Visions of Half Dome

Wow, it’s been a week since I’ve been able to blog.  OK, maybe not able, but maybe in the zone to blog.

But a night spent in the hot tub on a cold windy night will tend to relax oneself.  I think it’s the first time we used it this year so we need to get some more use out of that puppy.

It’s just a little weird having to run naked to through the back yard in the center of town.

Continuing with the Yosemite theme, we’ll mix it up a little bit and switch over to another of Yosemite’s fantastic icons.

Half Dome.

Half Dome is a huge granite dome that stands approximately 4,737 ft above the floor of the valley and is one of the most recognizable features of Yosemite Park.

It gains it’s name from the fact that it looks like its the remaining half of a full dome that has been slit in half.

The truth is though, that the missing half was never there according to geologists and those in the know.

This shot was taken about mid-morning from the Cooks Meadow, just across Northside Drive from the entrance to the trail to Yosemite Falls.

Much of the creek here was frozen except for a tiny patch in the bend.

This shot was taken on the tripod from a very low angle on the edge of the water.  I went with a wide shot and kept a little bit of the snow in the foreground.

I hope you enjoy.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 100, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 23 mm, f5, 1/160 sec., CPL filter

Valley View

Took almost a whole week off from blogging, its been a little crazy as I had to get ready for a shoot this past weekend and still recovering.

Jumping back into it, I wanted to revisit Gates of the Valley aka Valley View at least one more time.

Maybe I saved the best for last, we’ll see.  As it turns out this shot was taken around lunch time.

We had stopped at the Valley View turn out quite a few times during the day to try out different light as the sun moved down the valley.

Even though it was just shy of high-noon, the sun was was pretty low in the sky due to winter time so the light was still pretty decent.

In fact, because of the low angle of the sun, the valley was pretty much in shadow resulting in some interesting contrasts.

Again the low hanging fog was just enough to add a little drama to the image.  In fact, I think the fog almost gives it a sort of painting feel to it, like its not real.

But trust me if I painted this it would definitely look more like a Pollack piece.

This was another shot where I really wanted to pull in the Merced River in the foreground and use it for the reflection.

The problem was that the river was running pretty good leaving very few places of calm water where the reflection worked.

There was a very small sheltered section, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet on the near bank.

Someone once told me, that as a photographer, if someone isn’t staring at you and wondering what the hell you were doing while taking a picture, you probably weren’t trying hard enough.

So in that spirit, there I was, lying in the snow on the edge of the river holding the camera a couple inches off of the water to try and maximize the coverage and reflection of that tiny patch of serenity in the water.

This shot was taken with circular polarizing filter to get the sky to pop.  I think this was one of my favorite shots from Yosemite.

I hope you enjoy as well.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 400, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 19 mm, f8, 1/125 sec., CPL filter

Gates of the Valley

More from Yosemite tonight. This will be a short post probably.  I meant to talk about this in my last Blog post, but got sidetracked.

Typically when we travel to some place new, we’ll pick up one of those travel books about the place.  Which one typically isn’t important as we’ve tried all different kinds of brands/publishers.  I tihnk the one that has the best maps for that city usually win out at that time.

This time, however, my wife came across this series called “Photo Secrets”.  They had one for San Francisco and Northern California by Andrew Hudson.

Now I can be all about blazing your own trail and finding that new angle or perspective.  I’d encourage it. I get it.  But sometimes when you are traveling for a relatively short trip, this kind of resource (1 of many) can be invaluable for understanding when and where you might want to be in a certain location to catch the right light.

So I’d encourage grabbing this kind of book to use as a resource and sometimes even for inspiration on your next trip.  It doesn’t hurt to learn from those that went before you and still create something that is your own.

Another inspiration within the park is the Ansel Adams Gallery.  This is a must see for any aspiring landscape photographer.  Along with Ansel Adams’ work there are some other great artists’ work  as well on display.

Armed with inspiration, I found myself in wonder among the park’s majestic beauty.  One of my favorite places was what is known as Valley View or Gates of the Valley.

This shot is of El Capitan with the reflection in the Merced River.  This angle required me to lay down in the snow at the edge of the water and position the camera an inch or so off the water.

Due to some early snow melt I guess, the water was running pretty good in the river.  It was difficult finding an area where the water was calm and it was a very small pool at the edge.

This was the portrait version I really liked, especially the effect of the low fog across the trees on the far side of the river.  I hope you enjoy as well.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 640, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 25 mm, f3.5, 1/640 sec., CPL filter

Destination Yosemite

Upon leaving Mono Lake we made a bee-line to Yosemite National Park, the grand jewel of the National Park Service.  I might not have thought of that before visiting, but I truly believe it now.

Yosemite is hands down on my top 5 places on earth.  McNeil River Sanctuary would certainly rank up there as well.  As for the rest, the list is still being formed.

