Spring is one of the best times of the year in Yosemite National Park. Winter has faded, vibrant greens have returned to the park, dogwoods are in bloom, animals are out and active, and all of the waterfalls are roaring. It’s a spectacle that nobody should miss. Lucky for Phil and me a group of awesome photographers decided to join us for our Yosemite at Night workshop so they could experience the grandeur of this national park in spring during the day…and at night!
Our group met Friday afternoon for orientation and went into the park to grab dinner and being our night and evening shoot. We stopped first to photograph some dogwoods that were blooming near Curry Village. The dogwood bloom in Yosemite is something special. Lovely white flowers dotting a landscape filled with the red bark of ponderosa and juniper pine trees. The juxtaposition of the red and white is really stunning. Phil and I helped the students to find different compositions with the foliage and work on depth of field and the other necessary camera settings to capture it all. After the dogwoods it was time for a little dinner before our night of shooting.
With our bellies full of pizza we set off for Tunnel View to grab a few images of the setting sun. The light and clouds were really pretty over half dome so Phil and I encouraged the class to zoom in t make compositions that incorporated the best part of the sky. Grad filters and polarizers were a great help to add color to the image. Once the last bit of color left the sky it was time to begin our night shooting.
We drove to the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel where we worked on shooting some images of this wonderful historical building in the dark of night. We worked on getting our exposures right for the first few minutes…and the bright lights of the lodge mixed with the darkness created some tricky situations so we went over how bracketing can be one method to solve the issue of how to deal with darks and brights. Once the settings were down for shooting this, we really helped people find compositions. Using the dogwood trees, and other interesting foliage in the area. There were several really nice images captured with these dogwood trees. There was also a wedding going on in the hotel so we had a soundtrack to accompany our night of shooting. EVERYONE ON THE DANCE FLOOR!
After our shoot of the hotel, it was dark enough to head out to a spot along the Merced River and shoot some start trails of El Cap and the Three Brothers. We walked out in the darkness to a spot with good reflections, and great sky…then helped the students refine the star trail settings so we could make an hour worth of images to blend later. The full moon was a blessing in that it provided a great amount of light to illuminate the granite, and give some definition to the foliage, but still allow the brightest stars to streak.
Once the hour of star trails had been completed it was time to head off for some much needed sleep.
We met in the mid afternoon to set off into the park for more Yosemite goodness. We stopped along the Merced to shoot reflections of El Capitan. There were a lot of options here for Phil and I to talk about polarizers, grad filters to balance the tricky light. There were also a few opportunities for more intimate and abstract image with the colors of El Cap and some of the little blades of grass in the river. Sometimes simple is better!
From here it was off to the Happy Isles. With a convergence of creeks this little area is full of potential for long exposures…and the vibrant green foliage helps give this area a nice aesthetic. Phil and I helped people with the right exposure to get enough movement in the water to still show detail and contrast. The reflecting granite in the water provided some color as well. It was a really great place to wander…and the shade and water helped cool us all off from the 90 degree heat.
Time flies! It was dinnertime again and we moved back to Curry Village for some sustenance before the night began.
Sunset was spent along the Merced with a nice reflection of Half-Dome. We continued work with the grad filters and worked on composition and polarizing the water to give it a nice feel. When the light was gone it was time to join 100 of our closest friends on the Lower Yosemite Falls Bridge to shoot the moon bow.
What’s a moon bow, you ask? Well it’s the same as a rainbow, only made by the moon instead of the sun…and pretty hard to see with the naked eye. We set up and helped everyone get his or her settings dialed in and then waited. It’s fun to see people’s faces when they see the rainbow show up on their screens. “OH it IS there!” they say as if they expected it not to be.
The darker it got the better the moon bow was…and by the end we had a moon bow that stretched across a good portion of the waterfall. While we were entranced with the beautiful scene we got a surprise visit from a local bear trying to get at some trash…that created a bit of excitement, and it wasn’t too long before the group joined together to chase the little guy off so he could “forage’ for food somewhere else. Once everyone had captured the moon bow we set off for a brief shot of upper falls with stars.
The moon bow on upper falls isn’t the best this time of year unless you have a really high water flow…so we only made the stop brief and made our way up to Glacier Point where we would work on our second night of star trails. Though it was 90 degrees during the day in the valley, it was about 43 degrees at the point and everyone did exercises and danced around to try and get warm. Phil and I helped make sure everyone had their settings dialed in correctly, and then we waited for an hour, with the goal everyone would get between 10-15 images we could blend together during our processing session on Sunday.
1am arrived and it was time to head out…it was cold and we were all again ready for some much needed rest.
We met at a little after noon to go over the processing for the start trails as well as show a few other tips and tricks for getting the most out of those images. We covered the basic of processing, layer masks, non-destructive burning and dodging, and more. It was fun to see some of the images people had made start to come to life on the screen.
Our afternoon session took us first to Cascade Falls, which is in the shade during the late afternoon sun. After a short hike up we found some spots on the granite to get shots of this really pretty waterfall working on composition a lot here and continued filter and exposure use. We made a stop at swinging bridge to work on shooting upper Yosemite Falls and did some work on abstract shooting of colors in the water and some very nice lighting on a few of the local trees.
After another dinner together it was time to make our way to sunset. We first stopped and worked on shooting some of the dogwoods with a very shallow depth of field so that the evening light on the granite was reflected behind it…makes for a really pretty shot.
Sunset at the iconic Valley View was our last stop, and the sunset sure was nice, clouds turning pink, reflected color in the water, long exposures…man what a great way to end a BUSY three days full of exploration, education, and fun in Yosemite National Park.
Thanks to everyone for a fun weekend.
Until next time,
Brian, Phil and the entire Aperture Academy team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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