Posted by: kerryl29 | July 24, 2017

Thematic Interruption: Black and White and Yosemite All Over

What is it about Yosemite National Park that produces such an inclination to render images in black and white?  Is it the legacy of Ansel Adams, the most renowned landscape photographer of all time?  Much of Adams’ most famous work emanated from Yosemite and virtually all of his imagery was revealed in black and white.  When Adams started out, black and white film was the only medium of choice and, though he later dabbled in work with color emulsions, literally all of his memorable images were rendered in monochrome.

Half Dome from Glacier Point Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Silver Apron Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Is there something about Yosemite that naturally begs for monochromatic treatment or is it simply the weight of Adams’ Yosemite portfolio that causes so many photographers, including me, to “see black and white images” so frequently at this locale?  Is it a combination of both?

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Stone Bridge Moonset Black & White, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

I spent a bit of time a couple of weeks batting these questions around with highly accomplished photographers Danny Burk and E.J. Peiker, both of whom have photographed at Yosemite.  While the “Ansel impact” was universally acknowledged, Danny noted “I think it has much to do with the place being filled with (mostly colorless) stone, plus water/pines. None of these have a lot of color.”

Foresta Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake Reflections Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

It’s true; it’s arguable that one of the things that makes the Yosemite landscape so recognizable is the combination of elements that are relatively devoid of color–the gray of the dominant granite cliffs and edifices that ring Yosemite Valley, the whitewater of falls and rapids, the extremely dark green of the predominant conifers.  (It’s worth noting, I suppose, that this effect is heightened by snow cover in winter and the whites of dogwood blossoms in spring.)  There are exceptions, of course, but it can be reasonably said that the essence of what makes the quintessential Yosemite landscape is the lack of color.

Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Horsetails Falls from El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I’ve blogged about black and white imagery in broad terms, on more than one occasion, over the years and outlined the kinds of conditions that I think make for good b&w photography.  But at Yosemite, I often found myself thinking “black and white” even when conditions weren’t necessarily of the text book monochrome variety.

Misty El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Conifer Forest Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

On all but one or two instances, I wasn’t consciously aware of the “Ansel Effect,” but I think it would be naive to believe it wasn’t at least a secondary factor in some of my photographic choices while in the park.    Adams’ imagery is so iconic that I have to believe it’s seeped into my subconscious.

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

After much consideration, I’m still unsure of the relative weights–exactly why was I so attuned to black and white at Yosemite?  How much was it the nature of the predominant elements?  The Ansel Effect?  The conditions?  Surely all of these things made an impact.

Merced River from Valley View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

There may even have been a bit of a lingering effect, as I often found myself thinking “monochrome” as I transitioned from Yosemite to the Eastern Sierra.  I have to believe that, while the conditions and/or elements warranted it, I was more attuned to images that would benefit from black and white treatment than I ordinarily might…as a function of the experience at Yosemite immediately preceding.

Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Whatever the ultimate explanation, the tendency to pull out the informal black and white “filter” felt organic to me at the time.  I never had the sense that I was outwardly searching for monochrome-friendly scenes.  I try, to the extent possible, to avoid looking for specific types of images when in the field as doing so has the potential to make me miss things I might otherwise see.  But I never had that feeling.  There really is something about Yosemite and a black and white impulse…


  1. Stunning shots and a fascinating discussion with lots of thought-provoking questions. Wonderful posting.

    • Thanks very much, Mike!

  2. Lovely! Black and White forces me to look at the values of light which is so important.

  3. Such beautiful black and white photography Kerry. I enjoyed this blog post very much.

  4. Interesting discussion of the “Ansel Adams influence”. If I may ask, how is the planning for your Colorado tall trip coming along?

    • tall should read fall instead 🙂

      • I figured as much. 🙂

    • Thanks, David.

      Planning is going well. I’ve got all the logistics in place for the final week of September (based in Silverton and Gunnison) and the first week of October (based in Ouray).

      • I think you’re going to enjoy yourself in addition in grabbing some fantastic images – especially in Gunnison and Ouray. If you have time, you might take in a side trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s a national park not too many know about. Many think RMNP and Great Sand Dunes.
        Ouray has been producing some very good colors there over the past few years. Those that have made the trip there love the colors.

        Weather-wise, we’re in the middle of the summer monsoon season. The amount of rain shouldn’t affect the colors, in terms of leaf mold.

        • Thanks, David, both for the encouragement and the update on the weather.

          I’m really looking forward to making the trip. I’ve only been to southwest Colorado once before and that was more than 25 years ago, for one day, at the end of August.

          Thanks for the suggestion re the Black Canyon of the Gunnison; I’ve actually been there once (again, ages ago–it was still a national monument back then) and found it quite interesting. I’m not sure if I’ll get as far north as Montrose, but I will definitely leave open the possibility; thanks very much for the suggestion.

  5. I think that the urge to photograph Yosemite in B&W is due to the things that you mentioned, the Ansel effect, and the naturally colorless features in the area. However, I also believe that the Ansel effect goes deeper than we realize. For many of us, the first images that we see of Yosemite are Ansel Adam’s photographs, and therefore, in the back of our minds, that’s what we think of when when we hear the word Yosemite, whether we’re aware of it or not. His imagery is so ingrained in our culture overall, and the psyche of many of us, that we think that Yosemite is supposed to look like an Ansel Adams image. That’s my two cents worth on the subject, other than to say that you did another outstanding job with your photos of Yosemite!

    • Thanks, Jerry.

      I think you’re right–the AA Effect is a major factor in presenting a preconceived view–even it’s done subconsciously–of Yosemite. I don’t think it’s the only influence (as you’ve indicated), but it very likely is the biggest.

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: