Yosemite is a national landscape treasure. One can only imagine what early explorers must have thought as they rounded the river bend and saw the towering granite cliffs, and waterfalls plunging thousands of feet over the edge into the valley below. Those early settlers spread the word about the beauty of the park and decades later it has become one of the most heavily visited and photographed parks in the world.
For photographers, there is so much to see that it's hard to know where to begin. What should I see? What time of day should I go? Lucky for photographers, the Aperture Academy has taken the mystery out of Yosemite and created a workshop to put them in the right places at the best times! If you need help with the settings and making the camera do what you want it to, then we're here to help with that, too!
On a spring-like evening, a group of 12 eager photographers met instructors Brian Rueb and Alicia Telfer in Yosemite View Lodge for our customary orientation. During the orientation, we got a chance to reconnect with students from past workshops, meet new students, and go over what the students have in terms of experience, equipment, and learning goals for the weekend.
Brian and Alicia went over the weekend itinerary and weather, and even though the winter had bypassed Yosemite for the most part, the temperatures were still below freezing in the morning, so they also talked about the proper attire needed to make sure the day was comfortable for everyone while they photographed.
:: DAY ONE ::
The first morning the group assembled at 5:15am, and after some coffee from the lobby, it was time to load up the ApCab and head into the park. Our first stop for the day was a lovely little section of the Merced River with sweeping views and reflections of three different valley peaks, including the mighty El Capitan.
Brian and Alicia worked with students at the river to use the graduated and polarizing filters to help achieve balanced and interesting compositions using the peaks, reflections, and interesting frozen foliage. The scene was amazing and the class quickly spread out to find their own interesting versions of the beautiful granite monoliths. Students got low, and even lay down on the bank to try to get the best reflection and make use of some of the ice patterns along the river's edge.
When the sun had come up and lit the tops of the peaks and the photographs were made, it was time to head to our second stop, a lovely little river view of upper Yosemite Falls. This spot allowed us to really work with our polarizing filters to bring out the great reflections of the falls, and it was one of the spots where a flat blue sky really helped add some extra vibrancy to our images....plus the mix of warm tones in the granite made great complimentary color schemes with the blues in the sky and reflection. Some students took abstract shots of the water and reflections that were really nice.
After the class had taken shots from the banks along the bridge, we walked down the trail a bit to utilize some of the rocks and trees as interesting elements, to change up the compositions. Alicia and Brian worked with the newer photographers on working to master their manual settings, and learn the "WHY" behind the creation of nice images.
After three hours of morning shooting, it was time to get those frozen toes and fingers to the lodge for a cup of coffee and brief period of recovery. Once at the lodge, the class enjoyed warm drinks, and many a bowl of oatmeal to warm the system before we set back out for a couple views of Half-Dome from some of the majestic meadow areas of the park.
Yosemite is an amazing place for photography, and as made popular by the great Ansel Adams, can be really wonderful for shooting in monochrome. Brian and Alicia helped the students change their camera settings to monochrome, and accordingly changed the way they saw the park in terms of composition. The class all came away with some really nice and unique images using their monochrome settings. Some played with the textures of the foreground foliage, while others played with depth of field and photographed parts of the foliage leaving Half-Dome blurred.
We then spent over an hour in the meadows lying down, crouching and really working with what the conditions gave us. We came away with really interesting images!
Lunch break was in the park, and afterwards we headed back to the hotel for a bit, to let people charge their batteries...literally and figuratively.
After lunch, we made a brief stop along the Merced River to work on some moving water images, where Brian and Alicia worked with the class on the different techniques to capture water blur and action in the river. The location was fun; several photographers scrambled on the rocks to get a different vantage point, and for others, it was a good lesson in the art of capturing moving water.
While driving in the park, we noticed that the seasonal Horsetail Falls was flowing quite nicely due to some recent high elevation snow melt, and was lit up wonderfully with the setting sun. While the best times for photographing this "lava like" phenomenon had passed, the waterfall still gets some very nice light in the evening this time of year, so the class eagerly agreed to give it a shot and we found we had a really nice set of water flow and conditions to photograph.
