"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." - John Muir
Whether it's the first time or the fortieth time, Yosemite National Park never fails to inspire. Sheer granite peaks soar up from the valley floor, and the oak-lined Merced River twists and turns through the center of the park reflecting it all.
The stunning beauty brings travelers from all over the world to visit, and take in the magnificence of one of our nation's most revered national treasures. Yosemite is stunning year round, but the fall is especially beautiful and the change in the air and change in the leaves draws in photographers from every corner of the world to come spend a day or more wandering the trails in search of finding some magic moments with their cameras.
A group of 11 dedicated photographers from all across the globe joined the Aperture Academy and professional photographers, Brian Rueb and Scott Donschikowski, for a weekend in Yosemite for fall, fun, and photography.
The workshop began Friday with an orientation, where the instructors went over the itinerary for the weekend and spent time getting to know the students, and what they wanted to work on over the course of their time with the ApCad crew. On these workshops, many of the faces are familiar, but there are always several new students who are ready and eager to learn more about creating beautiful images in one of the best parks in the world.
Saturday morning began the shooting, and at 5:30am our van, the ApCab, was loaded up with happy photographers and heading to the high country to photograph an alpine lake. The drive took us up into the granite peaks that are visible from the valley floor. The higher we climbed, the colder the temperatures dropped, and before long we were able to see the snow on the ground leftover from a storm earlier in the week.
Lake Tenaya is a gorgeous alpine lake surrounded by majestic granite domes. The shoreline is filled with giant cracks and boulders that help make it an ideal place for teaching composition, and how to approach a scene. Once on scene, the class quickly bundled up to brave the 29 degree temperatures, and then set out along the shoreline to find the perfect composition.
The morning started with a warm pink glow to the south and then the sky quickly changed from pastels to a cool blue as the sun rose over the 9000 foot peaks and began to bathe the mountains in a warm golden light. The class enjoyed working the lakeside, looking for reflections and small intimate details to help make memorable landscape imagery. Brian and Scott were continually on hand to help answer questions like how to use the polarizing filters and graduated neutral density filters to achieve the best in-camera quality for images.
The second stop was the iconic Olmsted Point, and the stunning view of the Yosemite valley and mighty Half-Dome. High on a granite shelf, our class had a bird's eye view of the many granite peaks and canyons as they sprawled out below us like a mighty mountain metropolis. Here the focus was to continue to work on using filters to balance the scenes, and also to use telephoto lenses to create compression and give closer views of faraway subjects.
There are also many trees here that have lived gnarly, weathered lives atop the world, and have tremendous textures and personality that beg to be captured with a camera. When Scott and Brian had worked with the students on the concepts, they also pointed out how monochrome camera settings can be nice for mid-morning shooting and give photographers another option when dealing with areas that have such nice tonal range.
The final stop of the morning was the fall foliage-lined Siesta Lake, a small alpine lake surrounded by golden and crimson fall color. Here we worked on more intimate type landscape imagery with shooting reflections that looked almost Monet-esque when used with a properly dialed polarizer.
The reflections were great and the class walked the edge of the lake, looking for just the right angle to capture the beauty of the nature that surrounded them. Time flies when you're out with the camera, and a look at our clock told us it was already after noon, and time to head back to the hotel for a break to let people charge their creative batteries as well as the ones in their cameras...we had a full evening of shooting still ahead!
The afternoon saw us climb again out of the valley floor to the high country and the stunning Glacier Point vista. Glacier Point is directly across from the face of Half Dome, and from 9000 feet, it feels as if you're staring Half Dome right in the eyes, so to speak. It's a magnificent view of one of the park's most iconic peaks, as well as the entire range of light spread out behind it.
Crowds gather quickly here, and it's always our goal to show up on time and secure our classes the best angles to capture the best shots possible with the given weather. Our group was excited as we took pole position in the viewing area, and the excitement continued to grow as we saw the droves of other photographers and sunset-watchers show up on scene to take pictures of this magnificent vista. Scott and Brian helped the class get everything set for shooting, so all we needed to do was click away once the sunset began to take shape. While we waited for the golden light on the mountain to fade to the subtle pink of alpen glow...we poured everyone in the class a glass of wine to enjoy.
Sunset was amazing...and the alpen glow was quickly replaced with the feeling of ALPEN-WHOA! Pinks and purples streaked the sky and our group of eager photographers were firing away, filters in hand, capturing TRULY amazing images. It was a superb way to end a fulfilling first day of photography.
For fun, on the way back, we stopped along the road to do some practice night shooting of El Capitan. The moon was full and the lighting on the granite was sublime and simply needed to be photographed! Night photography is a full course in and of itself, but Brian and Scott helped the class get a few really nice images and a crash course in this type of shooting... and the students came away with some NICE results!
The second day we started out early along the peaceful banks of the Merced. A slight mist rose off the calm waters, and the mighty El Capitan reflected beautifully in the still river. This morning spot is nice, as it allows us to shoot in three different directions, including El Cap. Brian and Scott worked on composition, exposure, and proper filter use throughout this location. The air was chilly again and the class was exceptionally hearty as they kept bundled up and did jumping jacks to keep the blood flowing in their trigger fingers.
The morning shoot was fantastic, and streaks of pink flooded the eastern sky giving way to some truly nice images on the students' screens. We spent over an hour exploring the banks of the river before heading off to our second morning stop at the iconic Yosemite Chapel.
Soft piano music could be heard wafting from the windows as our troop set up their tripods and got fantastic images of this little valley gem. Instructors helped with composition and encouraged students to lower their angles and use the sidewalk as a "leading line" to help guide the eye through the composition. The shot is a must have for any Yosemite portfolio and our group came up with some really nice images.
After the chapel it was off for a brief stop at the lodge to grab coffee and breakfast before returning to the hotel, so folks could check out and charge batteries before an afternoon meet up for image review and processing tips. Everyone looked forward to a little help and tips on how to make the most out of their photos. Brian and Scott have extensive experience with most of the current photo programs and shared tips and tricks to make the best of the images the students had gathered thus far in the class.
Two hours flew by while looking at the student images and offering processing help. Then it was time to head off to finish the last day of our time together. The first stop of the afternoon was the mighty tunnel view, another of the often photographed must shoot places in Yosemite. El Capitan, Bridal Veil, and Half Dome can all be viewed from this perfect perch.
Our class set up and grabbed a few images of the valley to add to their collection before dropping back down into the valley to stop at Sentinel Bridge and the reflected view of Half Dome. Both sides of the bridge offer really nice opportunities to capture a great image. On the east is Half Dome, and on the west, beautiful pines hang over the river, back lit with evening light, reflecting in the ambling Merced River. It was a great place to view the afternoon light and continue to work on the lessons the class had been taught throughout the weekend.
The final stop for the evening was the picturesque Valley View, with its riverside vantage of El Capitan. The reflection of the warm gold light bouncing off of El-Cap made some great contrast with the blue water of the Merced. The class arrived early in order to stake out prime real estate along the shore and utilize the rocks as foreground anchors for their images.
The clouds from our morning shoot had vanished, but the sun still cast a great pink swatch of light across the golden granite of El Cap, and the shots the class got were stunning. It was a great final stop to put in to practice all the wonderful tricks and tips that had been passed down from Scott and Brian over the course of our time together, washing our spirt clean in Yosemite National Park. The only thing left was for everyone to return home and clean out their memory cards from all the images they'd collected!
Until next time,
Brian, Scott, 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.