Posted by: kerryl29 | August 14, 2017

Yosemite National Park Day 6: The Last Waltz

By the sixth day–the fifth full day–at Yosemite I had photographed at most of the locations in the valley that I’d wanted to visit.  I hadn’t necessarily experienced ideal conditions in each locale, but I’d at least had an opportunity to photograph at many of them.  So, with one final full day–during which clear skies were projected throughout–of my time at Yosemite remaining, I had the opportunity to decide where I wanted to revisit, given the predicted weather.

Valley View at Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

I started out at a spot I hadn’t photographed from, though I’d scouted the location several times:  Valley View.  This had been my intended sunset destination on Day 4, but I’d been so entranced when I stumbled on the scene at Stoneman Meadow that evening that I’d shot from there at day’s end.  So I photographed from Valley View at sunrise on this day instead.

Valley View Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

Valley View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

The sky this morning (and throughout the day), in line with the forecast, was completely clear, so after producing a couple of images I crossed Pohono Bridge and began the journey east on the Southside Drive.  My first stop was at the southwest edge of El Capitan Meadow in the still-soft light of early morning.  With Horsetail Falls and the granite block of El Capitan in the background, I positioned myself to both avoid a foreground sign and arrange the mid-ground trees in a pleasing array.

Horsetail Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I took note of Bridalveil Falls, and a setting moon, behind me and crossed the road to make an image of that scene.

Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I then returned to the north side of the road and made one final image of the Horsetail Falls scene, just as the sun’s rays began to shine on the high ridge on the far side of the valley.

Horsetail Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Farther east along Southside Drive I stopped in the thick of one of the valley’s conifer forests, a spot I’d identified a few days earlier during a scouting session.  I took advantage of the even light to create one image of the scene.

Valley Forest, Yosemite National Park, California

From here I drove back to the stables parking area–the same spot where I parked on Day 5 as a jumping off point for a hike along the east side of Tenaya Creek on the way to Mirror Lake.  This time I followed the creek on the west side, which provided access to an entirely different set of intimate images.

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Whether it was more examples of the dogwood bloom at peak…

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

…or scenes from the creek…

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

…there were a seemingly endless number of images to discover.

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

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

As I had discovered the previous day, this part of Yosemite Valley would remain in open shade–with Half Dome blocking any direct sunlight–until late morning.  This worked to my advantage for the second consecutive day.

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

When I reached Mirror Lake, I wandered around the west and north shores without taking any images.  I felt that this part of the valley was experiencing light too harsh to photograph, but I did identify several spots from which I wanted to shoot when the light was at least somewhat softer.  I scouted a bit and decided to return later in the day.

I returned to my car and then, with several hours of harsh light ahead of me, decided to leave the car in place and take the Yosemite shuttle bus to Yosemite Village, where I wandered around in the Ansel Adams Gallery for a bit.  The valley hot spots were all very crowded during this stretch of Friday afternoon so I then decided to spend some time hiking the valley loop trail–without my camera gear.  The light, as I said, was poor but it was a nice afternoon for a long walk, so over the next couple of hours I hiked roughly seven miles on the flat trail that circumnavigates most of Yosemite Valley.  I ultimately picked up the shuttle again at El Capitan Bridge and took it all the way back to the stables.  And from there, I hiked back to Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

It was still a good four-odd hours until sunset and the light was, perhaps, still a bit harsher than I would like, but I photographed the scenes I identified in the morning.

Mirror Lake Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Before I left the lake, a group of ducklings emerged, almost at my feet, and swam out into the water.

Ducklings Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

As I headed out of the Mirror Lake area late in the afternoon, some reflections in Tenaya Creek caught my attention.

Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

I made the drive to a spot on Northside Drive that runs along the northern edge of Cook’s Meadow, and I spent a fair amount of time wandering around this area as the light became nicer.  There was some breeze in this part of the valley, so I had to account for that when making exposure decisions.  I determined that I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/30 second to render foliage without a blur.  I alternated my attention from Sentinel Rock to the south and Yosemite Falls to the north.

Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Ultimately I altered my position to focus on Half Dome, to the southeast.

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

I moved about a mile west of Cook’s Meadow to an unmarked spot, east of El Capitan Meadow.  It was a spot I’d examined earlier in the week.

El Capitan Meadow Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Sentinel Rock, Yosemite National Park, California

Finally, with sunset nearly upon me, I zipped back to Valley View, where the day had begun some 14-plus hours earlier.

