Yosemite, the playground of Ansel Adams and John Muir…home to the best rock climbing in the world, and arguably the most famous National Park in the United States. We’ve been running workshops in Yosemite since 2008, and it was one of our first multi-day workshops. 10 Years, and 50+ workshops later, it’s still one of our most popular workshops.
Mike and I met our group Friday night in El Portal for orientation before our weekend of photography and fun. Everyone comes to us with a different level of experience and orientation is a great time for Mike and I to get to know a little about everyone’s shooting experience to make sure we go over their needs while we’re out in the park. Day one starts early, so we like to keep it brief and give everyone time to go get some rest.
5:15am, our group met and we set out to the high country in Yosemite to see some of the parks scenic vistas from a higher perspective. Our first stop of the day was Olmstead Point. Being here at sunrise means we have the place to ourselves, and it was awesome to stake out a spot on a granite slab and look out across the valley to Half-Dome and miles of granite walls. There were some nice clouds in the sky, and Mike and I helped everyone get dialed in with their settings and compositions as we waited for the clouds to catch a little color. Yosemite isn’t normally a park that gets much light in the morning on the mountains because of the high mountain ranges to the east, but the light in the sky, and the light colored granite can still hold a nice glow. Everyone got some really pretty images.
The next stop of the morning is Tenaya Lake, another gem of the high country. While it’s never fun to get up early, It’s always nice to have a location all to yourself. This high alpine lake is arguably the most beautiful lake that one can access without a major hike. Lined with granite, and crystal clear, Tenaya is easy to photograph. Lots of cracks and rocks around the lakes’ edge make it easy to find compositional elements to make an aesthetically pleasing image. We also have a little more harsh light now, so it’s a great place to talk about the virtues of a graduated ND filter, polarizers, and the potential for black and white images.
On the way home we make a stop at a lovely little roadside lake, Siesta Lake. This little pool has some of the best fall foliage in the park. Vibrant red and yellow ground cover line the entirety of the lake and make for some great reflections in this often still lake. In addition to the beauty of the larger scene this lake has a lot of little details that give folks something to shoot.
Time flies when you’re making photographs and before we know it, we’re looking at our afternoon break. Our afternoon is spent at two of the parks more iconic vistas…Tunnel View, and Glacier Point. Glacier Point is probably my favorite place in the park to shoot sunset. Sitting about 6000 feet above the valley floor looking out towards Half Dome and the entirety of the Sierra range is always impressive, and gives one a very accurate feeling of place. This is also a lot of other folks favorite spot…so getting there early is vital to get a good spot to photograph. We arrive with plenty of time to dial in the compositions, and then sit and watch the sunlight fade, and the pink alpen-glow light up the face of Half Dome and the rest of the range of light. It’s the perfect way to end the first day…well, second best way, actually. We all know the best way is with a soup and salad bar from the hotel before a good nights’ sleep.
Day two we start out along the Merced River, where we hunt for reflections of El Capitan…We knew pretty quickly upon arrival that this was going to be one of the better sunrises we’d seen from this location. The clouds around the mountain began to glow with a warm pink well before sunrise, and reflected light from the cloud cover cast a warm glow on El Cap, that neither Mike nor myself had ever seen before from this location in the morning…it was truly beautiful. We helped the group get dialed in and they got some amazing pictures of easily one of the best sunrises we’d seen. The next stop was more fun along the Merced, only the second spot we had some other peaks to photograph as well.
Our afternoon on Day 2 starts with a couple hours of post-processing at the hotel. Here we’re able to see the great collection of images the class came away with, and help give them little tips and tricks to make the most of those images….in many cases it’s taking an image that’s already a 3-4 star image and making it a 5-star image.
We don’t like to end on a classroom note, so we head back into the park for a last shoot. We found some gems along the river where we had some peak fall color, and moving water. We even found a nice little pool with swirling leaves that provided some awesome streaks in the exposures, and gave us time to work with ND filters and long exposures…. great stop before setting up for sunset at Valley View, the last of our iconic vistas. We got here early enough everyone could find a spot along the waters edge and utilize the rocks and pools for their foreground. Even without clouds this places puts on a show. No rock holds a glow like El Cap’. The red and vibrant oranges this rock gets when the setting sun hits it, is so amazing…I’ve seen it well over 100 times in the past several years, and I still get goose bumps. The group is really dialed in by this point, and it’s fun to watch them just sit and shoot an amazing display of light and color. It’s the perfect way to end a great weekend of photography with a great bunch of folks!
Until Next Time,
Brian, 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.