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Everyone who has been to Yosemite, no matter how long ago it was, can remember his or her first time seeing the valley. I remember coming down highway 120 for the first time and pulling over to look down the valley. That awe and wonderment will stick with me forever. The best part of visiting Yosemite is that every time you come back, that awe still exists. It’s just a special place.
Mike and I joined forces with eleven excited photographers for a weekend of exploration in and around the park. Friday was a meet and greet and orientation. Here we got to reacquaint with old friends, and meet all the new faces. It’s also a good time to layout the plan for the weekend, and get a little idea on what folks want to work on during our time together.
Saturday comes early and the group meets up for our first foray into the park. We stop at a beautiful little nook along the Merced River. A recent snow has left the ground covered in a wonderful layer of white. Mike and I help the group to get set up along the bank, and utilize different textural elements and natural frames in the landscape and foliage to frame the mighty El Capitan which sits across the river, looming over us. It’s been a light winter so far, but the fresh snow from the previous day really helped give the shots a nice, real winter feel.
The next stop along the morning route was looking up at Upper Yosemite Falls from the swinging bridge area. The reflections and vistas of this falls are great here. Layers of ice along the riverbanks also help to provide nice textures and framing opportunities. Mike and I are always available to help go over any filter needs, camera settings, or to tweak a composition here and there. After a nice breakfast break to warm up our toes and tummies it was time to make our way back towards the hotel for a mid-morning break. We made a stop along El Capitan Meadow to shoot some image of El Cap, and some nice textural elements that were on the icy granite walls.
During the middle part of February, Yosemite becomes Firefall crazy. The light from the setting sun illuminates a sliver sized, seasonal waterfall on El Capitan aptly named horsetail falls. This natural phenomenon happens two weeks a year and brings out swarms of photographers looking for their own version of this beautiful moment. We like to try our hand at getting the shot for our group as well…so we set them up on the south side of the river where we could get shots of the falls, and some nice reflections in the little nooks and crannies of the river as well…with snow on the shoreline it was a really nice image.
The full effect of the firefall never materialized as the light hit a little bit of a cloud wall along the horizon, but with a little bit of processing magic we can make it look almost as great as if it went the whole distance.
We started out early and made a run up to Tunnel View to check on the status of weather in the valley. Tunnel View is one of the most iconic vistas in the park; early in the morning the silhouettes of the iconic granite. “skyline” make for some very simple yet recognizable imagery. One of my favorite places to shoot in the morning is lower Yosemite falls. Complete with icy foreground this waterfall is real cool experience. When the sun has risen enough to illuminate the granite wall opposite of the falls it acts like a reflector, and bounces warm light back onto the falls creating another type of ‘firefall’ Then once the sun moves even higher in the sky, the mist from the falls catches the light and looks like a rainbow made from fire.
One of the more exciting parts of our second day is when Mike and I get to see all the images the group has taken, and work with them on processing. We all have a little different approach for the way we like our end results to look, and it’s a lot of fun to help students find different tips and tricks to make their images pop.
Our afternoon is back into the park…and we had a lot of fun walking up to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. There was a lot of really great textures here with tons of cool ice patterns. The light was a little intense, but the tonal values were great…so we encouraged the group to think about processing these images in black and white…and shoot at faster shutter speeds so that they could really capture the textures in the mist and falls. Every so often a sheet of ice would break free from the wall and send a thunderous crash resonating throughout the valley.
Our sunset stop for the evening was another icon; Valley View the river levels are lower this time of year so there’s plenty of rocky foregrounds to use to help frame El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls. The slower moving water also really pulls out the color in the reflections. Mike and I did our best to remove any of the distracting twigs and branches from the river and give the group a nice, clean slate to compose. The light on the granite is amazing, and it’s fun to watch the light create a golden glow on the walls of the towering rock walls, then fade to orange, and eventually a fiery reddish glow. Yosemite never disappoints…I’ve been coming to the park for photography for twenty years, and I always find something new each visit. Light plays differently on the walls of the canyons, and ever changing weather makes each stop a different experience than the last visit…plus we always have a different group of photographers to share and enjoy it with.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Mike 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.