The Other Side of Half Dome Wednesday, Jun 30 2010 

I am told by mountaineers that the three most distinctive mountain shapes in the world are the Mustagh Tower in the Karakorams, the Matterhorn in the Alps and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. – Ansel Adams

And, yet, this doesn’t look instantly recognizable as Half Dome. For the third love letter to Half Dome created by my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, I picked this image, shot on Ilford FP4+ film using an orange filter to increase the contrast between the sky and the clouds. It is the back side of Half Dome, the side that makes it seem like there was a Full Dome once.

This was taken slightly above Nevada Fall, on the John Muir trail. Scott, John, Tyler and I have been climbing up Mist Trail all day and got thoroughly soaked three times – at Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and then again, a few yards from where this was taken, where some random snow melt endlessly dripped over the narrow trail as a never-ending cold shower.

We were tired and wet, but once we got to this side of the Nevada Fall, we realized what we were looking up at. The sheer, smooth cliff above was none other than our friend Half Dome, in a rarely seen angle. And while the fascination with its face and profile has been long documented in countless photos by masters and laymen alike, it was a surprise to see the smoothness of the dome, interrupted only by a few scars, carved by Father Time and Mother Nature.

Canon 7D, EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens @ 40mm, CPL

As it were, I don’t have many shots from this vantage point. Day was getting long and legs weary. Some others have more interesting skies or a different composition; one of those, a digital effort, is shown here for purposes of comparison. But in the end, I chose this shot because I thought the sparse splashes of color distract from the beauty of the subject. A subject, that, quite accidentally, captured the heart of my favorite lens.

Cloud on Half Dome Monday, Jun 28 2010 

Half Dome is a great mountain with endless variations of lighting and sky situations and seasonal characteristics; the many images I have made reflect my varied creative responses to this remarkable granite monolith. – Ansel Adams

As I mentioned before, on our trip through Yosemite National Park, Scott, John, Tyler and I unwittingly made Half Dome the main subject of many of our photos. The peak towers over all of the Yosemite Valley, and you can see it from just about anywhere. Ironically, the only higher peak is called Clouds Rest.

This particular afternoon, we were stuck in the horrible traffic of the Valley, trying to get some supplies for the evening and the day ahead. We exerted ourselves on the Mist Trail (photos from which are coming very soon), and we hoped to take in the sunset at the Tunnel View. But, as we crossed the bridge over Merced river on the eastern end of the valley, we saw a big cloud covering the top of Half Dome in a striking scene.

Cloud on Half Dome

We quickly found a parking spot (no small feat!), and dragged our tired legs out of the car. The brightly lit Half Dome was reflecting in the river, but the late afternoon sun was leaving a lot of shadow and it was difficult to find the correct exposure. The only possible shot was with a telephoto lens, and I mounted my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens on the Canon 7D and fired off a few shots.

It wasn’t the golden hour yet, so the colors aren’t spectacular. I even thought about converting to black and white, which I’ve done below. But, I think just the sight of the threatening cloud obscuring the peak looks quite dramatic, and the pine tree silhouettes complete the framing very nicely.

Cloud on Half Dome, black and white version

Half Dome, Sunset No. 4 Saturday, Jun 26 2010 

I have photographed Half Dome innumerable times, but it is never the same Half Dome, never the same light or the same mood. – Ansel Adams

My main image of Yosemite was El Capitan, with Half Dome being only a distant second. Nevertheless, after five days in the park, I didn’t even realize that we shot Half Dome during each of the five sunsets. We snapped dozens of shots more, from the valley, from the Mist Trail, and from anywhere else we could. It quickly became the focal point of the trip, the main star of the show. Some of those shots are coming soon, but I wanted to post this one before all others.

Half Dome, Sunset No. 4

This was Sunset No. 4, when we drove up Glacier Point Road, but only to the trailhead to the Sentinel Dome. After an easy 1-mile hike, we came to the bare granite clearing at the top of Sentinel Dome, which towers over all of the Yosemite Valley and offers unbelievable 360-degree view of the Eastern Sierras.

We got there early enough and snapped around, but then the sky lit up and the golden hour followed. This shot follows The Formula, which says it’s not even that important what you shoot during this kind of light. But, the glory of Half Dome just elevates this to another level.

Another reason I like this shot so much is that it was taken with my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, which was simply in love with Half Dome. Several great closeups of the peak are waiting to be posted soon. Until then, here’s a bonus shot, taken 15 minutes after the one above. The sun has set, but the clouds were glowing in shades of pink, and some of that light was reflecting on the stony face of Half Dome. If you ever get a chance to witness the sunset from Sentinel Dome, don’t miss it.

