What do you get when you add Valentine’s Day Weekend, a 3-day holiday weekend, a free charge National Park Weekend, Yosemite National Park, Horsetail Falls season, and a group of 12 awesome Aperture Academy Photographer? A whole lot of crazy fun is what you get!
Paul Porter and I met our fun filled group in El Portal in the Yosemite Lodge Lobby on Friday night for our traditional meet and greet orientation. Everyone was excited to visit the park, and though there was no snow, or winter conditions to speak of, recent rainfall had surged the river and waterfalls making the park feel almost like spring. While these conditions were nowhere near winter, they were enough to make sure the park would be fantastic for photography!
Morning one we met dark and early in the parking lot, grabbed coffee from the hotel and set off for the park. Our first stop was the banks of the Merced River. The reflections along the river are spectacular, and as our group walked out to the edge, we could see a few clouds begin to blow in from the west...letting us know it would be a fantastic morning.
Paul and I helped the class with settings, and composition ideas. Topics covered Aperture and shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and use of graduated ND filters and polarizers to help balance light and bring out the reflections. The light on the face of El Capitan and the clouds that were moving throughout the scene made it some very memorable shots on the groups cameras...it was fun to see all the interpretations and ways they saw the scene.
Our next stop was along the swinging bridge where we had a great view of upper Yosemite Falls reflecting in theMerced. The river was higher than normal, but that didn’t stop Paul and a few folks with hearty footwear from going in the water a little to get a closer perspective of the scene. We covered more use of polarizer here, as well as composition and tips with exposure to capture the best detail in the falls...and a few folks even shot in black and white, which was a great touch. We even got to see a wedding proposal! What a treat!
Morning flew by and after a hearty breakfast in the valley it was time to head back to the hotel for a little rest and battery charging before we set off for our evening in the park....on our way out of the park we were able to see a line of cars waiting to enter and take advantage of the weather, and free admission.
On our afternoon trip into the park we got to meet the gridlock firsthand. While trying to park and take the group to a river bend with an excellent view of Half-Dome we got stuck in some vicious traffic...we don’t let little things like traffic derail us though, Paul and the group exited the vehicle and walked the short distance to the shooting location, and got in a full shoot of the reflections of Half-Dome while I circumnavigated the parking lot...and by the time I was nearly out...they had finished and loaded right back in! Perfect timing!
Our chosen spot for the evening was making an attempt at the horsetail falls phenomenon. During 2 weeks of February the rays of the setting sun illuminate a small ribbon waterfall cascading over the eastern slope of El Capitan. The water levels weren’t extraordinary but we gave it a shot anyway...and the light was absolutely magnificent. Paul and I helped everyone get the best compositions and set themselves up for some of the warm pink light on the granite, and you could see a little bit of the falls as well.
That night Paul and I brought a group of people who couldn’t get enough shooting back into work on some night photography of stars from Tunnel View. We worked on capturing pin-point stars, as well as star trails. It made for a long night, but it was well worth it.
Morning two we were right back at it bright and early. Our first stop was Lower Yosemite Falls. We made our first stopping point along the walk-way up to the falls where we had a great view of both lower and upper falls framed by giant ponderosa pine trees. It’s nice first thing in the morning because the light is even and the morning sun has not yet blasted out the falls. While we set up we were treated to a curious coyote that passed through the scene and gave those with a long lens a chance to scout him out and get a few wildlife images!
The lower falls in the morning is one of my absolute favorite spots in the park. As the sun rises, it illuminates the granite and casts some lovely warm light on the falls, and gives the water a great golden feel...it’s truly spectacular. Paul and I helped the class set up in numerous locations to capture some moving water to go with the golden sunshine filtering through the scene. I saw more than a few really spectacular images on the cameras. Once the sun was up from behind the ridgeline and high enough to put the falls in the sunlight, it was time to work on shooting rainbows. There’s so much nice light in the morning and detail in the falls that it is possible to capture bits of the waterfall that look like fire colored by rainbow...we even had a double rainbow for a brief period of time!
After the waterfall we drove up the road to photograph the old oak tree in the meadow and half-dome in the background as well as do our customary group shot.
Our afternoon meeting before we set off into the park was centered around Photoshop and image review. Paul and I showed the class how to bring the best out of some of their images as well as process the star trail shots we took from the night before. It’s a lot of fun to see the images the group comes away with and help them pick out some good ones.
Our final tour through the park we stopped to photograph some bucks at close range, a little peek at Tunnel View in the light of day and made our way around the loop to our final stop...Valley View. With the inflated numbers in the park we wanted to make sure we were at our sunset location in time to get everyone a great spot. We arrive early and Paul and I helped everyone get set up with aperture and shutter speeds as well as a nice composition that would showcase the evening light on El Capitan and provide some reflection and interest in the foreground as well. While we waited, it seemed like we might get skunked out...a lot of clouds had moved into the area, and we feared they may block the light. In those final minutes of time the sun found a gap and blasted El Capitan with a warm glow that lasted well after the color left the sky. It was ABSOLUTELY amazing. I have never seen the alpen glow stick around on the granite for that long...even as we’d packed up and set off...a faint glow of pink stuck around on the mountain. It was just the perfect way to end a great weekend of photography in Yosemite National Park!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Paul and the rest of our Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.