Valley View Sunset, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

Valley View at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Valley View at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

And that brought the end to my time at Yosemite National Park.  With a (very) long drive ahead of me the following day and being sleep-deprived for the past week…and given the forecast for yet another clear, fog-free morning the next day, I decided to give myself a break.  Instead of getting up no later than 4:15 AM, as had been the case since I arrived in California, I could sleep until almost 6 before pulling out the following morning for the circuitous trek to the town of Lee Vining in the Eastern Sierra…


  1. Awesome pictures!

  2. Fantastic photos – and I enjoyed going on the journey with you. Especially liked the first few but difficult to choose

    • Thanks very much!

      I’m glad you made it through the entirety of the Yosemite experience; I hope you’ll stick around for the accounts of the time spent in the Eastern Sierra and the coastal redwoods region.

      • Just to think that I did a private tour North – Great Falls to South Arizona and missed Yosemite!

        • Sounds as though you weren’t quite far enough west for Yosemite.

          In any event, I hope this recent series provided a modest peek at Yosemite’s beauty.

  3. In a post filled with fantastic images of the beauty and magnificence of Yosemite, the one that caught my eye the most was the Tenaya Creek Reflections. That’s because it’s an image that I may be able to accomplish here in Michigan, if I had your eye and patience. I can’t seem to force myself to slow down and work a scene in the way that you are, which I attribute to the run and gun method that I use to shoot wildlife.

    From experience, I know that I typically have about two seconds to capture a small bird before it flies away, and I have to pick up the bird in the viewfinder, get a focus lock on it and shoot within that two seconds. When presented with a subject that doesn’t move, I’m lost as to how photograph it as well as I should. I’ve tried, but not hard enough I guess. It sounds silly even to me, being better at shooting fast than when I have the time to think, but it’s the way that I am, at least for now. I do try to learn from each of your posts, thank you for being so detailed in your explanations as to how you get the images that you produce.

    • Interesting thoughts from you as always, Jerry.

      Perhaps one way to think about it would be to compare photographing landscapes to producing images of wildlife from a blind. In the second case, part of the blind setting involves some consideration of composition–establishing a clean background, for instance, and perhaps waiting for the light. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course as the differences are probably at least as great as the similarities.

      Truth is, I don’t know many people who are particularly adept at photographing both landscapes and wildlife. I know a few (I’m certainly not one of them), but they’re plainly the exception to the rule. The two endeavors seem to leverage quite different things, both technically and aesthetically.

      • i’ve thought about this a lot the past few days, and a large part of it is because of light. I can get a good image of a bird in just about any light, but in landscape photography, light is as or more important than the subject itself. You’ve learned how to get the best results from the light that you have while shooting your superb landscapes, I haven’t.

        That, and I spend most of my time behind a camera with a 400 mm or longer lens on it, I haven’t learned composition with wide-angle lenses yet. I know that wide-angle lenses aren’t the only option for landscapes, but images shot at wider angles are what I think of when I think landscape.

        • Very interesting thoughts. You’ve noted two distinct concepts–light and (wide angle) composition–and my recommendation would be to deal with them separately. I’ll make a couple of (admittedly unsolicited) suggestions.

          First, composition. I’d suggest putting a prime wide angle (24 mm, perhaps) on your camera and going out and working exclusively with this focal length for awhile, in any kind of light. Walk around with this camera/lens combination, and examine what you’re seeing through the viewfinder. When you find something you like, take some shots with the camera tripod-mounted. Then play back the images, on your LCD screen, and assess the compositions in real time, with the scene still in front of you. What’s working with these images? What isn’t? Really think about the elements in the image…could you have arranged them differently, relative to your shooting position? Left, right; up, down; forward, back. Should something have been excluded altogether? Check the edges of the frame. Do this repeatedly and see if you don’t start to implicitly get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Remember, there are no objectively correct answers to any of these questions; there are only subjectively correct answers; if you’re satisfied with the composition, if helps to convey your intent, then it’s good. Otherwise, it isn’t.

          Light, to me, is much more straightforward, more inherently instinctive. What kind of light is particularly flattering to what kind of scene and what kind of rendering that scene. Again, there are no truly “objective” right answers. I have pretty emphatic opinions about this sort of thing (e.g. I generally like soft, even light for woodland, stream and waterfall photography; I generally like low, sunlit light for most wide open spaces; I often like fairly contrasty light for b/w renderings of (relatively) open scenes, etc.). But, in developing your photography, it makes no difference what I think; the only thing that matters is what you think.

