Yosemite National Park is beautiful. It's one of the most visited National Parks in the world, and for very good reason. The towering granite walls and raging waterfalls are a huge draw for visitors and photographers from around the world.
Winter of 2015/2016 has been a great year for snow in the high country, which means the waterfalls are flowing like gangbusters. As if that's not good enough, May and spring brings about one of the coolest natural phenomenon around... MOONBOWS. What is a moonbow? It's where a waterfall throws off so much mist that the light from a full moon actually makes a rainbow in it, the way you would expect it during the daytime. It's awesome! And we love sharing it...
Joe Azure and I met our group of 10 wonderful photographers for a weekend of adventure in Yosemite National Park...AFTER DARK. We met Friday mid-afternoon for our orientation and meet-and-greet. We got to know the class members and found out some of the things they really wanted to see during the weekend. Of course, everyone was pumped for the moonbow.
The weather was really looking dire for the weekend, and we hoped that the forecast would prove to be wrong. Fortunately for photographers, Yosemite is beautiful in any weather, and we could still make awesome images at night without stars and the moon... but if it works out to have those things, all the better.
Our first stop, while we waited for the light to fade, was on the newly reopened Tioga Road. We found a wonderful grove of Dogwood blooms to photograph. The blooms in the valley were past their prime, but with a little research and scouting Joe and I found some really nice blooms in a wonderful grove of trees. We encouraged the class to play with shallow depth of field, and use the white of the blooms juxtaposed with the red and browns of the nearby trees. There were some awesome images made there... and it was only the beginning!
The next stop we made was to shoot some of the new Lupine blooms along Foresta Road. The fires of years past have created some very fertile soil, and the Lupine, and other wildflowers, love this area. Add some great vistas and stormy skies to the mix and there were some truly great shots being created. That was the perfect time to offer some graduated ND filters for the class to use, so they could balance out the darker foregrounds with the brighter skies. Throw in a little polarizing filter action to boot, and the images were really nice. When you have flowers, there's always some possibility for close up macro shots as well, and the group honed in on that as well.
Time was flying, so we made a brief stop for some dinner and then set off for Valley View to see what sunset had to offer. The Merced River was flowing really high so we were able to get some unique perspectives of the interesting logs in the water, and some of the cool little pools for reflection. Once again, we encouraged the filters to be used, and offered up some little bits of critique on the compositions.
Since the sky had some great evening color, before the clouds moved in and covered up the sun, we took advantage of the opportunity and headed out to our next stop, Cook's Meadow. As we drove, we could see the sky was opening up and the first signs that we might get stars and a moon were evident.
In Cook's meadow we found some great little ponds of water that could reflect the upper portion of Yosemite Falls, and hopefully give us some moonbows. It didn't take long before the first people in the group started seeing the bits of color in their images created by this wonderful night! The upper falls weren't the main draw this night... the moonbow time is brief, due to the placement of the moon, so our group didn't waste time, and we walked the short distance to the base of the lower falls, where we hoped the mist would be forgiving and allow us access to create out magical shots.
The previous night, Joe and I had been unable to get out close enough to the waterfall to get any shots, because of the sheer volume of mist generated from this roaring waterfall. On this night with the class, however, the wind was keeping the mist at bay, and it was possible to get images of this wonderful scene! The moonbow was so strong it could be seen with the naked eye, which meant the cameras were really coming away with some tremendous shots. We helped everyone get their settings down in the dryer areas of the platform before they moved out and took their shots. Joe and I were so pumped that our group was able to get some great shots of this marvelous event, and fulfill one of the items on their photographic bucket lists.
When everyone was finished with the moonbow, we moved back to Cook's Meadow, where we worked with the group on shooting some star trail images. For that, we dialed in our apertures and ISO to get five minute exposures that we could string together in Photoshop, to make the trails appear. With a full moon, there are less visible stars, but the effect is still very much the same.
Our final stop for day one was for shooting Bridal Veil Falls. The colder air had taken the mist from the falls and created an eerie cloud that hung over the trees, and really looked awesome with our longer exposures. It was a full night of photography for sure, and Mother Nature had been very cooperative, giving us the moon and stars to make our images with. So much for the weather report on night one! We hoped night two would be more of the same....
We started the evening out by hitting a couple waterfalls. We drove up the road to Cascade Creek Falls so the class could get some intimate shots of this raging waterfall as it snakes its way down the canyon. Then we moved back to Cook's Meadow, so the class could get some moody shots of the upper falls in the clouds and really get some reflections. We spent so much time there the previous night everyone wondered what it looked like in the light…so we made the stop!
With a brief dinner stop at the location formally known as, Curry Village, our goal was to eat and get back in the car so we could make the drive up to Glacier Point to see if sunset would go our way. Little did we know then, nature had been attacking things higher country with layers of fresh snow. This led to our road being closed, which, in photography terms means, ON TO PLAN B!
Tunnel View was a logical spot to spend the remaining portion of daylight, and a good plan B. From there, we have a great view of El Capitan, Half-Dome, and Bridal Veil Falls. The storm was beginning to dissipate, and the clouds and fog clinging to the mountains made for a really awesome view. We took a few time lapse images so people could see just how much the weather was changing in the valley. The color never came to the sunset, but the texture and tones in the existing clouds was enough to make some really nice images.
Our next stop was to shoot the Three Brothers from the banks of the Merced. Once again, we made time for the students to shoot a few star trails, or just work on the pinpoint stars with the reflections of the massive granite outcropping in the swollen Merced River.
The next stop was probably my favorite of the trip. The colder temperatures created a huge wave of fog that moved about the meadows, and as we walked out on the swinging bridge to shoot Yosemite Falls, we could barely see the ghost of this massive waterfall rising out of the eerie mist. We expected to see the grim reaper poling a boat down the river at any moment. The shots we created were moody and far from the average images I see from there. Joe and I thought it was epic, and I think a lot of the class felt the same way!
We made a final stop at Lot A, where we photographed the mighty Half-Dome, who had finally come out of the fog to be photographed. The moon was in a position to really put some interesting light on the area. We primarily shot some pinpoint stars there, and used the 20-25 second exposures to get them, and a few people worked with some longer exposures, as well.
The time seemed to really fly by, and before we knew it, it was nearing 1 am and time for us to call it a night, because we were scheduled to meet at 9:30 am for our processing session.
So, the next morning, Joe and I helped the class learn the techniques to process their star trails and many of the other images collected over the time we spent together. The images we saw on the computer just affirmed what Joe and I knew from spending the weekend with these folks... they got some great images!
Until next time,
Brian, Joe, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
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