Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail Tuesday, Oct 19 2010 

I mentioned in my previous post that I visited Yosemite National Park during peak water flow. Scott, John, Tyler and I wanted to spend a day climbing up and down one of the signature trails of the park, The Mist Trail, which that day could have been named The Enormous Plumes of Spray Trail. The section just under the Vernal Falls was the worst, and we were more concerned with protecting our expensive cameras from the water than with using them to take photos. On top of the falls, we had to change shirts and expose some soaked clothing to the morning sun.

The final climb to the top of Nevada Falls didn’t quite resemble an unrelenting cold shower like its counterpart downstream, but we still got plenty of gusts of wind that brought the chilling spray upon our weary bodies. By this time, sun hid behind some clouds and the temperature dropped a bit. Wind was strong, and the clouds were moving, which made photography a bit challenging due to the changing light.

We finally made it to the top and enjoyed lunch, before we got on our way back to the valley following the John Muir Trail to the other side of the falls, against a sheer granite cliff. Just after one last refreshment courtesy of some persistent snow melt, we paused to gather our strength for the descent. I fired off a few shots, including the one of the back side of Half Dome I posted earlier.

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail

I then changed lenses and tried a wider composition with my next shot, which is what you see here – notice the similar scattered light. At 17mm, pretty much everything is in sharp focus, and I really love the distorted clouds reaching for the corners of the image with Liberty Cap dominating the center. I hesitated to post this, because it was too similar to the earlier shot, but upon further review, I decided this photo has a character of its own and deserves a spot in the blog.

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Yosemite Falls and Pine Wednesday, Jul 21 2010 

Yosemite Valley is a long, deep, narrow incision into the granite of the High Sierras, and as a result, most of its main features are visible from just about anywhere. I already provided some examples of that with El Capitan and Half Dome, but right up there with them on the list of the most recognizable images from Yosemite are the Yosemite Falls, the tallest year-round waterfall in North America.

Yosemite Falls and Pine

Yosemite Falls and Pine

There are a number of ways to photograph the falls, and we had some nice shots from various meadows in the valley, one of which appears below. On this day, however, Scott, John, Tyler and I decided to go up the Four Mile Trail, which snakes from the bottom of the valley all the way up to Glacier Point. The trail is one of the signature trails of the park, and it’s actually five miles long. The first part of the trail offers a great “reverse tunnel view”, where a somewhat distorted eastern profile of El Capitan is on your right, and the Cathedral Peaks on the left. But then, slowly, the trail keeps shifting eastward and there are many spectacular views of the Yosemite Falls.

What’s interesting about this is that the perspective is somewhat changed by the elevation gained on the trail. The plumes of water spray at the bottom of the Upper falls come into full view, and the Lower falls, which is somewhat secluded by the narrow gorge it carved, can be clearly seen.

This is the highest I got on the trail; I had my lunch here, looking at the falls on my right and El Capitan on my left. It is the first shot I took with my Pan F film in medium format (120), and it turned out that this film produced nothing but winners.

Yosemite Falls, from the meadow

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

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.

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