My first thoughts on the Friday orientation of our Yosemite Winter Workshop was that it was GREAT to see such a diverse group of people from all over. We had representatives from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, The UK, and Michigan! Everyone was excited and ready to experience the beauty of Yosemite. The only thing missing was winter!
Though we didn't have the snow in Yosemite Valley, the weather forecast for the weekend looked favorable, and diverse. Diverse weather can make for great photos, and the forecast looked for a little bit of everything.
The first stop of the class was along the Merced River where we had great reflections of El Capitan, and the Three Brothers. For the newer photographers we worked with the basics of aperture and shutter speed, and trying to get a system down for how to approach every time they take out the camera. For those with more experience we delve right into filter use, and more emphasis on composition. Every photographer needs work with filters and composition, but when you're trying to figure out the basic settings on a new camera, it can be a bit overwhelming…we try to go easy.
The light was great in the morning and we had clouds, moon set, some colorful bits of pink over the mountains, and eventually the sun hit the peaks and gave us some great reflections in the river. Everyone had a polarizer and it was a perfect spot to work on how to use it to get the most of those reflections.
The next spot we stopped was also along the Merced, and also dealt with Reflections…only these reflections were of the mighty upper Yosemite Falls. The water flow was almost double of what it was in just one weeks' time. I had stood in the same spot a week prior, and the roar of the falls this week was much more noticeable. While the valley needed the rain and snow, the warm weather does have one advantage in that it melts the snow from earlier in the season and pushes more water over these massive waterfalls.
Everyone got some great images on this stop, and it was fun to see the polarizers really come through and do what we promised they would. We also got some good use with our Graduated Neutral Density filters, which many photographers aren't accustomed to using.
One of my favorite spots of the morning was a bend in the river with a great view of Half Dome. I always like having multiple workshops in a location, and monitoring the changes…there are so many great spots in Yosemite we don't often get to all the same ones on each workshop. This was one of those workshop locations we hadn't visited since last year…but conditions were so nice it made sense to stop. Everyone loved the spot, and the reflections, as they had been all morning, were perfect.
After a break in the hotel for a rest and time to charge batteries, it was back into the park to set up for sunset at the iconic Valley View. I love this location, and the ever-changing sky gave a good possibility that there might be something magical to happen. We poured everyone a glass of wine, and sat in to wait and see what would happen. Some of these iconic locations are very popular so we arrive in plenty of time to make sure we get everyone a good spot, and can set them up with the right settings so that if any magical light occurs, we're ready.
We also got to see the iconic "Double Rainbow" guy from the viral YouTube video…I felt kind of bad for him as I didn't recognize him, and he told me who he was…and while I laughed at his video when I saw it a couple years ago, it was obvious it was his only claim to fame and he was trying to ride it as long as he could.
While sunset didn't materialize as we'd hoped in terms of color, it did provide some nice clouds, and an opportunity to work on long exposures and close up shots to really smooth out the water in the river…and the photos were still beautiful despite the lack of a vibrant sunset.
The weather rolled in overnight and we could tell that at least for the first part of the day it would be us dodging the conditions as best we could to maximize our morning in the park. We began at the roaring lower Yosemite falls, which also had a very increased water flow due to the rain during the night and warmer daytime temperatures during the week.
The rain held off long enough for us to all shoot the falls from a few different vantage points. Jean and I helped the class a lot with composition and utilizing the lines of the creek to help lead the viewers' eye into the scene and to the falls. We also spent some time showing students how nice monochrome images could look with the soft subtle overcast light. Yosemite was a park made for monochromatic, Ansel Adams style photography, and this light was really nice for that.
On our way out of the falls the rain began to fall with more intensity, and we took a fun, but wet group image with the falls in the background. I was really thankful we had an hour and a half of relatively dry conditions to shoot.
After an early break in the hotel to allow time for check out, and avoid some of the wet conditions we met in the lobby so Jean, Alicia, and I could help students look over their images, give feedback on composition and exposure as well as answer some questions concerning Photoshop/Lightroom, and thanks to one of our instructors, Alicia who was along to enjoy some personal shooting, Aperture. Alicia is really knowledgeable with that program, and was able to help a couple students who relied heavily on Aperture for their processing! Thanks Alicia!
Processing is a big part of photography these days, and it's fun to take some students images and process them through to the end so they can get a feel for how these images look when they're finished.
Even though the rain was coming down we still opted to head back into the park. The forecast called for an improvement in the afternoon, and a forecast on the following day that looked to be entirely sunny made me believe that a break WOULD happen, and we could be in for some really nice breaking storm light.
We teamed up with partners and umbrellas at Tunnel View to shoot some of the valley mist and clouds surrounding Bridal Veil Falls. Though the rain was coming down pretty well, the teamwork approach allowed everyone to shoot and get some nice moody shots of the falls that would look great in black and white.
With everyone soaked a little bit (but with dry gear!) we took a small break in the valley to see the Ansel Adams gallery, and have a late lunch. Thankfully by the time we were done here the first breaks of the day began to hit the valley and we spent a half hour in the meadow photographing the breaking mist along the upper portion of Yosemite Falls, throughout some of the trees on the ridges. It was very cool, and again lends itself to some dramatic black and white photography.
On our way towards our final stop for the evening, the storm REALLY began to break apart and the first swaths of blue sky appeared. We pulled over at the meadow facing El Capitan and watched in total amazement as the whole valley began to break free of the storm and all the granite peaks emerged, hugged closely by clinging strands of mist. It was TRULY spectacular, and it was really fun to watch everyone in our group try to figure out WHICH way they wanted to shoot, as it was going crazy in all directions!
The storm was moving now, and we had one stop left…a return to Tunnel View to get a higher perspective of this moving system. This time there was no need for umbrellas and our class eagerly set up along the wall overlooking the dramatic scene unfolding in the valley. Low mist hung on the tops of the trees, and clouds danced in and out of the spires of granite moving their way back to the now unveiled Half-Dome.
Everyone was ALL smiles as we watched the evening light. A few rays of sun finally made their way into the valley lighting up the peaks with a warm red glow. One student was even able to capture a very rare "Double Captain" image…thanks to some international intervention. I need not say the class is eagerly awaiting the final processed image of this once in a lifetime event.
(Editor's note: If you would like to have your own 'Double Captain' image, simply find someone of UK origin to kick your tripod very slightly during a long exposure…and enjoy. The more you can laugh about it the better it will be.)
We stayed until the last bits of light had faded, and everyone had filled up memory cards with numerous shots of this breaking storm. It was a HUGE payoff for a group of photographers determined not to let a little rain ruin what had been a great weekend of photography in one of the nations' best natural treasures.
Thanks for a GREAT weekend everyone,
Until Next Time,
Brian, Jean, Alicia, and the rest of our Aperture Academy Family.
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.