand the times I’ve done this; it’s because I really prefer capturing a single moment (and I’m painfully slow with Photoshop!).  But I continue to shoot interesting skies.  I place them in their own collection inside Lightroom.  Who knows, there may come a day when I want to do more compositing.  I try never to say never.
An early winter storm moves across the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

An early winter storm moves across the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

      • When the sun is bright, contrast between the blue sky and white clouds can be pretty intense.  Be careful about overexposing the clouds.  A little overexposure and contrast is okay; viewers expect this in a sky like that.  Programs like Lightroom do a great job of recovering highlights, so you can tame the contrast to some extent.  But no software can recover highlights where exposure is completely blown out (lacking detail).  Sure the sun, moon, and a few other exceptions can look natural when they’re blown out.  But you should avoid it in clouds; you don’t want solid white with zero detail.
Gokyo Lake in Nepal has that distinctive color that only glacial lakes can have.

Gokyo Lake in Nepal, with that distinctive color that only glacial lakes can have.

To deal with the situation of over-exposed clouds, start by turning on your camera’s highlight warning (blinkies) so that you see on your LCD screen where you have blown out highlights.  If your camera doesn’t have that feature, look at your histogram on the LCD and make sure it isn’t climbing way up the right edge.  Or you can simply judge over-bright areas by eye.  Bring down the exposure and re-shoot until the blinkies go away and you recover some detail in the bright portions.  If doing this makes your foreground too dark, use a graduated neutral density filter to darken just the sky and leave the foreground properly exposed. 

The Alvord Desert, southeastern Oregon.  I used a graduated neutral density filter for this high-contrast scene.

The Alvord Desert, southeastern Oregon. I used a graduated neutral density filter for this high-contrast scene.

      • The opposite can happen too.  You can underexpose your sky, especially when you have dark, brooding clouds.  Though you can, as above with highlights, recover shadow details later on the computer, it’s not ideal to do this.  You can end up increasing noise.  It’s better to capture dark clouds either perfectly exposed or somewhat brighter.  You can always darken them on the computer later.  This is much better than brightening.

So let’s take an example.  Say it’s a few hours before sunset and the sky is looking interesting, with broken or layered clouds.  You have some decisions to make.  Of course, as mentioned, you can go to the trouble: burn gas and time…only to be clouded out.  Or you could luck out and get a spectacular show!  It’s a gamble that will, sadly, not usually pan out.  But it’s worth taking that chance.  After all, it’s the only way you’ll get shots with truly amazing light!

      • So you wisely decide to go for it.  Now there are more decisions.  For starters, where to shoot?  If you think the sky will be really awesome, consider water, snow, or some other reflective surface.  Water can reflect those beautiful clouds.  Who doesn’t like double the beauty?
The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

      • If Mother Nature plays a trick on you and clouds thicken, graying out the sunset, don’t despair.  Wait for a bit.  I have seen gray, boring sunsets turn into truly technicolor skies after sundown.  It doesn’t happen frequently, but on occasion our home star performs a final encore after it’s passed below the horizon.  The atmosphere has a wonderful way of bending the light (it’s how mirages are formed).  Patience and hopeful realism, along with a headlamp to get back to your car, is all you need.  The same thing can happen before sunrise, so try to get there early in case the sunrise itself is dull.
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming appear to have caught fire just after an autumn sunset.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming appear to have caught fire just after an autumn sunset.

      • Lastly, Mother Nature can also play the opposite trick, clearing the clouds out before golden hour.  Stick with it.  Though clouds are in many ways preferable, remember that a rainy and cloudy stretch has a way of cleaning the atmosphere.  When it clears, it’s a great time to shoot pictures with far-away elements.  For example, distant mountain and desert vistas are beautifully clear and pristine in fresh-scrubbed air.  And if you are using a telephoto lens to capture wildlife, recently cleared air helps get the detail you want in your subjects.
The Colorado Rockies!

The Colorado Rockies!

As always, these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you are interested in purchase options for any of them, just click on the picture.  Please contact me if you can’t find what you want or have any questions or special requests.  Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Clouds gift a colorful sunset the other day at Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Clouds gift a colorful sunset the other day at Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

Wordless Wednesday: Columbia Gorge Weather   2 comments

Columbia_Gorge_2-24-14_5D3_002

Oregon Weather   4 comments

Typical weather in western Oregon's forested Cascade Mountains outside of the height of summer.

Typical weather in western Oregon’s forested Cascade Mountains outside of the height of summer.

 

The weather in the Pacific Northwest (western Oregon and Washington) can be described in one word: drippy.  This is not always true of course.  Summer is typically sunny and beautiful.  But for much of the year, this region of the country gets hit by one storm another other coming off the Pacific Ocean.  The percentage of cloudy days here is by far higher than anywhere else I have lived.  In short, there is a good reason the Northwest is green and heavily forested.

This Spring, the weather has been typically cloudy and wet.  There have been a few warm sunny days of late, and that has given the hopelessly optimistic (naive?) among us the impression that the rainy season is over.  But this past weekend’s cool wet weather shattered that fantasy.  I feel sorry for newcomers to Oregon.  They actually expect springtime to bring warm and sunny weather.  They don’t really get it yet.  Reliably warm and bright weather does not arrive here until after the 4th of July.  Cruelly, it really does seem to like waiting until after this holiday weekend.

Fog and sun battle for dominance in an Oregon forest.

Fog and sun battle for dominance in an Oregon forest.

Being a photographer, I know that bad weather provides some opportunities along with its challenges.  So over the weekend I spent some time trying to get atmospheric pictures of our lush green forests and waterfalls.  (Tune in to the next post for the waterfalls.)  I look on weather like this as an opportunity to capture the unique and special feel of this place, the deep forested canyons and ridges that make up western Oregon’s Cascades and Coast Range.  You really can’t do that when the skies are clear, because the pictures end up looking like so many other beautiful places.

The steep forest of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon sees plenty of misty-rainy days.

The steep forest of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon sees plenty of misty-rainy days.

So I went on short hikes into the nearby Columbia River Gorge.  My goal was to be out photographing between showers.  I really don’t enjoy hiking in the rain for one thing.  For another, my camera gear is even more averse to wet weather.  Go figure!  As I should have expected, things did not turn out as I hoped.  Dry periods were spent driving to and from my hiking destinations, while a steady, soaking rain fell for nearly my entire time spent in the woods.  In other words, I spent my weekend getting muddy and soaked from head to toe.

Fog and mist permeates a deep evergreen temperate rain forest in Oregon.

Fog and mist permeates a deep evergreen temperate rain forest in Oregon.

Although it was a struggle to keep my camera gear dry, I managed to get a few good pictures and (amazingly) returned home with a working camera.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.  They are copyrighted and illegal to download without my permission.  Click on any of the images to gain access to the high-res. versions where purchase options are given.  You’ll need to click “add this image to cart” in order to see prices, but they won’t be added to your cart until you decide what you want.  Please contact me with any questions or requests.  Thanks for your interest.

There is a reason Oregon is green and chock-full of streams and rivers.

There is a reason Oregon is green and chock-full of streams and rivers.

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