Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A visit to Yosemite - one of the most beautiful places in the world!

A little while back, my wife and I took some time to ourselves and drove to Yosemite to spend 3 days. This amazing National Park is about a 5 hour drive from our house, but so worth the drive. And for the first time in years, we were there without our kids or any work obligations, so we were free to do whatever we wanted.

We got up early on our first day and made the 4 hour drive to the park entrance. After a couple of stops. we arrived at Tunnel View around noon and I was excited to see blue skies and nice puffy clouds. And for the first time in a long time, due to the large amount of rainfall we had in this El NiƱo year, the waterfalls were all running full.

For this trip, I mostly relied on my Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 28-300mm lens. I grabbed that gear and took the first photos of the trip.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 35mm, ISO 160, f/5, 1/500 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

I know...this is a very photographed spot, but regardless, it is so beautiful, it is worth every photo. I loved how the clouds were creating ever moving shadows on the valley floor. For this shot, I waited for the sun to open up on part of the valley floor and El Capitan.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 100mm, ISO 320, f/5, 1/500 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
After taking the obligatory wide shot from this iconic spot, I then zoomed in to 100mm and isolated different subjects from this vantage point. This photo shows Bridalveil Falls on the right, with Halfdome off in the distance to the left of the frame.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 70mm, ISO 160, f/5, 1/800 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Here is a tighter shot of El Capitan with a combination of sunlight and shadows on the face of this amazing rock. I framed this shot to make El Cap my subject, but wide enough to include Half Dome and the clouds.

We then drove down to the valley floor to meet up with my wife's twin sister and husband. But they had not arrived yet, so we decided to do a little sightseeing on our own. I saw this patch of water in the meadow and immediately made my way there, hoping for a decent reflection of Half Dome. As you can see from the photo, this worked out well. My goal was to shoot with a slow enough shutter speed to neutralize the ripples in the water (caused by the light winds), and bring out the reflection even more. I grabbed my new Tiffen Circular Polarizing Filter and blocked some of the light coming into the camera. At a low ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/18 (with the filter on), I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/4 sec.

(Photographer's note: For those of you who like to take photos in amazing places like this, and wish for cloudless skies, think again. If you look at the previous photos, you will notice how the clouds add to the composition of the photos. If these skies were all blue, these photos would not be as interesting.)

While taking photos in this spot, I was approached by a couple different people who were blog readers and recognized this ugly face. It is always fun to talk to people who read and learn from the blog. My wife took this photo of me and this gentleman (John Hearne) after we met and talked photography for a while.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
We did eventually meet up with our relatives (cell phones are spotty in Yosemite) and went with them to check out some sites early in the evening. We were looking at Yosemite falls and admiring the large amount of water that was pouring down to the floor below. Having photographed these falls before, I knew that a full length shot would not be as interesting as a tight shot, so I zoomed all the way to 300mm and took this shot at the base of the falls. I loved the way that the water was hitting the rock wall to the right. Normally I like to photograph waterfalls at slow shutter speeds, but I took this photo at 1/320 sec to freeze the water careening off the rock face.

Since we were back in the same spot as Annette and I had visited earlier in the day, I thought I would take another reflection photo of Half Dome. I liked the way that the last sunlight of the day was hitting the face of Half Dome.

I decided that this would be a good time for a shot of the four of us. I set up my Gitzo travel tripod (with Acratech ball head), put the Canon 600 EX-RT flash on my camera to light us, and set the focus. I used an aperture of f/8 so that both us and the background would be in focus. I then set the timer for 10 seconds and ran into the shot.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 50mm, ISO 100, f/4, 1/1000 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Our second day did not provide the same nice weather that we had on our first day. I asked my wife if we could stop and take another photo. She looked out the window and then at me and asked "Why?" I wanted to take a similar photo to what I had taken the day before to show you all the difference that a day can make. This time we did not have any blue skies and the whole scene was flat. Not nearly as picturesque! It just goes to show that, as much as we can control the cameras, a lot of nature photography involves factors that we can not control.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/2 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Whenever I am in a place like Yosemite and the weather is overcast, I look for scenes that would be better in flat light. The absence of bright light allowed me to take this river scene at a 1/2 second shutter speed, showing the motion of the water.

