The Changing Range Of Light; Portraits Of The Sierra Nevada

The following is a book excerpt from “The Changing Range of Light” by Elizabeth Carmel. When we first saw the book we were very impressed with the vision and image quality. When we read through the text we understood why there was such love and appreciation of nature coming through in the images.—Editor

Bristlecone Pine
Ancient Bristlecone pine and Sierra Crest at Sunrise. Taken from the White Mountains looking west toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Camera: Hasselblad H3D-39 with 50-110 mm lens, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff Ballhead, Lee Split ND filter.
All Photos © 2009, Elizabeth Carmel, All Rights Reserved

When John Muir coined the phrase Range of Light in the late 1800’s, few people had seen images of the spectacular Sierra Nevada. John Muir’s writings provided the world a window into this magnificent landscape. His writing and activism helped bring attention to the threats to the natural ecosystem of the Sierra Nevada, which in his time were primarily from resource extraction, livestock overgrazing, and human encroachment. Due to the visionary actions of an earlier generation, many regions of the Sierra Nevada are now protected in National Parks and Wilderness Areas. The images of landscape photographer Ansel Adams also played an important role in the protection of important regions of the Sierra, including the majestic Kings Canyon National Park. He worked tirelessly with the Sierra Club, founded by John Muir, to help our nation appreciate and protect the wonderful natural heritage of the Sierra.

“Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years spent in the heart of it, rejoicing and wandering, bathing in its glorious floods of light, seeing the sunbursts of morning among the icy peaks, the noonday radiance on the trees and rocks and snow, the flush of the alpenglow, and a thousand dashing waterfalls with their marvelous abundance of irised spray, it still seems to me above all others the Range of Light, the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain-chains I have ever seen.”—John Muir

Dogwoods Grace
Wild Dogwood in Yosemite National Park along the Merced River. Camera: Hasselblad H3D-39 with 300 mm lens, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff Ballhead.

Photographers still gain inspiration and imagery from the beautiful landscapes of the Sierra Nevada, protected for the current generation by the far-sighted pioneers of the conservation movement. In our present era, one of the main threats to the Sierra is from global climate change. Even though pressures still exist from resource extraction, pollution, and urban development, today’s science clearly demonstrates that adverse effects to the mountain ecosystems and landscapes are intensifying from the warming climate.

Horsetail Falls
Sunset light illuminates Horsetail Falls in Yosemite, a natural phenomenon that occurs some days in late February when the setting sun only illuminates the falls while the rest of the mountain is in shadow, first made famous by the late Galen Rowell. Camera: Hasselblad H3D-39 with 300 mm lens & 1.7x teleconverter, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff Ballhead

The Changing Range of Light is a photo essay that highlights the transformations occurring in the Sierra as a result of global climate change. Although the photographs I include are not “scientific” analyses of the landscape, they do represent unique moments in time; a view into the marvelous geographies of the Sierra landscape that our generation is privileged to witness. One hundred or even fifty years from now many of the places shown in this volume may be drastically altered. As a landscape photographer living and working primarily in the Sierra region, I feel compelled to share how the landscapes I know are being transformed by global heating. Fortunately some government agencies, scientific organizations, and environmental groups are beginning to address the issue and raise public awareness about ways to combat the problem and adapt to a warming climate. Sierra-based organizations such as the Sierra Nevada Alliance ( and the Sierra Business Council ( are strong leaders in the movement to address climate change in the Sierra Nevada.

Summer Sunrise
Summer sunrise in the High Sierra area of the Mokelumne Wilderness. Beautiful wildflowers bloom in July in this high mountain region of the Sierra Nevada. Camera: Hasselblad H3D-39 with 35mm lens, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff Ballhead, Lee Split ND filter.

Sunrise On The Whitney Massif
Early morning sunrise on Mt. Whitney taken from 12,880 foot high Arc Pass in the high country of Sequoia National Park. Camera: Hasselblad H3D-39 with 35 mm lens, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff Ballhead, Lee Split ND filter.