In April, I had a wonderful week-long visit to Yosemite National Park — one of the highlights of our national park system. It was a great time to visit — minimal crowds, plenty of water from the spring melt flowing over the falls, beautiful weather (although not enough clouds ????), and the dogwood trees just beginning to blossom. Although there are the traditional and stunning iconic views of the park that are often photographed (El Capitan, Half Dome, Tunnel View, Cathedral Rocks, and the many waterfalls), I chose to focus mainly on more intimate or abstract landscape images that for me continue to showcase the natural beauty, power and grace of nature. The trip was made all the more special by my wonderful travel companions: my daughter, Emily, a young photographer in Los Angeles, joined me for the weekend (@emilywaterburyphotography), and then I had the privilege for shooting with William Neill for several days. Bill is a well-known and super talented landscape photographer and teacher who has been living and photographing in Yosemite Valley for decades (and he continues to make unique and inspiring images!!).
Photo Journal: Yosemite In Spring
In general, I started and ended each day with a quick trip to Inspiration Point, which provides an iconic view of many of the sites for which Yosemite Valley is best known. On some days, while the view never gets old, the opportunity for unique photographs can be limited ... but a clearing storm, or mist or clouds or the soft light of sunrise can provide additional interest. On my first day, I drove from San Francisco, checked in to the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, just outside the park entrance, and then headed up to Inspiration Point (often called Tunnel View) for my first glimpse at Yosemite Valley. I arrived to a grey, overcast (boring) sky, found a position between all of the iPhone photographers, and waited. After about 30 minutes it started to rain (I had to run back to my car to grab a raincoat and cover for the camera), but after another 20 minutes, after most tourists had succumbed to the weather, the rain stopped, the sun began to break through the clouds, and I was treated to a wonderful show of light and shadows on the granite cliffs and forest floor of Yosemite Valley.
I love water in all its manifestations in nature, and was constantly looking for more abstract images using water -- patterns and ripples in the water, reflections, or water in motion. -- shooting to either blur the water to emphasize the motion, or stop rapidly flowing water . Yosemite in the spring is blessed with an abundance of water, and one of the joys of photographing in the valley during this season is to capture water in motion. The camera, with a slow shutter speed, is able to “see” water in a way that the human eye cannot … a little more abstract, with a greater emphasis on movement, shape, lines and form. I spent literally hours pointing my lens at the rapids in the Merced River, with endless possible compositions … and always an element of surprise as to what the camera, exposing at 1 second or 5 seconds, would ultimately deliver.
Yosemite in the spring is blessed with an abundance of water, and one of the joys of photographing in the valley during this season is to capture water in motion. The camera, with a slow shutter speed, is able to “see” water in a way that the human eye cannot … a little more abstract, with a greater emphasis on movement, shape, lines and form. I spent literally hours pointing my lens at the rapids in the Merced River, with endless possible compositions … and always an element of surprise as to what the camera, exposing at 1 second or 5 seconds, would ultimately deliver. And Yosemite is perhaps best known for its waterfalls ... huge amounts of water thundering over the granite cliffs and falling hundreds of feet to the valley below. Again, the human eye sees a stead stream of white water in the falls, but the camera, with a very fast shutter speed, can "see" the falling water, spray and mist in a way that the eye cannot, delivering more unexpected pleasures.
My daughter was surprised and amazed to see the number and variety of trees in Yosemite Valley (especially compared to her hometown of Los Angeles). Striking in the fall, the aspens, pines, oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods are equally impressive to see in spring. Although Mariposa Grove, with its giant sequoias, is temporarily closed because of damage from a severe wind storm in January, we had fun photographing a variety of trees in the valley. Some were just a screen of light green leaves or buds characteristic of springtime, and some were remarkable because of their structure or shape. All a reminder of the rebirth all around us.
One of the joys of visiting Yosemite Valley in spring is to witness the blooming of the dogwoods. When I first arrived in the park, almost no trees were in bloom … a few had a hint of green flowers to come. But 5 days later, flowering dogwoods were everywhere … in the forest, around the hotels, along the Merced River … what a treat to see this rebirth! Photographing the dogwoods was a bit of challenge, however. While some would say we had “perfect” weather – warm temperatures and clear blue skies … this wasn’t ideal for making images of delicate dogwood flowers! Very little shade, a good amount of wind, and lots of depth to deal with … hard to avoid the harsh light, get everything sharp and in focus, and still achieve some motion blur in the river. It’s amazing that the iphone, with its sophisticated artificial intelligence, has an easier time with these conditions (just more difficult to produce large prints!). Patience yielded a few images that I’m happy with, and that give a flavor of spring in Yosemite.
While I really enjoyed photographing the more intimate landscapes and abstracts in Yosemite Valley, it’s hard to ignore the granite rock faces and iconic waterfalls that make this national park so special. This is an image made just prior to sunset, with the warm sunlight just kissing the top of Half Dome. Below, is another image of Inspiration Point -- this one at sunrise.
Clear skies and a full moon gave me a chance to introduce my daughter to night photography, and some of its challenges: focusing in the dark, having a long enough exposure to see the stars and have some light on the foreground, while at the same time short enough to achieve pin-point stars (without star trails), and all in a manner that minimizes digital noise. Modern technology now makes all of this possible -- but it still has its challenges! We had a beautiful, starry night to experiment, and the full moon from behind us added just the right amount of glow to the granite cliffs. In all, a fitting way to end our stay in Yosemite Valley!!