When the best of the light on Horsetail Falls had passed, we quickly loaded back into the ApCab and made haste to try and capture the last bits of light on the peaks from the iconic Valley View turn out. Not many people can say they shot Horsetail Falls AND Valley View in the same sunset...but we can! The class spread out and Alicia and Brian worked with the class for everyone to get good position for compositions and the best use of their graduated filters and polarizers to make the best exposures.
What a productive first day! We photographed seven different locations and spent over eight hours in the park. It was time to head back for some much earned rest and relaxation. A large percentage of the class met in the hotel restaurant for drinks and dinner before heading back to grab some rest before another early start.
:: DAY TWO ::
Day 2 began at the wonderful Lower Yosemite Falls. The area is all but void of people at this time of day and our class really had the run of the rocky areas around the base of the falls. Brian and Alicia helped with composition and exposure to ensure every student's vision was able to be realized. When the light crested the peaks to the east of the falls, the rainbows began to dance in the mist.
Brian worked with the class to put on larger lenses and really focus in on the details and abstractions of the scene. It was rapid fire for the class as they reeled off numerous images, each with different colors and textures. Some of the mist looked like faces in the shots...it was fun to hear the class talk about what the different shots looked like.
On our way out, we stopped to photograph the iconic vista along the walkway to the falls, where both the upper and lower sections of the waterfall are visible, which is framed nicely by the tall ponderosa pines that line the path.
The morning break allowed folks time to eat, nap, and get checked out of the hotel. We reconvened after noon, and set off to spend the entire rest of the day in the park. The first stop was the scenic and very iconic little Yosemite Chapel. Some of the higher elevation snow had melted and contributed to some nice pools, where the students enjoyed working on reflections of the church, and the upper portion of Yosemite Falls.
A few students noticed reflections of the falls in the church windows and got some great shots of them. In spite of some bright light, a lot of really nice shots were captured because we switched our cameras into manual mode and worked on creating interest with texture, shape, and light.
The next stop was the Sentinel Bridge and the wonderful view of Half-Dome. It wasn't a long stop, but it's great to come away with some iconic post-card shots of locations like Half-Dome. Convert it to monochrome and you add a bit of Ansel Adams into the shots as well!
We also made a brief stop at the deli in the park to grab some food to tide us over while we waited for sunset, and then it was back to the photography.
The Pohono Bridge is a classic stone bridge with some great reflections from the afternoon sun on the trees. We worked with polarizers to capture reflections and moving water along the rocks that flanked the bridge. Another park visitor, with too much time on his or her hands, had taken a lot of river rocks and balanced them precariously on top of other boulders. While it didn't do anything to preserve the serenity and natural aspects of the location, it was interesting to view...and wonder how long it had taken to set them up like that.
Just up the road from there we made a brief stop and hiked up to the base of the mighty Bridal Veil Falls. Even though it was fully lit by the sun, students were learning how to compensate and got some nice images of the details in the granite as the wind blew mist across the rock surface.
Our ultimate goal for the night was possibly the most iconic vantage of the park - Tunnel View, which offers a chance to photograph the entire park and most of Yosemite's icons from one spectacular location. El Capitan, Half-Dome, Cathedral Peaks and Bridal Veil Falls can all be seen and included in one magnificent image. The class ate their sandwiches and waited with camera at the ready for the last bits of sunset glow to hit the peaks. Alicia and Brian offered last minute suggestions on composition and exposure to help the weekend's photography end with awesome images.
Even though we never saw a cloud the entire weekend, the class successfully made the most of this national treasure known as Yosemite, with all its wonderful locations. We photographed for over 7 hours each day; memory cards were filled, batteries depleted, and the class had a great camaraderie all weekend -- everyone learned something new and came away with some really great images!
Until next time,
Brian, Alicia 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.