The winter snows bring something special to the wild, be it forests of giants, majestic mountains, or strange desert scenes. It brings a sense of freshness, of purity, beauty, delicate contrasts, and yes, it brings the abstract nature of places to the forefront by accentuating smooth and sensuous shapes. Well, after my exciting trip to the Sequoias, I headed out to Yosemite, where a similar dumping of the powdery stuff had fallen. Normally I avoid the place; there’s tourists everywhere, and probably just about everything has been photographed. But it is beautiful, quite beautiful. And at least in the winter there’s not as many people around (because it’s cold.. sleeping in a tent is not for the faint of heart). Straying even further from my general style, in a sense, I went specifically for a rather iconic scene: the Gates of the Valley – the grand opening of the glacially carved paradise as seen from the banks of the Merced river. With fresh snow and clear skies to the west at sunset, this place becomes truly stunning. I simply needed to get myself a picture of those sensual stones covered in a layer of fresh snow, and the weather predictions seemed like they were going to cooperate. Most renditions of the scene you will find concentrate on the majestic rock faces in the distance, but it’s the snowy foreground rocks and curves that I was really interested in, so I made them a rather large part of the composition. It was on my second evening that the skies cleared (they’ve got to be clear all the way out to San Francisco to get the best light, and as you can imagine, that’s very rare!), and the show was fantastic!
“Snow Pillows” ~ Yosemite National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm L f/4 @ 23mm, single axis panorama head, tripod, 2-stop hard GND
Exposure: iso 200, f/18, 5 sec
Processing: two images stitched with PTGui.
Given that this is a photographers mecca, I met a few interesting photographers while waiting for the light to develop, one of whom was a retired professional runner sponsored by Nike, who now travels around photographing at will.. sounds like a good life! Another two folks recognized my car from the previous adventure, it seems when your car gets covered in a foot of snow you suddenly become famous 🙂
It’s hard to find something in Yosemite that hasn’t been done hundreds of times before, not that photographing those scenes isn’t fun, but I don’t find them as fulfilling. Driving through the valley, one of the things that caught my eye was the wind whipped snow and ice covered grasses scattered throughout the meadows. It wasn’t until I’d driven past a number of them and contemplated their delicate nature that I finally saw the scene that worked for me. The mist rising over the meadow and the graceful swirl of texture under the rugged and powerful rock face provided a lovely contrast of textures and emotions for me. This is one of those images that you really should see in a larger format (click on it!) to appreciate it.
“Snow Sketch” ~ Yosemite National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm L f/4 @ 19mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 1/8th
Notes: As you might have noticed, I often elect to use iso 200 over 100. With the 5D there’s hardly any difference in noise or dynamic range, and by dropping the shutter speed in half I’m reducing the effects of any wind that might rake across the scene, as was the case here. Or for longer exposures (of a few seconds), dropping the time in half just makes life easier, and there’s no noticeable drawback.
For those of you following my work, you may have noticed that I try to incorporate abstract components in my images, wherever possible. Yet I also like to keep the context of the scene there, so you have the opportunity to find the relationships and shapes yourself, rather than pushing them in your face and leaving you confused and disoriented.
To help give you an idea of how I view things I thought I’d share some insight into my brain regarding this image… When we’re outside, exploring a scene and taking in the sights, there are no edges to the world. You don’t see the world through a camera lens (even I don’t). You see the interactions between the grasses at your feet and the mountains in the distance, and you feel the cold air playing with your hair. Meanwhile, however, you focus in on certain things, like those mountains, the grasses, or the cold. And sometimes you stumble on something really neat, something worth taking some time to look at and ponder. Now, I’ve done the hard part – I’ve gone out and found those spots and moments – but I still want to give you the opportunity to understand what it was like to find them, as if you were out there yourself wandering the meadow. So for example, what struck me here, was the delicate grasses. But without the distant cliffs you wouldn’t understand what they were, or what it was like to find them. And for this image, you can see it in the opposite way as well, the mountains become an abstract painting, but without the context of the meadow, they mean very little. Together, you have a feeling of where you are, and you have the opportunity to isolate those components yourself, and then to see the interesting contrasts between the two. Finding a scene with multiple components that come together, with the appropriate light, is quite the challenge, and often results in my favorite images.
Then again, sometimes a flat and recognizable abstract, like some strange painting, is what nature calls for. In such a case, I will obey mother Nature’s..
Well, that’s about it from this trip, but hopefully soon I’ll be telling you my stories of the time I spent on the Eastern side of the Sierras for Christmas – a wild diversity in scenes from mountains to deserts and everywhere in between.
PS – thanks to all of you who came out to my parent’s house for the photography exhibition and presentation, it was great to meet you all! And if you have any suggestions and connections for places where I could do exhibitions in the future, please, let me know! The more exposure I can get, the more chances I may get for going out on such adventures to share with you all!