Monday, April 29, 2013

FREE Photo Lecture...

DNC Employees....On Monday May 13th at 7pm I am giving a FREE talk on photography at the Yosemite Employee Community Center. It will be very much like this blog covering how to use your camera, exposure settings, composition and how to take a better photograph. Hope to see you there…

Merced River at Midnight...

Yosemite Falls 

Sunday, April 21, 2013


One afternoon after work I decided to go on a short hike to yet another place I have never hiked before. I was hoping to catch the shift in sunset colors over the valley as a storm passed through from a different vantage point.

With El Capitan on the left and Half Dome on the right the wait is on...

By changing the focal length I got a different look

After two hours of waiting I could tell I was not going to get the the colors and sky I was hoping to photograph. There was too much of a cloudy sky behind me, it started to snow and low lying clouds covered the valley and Half Dome...

But not to worry I literally turned around and got this shot...
there is always something to photograph here...
just turn around and look....

And this shot a few minutes later...
This is the exact same tree but by moving the camera slightly
and using a different compostion you get two totally different looks...


If you are anything like me probably not “dense” enough when it comes to taking photographs.

If you live in Yosemite like I do go to the Ansel Adams Gallery and pull the trigger and spend $40 on a high quality Neutral Density Filter. That may sound expensive but when you take into account that many of us have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on our cameras and lenses it really is not much money. And for that reason it is important to get a quality filter for just a few more dollars, they include HiTech, Cokin, Lee and some others. I have seen filters and filter sets for a lot less money but then again so is the quality. After doing the research you will find that the lower quality filters can give you a lower quality photograph as well as color shifts.

So why get a neutral density filter and what do they do? Do I get a graduated filter or a filter that is entirely a neutral density filter? How what grade filter do I get?

That depends on what you are trying to achieve. Especially here in Yosemite the sky, granite walls and waterfalls when shot will be a lot lighter then the foreground. This is really noticeable near sunset. As stated in a previous post you can correct this some by underexposing by 2/3’s of a stop but by doing so your entire photograph is darkened.

I bought a graduated filter that is rectangular and darker on the top of the filter and gradually becomes clear on the bottom. With this type of filter I can darken the upper part of the photo and the bottom of the photograph remains unchanged. I prefer as many do to just hold the filter against the lens without a filter holder and look through the viewfinder until I get the “look” that I want. You will find by using this method that the entire photograph will be exposed at the same value.

Here are a few examples of using a .9 graduated neutral density filter

Half Dome an hour before the sun starts to set. This is without a filter.
Note the exposure in the foregropund verses how washed out the sky and Half Dome are.

And the same shot using a filter a mintue later.
Note how even the exposure is throughout the photograph.

No Filter

.9 Neutral Density Filter
Again note the even exposure and the richness of the colors

No Filter... just slightly a different compostion
Note the position of the plants in the foreground
and the overall exposure of the photo

.9 Neutral Density Filter
In this photograph the exposure is much more even
and there is more detail is in both Half Dome and the foreground

Another choice is a circular filter that mounts to your lens like any other filter, just screw it into place. With this filter the entire photograph is “stopped down” and the number of stops depends on the filter you buy. A .3 is one stop, .6 is 2 stops, .9 is three stops and a 1.2 is 4 stops.

This can be used to slow the shutter speed and achieve the “blurred” water effect on waterfalls and streams. I am still experimenting with the graduated filter and it has worked so far for this effect but will probably end up buying a circular filter at some point.

This shot was taken at Cascade Creek
using a slow shutter speed to "blur" the water
without a filter

.9 Neutral Density Filter
Here the desired effect is much better

As to what filter to buy. After some research and getting some advice from a “local” professional photographer, Kirk, at the Ansel Adams Gallery I chose a .9 filter HiTech filter to use in Yosemite. It is equivalent to stopping down 3 stops and not so dark as to see a noticeable line across your photograph that Kirk told me may appear using a 1.2 or 4 stop filter. I will eventually look into .3 and .6 filters if I find the need arises for them.

So that is what I have to say about becoming a little “more dense” as a photographer. Also if you are in Yosemite I highly recommend stopping by the Ansel Adams Gallery to see their exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs and to talk to Kirk. Better yet sign up for a Photo Walk with Kirk and get first hand knowledge on how to improve you photographs the instant you are taking them at some of Kirks favorite places in Yosemite Valley. And tell him Larry sent ya….


Okay Let's Take a Break and look at some pictures. I took these on afternoon in Cooks Meadow as a storm came through. It only lasted about an hour and went from clear skies to snow and back to clear skies during that time...

and so it begins...

if you don't like the weather wait ten mintues...
it ends just as quickly...

Sentinel Rock silhouetted as the storm passes through

Lost Arrow begins to clear...


Yosemite Falls and Lost Arrow...

Half Dome after the storm passes...

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Time to Reflect…

Yosemite is a beautiful place to reflect…in more then one way. This time of year water is here, there and everywhere.

Snow Creek Falls in Teneya Canyon above Mirrow Lake

Cascade Creek off of Hwy 120

Royal Arches Cascade

Sentinal Falls

Yosemite Falls in all its glory...

Rainbows at Bridelveil Falls are a daily occurence

Yosemite Falls is “cranking”, Bridalveil Falls and Nevada Falls are bathed in unbelievable rainbows for hours at a time in the late afternoon, the Merced River is rising slowly and it looks different everyday but the big difference this time of year is the flooding of the meadows causing seasonal ponds to appear.