          I lied…I have a third suggestion. 🙂 I would suggest looking at a lot of wide angle landscape images, from a lot of different photographers. Critique these images; you don’t have to actually write your critiques out, you can do it in your head. But look at these images, let yourself react spontaneously to these images (i.e. I like it, I don’t like it, etc.). After you’ve given yourself the opportunity to react, spend some time assessing why you feel the way you do about the image in question. What do you like about the image? What don’t you like? What would improve (in your opinion) the photograph? Do enough of this and you’ll start to really understand just what it is that you like…and once you understand these things, you can begin to apply this knowledge, in the field, to your own photography.

        • First of all, thank you very much for your suggestions, I do appreciate the help!

          I’ll start with your third suggestion, looking at a lot of wide-angle landscapes. I do, but doing so fuels my frustrations in some ways. I live in the flat, featureless, farmland part of Michigan. There are no mountains, no waterfalls, and no pristine mountain lakes. I could go to the Lake Michigan shore, it’s close to me, but there I face huge crowds during the day, and there seems to be some people around at any time of the day. Even in the off season, I’ve had to deal with people walking through a shot when I’ve been shooting long exposures. So when I view the landscape images that other people shoot, which are shot in locations much different than where I live, to me, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

          I’ve probably overstated how bad I am with lighting. I have learned to recognize really great light when it happens, and usually manage to pull off a good image or two no matter where I am at the time that it happens. But, this summer has been unusual in that the quality of light hasn’t been that good at the times when I’ve been able to get outside to shoot.

          I like your first suggestion, get out there and shoot at wider angles no matter what, the most. I keep telling myself to do just that. It’s the only way that I’ll ever learn how to judge the relative size of things in a scene at wide angles. In fact, I’m working on a blog post in which I talk about doing that. It’s funny, I’ve shot thousands of bad images of birds learning how to shoot them in any conditions, it’s the same for macros. But I can’t bring myself to shoot bad landscape images to learn how to shoot good ones. That goes back to the subjects that I have to shoot around here, and the quality of light. I find it hard to put the effort required into shooting landscapes when I know that the results won’t be very good, even if I do learn from them. I need the motivation of a beautiful scene, even in the area where I live, before I’m willing to make the effort of photographing it. And, there are some beautiful scenes around here, when the light is right. I just have to make more of an effort of being in the right place at the right time. However, that often interferes with my wildlife photography.

          The best times of the day for landscapes are also the best times of day for wildlife, and I’m faced with the decision, do I shoot landscapes or do I shoot what I know I can shoot well, wildlife. I almost always succumb to the instant gratification of shooting what I know I can shoot well, the wildlife. If I can set my tripod up with my second camera and shoot a few landscapes at the same time, I do, but those instances are rare. It’s hard for me to put the thought into the landscape image when a bird perches against the beautiful background that led me to set-up to shoot the landscape in the first place. I’ve gotten some of my most memorable bird images as I’ve been trying to shoot the landscape behind the bird.

          I want to thank you again for all the effort that you’ve put into trying to help me out though. I’m afraid that the only answer would be for you to join me, and as we’re shooting landscapes, whack me in the head when I reach for my long lens.

        • You know, reading this, it seems to me that what you’re implicitly saying is that wildlife photography is your calling (as you’ve said yourself many times, I’m sure). Landscapes are something you dabble with from time to time. Why fight it? It’s the inverse of my personal photographic axiom (i.e. it’s the landscape that gets me out of bed in the morning; wildlife is something I stumble across every now and then), but the principle is the same; certain subjects move us; other things we find of interest, but not in the same way as that which primarily motivates us. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

          Technique can be worked on; nuanced aesthetics can be developed. But, in my view, innate interest needn’t be feigned.

          You like wildlife photography; you’re good at it (and still getting better). It’s evident that it’s your passion. Indulge it. That’s my last piece of unsolicited advice. 🙂

  4. Outstanding! Beautiful light and slowed speed of water.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  5. Thanks Kerry, a great series of photos. It’s funny, but even ‘Lee Vining’ brings a smile to my face and good memories.

    • Thanks, Mike. There will be more from the greater Lee Vining era in subsequent posts.

  6. WOW … that was some last day … excellent photos! I love the Tenaya Creek images with ‘Tenaya Creek Reflections’ being my favorite.

    • Thanks, Denise!

  7. Some stunning images here!

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