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Yosemite After Dark 2-Day Photography Workshop - May 14th, 2014

Yosemite in Winter Photography Workshop Students

Yosemite in Spring is a tremendous place. It's such a lovely place, and especially at this time of year with the waterfalls flowing and everything turning so lush and green!

Day one

We were also lucky to have a nice warm spell hit the valley as Jean Day and Matt Granz met their eager group of photographers at the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. We had a good mix of new participants and returning students in this class and were thrilled to see everyone raring to get out and start shooting, but first we have our traditional orientation meeting where each participant introduces themselves, sharing what types of cameras, lenses, and other gear they've brought with them, where they are technically, and if there is anything in particular each would like to concentrate on over the course of the weekend. The instructors also lay out a general plan of the places we would be visiting within the park. The group was definitely ready and willing to learn whatever we could show them!

After getting acquainted, we all loaded ourselves and our gear into the Aperture Academy van (the ApCab1) and headed up the Tioga Pass for the high country. In spite of this being a drought year, Yosemite was still in full Spring green mode with snow on the peaks, and absolutely perfect weather for exploring and landscape photography. Our first stop was the Crane Flat meadow area where there are so many things to shoot and for our students to get used to use the manual settings on their cameras. Here they could shoot macro images of budding vegetation, or go for more expansive wide angle landscapes with the trees and granite boulders that make this stop so excellent to shoot. Both instructors, Jean and Matt, get a better idea of our student's skill levels and familiarity with their cameras in order to help each student understand the mechanics of their gear. We take the opportunity to show the effects of using the f/stop (aperture) to get a wide range of depths of field while everyone finds something of interest throughout the green meadow with the blue sky above them.

A meadow is nice, but a lake is even better, so off our intrepid group of explorers went to the beautiful Tenaya Lake. Here our views went from expansive to the more intimate where we could play around with polarizing filters learning how to reveal the rocks under the water near the shoreline offering incredible dimensions to the images. We also like to teach creative framing here since there are so many differing ways to capture the beauty of this body of water with its large boulders and leading lines of textured granite. It's a great place for teaching photography, but we have more stops, so back to the road we return! We made our way to a lovely pond near Dana Meadows which is adorned by beautiful trees, and a lovely snow capped mountain all reflecting off the still waters. Our students ate up the scenery walking all over along the lake, getting picture after picture of a place that only a week before was closed to the general public due to Winter ice conditions up at this 9,000 foot level. Everyone was getting great pictures! Yosemite delivers again!



With the light just starting to warm up as the sun lowers, we found ourselves along the river in Tuolumne Meadows. Looking back on Lembert Dome and appreciating the reflective beauty of the water, some of our participants took this time as an opportunity to slow down their shutter speeds with the use of a neutral density filter which helps to block out light. The water smooths and becomes more placid looking. We also like to show people how a lower vantage point creates more intimacy with the landscapes we shoot. It's fun to watch everyone getting different shots even though we are all at the same place. There is so much to see!

Sunset, and twilight at Yosemite is always a rewarding experience. Our next stop was to Olmstead Point to capture the last light of day. Here we traditionally like to start by shooting the iconic juniper tree growing out of the cracked granite. There are so many ways to shoot this object and everyone was taking their own personal take on the subject. We often use the cracks in the rock base to show how leading lines contribute to making a good picture even better with what photographers call leading lines.

After a short while of taking awesome pictures of this spot, our group does a short hike to a ridge that has a nice 360 degrees worth of incredible views. Here we like to shoot Half Dome as it lights up with an orange glow caused by the setting sun. After the sunset is through the show is still not over. Twilight brings it's rich pink and purple hues to the landscapes surrounding us. Once again everyone was getting some seriously nice images as we increased our shutter speeds to make up for the diminishing end of daylight.


By this time everyone was a little tired and a lot hungry so we headed back to the hotel to fuel up and refresh for our last stop of the evening... Yosemite Falls. We arrived at Cook's Meadow as the full moon was rising to the east, and just starting the clear the mountains of this incredible valley. The effect is tremendous. It almost looks like daylight. We lined ourselves up and started shooting the falls. Some years we are greeted by what we call a moonbow. The moonbow is a rainbow at the waterfall caused by the light of the moon setting upon the mists at the base. This year, even though the falls are running well, there wasn't enough water and wind to create the massive spray that is needed to create a moonbow, but that didn't mean that there was nothing to take a picture of. Jean and Matt showed the students the essentials of night photography getting exposures from 15 seconds all the way up to five minutes. The longer exposures turn the stars in the night sky over the falls into circular streaks of light, and our group was getting great results! Once again, it was amazing how a bunch of people all shooting the same thing side by side could get such varying wonderful shots that all stood apart from each other. After shooting this from varying spots in the valley, it was well past midnight and everyone was getting sleepy, so we happily got back into the ApCab and returned to the hotel with memory cards full of wonderful images.