Reflection near the Merced River below Ledig Meadow

Depending where you are there are reflections to be found of Sentinal Rock, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. Some are the “usual” reflections we expect to see in the river and at Mirror Lake. 

Yosemite Falls and Reflection at Swing Bridge

Three Brothers refelction in the Merced River

But one of the best places to find seasonal reflections is in the ponds in Cooks Meadow.Within a few minutes of walking from each other in Cooks Meadow you can photograph reflections of Sentinal Rock, North Dome, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. And of course on the edge of Cooks Meadow is Sentinal Bridge we have all seen the most recognized shot of Half Dome and its reflection in the Merced River.

Half Dome in a pond in Cooks Meadow

Another shot of Half Dome in a Cook Meadow pond

And yet another reflection of Half Dome in a Cooks Meadow Pond

Yosemite Falls in a Cook Meadow pond

A midday shot of Yosemite Falls in Cooks Meadow.
The shot must be taken during this time of day to get light on the falls.
In the late afternoon it is in the shadows

Sentinel Rock reflcetion from Cooks Meadow

Just moving the camera slightly gives a little different shot

as does going hortizonal

The time of day is also a factor in photographing reflections. Reflections in the river can be most anytime of the day although my favorite time is usually around sunset in order to get the color variations in the water and in the sky.

Half Dome closer to sunset

Tree reflections near sunset

When photographing reflections in ponds or other still waters I have found the best time again to be around sunset or maybe within the hour before the sun goes down which is also the time of day that wind dies. This not only allows for beautiful colors but a clear reflection in ponds and still water. So as always it is a game of patience waiting for the colors in the sky and waiting for the wind to die down.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Many people photograph Yosemite and many times it is from the exact same place with the exact same view. A lot of the time I’ll look at someone’s photo and I know exactly where it was taken. There is nothing wrong with that but it is not what I have in mind. I want to find different locations and views that most people do not see and photograph them.

Here is a example of what I mean...

Here is a typical shot of Half Dome from the Ahwahnee Meadow

Although it is a nice shot of Half Dome by exploring a little bit you can find a shot that is not as "typical". This shot was taken on the same day and to me a much more interesting shot.

This shot was taken in along the Merced River
in Leding Meadow not far from Swing Bridge

Here is a shot of Half Dome from a total differnet perspective...

Half Dome taken on the Mirror Lake Trail

I go exploring almost every day. Yosemite Valley is a beautiful place to take photographs and this time of year the only place assessable. Even though I have lived here for three years in the early 80’s I have found trails that I have never hiked before.

Here are a couple shots from a trail I have never hiked before. Even though this time of year you are limited to hikes around the valley you can still find places to go...

Here is a view of Yosemite Valley on a "new" hike that I had not seen before

This should give some a hint of what trail I am hiking...

A great place to camp overnight...

with a great view...

Many times I will go for a walk following a river or taking a trail always looking at where I am and what is around me. I will pay attention to the way the light is falling, the mountains around me, a meadow, the curve of the river, how the water is flowing and even the reflections in the river. You never know what will catch your eye so keep looking and take your time. Again patience is the key.

One day I will walk one direction one day and on another day I will walk the same trail in the opposite direction. You may be surprised how this simple suggestion may turn up an interesting photograph. You will notice views from a different perspective and maybe see the same mountain or river just a little differently. You may find it will yield the exact shot you have in mind but unable to find at first but just be reversing your direction there it is right in front of you.

I am taking my time locating different places for photographs not only for now but when the seasons change. A trick I use is to take a handheld GPS to mark waypoints. It can be a place that at that moment or maybe a place that I think during a different season will yield the image I have in mind. It could be a good photograph now but in the fall when the leaves are changing it can be a great photograph. I mark it so I know exactly where it is rather then months down the road thinking…”now where was that shot I was thinking of when the leaves change”.

I also write notes about these locations to remind myself why I placed a waypoint at a certain location. Using a small hand held recording device makes this easy. For example I will place a waypoint of YF1. This stands for Yosemite Falls with the 1 just meaning it is the first of many Yosemite Falls waypoints I may place.

I will make a recording to later be entered on my computer stating for example: YF1 nice shot of Yosemite Falls framed by black oak, might be better in the summer with foliage or better in the fall when leaves change.”
Or maybe I will say “nice shot of Yosemite Falls but leaves on the oak tree will block the shot later in the year.” Keep it simple but make your point. This will save you time and again turn that good shot into a great shot.

Here is an example of a hile I take a couple times a week through the valley looking for something to surprise me. It could be wildlife, a change in the river or how the light is falling that time of day.

Today I came across a group of mule deer in a meadow. I have not seen them here before or after this afternoon.

Yearling Mule Dear

This reflection of Sentinal Rock was just a few steps away from where the fawn was resting

Sentinal Rock reflection in the Merced River

A little further down the trial I found this shot. I like the range of contrast and the difference of the light on Half Dome, lack of light on the trees but still enough light to brighten the river.

 Half Dome and the Merced River

Returning on the other side of the river yielding some familiar sights with a slightly different look...

Sentinal Rock along the Merced River

By changing the focal length you get
another totally different photograph

and just by taking a few more steps you find this shot...

Continuing my hike I make my way back to Tecoya. This was only a six mile hike but I got some nice photographs along the way and had a great afternoon in the outdoors. My last stop was at Swing Bridge at sunset.

Sunset at Swing Bridge