Yosemite in "Winter" is a phenomenon that seems to be hard to find these days, but that doesn't mean that Yosemite is any less amazing. This past weekend we had a group of eager photographers in Yosemite that were ready to attack the park with a vigor to learn and capture some of the beauty the park has to offer. The weather looked promising to bring in some clouds, and we hoped for some drama that would play out perfectly on our sensors.
Our first morning we set out early to set up along the Merced River looking straight up at the mighty El Capitan. Phil and I helped everyone get set up with the right settings, and use of polarizing and grad filters to help achieve the best look and exposure for the scene. A mist danced on the top of the river in the chilly morning air…it was such a refreshing way to start the day.
As the sun rose we begin to get some great reflection color in the water from the golden granite cliffs above….mixed with the dark shades of blue in the water it made for some really dramatic and nice imagery. Phil and I also pointed out some smaller more intimae scenes as we meandered the riverbanks looking at silhouettes of the trees in the golden morning light.
Our next stop was farther down the river with continued reflections of El Cap' and also Cathedral Peaks and the 3-Brothers. We continued work with compositions and filter use to get the most out of all our shots. The light in the morning along the river is amazing…and everyone enjoyed the park.
We made a final stop along the river on Swinging Bridge where we were able to catch the reflections of Upper Yosemite Falls in the slower moving areas of the river…the light was still wonderful and Phil and I encouraged people shoot with converting to black in white in mind as the tonal values of the scene were quite nice.
After our tour of the Riverside it was off to a breakfast break in the lodge area before setting off back to the hotel for a much deserved nap, and rest.
Our afternoon sessions saw us monitoring the clouds that had rolled in the valley and trying to figure out where the best place for sunset was going to be. We made a few stops along the roadside to shoot El Cap as cloud cover began to dance along the sky in the area…this shot can also be very nice for monochrome. We ultimately decided to set up at the popular Valley View location to capture the river with the towering peaks in the distance, the sky was clear in the west so the color in the sky was quite nice, and the glow on the peaks lasted with perfect intensity for the duration of the sunset. Phil and I helped everyone to dial in their settings and compositions before the light turned to the best colors, and everyone came away with some dynamite images. It was a truly great way to end the first day of shooting in the park.
We set out under grey skies to the lower Yosemite Falls parking lot where embarked on a short hike up to the falls. Here the foreboding sky helped to create a moody scene that would really look nice in monochrome. We helped the students with composition, and setting up in the right spot to get the best looking image. Waterfalls can be tricky to expose properly and we helped the students dial in the right shutter speeds to get a shot that kept details in the waterfall and the creek, without blowing out any highlights.
After the waterfall we set off to the nearby meadow with the large Elm tree in it, watched over by the nearby Half-Dome. While we were going over the compositional ideas with the class we noticed 3 coyotes out on a morning hunt. This little treat occupied the group for the next hour as we set up and waited, like good wildlife photographers, for the action to come to us. Everyone came away with some AWESOME shots of these creatures, a few even came within 4 or 5 feet of the animals as they walked past, on the prowl for rodents in the tall grass. What an experience! The rain began to fall heavy shortly after finishing up with our morning shoot.
Morning ended with us back at the hotel for break and meeting again in the afternoon to go over some processing and image critique. I showed a few folks how to process wildlife images to get the most out of them, and also use layering to make the most out of color and exposure. I think people were really happy to see the way their images could shine after some processing.
Our afternoon session looked to be tough, grey skies had really shown up, and threats of rain and possibly snow were on the forecast. We set up on the iconic Tunnel View lookout to assess the sunset possibilities. A faint glow was settling nicely in the region of half-dome so we made the call to head over to a scenic little bend in the river where we can get great reflections of the granite monolith and also hopefully some nice color in the sky as well. While we waited to see what would happen we shot some of the mist in the trees, and Phil and I made sure everyone was in a good spot to capture whatever sunset brought our way.
Yosemite has a funny way of waiting until the last minute to show her best stuff, and this night was no different. One student jokingly said that the only thing missing from making it a total 5-star performance was a beam of light hitting Half-Dome. I told him I would work on it…and as luck would have it a few short moments later the setting sun found a hole in the grey sky, and we had alpen glow mixed with a colorful, cloudy sky…and a few nice reflected pieces of color as well. It was absolutely the best way to end a great weekend of photography with a really fun bunch of folk!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Phil, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.