After two great years of winter snow and the amazing beauty of Firefalls, a dry cold winter has returned to California… but even the thoughts of a snowless Yosemite and a dry Firefalls, couldn’t damper the excitement and spirits of the 10 great photography enthusiasts that Mike Wardynski and I meet up with last week. One guy even brought his own mini ApCad 3 van.
Our group started out before dawn on Saturday morning heading to the Merced River to photography reflections of El Cap, Three Brothers and all the great granite monoliths along the river. Mike and I helped the group find the best little nooks and crannies to set up a great composition. Then helped those with graduated ND filters and polarizers to learn more about how to make the most of those. The newer photographers we helped with settings, reading histograms, and getting familiar with all of that.
The group made our way along the river, stopping at a few different vantage points throughout the morning. Continuing to shoot the various reflections as well as showing concepts in finding intimate and detail photos in the simple natural beauties of Yosemite. Even though there was a lack of snow in Yosemite this winter, the cold temperatures left portions of the river frozen creating a world of texture and colors only a twist of the polarizer away.
Our last stop of the morning shoot was Upper Yosemite Falls from one of the many vantage points in the park. Here we photographed the falls from Swinging Bridge, as well as shooting all the wonderful little detailed compositions in the frozen water.
Early mornings and cold temps make for hungry photographers! It was time for a much needed nutrition break before we took a short break at the hotel so folks could charge up their cold camera batteries, and get ready for our afternoon session.
One of the main draws for Yosemite in February is the fire fall phenomenon on Horsetail Falls. This is where a final ray of the setting sun illuminates a delicate and seasonal waterfall causing it to glow almost lava orange. This one of the coolest things you’ll ever see…. with 400 of your closest friends. Sadly this year, Mother Nature didn’t give us much rain, which left Firefalls dry and more of a Firewall. However, our group decided to make the best of it and everyone was still excited to witness the El Cap light up.
While waiting for the sunset light to dance onto the face of El Cap, all sorts of photographers started flowing into the meadow to set up their tripods near our group. Let’s be honest, they all knew who was the fun people to be around. All sorts of conversations, jokes and laughter were flowing around our group, multiple photographers, started asking both Mike and myself for advise and help in setting up their shots. Which inspired one of the funnier moments that weekend, as Mike went into full “Borrow Lens” mode and started lending out his lenses… along with ApCad business cards and flyers.
We started early again and made our way up to the iconic Tunnel View, where we could survey the whole park, and see what Mother Nature had been up to the previous night. Seeing a couple of other photographers starting to setup in the dark, our group quickly split up. I took some folks to get setup at the classic Tunnel View lookout; while Mike grabbed the others and took them to hidden trail to get a different view. As the clouds started to fill the skies above El Cap and Half Dome, the excitement built; and before we knew it crepuscular rays where shooting into the sky from behind the Cathedral Rocks.
After witnessing those amazing light rays the group decided it was time to jump back into ApVan, warm up a bit and head to a viewing spot of Upper Yosemite Falls where we could catch a beautiful rainbow across the falls. This spot brought out another great opportunity for the group to experiment with how circular polarizers would affect the strength of the rainbow.
Still wanting to get some more images this morning, once the rainbow started to fade out we headed back to Bridalveil Falls, and started to work with the concepts of slower shutter speed photos to create silky water movement along the flowing creeks there. After sometime at the falls, the group had worked up quite an appetite and thoughts of french toast, bacon, eggs and coffee were dancing through everyone’s minds. Heading back to the lodge gave everyone time to talk about photos, places and all sorts of gear questions.
Our group had acquired quite a few images during the first day and morning, so we spent a couple hours during the harsh mid afternoon light going over some processing techniques and image review in Photoshop and Lightroom. Everyone really got some great images, and it was fun for Mike and I to help process some of those images and show folks how great they could look when polished up.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back in the park for our last afternoon of shooting. We stopped first back at Tunnel View. Nice clouds had rolled in and we were able to get some great late afternoon light on the valley and Bridal Veil Falls.
After watching the clouds move into the valley, Mike and I decided that rather then just revisit the same sunset Firewall spot, we would take the group to Valley View and capture the sunset light over the Merced River. While driving through the park, we decided to make a super quick stop when we saw wind whipping Bridalveil Falls off the granite walls of the valley. Everyone jumped out of the van and setup up their tripods and telephoto lenses to capture the speed and movement of the falls… Even Harvey, in “ApVan 3” who missed the turn, hiked back on the road to shoot with the group at this spot.
Getting close to sunset time, we quickly hustled back into the van and headed off to Valley View, being lucky to score the last two parking spots there. But that’s how we plan it at ApCad. At this point our group all decided to seek out their own individual compositions of this classic scene and everyone shared shooting tips, suggestions and ideas as people went from up and down the river. As the sun began to set we started to see that faint pink glow in the upper clouds, while it wasn’t the biggest red sunset it was still quite beautiful. As other photographers started to pack up, Mike and I reminded everyone to wait a bit longer and before we knew it, light strips danced on the face of El Capitan.
While we didn’t get the amazing Firefalls this year because of a lack of rain, our group still made the best of their winter weekend in Yosemite. Everyone had a great time, coming back with more images then they could have imagined. With spirits high we headed out of the park, back to the lodge to drop everyone off. Where handshakes and hugs where traded along with plans for future Yosemite trips.
Until Next Time,
Aron, Mike 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.