Yosemite National Park
Although this is one of the best known parks in the world, and famous photographers have seemingly photographed every square inch of it, there are still lots of opportunities to see the park in a new light. Not only does the weather change dramatically, but the rivers, snow and ice are different every day. On a partly cloudy day, you can shoot almost all day. The sheer cliffs mean that the sun is always rising and setting off of one cliff or another every minute. Also, the clouds often enshroud the granite faces, making each photograph unique. And there seems to be an endless number of ways to compose every scene.
This was in the 2011 Nature Conservancy 2011 calendar. The clouds were moving quickly over the top of Half Dome, and the light looked good on the rock face. So I put on my dark filter to make a long exposure. Over the course of 30 seconds, the clouds moved a lot and the shadows of the clouds made for some good light across the face of the cliffs. And the moving trees and reflections softened in the reflected light from above.
This part of The Tenaya River is called Mirror Lake because is is often calm and reflective. But the wind softened the light falling on the water. The long exposure shows that soft light much better than a shorter one!
Tuolumne meadows is just about 15 miles from Yosemite Valley but it takes over an hour to drive here because there is no direct route and you must go from 4,000 feet above sea level in the vally to nearly 9,000 feet here. It is an all day hike if you go that route. I stayed overnight in a tent nearby to be here before sunrise. The weather is much different at this elevation, with snow at any time of the year!
Almost everything was moving from the clouds, to the bushes and water. I used a very dark filter so that I could make a very long exposure with relatively bright light. The long exposure was the best way to show just how much movement there was.
Bridal Veil falls in Yosemite flows year-round, but in the spring it flows at its maximum rate as the high elevation snow melts. I moved around to find an opening in the trees to show as much of the falls as possible. Even though this was taken at the touristy ‘Valley View’ side-of-the-road pullout, you can still be creative and move around to get the best composition that you can.
I’ve seen literally thousands of pictures taken from within 50 feet of this spot and have not seen this sort of image made. Also there were other photographers there with expensive tripods taking shots from vantage points that barely showed the waterfall at all. Did they even notice what they were shooting?
This is the classic view along the river near the entrance to the valley. Even though there is a nice car park just 100 feet away from where I set the tripod, there was not another person in sight during nearly this entire sunset. I’m not sure why. Everything in the frame seemed alive, from the rock and grass in front, to the rapids in the middle, to the light on El Capitan and Bridalveil valls.
I carefully composed this scene after waiting for about 30 minutes on a slippery small rock where you had to jump across several other slippery rocks. I should have just taken my shoes off but standing on river-bottom rock for 30 minutes would have torn my feet up and it was snowing at 6,000 feet elevation at this time even though it was June. So the water was cold!
Mirror Lake is a short 2-mile hike from the nearest trail head but it seems a thousand miles away from the Yosemite crowds. As I headed up, everyone was heading down so I had this place all to myself. I was quite surprised.
While mirror lake is accurately named, I still had to wait for the breeze to calm down for get these reflections. When it was windy, I put on my very dark filter for some 30-second exposures with streaking clouds and water which look totally surreal.
I can not emphazise enough the importance of weather and light when trying to get a nice-looking photo. I have tried this very shot under clear skies and the dynamic range is just too much for the camera to handle.
I think that a misty rainy day is the best time to capture a tall waterfall like this. There is more atmosphere, the mist from the falls shows up better and the soft light accentuates the color. The problem comes when you are trying to hop across slippery rocks with an umbrella and the tripod in one hand and a long walking stick for balance in the other hand. I used a 1 second exposure because a shorter exposure would freeze the water in place and a longer one turned the water into milk. This length allowed the water to paint the lower part of the image for me.
The waterfall you see is actually just the bottom 15% of the entire falls? The rest is hidden in the mist above.
The angle of the afternoon sun was getting to be just right for the best view of the 2425 foot high Yosemite Falls from the swinging bridge. But it was mostly cloudy. So I waited about 20 minutes for an opening in the clouds to light up the falls. A group of photographers and other people had showed up to see the view. They moved bridge around a lot (it is the swinging bridge after all!) and I wanted a 30-second exposure with my dark filter. I really feel like a long exposure in this situation captures the mood and feel of the place better than a short exposure. I did do a few short exposures but there was something missing when I looked at them. So I deleted them. I do a lot of rather severe editing on the spot because I can compare them with how I feel at the moment.
This was the view at last light on Half Dome. The warm light filled the entire cliffside giving off a reddish-orange glow. There was nobody here at Mirror Lake at this moment. I could not believe that I had this view all to myself.
I also did a long exposure of this this view and it has a different feel to it. Some people like this better and some like the other one better.
I used my almost black 10-stop filter to create a surreal view of the sky and water surrounding Half Dome. which rises over 5,000 feet from the valley floor. I really wanted to capture the way the light reflected of the wind swept mirror lake.
It is not always like a mirror, and that can be good sometimes! You rarely see this entire view in photos because you need a very wide-angle lens to get it all into the frame in one shot.
Topping out at more than 3,000 feet above the 4,000 ft elevation Valley floor, El Capitan it is the largest vertical monolith of granite in the world. There are a few monoliths that are bigger on the sides of the Andes and Himalaya, but they are not pure granite. There are even larger cliffs of granite in Yosemite but they are not completely vertical. El Capitan is opposite Bridalveil Fall and is best seen from the roads in western Yosemite Valley, including Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall area, and El Capitan Meadow.
Last light on 5,000+ foot Half Dome reflected into Mirror Lake. I had to perch on a very uncomfortable rock for quite a while until the light became good. One slip and me and the camera would be in the water for sure.
There was no other place to get an open view. My other Half Dome images were taken on this rock too a few feet away. I try to not have distractions around the edge, so sometimes you just have to get into inconvienient places for an open view!
A portrait version of the bottom 320 feet of 2425 foot Yosemite Falls. The difference here is that I wanted to show the texture of the granite rock just 3 feet from the lens and how vertical this place feels.
I almost went deaf from the thunderous noise from the falls while waiting for the best time to shoot! Sunrise is best, so as to avoid the crowds and have better light.