Day Two:

Although some of our group decided to sleep in, exhausted from the previous day's activities, the rest of our intrepid photographers gathered at the van at 8:45am to start our second day of photography in Yosemite Valley. At our first stop we spent time shooting reflections of El Capitan, the Cathedral Peaks, and the Three Brothers along the riverbank of the slow moving Merced River. It was another perfect warm day with a smattering of clouds in the sky to add interest to the images we were shooting, and so peaceful that if we weren't teaching a class we'd probably be listening to the birds chirp while reading a novel in a folding chair. So beautiful and peaceful! Once again there was a lot to shoot, and many ways to do it, so everyone got busy. Tripods were set, filters were employed, and everyone used their new found skills to explore along the riverbank. It was hard to pull away from this spot which has so many rewarding sights to behold, but we had even more places to explore.

We made our way to Swinging Bridge with its fantastic view of Yosemite falls reflecting in the Merced River. Reflections are once again the word of the day with the falls mirrored in the clear green waters. Many more shots of the landscape could be had here, with sand patterns in the river bottom and the Spring green on the trees and meadow grasses, and our troop separated to wander about finding images using their creativity and new skills. We stayed as long as we could, but needed to return to our hotel for a lunch break.

After checkout and a short refresher break, everyone met up in the lobby for an image review session with the instructors. Both Jean, and Matt were very impressed to see so many great images and it was a pleasure assisting with processing tips and tricks to make the student's images present themselves the best way possible. We always make certain to instruct our students from the beginning to always shoot in raw mode and use adobe rgb color space for the greatest range of information to be pulled from the photo files. With these files we teach how to polish the images to a beautiful shine with their software, whether it's Lightroom, Aperture, Bridge, or Photoshop.

Armed with a working knowledge now of how the settings we have taught can be applied in post process, our group triumphantly returns to Cook's Meadow to shoot the famous Yosemite Falls, this time in daylight. Spending a short while here finding interesting angles and frames, we next stopped at Sentinel Bridge to photograph the iconic Half Dome above the lazy Merced. The weather continued to cooperate as some small clouds gathered to add interest, and the afternoon light added a bit more depth to the scene. After shooting this wonderful scene for a while, we headed around the banks of the Merced to shoot Half Dome from another cool angle. This time however, though the park was unusually empty, we encountered the one thing that we try to avoid most of the time... people. The beach across from us was full of sun bathers and others enjoying nature in their own way. We waited a while, and found some macro photography subjects to shoot, but it was clear that we would not get to shoot the mountain and the river together from this angle today, so we chose to go to another equally superb location instead.

After a short hike, our photographers found themselves at the base of lower Yosemite Falls. Here, we have to use some strategy to get the shot. The copious amounts of water falling at a great rate of speed causes its own winds, which are filled with alternating currents of dry warm air then cold moist air. The trick we teach is to keep your lens covered during the spray and once you feel the warm breeze, to uncover the lens and shoot. We had a lot of fun, and the cool air felt very good after so much time in the hot sun. Cooled off and hungry we went to the nearby Yosemite Lodge cafeteria to enjoy a nice dinner and lively conversations. Everyone was happy and feeling good about the results of their photographic efforts. Yosemite is really a beautiful place with so much to see, you can't help but get excited by what there is to shoot here!

Filled up and ready for our final stop, we packed back into the ApCab, our Mercedes Benz fifteen seater, and traveled off to the last destination of our workshop. The area known as Valley View or Gates of the Valley. Here we get to set up along the banks of the Merced River again, with a beautiful meadow on the other side, El Capitan towering above, and Bridal Veil Falls book ending the frame. Looking at it, one feels like they are in a living, breathing work of art. It is truly spectacular! Our photographers chose their preferred locations, setting up their gear and had the opportunity to shoot the golden light as it made several appearances during the course of the evening. Different areas of the canyon walls glowed successively and each phase was fun to shoot and beautiful at the same time. We stayed through twilight taking advantage of every bit of color and tones and left with everyone smiling and happy. Memory cards were bursting with two days of shooting and a whole bunch of new skill sets to use every time they go out with their cameras. All the way back to the hotel our happy group communicated excitement over their achievements and the pleasure of getting them in Yosemite National Park. We had a great time!


Until next time,

Jean, Matt and the entire Aperture Academy team!

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