Last month Natalie and I vacationed in Yosemite National Park. It was her first visit, and I hadn’t been there in over 15 years. We spent a week in the park, enjoying early spring weather, grand views, waterfalls at their peak, and a few early wildflowers. While I briefly considered NOT carrying a camera on vacation, I couldn’t bear the thought that I might happen upon really wonderful light and weather conditions and not have the tools that would let me capture a unique view of this very heavily-photographed park. So I packed all my gear, some 30 pounds or so, and hauled it around on my back nearly every day.
The place we stayed, a condo we rented through Airbnb, required that we pass the iconic Tunnel View
We were in the park for a week, and dutifully stopped at Tunnel View on nearly every trip. Most of the time the view was nice, as in “I’ve seen that picture hundreds of times.” So I didn’t set up and photograph every time we stopped.
The first three photos in this post were made on the evening of April 6. It looked like there might be a few interesting clouds at sunset, so we made a point of stopping at the vista point as sunset approached. In the first photo, made at 7:10 pm, the sun is still illuminating the lip of Bridalveil Fall and the tip of El Capitan.
I stood around waiting for the light to change, watching an endless stream of tourists with selfie sticks and more serious photographers with tripods stop to snap their version of the scene. Nine minutes later, at 7:19, the sun had dropped lower and Bridalveil was in shadow.
As the air temperature dropped and the crowds thinned, I continued waiting and hoping for a little drama in the sky over the valley. As the sky darkened it became obvious that while a nice sunset was happening behind me, the view from Tunnel View was going to be more subtle. I made my third exposure at 7:36 pm, about 20 minutes after official sunset that evening. There was a hint of color in the sky over the valley, but what I really like in this version are the soft hues of blue in the landscape that echo the blue of the sky.
Three days later the weather had changed and we awoke to the sound of rain. We got a leisurely start, not making it down the mountain to Tunnel View until after 10 am. It was still raining lightly and the cliffs were partially cloaked in fog. I noticed a California redbud (Cercis occidentalis) in full bloom, contrasting with the green foliage on the manzanitas and conifers. I found a place for my camera that positioned the redbud in the foreground and made what is probably my favorite image of this iconic scene.
That evening, we stopped at Tunnel View for the last time. I made this image at 6:41 pm under overcast skies and with fog in the valley. While the original was made in color, I thought that this more monochromatic scene might look good in black and white so I loaded it into Nik SilverEfx Pro and made this sepia-tinted version.
So what’s the moral of the story here? When you’re visiting our National Parks you have to accept that almost every photo has been done before. It takes some time, and patience, to come up with a new way of seeing the place. A little research and scouting ahead of time will give you ideas about what time of day a particular view might look best, but photography still comes down to being at the right place at the right time with the patience to wait for conditions to become just right. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But if you aren’t prepared, with the right gear and the right clothing for the weather, you won’t have the opportunity to make a once-in-a-lifetime photo.
Even if you end up with an image that looks a lot like everyone else’s photo, it’s nice to capture your own memories of the places you visit. And remember to print the best ones so you can enjoy them without firing up your computer.
Technical notes: these images were made with my Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 24-105mm lens. They’ve had post-processing work done in Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Nik filters.