May 8, 2011
Yosemite National Park & Landscape Photography--Part II
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).
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?
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!