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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Vernall Falls, Yosemite National Park Sunday, Oct 17 2010 

Fort Worth’s Amon Carter museum recently displayed an exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs, which I was excited to visit. Like most people, I was exposed to his work through his most popular images, and seeing an actual print of the glorious Clearing Winter Storm was certainly a thrill. I even saw the original Monolith: The Face of Half Dome (although slightly mislabeled by the museum), a 1934 print on Dassonville Charcoal Grey paper; on my June visit to Yosemite National Park, I bought a reproduction of this amazing photograph and it now hangs on a wall in my bedroom. Finally, I came face to face with his photo book Taos Pueblo, wishing I could flip through the gelatin silver photo paper pages on which Adams individually printed the photos.

But, it was the lesser known Adams Work that really got my attention. A photograph titled Pinnacles, Alabama Hills was magical – vertical rock outcroppings covered with lichen platelets against the background of snow-capped mountains. The level of detail was tremendous and you can sense the pre-visualization that Adams was so famous for.

Then there were several images from Big Bend National Park, made in the mid-to-late 1940s, especially the Santa Elena Canyon, which is not merely a composition, but a symphony of rock and light. The photograph seemed to be asking me why haven’t I made the 10-hour drive to this National Park yet; not exactly in my back yard, but in Texas terms certainly not beyond reach.

In all of his work, Adams emphasizes sharp focus and eye for detail, even in grandiose vistas. His Half Dome, Blowing Snow is a testament to this, with its portrayal of the friendship between ice and granite. Another theme that is noticeable is his use of the sky in his photos. It seems as if he used red filters just about every time he expected to show the sky in the photo, so that it would appear darker than the clouds scattered across it.

And finally, here and there, there are traces of Adams the portraitist, whether he’s photographing an unnamed Woman Behind Screen Door or his friend Alfred Stieglitz in his studio. One realizes that such photos were probably not done with his view cameras, which require slower, more deliberate operation, but rather with a more compact 35mm camera, making Adams a well-rounded wielder of photographic equipment.

Vernall Falls, Yosemite National Park

To illustrate this blog post, I chose not to use any of Adams’s images, as they are easily available on the internet, albeit in form nowhere near deserving of a fine work of art. Instead, here’s one of my own offering from the trip to Yosemite; a digital snapshot that’s been on top of the “Maybe” pile for four months. It’s a photo of Vernal falls, inspired by an image by Adams. The master was able to get close up to the water, which indicates it was probably later in the year — we were there in peak flow season, and it was impossible to use any electronic equipment on that particular portion of the aptly named Mist Trail. This was taken from a bridge further downstream, and I rather liked the way sun found a few ways through the clouds to offer some pleasant highlights on the water and foliage around it.

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