Yosemite Winter Photography Workshop | February 22-23rd, 2013

Yosemite Winter 2-Day Photography Workshop - February 22-23rd, 2013

Yosemite Photography Workshop Students

Day 1

Early. Cold...but beautiful. We stop along the Merced River and a swath of great clouds is moving into the valley and hugging the peaks. The 3-brothers and El Capitan have some really dramatic soft light and moody mist lingering around them. We spread the group out to capture shots along the river, the sun is probably not going to make a major appearance this morning, but the drama in the sky is quite stunning, and we'll work in monochrome if need be to make the most of these moments. Yosemite is one of those parks that was created for black and white photography...and this morning is going to be PERFECT.

Jean, Matt, and I help the class with exposures, filters, and getting those “blinkies” under control. It's new material for some of the people, but they love to learn and I can see improvements almost immediately with their histograms.

The next stop along our route is Swinging Bridge, and the view of upper Yosemite Falls. The morning cloud layer has dropped and is sitting right on the top of the falls. UGH! I have a good feeling that this is going to move off within a short while, so I'm going to keep people on hand and we'll shoot some of the drama in the peaks as the mist intertwines with the shadowy trees high on the peaks.

I've been in this park countless times, and I've gotten pretty good at reading the weather and how it moves, and thankfully my hopes of the clouds moving off the falls comes to fruition and we're able to get some GREAT moody shots of the upper falls reflected in the Merced!

On our way to coffee we noticed that there were some nice clouds around half-dome as the morning storm was breaking free, so we made a stop so the class could get some of this drama on their cameras. Photography is all about opportunity and when those nice conditions arrive, we'll always do our best to make the most of them!

We finally took a much needed break for coffee after the falls, and Half-Dome. The temperatures were hovering near freezing, and a warm drink was just perfect!

On the way out we decided to maximize the great clouds and made a stop at the iconic Tunnel View as well...which was BEAUTIFUL. Everyone took some nice shots of this Ansel-esque location; Close ups, panos, and everything in between.

When our morning shooting was done it was almost 1pm, and time for lunch. We spent 6 hours in the park shooting and taking in all of that awesome scenery. The younger members of our troop were great and it was fun to see their images, as well as the rest of the shots on the other cameras. We had perfect conditions to work on polarizers and grad filters too...which is ALWAYS beneficial for helping with tricky exposures.

The van ride back to the hotel after a long morning is always telling as many people begin to nod-off and sleep. Six hours of photography, can be physically and mentally taxing and it's not until that van ride back that it sneaks up and gets people...

After a much needed break in the hotel to charge batteries, get a quick nap, and some lunch it was back into the park to set up for sunset at Valley View. We arrive in time to get everyone a good spot along the water so they can capture some of the wonderful clouds and evening light. There were no explosive colors but we made up for that with some warm tones in the clouds and great dramatic skies. I saw a lot of great images in the group. One fish eye shot was REALLY nice, and a new take I hadn't seen previously. Our youngest student, Jake was doing some really neat things with colored grad filters, shifting orange and blue to split the scene, combining them together to make purple...angling them. Really neat stuff! Everyone spread out so everyone had a different take on this shot...and I saw everything from the ultra-wide, great stitched panorama types, long 4 minute exposures with the ND filter, close up shots of a specific peak,

Jean, Matt, and I worked with the students to make sure they were getting good exposures, and had all they needed to make what they envisioned with their minds come through on their screens. As the evening was wrapping up the moon came up behind the peaks and a few people got some nice shots of it with the silhouettes of the granite peaks and trees in the foreground.

Day one was long, but felt so good...the clouds cooperated ALL day, and I saw so many GREAT images on the cameras and the group couldn't have been more enthusiastic. I went to bed tired, but really excited for another day in the park and the possibility of the group capturing Horsetail Falls in the evening.


We start at lower Yosemite Falls before sunrise. The group uses the early time to do great, more evenly lit shots of this wonderful waterfall. I put the group in the 2-3 best spots so they could utilize their polarizers and the moving water in the creek to add dimension and foreground interest in their images. We also try to work on composition here to use the curves in the granite as leading lines from the corners of images to help PULL your eye into the shot.

When the sun comes up, the real fun begins. The light off the granite illuminates the waterfall, and eventually the mist catches the light and turns into almost a rainbow flame filtering up from the falls. We zoom in tight, and get the students to work on faster shutter speeds that stop the action and get GREAT detail and color in their images. White balance, polarizers, all these topics get covered here as we try to really make memorable images.

One of the little awesome things that happened here was that while the group was shooting a mother bobcat and her cubs crossed the bottom of the falls...while the whole event was fleeting, and nobody was really able to get the shots, everyone who saw them enjoyed the moment none the less.

After our waterfall adventure it was time to have some fun and after our group shot under the base of the mighty El Capitan, we decided to get in on the latest internet craze....


Everyone was a great sport while we took a few minutes to goof around and have some fun. Photography is the main goal of ALL our workshops, and we put a lot of work into the scouting of locations and sharing of knowledge, but if you can't have some good old fashioned fun while doing it...then there's no point.

After the dancing, we shot El Capitan and then made our way back to the hotel so folks could check out and grab a little rest.

A portion of the afternoon was spent with the students going over some post-processing techniques, and image review...For me, it's always fun to take one of the student images and process it from start to finish, it helps me solidify to the class how nice some of those images look once finished. Processing is a big part of creating memorable images...and many, many students haven't learned some of the simple tips that can really help bring those images to their best.

On our way into the park for the Horsetail Falls event we made a brief stop at the little red chapel so the class could grab a few shots of this valley icon. This spot in particular ALWAYS has the iciest places. I've seen numerous spills here on the ice. I watched a family with small children visiting the church and the kids were keen on playing on the icy field. I made a comment that it was only a matter of minutes before there would be tears.

Sure enough, a few moments later one of the little ones bit the dust (or ice). I kept our “kids” off the ice as best as I could, and we all escaped unscathed.

The final stop was the “fire-falls” known also as Horsetail Falls. This short windowed phenomenon comes for a stretch of about 10 days each February where the last light of the sun lines up with this VERY temperamental and seasonal waterfall and creates the illusion of lava raining down the granite cliff of El Capitan. So much has to be right for this to work...and luckily for us it was MOSTLY on course. The water flow wasn't quite as good as years past, but we set up at the right angle, and enjoyed some wine and crackers while we waited and had good conversation...and at the last minute we got some wonderful reddish light on the narrow strip of water flowing over the granite wall.

As much as anything these classes are lessons in patience, and “how-to” tips for when things are perfect, so when that sunset is JUST right, the class knows how to get those settings dialed in and make the most of it. I watched a lot of great shots fly over those screens this weekend, and saw some of those students who were less familiar with manual settings begin to grasp those concepts, and make the necessary steps to get better exposures.

I was sad to see the weekend end, as we had SUCH a fun time with everyone. We came, we shot, we Harlem Shook, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Until Next Time,

Brian, Jean, Matt, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team

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