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Fall colors and why it sometimes takes over a year to make a 7 minute video.

2011 October 21
by YosemiteSteve

Black Oak in Stoneman Meadow, Yosemite 2010


I just did a quick bike ride around the east end of Yosemite Valley to check out the fall colors, and I’m not too impressed this year. Big Leaf Maple and Dogwoods are doing fine, but my favorite tree, the California Black Oak looks pretty bad. Instead of a golden yellow, most of them are just wilting and turning brown.

There’s lots of variables that affect fall color, but mostly it’s photoperiod (the length of the day) and temperatures. Unfortunately, it got pretty cold here about 2 weeks ago, and we had sub-freezing temperatures in Yosemite Valley. These cold temps froze the leaves, bursting their cells, which led to the brown wilt. Not all the leaves froze and the tops of many of these oaks, which can be over 100 feet tall, still have some green leaves on them, but I’m not very optimistic about this years color on Black Oaks.

So why does it sometimes take over a year to shoot a 7 minute episode of Yosemite Nature Notes?

Right now, we’re working on the “Black Oaks” episode about these charismatic but often overlooked trees. In order to show viewers the seasonal dynamics, I wanted to make sure that I captured them in all moods and seasons. Stark trunks in the winter, red velvety leaves in spring, shady green summers and of course, brilliant fall color.

Of all of these different states, fall color is the most dramatic and unpredictable. That’s why Josh Helling and I spent over a week LAST fall shooting tons of Black Oaks in full fall regalia. In 2010, these trees put on a fantastic display, and it was one of the best falls that I’d experienced in Yosemite Valley.┬áIf we hadn’t shot all that great footage then, I would be freaked out right now, scrambling to find a few individual oaks hidden throughout the park that looked presentable.

Now repeat this same concept for peak waterfall flows, wildflower displays, snow storms, frazil ice, moonbows, night skies, bears, et cetera, and you’ll understand why it sometimes takes forever to get the shots I need to do justice to these ephemeral subjects.

Since this years display is less than spectacular, here’s a little taste of the great colors from last year. Enjoy!


One Response
  1. Daren permalink
    October 27, 2011

    Great article. I loved the fall/winter months in the valley. The crowds start to thin out and the park really comes alive. Can’t wait to see the final video!

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