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Tourists come in droves to Yosemite National Park. The park records these visits at over 3.7 million each year! On this beautiful afternoon in May, the park had a special feel. One could witness the common site of tourists in amazement of the landscape, with the spectacular granite cliffs and abundant waterfalls, but this day was special for another reason. Many of the visitors arrived in preparation for that evening.
One does not generally think of wandering around at night in the dark to sight-see, but that is precisely what was on the minds of many a visitor. When the waterfalls are flowing at maximum or near maximum, and a full moon is in the forecast, something truly amazing occurs at Yosemite; a lunar rainbow, or moonbow. The bright light of a full moon, coupled with copious amounts of mist, is the required recipe for such a phenomenon.
Some visitors just want to witness the moonbow, while many others wish to capture it in their cameras. This is precisely why Aperture Academy instructors Ellie Stone and Jean Day were on site, along with 12 enthusiastic photography students.
First order of business that afternoon was for Ellie and Jean to meet all the students and learn their expectations and aspirations for the exciting weekend ahead. Finding out this information is invaluable to the instructors, so they can tailor their teaching style to each individual, ensuring an enjoyable and informative experience for each and every one. Once the group was acquainted, it was time to venture out for some incredible photographic opportunities.
:: DAY ONE ::
Ellie and Jean loaded the students and all their gear into the Aperture Academy van, affectionately dubbed the "ApCab," and headed to the picturesque Yosemite Valley floor.
The first stop was the scenic and charming Swinging Bridge. Not only is it a delightful little bridge with expansive views of Half Dome, but the surrounding meadows offer endless image prospects, as well. Ellie and Jean were on tap to help with creative compositions and also creative depth of field. Explaining the relationship between aperture and depth of field is important, in all aspects of photography.
The instructors also talked about shifting focus, and thinking in terms of monochrome. The contrast of the new leaf growth of the surrounding trees, with the granite cliffs made for some classic black and white images.
The students were already starting to fill their memory cards, so a quick dinner break was in order, to fuel up for the exciting evening of photography ahead.
After fueling up in Curry village with a hearty meal, the timing was perfect to capture the late day glow on Half Dome, as seen along the Merced river.
Ellie and Jean helped out with the use of solid and graduated neutral density filters, to not only balance out the exposure, but also force a little longer shutter speed. The longer shutter speed achieved a smoother look on the waters of the Merced River, which in turns brought out more reflections. And for composition, the river works as a natural leading line for a more balanced and flowing image. As the golden glow of the sun faded, an excitement for the night photography grew palpable....
The group made their way to the first shooting location of the evening, and the instructors went over some basics of how to capture the moonbow, just before the full moon made its appearance.
Did we mention that this was no ordinary moon, but what's known as a supermoon? This occurs once a year when the moon's path brings it as close to Earth as it will ever get. The result is a moon that appears 14% larger and 30% brighter!
Not a cloud in the sky and a bright moon is just what the class needed to capture some astonishing moonbows! Jean and Ellie helped students with their camera settings to capture that perfect exposure. For night photography, it becomes a balance of the entire exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
The goal was an exposure of 30 to 25 seconds, which allows for what is know as "pin point" stars. Pinpoint refers to capturing the stars as they appear to our naked eye. Any longer than 30 seconds, and the rotation of the planet will cause the stars to appear blurry.
The group was giddy to see astonishing images appear on their camera's LCD screens. Ellie and Jean kept the group moving around the meadow walkways, to not only capture different angles, but also work in the fun of light painting.
Jean counted the group down to exposure commencement, as she then bathed a curing wooden footpath with her flashlight. The curing walkway was a perfect leading line, and the light painting added an element of uniqueness.
The evening seemed to fly by, and before we realized it, it was midnight. The group made their way to the ApCab, as all needed some rest and shuteye for another day of Yosemite Valley photography!
:: DAY TWO ::
After a short but restful night, many fueled up with coffee and breakfast. By 8:45am the gang headed back into the valley for a day chock full of stunning image captures. Pohono Bridge was the first stop of the day.
Pohono bridge is a charming little stone bridge with blooming dogwoods scattered about. The instructors assisted with some composition and depth of field ideas for capturing the gorgeous blossoms against the rushing waters.
A short walk from Pohono bridge there is a delightful little gem known as Fern Spring. Although small, this spring packs a big punch in terms of photography. As the water cascaded down moss-covered rocks, it was the perfect place to help students slow down their shutter speeds to capture some graceful smooth water. Memory cards were really starting to fill now, and there were many more stops on tap for the day, so the group eagerly moved on.
The next spot was Cathedral beach. This small beach boasts some massive views of El Capitan, and its reflection in the winding Merced river. The group arrived to find not only beautiful views, but also a couple getting married right along the water's edge. After a few marriage comments and jokes, the instructors helped out with graduated neutral density filters to allow for a single, well-exposed image. This spot was filled with stunning reflections at every glance. But it turned out that there would be more than reflections to capture at this location....
Ellie heard chatter, and not from the wedding party... upon closer inspection, it was a lovely little brown bear! It seemed pretty content, just sniffing and foraging around the meadow, but that was no reason to get too close. A few of the students grabbed their longer lenses, and captured some shots of the fabulous, and unexpected, subject.
After all the excitement of the morning, it was time to pile back into the ApCab and head into the village for a lunch break.
Thirst quenched and stomachs full, it was time for an afternoon walk up to Mirror Lake. The gang ventured out on the shaded 1-mile hike along the graceful river. Once we arrived, it was fairly obvious how this lake achieved its namesake. In almost every direction mirror-like reflections abounded.
While most of the class was interested in capturing the abundant reflections, others wanted to take advantage of the graceful waters of the river as it cascaded over and around the smooth granite rock.
Ellie and Jean gathered up the students and they made their way once more down Northside Drive. Stopping along the river's edge, we got a stunning view of Bridal Veil Falls. Again, another small location that packed a large photographic punch! Views of Bridal Veil in the late day soft light, dogwoods along the water's edge, and the river flowing with golden reflected hews. It was hard to pull the group away from this astonishing location, but there was still one final stop on the agenda, and the light was growing ever fleeting.
The location known as Valley View would be the final setting for a weekend packed with remarkable photography. Valley View is one of the premier sunset locations in Yosemite, and for good reason. From this picturesque spot right at the water's edge, one can view all of the park's icons: El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridal Veil Falls.
The setting sun was bathing the granite walls with an elegant array of golden light. By this time, the students felt very comfortable using their neutral density filters, as they began snapping away. Ellie and Jean assisted one last time on different compositions and exposure balance, just before the last bit of light faded, putting a close to a spectacular day, and remarkable photographic journey.
Until next time,
Ellie, Jean and the entire Aperture Academy team!
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