May 8, 2011

Yosemite National Park & Landscape Photography--Part II

I have now had a few days to browse through many of the photographs that I made during my recent trip to Yosemite National Park.  I spent several days camping in Lower Pines campground in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, and then taking the free shuttle bus to various locations throughout the Valley in an effort to find some interesting photographic opportunities.  Because Yosemite National Park is so heavily photographed by photographers of all skill levels, I find that it is intellectually quite challenging to find some original and visually intriguing photographic compositions and subjects.  Obviously, everybody likes to have the obligatory photographs of the various waterfalls, and the iconic views of the big-walls of granite like Half Dome and El Capitan; but as a landscape photographer, I am always on the prowl for images and compositions that are representative of my own artistic interpretation of this beautiful national park.

An example of an iconic view that I felt compelled to photograph is this view of Half Dome taken at Sentinel Bridge near the Yosemite Chapel (see photo above, at right).  I happened to be nearby, late one afternoon, and even though there were no clouds in the sky whatsoever, I decided to at least take a few photographs from this well-photographed location.  I decided to convert the image to black and white in an effort to highlight the leafing out of the alder and birch trees along the banks of the Merced River (the lighter colored trees at right in the photograph).

I also shot, in my view, perhaps a more interesting perspective of Half Dome from Lower Pines campground, where I was staying.  I happened to be sitting at our campsite reading Thomas Hardy's, The Woodlanders late in the afternoon, and happened to glance through the pine trees and noticed that the light was getting very good (i.e., yellow-golden) on the face of Half Dome.  I grabbed my camera gear and walked over to the edge of the Merced River and set up the camera and tripod and shot a few frames.  Again, I loved the late-light contrasts and felt that this massive wall of granite was best portrayed in the black and white medium.  I'd be interested in which image of Half Dome that you prefer--the first, more iconic view of Half Dome and the Merced River from Sentinel Bridge; or, this more close-up and detailed 'head-shot' of Half Dome.  Please do make sure that you 'click' on each photograph for an enlarged view of the photo.

Over the past few years I have become quite interested in capturing images that I call "intimate landscapes".  These are photographs taken of natural scenes that literally encompass just a square meter or two.  In other words, the challenge is to find those smaller elements in the natural landscape that, when photographed, do a decent job of representing the larger landscape as a whole.  To this end, I have found that reflections in water are a very credible way of creating some artistic photographic images.  Too many photographers spend their time walking through the landscape looking up, or looking off into the distance.  There's really nothing wrong with this approach, but you may be missing a whole host of wonderful images scattered all about you within just a few meters.  For example, I hiked up to Mirror Lake, which offers spectacular views of Mount Watkins, Half Dome and Ahwiyah Point.  Normally, most photographers focus on the larger scale photographs that include Mount Watkins, Mirror Lake, and Half Dome.  I didn't even bother with that view at all, and spent my time wandering along the edge of the lake looking for reflections in the calm water of the mountains and trees around me.  The color version, above left, is just such one of my attempts at capturing the reflection of Half Dome and Ahwiyah Point.  During post-processing, I flipped the image vertically and horizontally.  Personally, I think it kind of has the feeling of a painting from the French Impressionistic movement.  Note that you can discern the 'sand waves' on the base of the lake at the bottom of trees in the image.  What do you think?  Is it an appealing photograph, or is it just too 'out there' for your tastes?

Whilst at Mirror Lake I found a huge boulder sitting near the edge of the lake that had a great reflection in the still lake water.  I played with various compositions and exposures, and finally found one that appealed to me.  This big granite boulder was streaked with a large wide stripe (maybe a quartz-rich pegmatite dike?) that was really quite fetching to the eye.  Given the excellent tonal range exhibited in the image and the newly leafed-out vegetation in the background, I thought it might make an interesting black and white photograph.  I quite like the end results here.  To me, it kind of has a zen-like calming feel to it.  What do you think?

I am also quite fascinated with forested scenes, and always endeavor to make photographs that portray the beauty and mystery of these woodlands.  Early one morning as we were looking for suitable locations to photograph El Capitan from the bank of the Merced River near Cathedral Rock and Spires, I found a beautiful stand of very mature ponderosa pines and western red cedars.  I carefully scouted about for a suitable location and set up my camera and tripod.  I found a little dry gully that wound its way up through the trees and helps to naturally lead the eye into the scene.  During post-processing, I created a black and white rendition (right) and then a color version (left).  Frankly, I like them both, for different reasons.  Again, I'd be very interested in which photograph you prefer, and why.

Finally, during my last afternoon in Yosemite Valley I was wandering around up by a massive cliff known as "The Royal Arches", and I came upon this huge ponderosa pine tree that must have been 150 feet tall and nearly five or six feet across at the base.  A tree like this is probably in excess of 350 or 400 years old too!  I love the bark of the 'yellow-bark' pines, and decided to see if I could make a photograph that captured the textures, patterns, and color of the bark of this beautiful old tree.  I focused in on an interesting section of the trunk of the tree and made a few exposures.  I tried it in black and white and then in color, but decided that the color rendition was really the very best representation.  I love the patterns that nature provides, if only we take the time to look around for them.

So, there you have it--a few representative examples of how I approach the natural world around me with my camera and tripod.  Have I been entirely successful?  I don't know.  I think some of these photographs are pretty well done, and do show off some of the attributes of Yosemite Valley as I intended.  Others are maybe not quite so successful.  Would I have wished for some stormy weather to lend more drama to the sky above?  You bet!  Interesting weather conditions with clouds are always a landscape photographer's best friend.  Unfortunately, I just didn't really have any of those types of conditions; consequently, one does the best that one can with the tools at hand.  And being in Yosemite National Park, at any time of year, and in any conditions, one can hardly go wrong.  Thanks for looking at my images, and please do share your opinions with me.  Cheers!


  1. I LOVE that second one of half dome ... so interesting! That last one of the bark is beautiful too. Wonderful photos! I would love to see posts like this on your blog more often!

  2. Thank you for that lovely comment! You've truly made my day! I do intend to continue to use my blog to illustrate my love of landscape photography and the natural world around me that I love so much, and I'm delighted that it seems to have struck a chord with you as well. Thanks for stopping by! Cheers! Chris

  3. Beautiful compositions! I especially love the silvery light in the top two Half Dome photos. Magical!

  4. My favorite photo is the one of the boulder in the water. Yes, zen-like is the word. I've missed your posts, good to have you back. I'm truly impressed by your photography-you have a very good excuse for your absence! Looking forward to more.

  5. Excellent post. Interesting images to accompany it with. As you, I was not looking for grand vistas, or amazing landscapes to photograph. But, I was looking for those details, simple views, or good interpretations of common sights that some people sometimes don't even realize is in front of them. It is like wandering around looking for yourself or the way to express yourself.

    It was nice meeting you during that trip, even if it for a short conversation. Hopefully, we'll meet again!

    From your photos, I really like the ponderosa pine tree bark detail.

  6. The boulder has a voice in your photo. I don't know just what it's saying, but thanks for capturing it. Also, I like the color shot of the woods better because it divides the composition.