Jay Sousa: Foothills a perfect spot for springtime photos

03/24/2012 1:23 AM

03/24/2012 1:55 AM

Spring officially arrived this past Tuesday, and with it countless possibilities to make some fine photographs. With the recent rains, the low foothills just outside of town are alive with a carpet of green grass and pockets of colorful wildflowers.

One of my favorite foothill photography drives is White Rock Road. To get there, travel south on Highway 99 to Le Grand Road and make a left, crossing the freeway, and continue to Le Grand. After passing Le Grand, turn left onto White Rock Road.

This road heads east through some beautiful open rangeland into the foothills. This pastoral area affords many numerous photo opportunities. As is the case with most landscape photography, trips in the early morning or late afternoon leading up to sunset will be the best time to shoot.

Venturing a little farther from Merced, the Merced River Canyon between Briceburg and the entrance to Yosemite National Park along Highway 140 has some of the best wildflowers in the Sierra. The poppy, California's official state flower, is numerous and beautiful. Poppies need full sun to open, however, so my standard advice to photograph early or late in the day gets thrown out the window in this case because poppies don't show their full orange color until midday when they enjoy full sun.

One of the best wildflower areas in the Merced River Canyon is the nine-mile round-trip Hites Cove trail. This trail follows the South Fork of the Merced River. There's not a lot of steep climbing, but be forewarned that the trail is rough and rocky at points and in spots there's a steep dropoff to the river below.

The photography possibilities, however, are numerous. The variety and volume of the wildflowers in the spring is amazing along the trail. As a bonus, if you make it all the way to Hites Cove, the old mining equipment makes for some interesting images.

Another attractive area to explore with your camera in the canyon is the old Yosemite Valley Railroad bed on the north side of the river. To get to that side of the Merced River, follow Highway 140 until you get to Foresta Road; turn left over the river and then another left onto the Incline Road, a single-lane paved road that follows the riverside for two or three miles before turning into a rough dirt road.

The best way to get seriously into your photography is to walk this level road. There isn't much traffic, and you'll be amazed at how much more you'll see on foot.

During the spring, many varieties of wildflowers grace the hills above the beautiful Merced River, which will be flowing well with the recent rains. There are also numerous small waterfalls cascading down to the river. In another couple of weeks, river rafting companies will start doing trips down the river.

You can capture some exciting photographs of the rafts going down the rapids from the north side of the river. A longer telephoto lens of 200 to 300 millimeters would be best to get close to the action.

If you're looking for some nourishment after your photo expedition in the Canyon, try the Canyon Bar and Grill next to the Cedar Lodge resort. They serve the best hamburgers in the area.

If you can't get out of town, there is a neat spot right in Merced that is beautiful in the spring. Bear Creek is flowing once again and its banks are now lush with deep green grasses and small wildflowers. There are some gorgeous trees in full bloom on East South Bear Creek Drive between Glen Avenue and Parsons.

Just grab your camera, put on your walking shoes and head to the bike path that winds around the creek. You'll be amazed by the endless photo possibilities.

If you would like to photograph the Merced River Canyon with a pro, Sousa will be leading a photo workshop to the canyon on Saturday, April 14. It is a half-day beginner-through-intermediate class. For more information, you can email Sousa at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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