First Light on El Capitan Tuesday, Jul 13 2010 

Among the must-have shots in anticipation of the Yosemite trip with Scott, John, and Tyler, very high on my list was “sunrise at El Capitan”. The prominent brow of this massive granite cliff catches the morning light on its southeastern side, and we wanted to find a good spot from which to take in the great rock.

We did some beating around the bushes and wandering way off path (in some cases, all of 100 yards from the main valley road!), but the swollen Merced River wiped away a lot of the meadows and banks where a hopeful photographer would set down his tripod. In the end, we decided on a little outcrop in the river bend, just barely enough for four tripods. Then, we waited.

First Light on El Capitan

Unfortunately, it was close to the summer solstice, and the sun rose well to the north, so the only part that got that beautiful morning light was this very tip of the cliff. The triangle would extend down as the dawn went on, but the sun would just not shine fully on the face of El Cap until well into the morning. Morning at El Capitan Maybe some of the other guys managed to harness the extreme shadows and the bright highlights better than I did, but my best shot is this closeup of the top, taken with my 7D and the magnificent EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, looking almost straight up 3000 feet. As a bonus shot, here’s a wider angle image of the same scene, taken about an hour after the one above. Notice the much cooler, whiter light.

And while we ruminated that sun coverage along the cliff might be fuller later in the year (winter solstice? I shudder to think), simply standing by a fast-moving river and watching first light on the largest exposed piece of granite in the world was amazingly serene and thoroughly satisfying.

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

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…

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