Raging Waters, Yosemite Wednesday, Jun 23 2010 

Although it was well into June, Yosemite still had enormous reserves of snow. So much so, in fact, that the Tioga Pass road, connecting the Valley with the east end of the park, was open literally two days before we drove across it to Lee Vining. The drive was incredibly picturesque, and since we were headed east, the afternoon sun was behind us and the Dana Fork went the other way along the road.

Dana Fork is usually a mountain creek feeding the Tenaya Lake, but after copious amounts of snow and the first long string of warm, sunny days, it was a raging river barreling down the mountain, flooding meadows and jumping over boulders and tree trunks.

On two separate occasions that evening, as well as the following morning, Scott, John, Tyler and I made a quick stop to explore the rapids for some photographic opportunities. The other three made good use of their neutral density filters, which block out a lot of light coming into the camera, allowing long exposure times, which in turn yield milky smooth water effect.

Since I wasn’t a card-carrying member of the ND club, I focused on only moderately long exposures, in the range of 1/30th of a second. That’s still long enough to show some water flow, but short enough that camera shake isn’t an issue, especially with a 17-40mm f/4L lens. This scene was the one I particularly liked, with a nice separation of the clouds from the sky and plenty of nice looking pine trees. A narrow aperture brought out the natural sharpness of the FP4 film, so I didn’t bother with any post-production manipulation.

John, Tyler, Suad and Scott

John, Tyler, Suad and Scott

As a blog special, here’s a photo of all four of us on the eastern entrance to Yosemite, which is the highest point on the Tioga Pass Road. It marks the first time I’ve been at more than 3000 meters elevation.

Alien Landscape, Mono Lake Tuesday, Jun 22 2010 

These mist covered mountains are home now for me, but my home is in the lowlands, and always will be – Mark Knopfler

Actually, with me it’s the opposite, but the point is, I’ve always enjoyed the mountains more from a distance, for their photogenic qualities. Given the choice, though, I’d rather do without the snow, the cold, the storms, the winds…

In our quests to enjoy the American landscapes, my friends Scott, John, Tyler and I went through some really weird places. Up there on the weird scale is this new entry, Mono Lake, to the east of Yosemite National Park.

The lake is a freak of nature; it’s salty and alkaline, and its geology is quite unusual. It is in the middle of nowhere, with only a small town of Lee Vining nearby. The limestone formations you see in the foreground are called “tufa”, and they are calcium deposits created from hot springs bubbling from under the lake. They can appear quite eerie in golden hour light, so we picked the lake for our first sunrise location on the trip.

I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was taken by surprise with the alien landscape. I shot mainly with my 7D, looking for a way to start off a brand new roll of 120 size Fuji Velvia film. And while I got some interesting colors on the digital camera, Velvia knocked it out of the park when I scanned the shot above. The sky and the water are almost an unnatural purple, but I like how the mountains in the background stand out and layer the image along with the tufas.

On a technical note, my horizon wasn’t level, so I rotated the original 4:3 image and cropped it to 3:2. Below is a similar digital shot – both are otherwise untouched.

Golden Gate Bridge, After Sunset Wednesday, Jun 16 2010 

For the third year in a row, I went on a trip with the main purpose of taking photographs, hoping one or two would be up to some imaginary standards I set for myself. As in the past years, I had my friends and photography brothers-in-arms with me, Scott Jones, John Rav and Tyler Westcott.

The idea was to meet up for the weekend in San Francisco, where Tyler used to live and where Scott still lives (sort of), and then go to Yosemite National Park on Monday morning. As it turned out, Tyler and I had a Saturday evening to ourselves and I wanted usĀ  to spend it shooting the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s probably the most photographed landmark in the world, Golden Gate Bridge, After Sunsetalong with Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and maybe a few others. So, I had no illusions of new perspective or ideas; on top of that, while the sunset was lovely, the lack of fog and clouds removed the drama that usually follows San Francisco and the Bridge.

Nevertheless, we went down to Marshall Beach, lesser known than Baker Beach, but closer to the Bridge. We walked up and down the beach, trying different perspectives. I had a few nice snapshots of the surf breaking on the rocks, with the bridge in the background, but my most successful shot was one of my last.

It came when I decided to put the 85mm f/1.8 lens on my Canon 7D. It is my favorite lens and it provided a really tight view of the bridge. And although I think a bit more context would have been fine, there really wasn’t anything interesting outside this frame. I liked the glow of the street lights and the even-numbered sunstars (the lens aperture has 8 blades), and I even liked that ship passing under it during the 13-second exposure. I rotated the image 1 degree clockwise and made a mild contrast adjustment to reduce the haziness in the sky, but overall, I think this was a successful first evening of shooting. And we didn’t even get to Yosemite yet…

Hello world! Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

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