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Photographing Yosemite in the Fall season

November 1, 2010

We had always heard that Yosemite National Park is magically different in every season. Until now we had been to Yosemite mainly during the summer months, jostling amongst the crowds and sweating it out on hikes under the midday sun. The Fall season puts a completely different face on Yosemite. The weather is much cooler, the warm rays of the sun playing hide and seek amongst the clouds. The park empties out of all but the most resilient tourists who love the dampness of rain and the ground fog. So if you love refreshingly cold weather like I do, fall season is the perfect time to get to know Yosemite at a mellower pace.

Sunset at the famous “Tunnel View” where Ansel Adams shot many of his most loved photos of Yosemite Valley. El Capitan on the left, a fog shrouded Half-Dome in the middle and Yosemite Falls on the right, the granite lit up by the setting sun …

A visit to Yosemite National Park from the Bay area can be easily accomplished in a regular weekend. You can make it longer or shorter as desired. Setting out on a Friday evening as early as 4PM works out well, one can make it in good time to Yosemite within 4-5 hours as long as there’s no snow on the roads. The only downside to this is that you’ll end up driving on scenic Highway 120 in the dark, so an alternative would be to head out to Yosemite early Saturday morning if you want to see the steep winding roads and don’t mind getting a good dose of vertigo as you rev up your engine.

Driving along the roads in Yosemite, with the granite monoliths covered up in fog and the trees damp with fresh rain.

We hit the road Friday night since I was keen on attending a “Camera Walk” photography class being conducted by the Ansel Adams Gallery staff photographers. Note – this is a FREE class! The class is 1.5 hours long and they start at 8:30AM sharp from the Ansel Adams Gallery porch on Tues, Thu, Sat, Sun. You need to call ahead – (209)-372-4413 – to reserve space, since it’s limited to 15 people and fills up fast during the summer months.

This photography class is mainly to give budding photographers a sense of what to expect in a full-fledged photography workshop so they can decide whether to sign up for the more advanced $$ (paid) photography classes and in-field workshops. The “Camera Walk” is conducted out in the field, where a staff photographer from the Ansel Adams Gallery talks about composition, lighting, f-stop, shutter speed and aperture magic, all the different camera settings, giving useful information and tips on how to improve our photography. The photographer also goes over many of Ansel Adams most famous photographs of Yosemite and other places with interesting tidbits and insights on what makes a particular photo connect with the viewer and some of Ansel’s techniques with composition and lighting. Although Ansel Adams has photographed many places in America, he is most famous for his breathtaking B&W photographs of Yosemite.

Predictably, it rained all night on Friday, and into Saturday morning as well. But who’s worried about a bit of water which will dry up anyway, so all 15 of us showed up! We walked out to Cook’s meadow andΒ  got some great tips from the staff photographer on how to make the most of this misty rainy cloudy weather and what we should focus on shooting in this lighting. All in all, it was a very educative session and highly recommended! Just dress up warmly and take along your camera and rain-proof gear!

Here are some photos I took of Yosemite on that cloudy, foggy morning.

A little bit of mist can add a lot of “mist”ery …

Almost feel like reaching out to caress the pretty texture of the tree bark …

Drops of diamond dew adorn a blade of grass …

Reflections couldn’t get more beautiful …

Even though the waterfalls were predicted to have dried up this time of the year, endless days of rain had filled them up again … hiking to the Falls View and seeing the Lower Yosemite falls below and a huge thundering Upper Yosemite falls above was spectacular. The skies were that perfect shade of blue, with a bit of clouds / fog still hovering above the falls.

View of Lower Yosemite Falls and Upper Yosemite Falls from the meadow across …

The sunrise the next morning was at 7:23AM, so it was no difficult task to be up and about by 6:30AM. The roads inside the park were deserted except for a few brave souls lugging along their tripods and cameras in search of that perfect photo. Everything was serene and bathed in that fresh dewy glow that an impending sunrise brings. The moon was high above Half Dome and fading away as the sun rose up. A popular spot to catch the sunrise is at any of the meadows in the park, where a ground fog always promises spectacular effects.

One of my most favorite pics from the set. While driving by, I saw this empty meadow covered in ground fog, and with a blue-hued Half-Dome, it was too tempting not to stop and take some shots. The oak tree in the forefront adds a bit of balance and mystery and the red grass shrouded in fog adds depth to the scene which draws the viewer in closer …

At Ahwahnee meadow, there was a ground fog lifting from a grove of trees which were showing off their full fall foliage …

The above was a close-up, this is the full view … Yosemite falls in the backdrop, huge granite monoliths dominating the landscape and a grove of trees seemingly huddled together for warmth as the fog menacingly advances … drama!

I spent an hour or more at each spot, moving on slowly whenever I felt like it … the next stop was the sight of this mule deer right by the road, in a meadow whose backdrop made it look like a scene out of a safari movie … the deer was sunning itself, nibbling on some blades of grass and enjoying all the attention as 2, then 3 then 6 cars stopped by to get a closer look at the “wildlife”!

Portrait of a mule deer …

I love photographing close-ups of everything because with a macro shot, one often finds such delicate details and beauty in things which the naked eye is incapable of seeing … capturing such beauty with a macro setting or lens is one of the thrilling part of photography I love when I see the photo enlarged on my laptop screen, the delicate patterns in nature be it a flower, a leaf, a bee, a bird or even something man-made, always takes my breath away.

Some of the interesting patterns I saw around …

Lovely eye-pleasing zig-zag patterns in the tree bark … beautiful symmetry!

Only in a photo can I peer closely and appreciate these gorgeously patterned fern leaves …

And these luminous dew drops on the needle leaves were twinkling like diamonds and looked like precious jewels had been laid out to adorn this plant …

And of course, it being October the fall colors were at their resplendent best! The leaves were various shades of orange, yellow and red … mixed in with green from the evergreen pine trees. It was like being inside a painting when hiking on the trail to Mirror Lake and seeing sunlight filtering through the orangish-yellow leaves back-lighting them brilliantly!

Fall leaves lit up by the sunshiney day …

Fall(en) leaves collecting on a granite slab of rock …

A mule deer pauses it’s chewing to look on curiously at this strange human with the stick-like contraption and big black box in hand …

The other thing I really wanted to try out was to get the milky effect in waterfalls … trying this with the brightly lit Yosemite waterfalls didn’t succeed since I didn’t have any filters to block out the bright light … but when wandering by on a trail, I came across this quaint looking “Fern Falls” which were in a dark secluded corner, away from any natural light … the water was flowing gently, the falls were at their lowest volume, but the light was perfect for me to experiment with some shutter and aperture settings to get the milky waterfalls effect …

Autumn leaves floating on the water, fallen leaves caught on fallen rocks in the waterfall …

Gorgeous milky water effect!

A bit more than a day is all I spent in Yosemite. But it was enough to rejuvenate and fill me with calm when wandering around on trails in the park, along with a sense of accomplishment at having captured some of the beauty of the park with these photos … for now I’ll leave you with this … Hopefully it’ll inspire you to plan for your next trip to Yosemite real soon too!

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2 Comments
  1. wrutu permalink

    Very well written tale of beautifully captured Yosemite πŸ™‚

  2. Thank you Wrutu! πŸ™‚ I wish we could go back to Yosemite again this weekend πŸ˜€

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