So the bee-line in winter from Mono Lake to Yosemite consists of a 301 mile, 6 hour drive to end up only about 40 miles away by the way the bird flies.

See most of the roads that get you over the High Sierras in the vicinity are closed for the winter, and for good reason.  Many of the areas had 5 to 10 feet of snow.  The road we took back over (Hwy 88) was a 2-lane road most of the way the wound up and down the side of a mountain.

While it wasn’t snowing in the valley, it was snowing like crazy over the pass and there were points where you could look down to the right a few hundred feet straight down, and at a wall of snow, 10-15 feet straight up to the left.  Never mind the avalanche signs all over the place.

Bar none, one of the funnest rides I’ve taken in a while.  Course the wife was in need of some Valium I think, but otherwise, top notch. The one exception would be having to lay in the slush and snow along the side of the road in order to put the snow tire-chains on.  I’ve had more joyous events in my life, but still well worth it.

Anyway, it took the better part of all our remaining sunlight to get to the park.  Just as well, it was a raining in the valley and pretty nasty overall.

I realize that bad weather can add some character and drama to the photographs, but sometimes is can add some flat colorless sky.

We were worried our luck had run out.  According to the forecast that someone at the park had posted, it said the next day was 60% chance of rain.  Oooof.  Not looking good for the home team.

To our surprise however, we were greeted by a clear blue sky and a balmy 35 degree temperature.  An amazing day to explore Yosemite. A real low fog had set in and pretty much hung around all day. It added some nice drama to the landscape, just had to balance the loss of contrast it presented as well.

I ended up with close to a thousand pics to sort through for the full 2 days of shooting, pretty much day and night.  So we’ll have a few blog posts about Yosemite in the next couple weeks.

Here’s the first.  This shot was taken from the vantage called Gates of the Valley or Valley View.  El Capitan is to the left and Cathedral Rocks is to the right.  The Merced River runs through the foreground.

This shot was taken late morning with the sun set low in the sky this time of year.

This is one of the more iconic vantage points within Yosemite.  This is one of mine.  I hope you enjoy.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 200, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 23 mm, f8, 1/125 sec., CPL filter

Farewell to Mono Lake

Besides the 60 seconds of decent light, Mono Lake was more of a study of shadows and light. Part of the beauty of digital cameras is the ability to switch the LCD output to black and white (B/W) so that you can evaluate your concept for a photograph beyond the visualization in your head.

Of course if you shoot in RAW format (which you should always be doing anyways) the camera records all of the color information to the file anyway, just in case.

I frequently will shoot in B/W mode; sometimes out of necessity, like when the lighting and the sky just can’t convey what you’re trying to capture, and sometimes just for “fun” to force myself to think in terms of shades and contrasts of light.

Several times some of those photos still look better in vivid color. So it’s good to keep all the data and see what it looks like on something bigger than a 2 to 3-inch wide screen.

Anyway, after the sub-minute fireworks show of sunlight had come and gone, it was time to work with what we had left.

This photo, like the other two, was taken at the southern shore of Mono Lake.  The view is projecting towards the northwest with the sun rising to the southeast.

Not long after this shot the sun rose up behind the clouds and disappeared for the rest of our time there.

So soon after, we disappeared from the high plains desert, heading to points west.  I hope you enjoy.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 100, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 16 mm, f13, 1/20 sec., CPL filter

A Morning at Mono Lake

Consider this part II of the Mono Lake extravaganza.  After spending the night in the car in the parking lot, it was time to be up for sunrise all bright-eyed and bushy tail.

While I hardly slept at all, it was pretty easy to be wide awake with a quick opening of the door to suck in some 9 degree morning air, dry or not.  The wife slept through it all pretty peacefully.  Although, I woke her up to see if she wanted to join, she passed on the opportunity in favor of a couple more hours of shut-eye.

While it seemed pretty clear all night long, I was afraid it was going to turn out she was the smart one as some clouds rolled in right before the sun popped up over the horizon.

It looked like it was going to be a good day to do a study of black and white images of the tufa towers. We knew it was going to be a long shot that we would have a spectacular sunrise since we were only going to be here for one morning, but still we held out hope.

And although I like black and white as much as the next guy I was starting to get a little disappointed when it seemed like it wasn’t going to be.  It’s not like we could shoot up here some other weekend.  We need to move some of these spectacular wonders of nature further towards the heartland.

I’ll let you know how that works out in a later blog.

Anyways, I decided to follow my own advice and not give up too early on the light.  Many times I find just when you think mother nature is done painting the sky with all the colors of the rainbow, she surprises you with a final encore.

She didn’t disappoint in the end. Although it wasn’t the the greatest sunrise ever, it was certainly better than the way it started out. Anyways, this is one of my favorite photographs from the morning.

This was shot with CPL filter and a graduated neutral density filter.  Also in post processing, I left the white balance as shot (a hair off from what it should probably be, but I like the warm color on this one).

