Getting to Know a Landscape

We have been traveling to Yosemite in earnest for the last seven years with photography in mind. The light has started to behave in familiar ways. El Capitan gets sunset light in autumn, winter, and spring, but not summer. All of the Three Brothers are lit up shortly after sunrise in spring and fall. Nonetheless, conditions are never the same twice. Clouds swirl, rock erodes, and fires burn. Learning Yosemite has allowed us to see promising conditions and find a spot that will showcase it at its best. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to visit for the first time and make a meaningful photograph. With a place as well photographed as Yosemite, there have been people who have gotten the measure of it and made extraordinary photographs on their first trip, but if they come back again and again they increase their chances of making something special.

A couple of recent photographs in Yosemite come to mind. This winter produced genuine snow that was nearly absent in the previous three years, and Yosemite really does show a more raw side that many people don’t ever see. After a storm cleared, we were poking around the west end of the Valley hoping for something to develop, and we were rewarded. Some of the snow had melted at the base of El Capitan, and it was making a billowing cloud that seemed to be emanating from the granite itself. The light was being filtered significantly by clouds in the west, so this filtered out some of the shorter blue light. I knew the exact location by the Merced River that has a straight on view of the nose of El Capitan that would give a view of fresh snow, and the golden tinged cloud. This is “Golden Shroud.”

On the same trip, we knew the moon would be nearly full and therefore rising as the sun was setting. The moon rises from its most northern position close to the Winter Solstice, so our knowledge of Yosemite’s orientation gave us a good idea for a composition for the moon rising near Half Dome at Tunnel View. The clouds were being persistent at sunset, and no light made it through. Skunked. However, in the hopes of catching the moon rising a little bit later, we decided to head down to a spot by the Merced that would show the rising moon above Half Dome after it had been above the horizon for a couple of hours. About a half-hour after sunset, a small break in the clouds showed the moon peeking through. This is “Window.”

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