I firmly believe Yosemite has healing power. I find that no matter how many times I visit, I always look forward to the next one. I found myself sitting by the Merced River on Friday night before meeting my class, and fellow instructors Alicia Telfer and Matt Granz soaking in the beauty of a simple but saturated Yosemite sunset on half-dome. All my weekly stresses drained from my body and I was excited to meet my class, and take them on a two-day tour of some of my favorite locations in the park during some fantastic fall color.
A park like Yosemite is built for photographers, EVERYTHING is amazing to shoot. While I hoped the park would leave everyone feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, I really hoped they would get some photographic knowledge and photos that helped them to remember their time with us.
Friday's orientation brought in photographers from all over the place. Florida, New York, Southern California, and Colombia! Everyone had different levels of experience but Matt, Alicia, and me were all ready to get them out in the field to work on improving their skills and portfolio.
Saturday morning brought a long dark drive to Lake Tenaya in the Yosemite High Country. This granite-lined beauty is one of my favorites in the park to shoot. It has so many different possibilities for compositions using all the lines and cracks for interesting foreground. The other instructors and I worked with the students on basic camera settings, using the filters like graduated neutral density filters and finding the perfect composition.
The class spread out all over place lining up vertical and horizontal images, using the cracks and crevices to make a great shot. We didn't have any clouds so we tried to focus on more minimal compositions that utilized leading lines, and some of the reflections in the lake. My favorite time was the blue hour right before the sun rose. The dark mountains and the blue sky and water was really peaceful and made for some nice images.
It was certainly cold, and after our hour plus wandering the lakeside, everyone was ready for the sun to warm their fingers, and feel the heat of the ApCab. We drove a short distance to Olmsted Point to make a walk out to the granite shelf and look out over the valley and half-dome off in the distance.
Our group started by photographing some cracks and trees to the right of the main trail…we really liked the way the cracks worked for leading lines so it was fun to show the class some compositional ideas as well as work on the magic of monochrome.
The final stop of the day was Siesta Lake. This little pons has some great red and gold colors around it and makes for some great reflections as its shielded from the wind by trees. I like this spot because it also has some great abstraction possibilities. Many students come to Yosemite and are so enthralled by the grandeur of the big iconic things that they fail to look small at the little details. This place is a great teaching spot to help begin to get them to look smaller.
We arrived back at the hotel around 1 in the afternoon, just in time for a little siesta, some lunch, and battery charging before heading back out for the afternoon.
Tunnel View has one of the most frequently photographed vistas in the park. We made a brief stop so the class could see it, even though it was crowded this vantage point really hits home the impact the souring granite walls have. IN hindsight, it might have been better had we stopped later, as we got stuck behind some of the slowest cars on the earth on our way to shoot sunset at the magnificent Glacier Point. We arrive just as the last light left the face of Half Dome…but thankfully the granite holds color and light well, and though the direct light is gone the after-glow is still stunning, and I find much easier to photograph and get a better balanced exposure. We stayed until the pink glow faded to the blue of twilight. The mix of warm granite and blue sky was really nice and simple. While we shot, the class got to talking about star photography and the decision was made to go out after dinner for a couple hours of night shooting.
There wasn't any moon, which made the stars really pop at tunnel view, but consequently made it hard to paint El Capitan and Half-Dome with enough light to be visible in the photographs, no matter how much our lights tried we couldn't paint farther than the foreground trees. The concept were still the same and the group made some nice milky way shots using some of the trees in the parking lot, and many fun compositions were made using our own beloved ApCab van as a main subject while the group crisscrossed the parking lot with their phone lights and headlamps.
It was organized chaos to be sure as we watched our class move about the lot of tunnel view making night shots, trying hard not to accidently paint one of their fellow participants images by accident. Cars would come into the lot, and everyone's shot would instantly be painted, whether they wanted to or not. It was quite fun, and even a little funny to witness.
It was well after midnight when we all finally returned to the hotel. We'd spent nearly 11 hours in the park that day, and had a blast photographing some of the parks best.
6am came early and we were back at it. The Merced River meanders gently through the park and all along its banks wonderful reflections of the towering peaks. We pick a spot where we can not only photograph El Capitan, but also the 3-brothers as well. There were numerous fallen leaves around the edge of the river that offered not only some great foreground for the compositions of El-Cap and the reflection, but also made for some really nice macro images of the leaves and the oils that had leached off of the leaves and made some nice reflected swirls in the water.
Alicia, Matt, and me walked the shoreline and helped fine-tune compositions, work with graduated filters, check and continue to explain histograms, twist polarizers, and really help our class to get the most of this dynamic spot.
We made a brief stop at swinging bridge to work on more abstractions and reflections before heading into the village for a coffee and breakfast break. Time flies on workshops…before long it was 11am and people were checking out of their hotel before we had our noon meeting to go over image review and post-processing tips.
I love the post processing part of workshop because it lets the instructors really see the shots of the class, offer some tips on composition, as well as take some of their favorites and process them so that they look the way they wanted when they clicked the shutter.
I think people get quite a bit from these sessions, and I wish all workshops lasted longer so we could really spend more time with this part. A lot of our students email us more photos to look at after they get home, and we get to continue this process, which is great! We love seeing those awesome images!
We headed back into the park after processing to stop at a wonderful little nook on the river that looks out to some brilliant fall colored trees and Half-Dome. The reflections came and went as we lined the river. While the wind wasn't great for the reflections, it meant that there were changes in the weather coming, and that meant clouds could be on the way for sunset…we crossed our fingers and set off for Valley View.
It's important to get to Valley View early to stake out a composition. We arrived with plenty of time to get all of our class great spots along the river, then worked with them to get their filters fine-tuned, and their compositions locked in for the sunset. The clouds, as if willed by our collective thoughts came in right on cue and helped make for one heck of a pretty sunset. The lower river levels really allowed the class to find some great little pools to pull out reflected color from the clouds above in the still pools using their polarizers. The light on El Cap was a sweet pink color, and I was really loving the images I saw on the backs of the cameras. IT was a shame it had to end…when the conditions rock it's sad to see them go. The nice part is having an image on the card that you'll be able to take home, process, and then look at whenever life gets stressful.
I think everyone left this weekend feeling a little more relaxed. We saw a lot, laughed a lot, and everyone, I think, got more familiar with his or her cameras, filters, and approach when it comes to outdoor photography.
Until next time,
Brian, Matt, Alicia 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.