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. If 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!
I just popped over to the Eastern Sierra the other day to check out fall color and ran into fellow time lapse shooters Dustin Kukuk (aka @DrKanab)and @MindRelic Josh Owens. After a day of scouting aspen groves and shooting some time lapse at Mono Lake, we headed up to Tuolumne Meadows to check out a cool location that I’d shot before. The three of us hauled a whole lot of gear to the top of a beautiful granite dome to shoot night sky time lapse shots.
Although we all used the same camera, the ubiquitous Canon 5D Mark II, there were three different motion control systems that were employeed. Dustin had the Kessler Crane Shuttle Pod, Josh the Dynamic Perception MoCo System, and I was using my CamBLOCK system. All three set-ups allowed for a dolly move of between 8 and 10 feet, and we set up three very different scenes and compositions.
One of our motivations was the moonstrike. After sunset, it would be totally dark by 8 pm but around midnight the half-moon would rise in the east and light up the foreground while still allowing the stars to shine through. These shots would be running for around 8 hours, with the camera slowly moving down the tracks. It was tricky to get the timing right, but I think all three of us got some good stuff.
Here’s my shot, pretty much straight out of the camera.
I wish I had started the shot about an hour later, so I could get some more movement after the moon hit. Overall, it’s what I envisioned two years before, but I just had the timing a little bit off.
I’ve been shooting astro time lapse for a couple of years now, and I’m planning on using this and many other shots in an upcoming “Night Skies” episode of Yosemite Nature Notes. It’s a lot of work to get enough material when you can only get one or two shots per night, and things like moonstrikes only work for a few days a month.
It’s also important to me to that the shot says “Yosemite” and these glacial erratic boulders on the granite domes around Tuolumne Meadows are one of my favorite things about the park. I just might have to go back and do it again!
This is Josh Helling.
Josh has lived and worked in Yosemite for 20 years as a climbing guide, photographer and cameraman. For the past couple years, Josh has been my right hand man when it comes to shooting Yosemite Nature Notes. Yosemite is a big place, with mountains, forests, canyons and miles and miles of wilderness. To tell the stories found here, you often need to put yourself out there, on the edge. If you’re going to shoot on the side of a cliff, or the top of a mountain, or inside a glacier, Josh is who you’ll want along. After dozens of ascents of El Capitan, his climbing and rope skills are superb. Heavy loads and long miles don’t seem to affect him like they do most mortals, and his winter skills even exceed his summer abilities. He’s also good behind a camera, and his diligence at keeping your glass clean approaches the obsessive. Throw in the fact the he’s one of the nicest guys in the world, and it’s easy to see why Josh has been so important to the success of Yosemite Nature Notes.
Thanks, Josh, and I’m looking forward to our next shooting adventure!
My job takes me all over Yosemite National Park, and wherever we go, we always seem to bring a lot of gear. Here is some of the interesting camera hardware that I use for my work.
Like the Innovision Spinning Rain Deflector for shooting in the mist of waterfalls.
and a 12-foot KesslerCrane is real handy for peering over a 300 foot cliff.
The CamBLOCK Motion Control System is a programmable robot that follows my every command.
To see some of this gear in action, here’s a behind the scenes video that we made for the “Moonbows” episode of Yosemite Nature Notes. Enjoy!
I was in Grand Teton National Park last week, attending the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, and also shooting some scenery while I was there.
Sunday morning, I was treated to a great opportunity when these three grizzlies stepped out of the willow. I was about 300 feet away, and even though I’ve spent a lot of time in black bear country, this was the closest I’d ever been to a grizzly sow with cubs. I was glad there were a couple of other people around and that we were on a ridge about 100 feet higher than the bears. Seeing these amazing animals was a great reminder to never walk lightly in the willow flats behind the Jackson Lake Lodge. It’s a grizzly maze down there!
Here’s a little time lapse that I did a couple of years ago using a fairly cheap PlantCam. These are snowplants emerging from the ground over a 45 day period. I love watching how the sticks move throughout the day. I assume this is related to relative humidity, and as the sticks dry out throughout the day, they change shape, only to re-absorb moisture at night.
This is the newest episode of Yosemite Nature Notes, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s about high elevation plateaus, up around twelve and thirteen thousand feet, that are the home to a wide variety of plants. Most people just don’t realize that what looks like a harsh, rocky world is actually a beautiful garden of wildflowers.