The color in the sky probably lasted less than a minute before it was gone.

I hope you enjoy.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 200, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 16 mm, f18, 1/20 sec., CPL and Grad N/D filters

A Night at Mono Lake

So after rejoicing in the fact that I survived the trip to Bonsai Rock, we headed off to Mono Lake where we were going to spend the night and wait for sunrise.  Mono Lake is situated in the high Sierras on the eastern side of California.

Mono Lake Basin is situated at an elevation of 6,382 feet and is a high desert surrounded by mountain peaks.  The water of Mono lake, which has no outlet, is approximately 3 times more salty than the ocean and about 80 times more alkaline.

The lake is one of the oldest in North America at 760,000 years old.  One of the stunning features (at least for photographers) is the Tufa (toofah) towers that have formed at various points around the lake.

The towers are a result of the interaction between freshwater and the alkaline water of the lake.  Calcium in the fresh water reacts with the carbonate within the lake as it bubbles out of ancient springs forming these limestone formations.  These towers were formed hundreds and sometimes thousands of years ago.

As the lake level had dropped over time, these amazing works of nature were revealed resulting in an alien landscape.

The towers provide wonderful subjects for landscape photography.

While I’ve never been in the summertime, I can say for sure that winter time at the lake is a special time to visit.

You’re all but guaranteed to find yourself some serious alone time out there.  I say almost as a fellow photographer happened along, long after dark, giving my wife a small scare.  (too many horror movies I think) Instead of an ax murderer though, I happened to meet Peter the photographer who had the same idea as I did on a perfect, bitter-cold night.

Did I mention bitterly cold?  It was a balmy 9 degrees Fahrenheit.  Although I must say, it was the warmest 9 degrees I had ever experienced.  It was a dry cold!!  Non-existent humidity (nevermind the 6 inches of snow on the ground) and very little wind.

The wife was paranoid that I was going to walk out to take pictures and disappear into the cold darkness.  No such luck.  Peter and I did experiment with quite a few different long exposure shots trying to balance the excess light from the setting crescent moon while getting some good star trails.  Having someone to chat with during the 40 minute exposures definitely made the night go by faster.

Ultimately Peter left to  find refuge at a nearby hotel while Amy and I decided to live on the wild side and slept in the car in the parking lot.  Didn’t seem worth it to find a hotel room or set up the tent for only a couple hours as the real mission was to catch sunrise at the lake.

Anyways, that story is for the next post.  For this one, here is the best image from the night of star trail shots. This one at the Southern portion of the lake.  It’s a little brighter than I had wanted, but overall I like.  I hope you do too.

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 250, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 18 mm, f5, 2336 sec.

In Search of Bonsai Rock

So the plan for day 2 was to end up at Lake Tahoe for sunset.  I had come across some photos online of a pretty cool rock formation on the eastern shore of the lake that would be a pretty nice foreground subject.

It was named as Bonsai Rock because of the small tree with a resemblance to the aforementioned Japanese Art form situated on top.

There were some stunning photos from other photographers that were really amazing.  I came across another photographers blog here that had documented how to find the spot as it’s relatively unmarked and difficult to locate.

Even with the latitude and longitudes it was a little hard to find.  In reality, I never did find it exactly, but part of that is not having enough time to get in position.  A little disheartening since the light seemed like it was going to be pretty awesome.

The problem was, we arrived a little late in the afternoon to really allow a whole lot of searching around.  The turn out/parking area is a relatively short breakdown lane situated on a pretty steep slope down to the water.  A quick walk up and down the shoulder searching for the rocks didn’t immediately present a preferred path down to the water.

There was anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of snow over much of the slope, so I’m sure that helped obscure the best route.  So not wanting to miss sunset completely, I took a shot at the most inviting spot.

(This is where I should put up the “don’t-try-this-at-home” warning.)

Like many times, my desire to get the perfect shot overrode my brain’s ability to process and proceed with caution.  Although, I will say that at least a couple times I was thinking that I really shouldn’t be doing this, except it didn’t really prevent me from doing it.

Quite a few times I actually found myself sliding down the side of the hill to find firm footing.  I figured finding my way out later would be something I could worry about then.  It wasn’t until I got to the bottom and had set up the tripod and camera for some shots that I took time to fully appreciate the difficulty I was going to have getting out.

I’m no spring chicken anymore and quite a frankly carrying a few more pounds around than I’m used to (not including the ~40 pounds of camera gear I dragged down there.)  So I was genuinely a little bit worried for a little while.   I know my wife is reading this for the first time (sorry, babe).

Having said all that, there was nothing I could do about it right then, so I figured I might as well try and get a decent photograph out of it so it wouldn’t have been all for naught.  This is what I came up with.  I hope you enjoy.  I had to work for this one!

Canon 5d Mk II, ISO 250, Canon 16-35L MkII @ 18 mm, f5.6, 1/15 sec. Grad N/D Filter