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Yosemite was in full-on crazy mode this past weekend. It was winter for the first time in years. The annual “Horsetail Fall fire fall” phenomenon was in full effect, and had just recently been published on many big news agencies earlier that week, creating much hype. It was also Ansel Adam’s birthday…. he’d have been 114. We like crazy, so the Aperture Academy was eager to join the fray, and bring our group of 12 eager photographers to the park for a weekend of fun and photography.
Friday began with an evening orientation where Phil and I discussed the schedule for the weekend, and everyone got to know one another a little.
Saturday morning came early and we started off along the Merced River at swinging bridge. Here we had a tremendous vista of the mighty upper section of Yosemite Falls reflected in the slow moving river. Phil and I helped people work with their filters, utilize the best settings, and fine-tune their compositions. The clouds lit up pink for a little while giving us some really nice color in our images…and with that reflection. What a way to begin the morning!
We finished up our morning along the Merced photographing some reflections of Half Dome and Cathedral Peak. Here we reinforce the use of polarizers to help the reflections, and encouraged folks to get nice and low to get the best shot of the reflection. We finished up with a walk back across the swinging bridge. The entire upper falls was bathed in a warm morning light that really looks stunning in the reflections. The class got some more nice images of this change in light. The next stop was shooting the rainbow on the Upper Falls from a nearby meadow. We had the group throw on their bigger glass, and use the polarizers to help really bring out those colors. Phil and I haven’t seen a rainbow on the upper falls for a few years…there just hasn’t been enough water!
After a brief breakfast break in the valley we hit the hotel so the gang could get in a nap, charge camera batteries and get ready for our afternoon. The crowds were mild in the morning but by the time we returned in the afternoon the masses had descended on the area to set up for their crack at the Horsetail Fall shot. The crowds and cloudy sky lead us to believe our best interest would be to try and catch some nice sunset light from a few of the other iconic, but less crowded vantage points. We set up shop first around the iconic Valley View. Here we had a view of El Capitan, and Bridal Veil Falls reflected in the nooks and crannies of the river. Some of the class worked on taking some longer shutter shots of the river and the mixture of blue and gold light that was dancing on the surface.
For sunset we moved up to a higher vantage point and shot the fading warm light on the face of El Capitan and Half Dome. Phil and I helped to dial in the compositions with our photographers, and encouraged them to shoot vertical as well.
It was a long day, but we really saw a lot, and everyone was excited for the next morning!
Our first stop was a chilly walk up to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. Here we had the class move around the base of the falls to utilize the movement of water here to get nice leading lines into the lower falls. Some frazzle ice made the water a little more textured. We not only continue to help with the use of filters and composition, but here we encourage the class to really experiment with different shutter speeds to see how it changes the way the water looks. Each waterfall is different and different shutter speeds will help to make the most aesthetic image possible.
Once the sun has cleared the mountains it begins to create rainbows on the mist in the lower falls. Now we have the class zoom in and really play with faster shutter speeds to get the detail. While some of the class were photographing the falls, a bobcat decided to head on down the trail and give us all a little taste of wildlife photography from an up- close and personal standpoint. The little cat was not really fazed by the cameras and went about business as usual while everyone quickly snapped away.
The rainbows and bobcat gave us a great start to the morning but we decided to make another stop along the river for some reflections near El Capitan Bridge. Here the water was so dark and still, it looked like a perfect mirror.
From here it was back to the hotel for a morning break and some time spent working with the class on post-processing techniques. It’s always fun to take the images the group has created and help show them a few little tricks to help them make the most of their great images. Processing is such a big part of the finished piece and so many people struggle with this part of the process.
Our afternoon was dedicated to the capture of Horsetail Falls. We arrived early, set up camp, and waited…and waited…and waited. We joked, told stories. Everyone really spent some quality time looking at ALL the compositional possibilities. As one student put it…it’s not too often you have 3 hours to figure out your composition. No, it isn’t.
The time came and with eager anticipation everyone waited for the light show. Unfortunately some light cloud cover settled in the distant, causing the light on the falls to be muted…there was still a warm pink glow, but the intensity wasn’t there that the masses had hoped for. Horsetail isn’t an easy shot to get. The weather has to be perfect, the clouds non-existent, and water levels just right. We had 2 of the 3 conditions. Though the forecast was for clear skies all day, Mother Nature likes to take the opportunity to make sure she tells folks that ultimately she is in charge of the images you get.
The nice thing is that we showed everyone how to give those colors a little pop in Photoshop…so in the end, Mother Nature may have won the battle…but we’ll win the war.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Phil, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.