In previous trips to Yosemite with or kids, we did not do a whole lot of hiking, but since we were on our own, we took full advantage of our 3 days in the park. On this second day we decided to hike up to Vernal Falls. This was a fairly strenuous hike and involved climbing a lot of water soaked steps, but it was well worth it. I took this shot to show Vernal Falls, but also the steps leading up to the falls.

About half way up the steps, I came to a spot with a great view of Vernal Falls. The big challenge here was finding a spot to set up my tripod (without blocking others) and also having a spot that was somewhat out of the way of the blowing mist (to keep my lens clean). There was a lot of water blowing in the air, which required me to turn the camera away from the falls, and clean the filter after every shot.

In order to show the motion of the water, I once again set up the camera to as slow a shutter speed. Setting the camera to an ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/18, I had a shutter speed of 1/2 second. The Tiffen Circular Polarizing Filter also helped me cut out some light, and also reduced the amount of glare coming off the wet rocks.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/2 sec, -0.7 exposure comp)
I am not sure how, but we let my brother-in-law convince us to climb even higher and hike back the long way. I was getting a little tired at this point, but happy to stop and get this shot. I looked down at Vernal Falls and saw this rainbow at the base of the falls and had to take this shot!

After hiking to an even higher elevation, I looked back and saw Nevada Falls in the distance. With this massive rock jutting high into the sky, it made for a perfect composition with the rock and falls. I also took a couple tight shots of the falls, but didn't feel that they were nearly as interesting without the rock formation.

We were hiking through the meadows early on our third day and I saw this sole tree sticking out at the base of Yosemite Falls and zoomed in to 300mm to grab this shot. It looks decent in color, but after converting it to B&W (using NIK SilverEfex Pro - which is now free for everyone) I liked it much better.

After breakfast, we met up with my wife's cousin, who works in Yosemite. He had the day off and offered to take us to some really cool trails that were not on the maps. This is a photo of me in one of those locations. Pretty awesome view. Thanks Brian!

From this same spot, I decided to take a series of photos to combine in a panorama. I made sure to shoot from left to right, and to include everything from Yosemite Falls to Half Dome. This is a 700MB file on my computer.

On our second hike of the day, we headed to the base of El Capitan and climbed the "nose". Here is another photo of me in this location. What! Three photos of me in one blog post? Sorry about that. :)

Brian is an accomplished rock climber (hence the reason that he is living in Yosemite right now), so I asked him to climb for me. Using the Canon 24-105mm lens. I shot at 24mm and got down as low as I could to the ground. Brian was not that high off the ground, but the wide angle lens exaggerates the height in this shot. Trust me, Brian was not about to climb El Cap without any ropes.

For out third hike of the day (and yes - I was exhausted by the end of the day), we hiked to a hidden water fall. Along the way, we passed Mirror Lake. I took this first photo to include Half Dome in the shot.

This second shot of Mirror Lake does not include the famous rock, but shows a nice view of the valley opening where we were heading.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/800 sec, -0.7 exposure comp)
As we hiked along the edge of Mirror Lake, I looked up and saw the moon just over the top of Half Dome. What an awesome combination of subjects! As you can see, I took both a wide shot and a tight shot of this scene.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

We reached the hidden water fall at 7pm. I set up and took a couple of photos before packing up and heading back. We were starting to run out of light, so time was limited.

I hope you enjoyed "our" visit to Yosemite.

FYI - This will likely be the last "regular" blog entry before I go into full blown Olympic mode. From this point on, you are likely to see blog posts pertaining to the upcoming Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. And then, once I arrive in Rio, you will be seeing blog entries every day.


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1 comment:

Jeff said...

Hi Jeff:

I recently returned from a trip to Yosemite and the falls and river were amazing this year. The snow pack was thawing at just the perfect time. I can't say that we got to all the iconic spots you did at the perfect time, but we did get some great views. I am posting them on my website at - - I am trying to post one picture of Yosemite for 365 days. It was a truly transforming experience. Thanks for sharing your adventure!