Winter has returned to Yosemite National Park and with it the people have returned to this once barren wasteland. I’m kidding, the people never left…but it is nice to see the snow return to the high country, the rivers increase their flow, and some of the white stuff in the valley during this time of year. Yosemite is magnificent, so it doesn’t really need too much to be spectacular. A group of 12 awesome folks met Phil Nicolas and myself in the park for a weekend of learning, laughing, and fun while photographing this treasure of the parks system.
Our first morning began with temperatures clinging less than 40 degrees. We took the group to a favorite spot along the river where we had a view of the mighty El Capitan and the largest exposed slab of granite in the world. We also had vantages of The Three Brothers, as well as Cathedral Peak. It’s really a great location, and plenty big enough for everyone to seek out their own compositions. Phil and I helped the group with the basic settings, as well as using filters and other techniques to get the most out of the scene. Once the sun rises, the granite on the peaks takes on a magnificent glow, and this leads to a whole other level of reflection quality in the Merced River. We again utilize the polarizers and filters to help bring this out and make the most of these warm and cool tonal values.
Our second stop was Swinging Bridge and the magnificent view of the upper portion of Yosemite Falls. Here the higher water levels really helped us to get some nice reflections, and the clouds in the sky over the falls made for some nice contrast. I found a little puddle on the right side of the river that offered up another nice and different view of the falls, which everyone was happy to shoot. The power of this waterfall never ceases to amaze me and it’s great that we had such nice river levels as well. On our way to breakfast Phil took us to a little vantage that gave us some nice rainbow action at the bottom of upper Yosemite Falls.
After a nice breakfast in the park we headed back to the hotel for people to charge their batteries, as the cold tends to take a lot of energy out of our batteries. The camera batteries needed charging as well, ha-ha. We set off again in the afternoon for our ultimate prize for the night, Horsetail Falls. On our way into the park we made a stop at Wildcat Falls, a little intimate treasure most tourists drive right by. The water levels are great, so it was a nice little shaded stop in the mid-day sun to give our group something awesome to shoot.
Conditions need to be just right for this yearly ‘Fire Fall’ occurrence to actually happen and this year looked to be the best for it in some time. The larger snow pack led to there being a good deal of water in the falls. The warmer temperatures during the day meant the flow would be nice. The sky was clear as a bell…so that left the sky open to hit the wall where the waterfall drops at precisely the right time to get it all lit up like lava.
After a nice hike out to a reflection pond to shoot some granite the group set up, cameras pointed up at the waterfall, waiting for the magic. Everything couldn’t have been more beautiful. Phil and I have been shooting the event for almost a decade and this is among the most beautiful it has been in our memories. A breeze whipped up mist from the falls that looked like fire dancing in the warm glow of the evening light. All members of our group got some REALLY nice images…it’s such a strange phenomenon of light and shadow. Even though I’ve seen it numerous times, it never ceases to make me smile at how awesome nature is.
Happy Photographers headed back to the hotel for a much-deserved night of rest.
We started out early again and made our way to Lower Yosemite Falls to shoot this wonderful waterfall. The sky started to get some nice color so we made a brief pit stop on our way at Swinging Bridge so the class could grab some shots of the morning light.
Lower Yosemite Falls was in perfect winter flow. It was not so bad that the mist made shooting unmanageable, but strong enough to get enough mist that the morning light will turn it into a rainbow. We had the group start out by shooting lower angles to get the waterfall and river while it was still in the shadow. Again we went over composition, and working on settings to get longer shutter speeds to see some motion in the water. When the sun had crested the ridgeline it was time to work on faster shutter speeds to capture the drops of mist and the rainbows.
After some waterfall goodness it was time to head back to the park and have a break and meet up for some post-processing time. It’s always fun for Phil and I to look over others work and then help give them some tips to really bring out the most of that image.
Our afternoon was spent looking at Half Dome. First we drove up to Tunnel View to see the valley in the late afternoon light, when the harsh shadows aren’t present, the whole valley is in a nice warm light. Our second stop was along the Merced River where we had a great view of the mighty Half Dome and all its glory. The river allowed us some nice reflections, and given the outlook on the webcams it seemed that this would be the best chance to get something great for sunset. This is when the weather decided to have fun at our expense. There was sweet golden light, then no light, then clouds, then no clouds, then sunset was gone according to the time, but the light decided to come out and grace the mountains for the 30 seconds everyone had put their cameras away…then it vanished when they took them back out. The clouds everywhere BUT over half dome turned pink and purple. It was some of the fun times that landscape photography can throw your way.
In looking over webcams the light did the same thing for everyone. There was no light from the Tunnel View area, Horsetail fizzled out before it even got going, and generally Yosemite NP had some fun at our expense. The only places sunset would’ve been spectacular, were of course closed off due to the winter conditions.
SO winter IS back in Yosemite, and nature is once again having fun with photographers. It’s just a good thing that we get to have fun with it once in a while too.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Phil, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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