Stars, Falls and a Rainbow

Milky Way over Yosemite National Park, CA - Copyright 2015 M4PhotoDAY 7 – Tuesday 19th – Tuesday would begin with a very early start. The alarm rang and we headed down to the car to head off to Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, for just after 4.00 am.

Tunnel View is a scenic outlook over Yosemite Valley on Route 41. It is a spot that is popular with photographers and Paul explained that it could get busy with photographers jostling for the best positions. The viewpoint is served by a reasonably sized car park and the shot is taken from a short walled area that looks eastward into Yosemite Valley and it includes features of the surrounding area, including the southwest face of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall.

The aim would be to get a shot down the valley with the Milky Way high above us. In hindsight, 01:00 am would have been better because the Milky Way would have been running directly up the valley, but our chosen time provided us with a brilliantly clear sky.

Dropping back to what we had learned at the previous night shot, I dropped my F Stop, raised the ISO and set the exposure time and focus. Composing the shot was difficult as not much could be seen through the view finder and, for that reason, I ran off a few exposures to check them in the preview. With the composition set, I sat back and ran of a few exposures between 15 and 30 seconds in length. Night photography has been something new to me on this trip and I have valued Mark and Paul’s experience and advice which has helped me to obtain some nice night time images.

With our tripods in the perfect location for the sunrise and with an expectation of allot of photographers joining us, we left or tripods in place and retreated back to the car to keep warm. It was bitterly cold in the early morning air well above the valley floor.

As was becoming usual, I setup the camera and added my graduated filter to compensate for the shade of the trees in the valley below us and the early morning sky. I ran off a number of exposures to check the composition and to check my settings and then slowed down to await the rising sun. At 06:14 the sun popped through and it rose above the mountain side of the valley. In anticipation of this, and calling on Paul’s tuition from earlier in the trip, I had already selected a high F Stop with a small aperture in the hope of a sun burst. I was not disappointed and my chosen image has a lovely star burst with the trees in the valley becoming illuminated by the early morning sunshine.

With the sunrise image in the bag, we packed up when the light looked to settling down and we headed back to the hotel to catch a few short hours sleep before heading back out for breakfast and a long day in Yosemite National Park.

After snatching a few hours sleep, we headed off for a full day in the park. Our first shot would be from the valley floor looking up at the Yosemite Falls. These falls are the highest in the park, dropping some 2,425 feet (739m) from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall.

Yosemite Fall - Yosemite National Park, CA, USA - Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Yosemite Fall – Yosemite National Park, CA, USA – Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

From our vantage point, we could clearly see the upper falls but the middle and lower falls were out of sight. Nevertheless, with only a few minutes on the valley floor, I managed to capture a nice image using the composition framing guidance from Paul and a couple of filters to balance the bright sky and darker rocks and the trees in the foreground. I am finally beginning to understand the concept of reading the light balance whilst approaching the shooting sight. This alone is helping me to photograph better, to take fewer exposures of the same scene and to make better use of my time at the location. It also means less time back at home analysing too many images to pick the best one for editing.

The falls were not the main objective for this morning though. Paul knew of a lovely location on the river and which looks up towards Half Dome. The site was close to the car park but we managed to miss the location and chose to cross the river after a mile or so. This was a mistake because we found the location on the way back but the river was too deep and too fast flowing to even think about wading across. We continued on our hike and after completing the five mile (roughly) circle we arrived back at the car park and then quickly found our spot on the river. And yes, it was very close to the car park but we’d had our workout for the day.

We quickly set about setting up our tripods, cameras and filters and this was an opportunity for me to try the polarising filter to enhance the water in the shot. I initially tried turning the filter whilst mounted on the camera but it was much easier to use once Paul had explained how to use the filter first off camera and then mount it for the shot. The composition was nice but we did have some people and a boat in the image. These will provide me with a useful opportunity to try to remove them from the image in post processing.

After lunch in the park and a look at the Ansel Adams gallery, we headed off to Mirror Lake. This is a small section of the river in Tenaya Canyon that creates a small seasonal lake between Half Dome and North Dome. The lake is only about 25m across and it is the last remnant of a larger glacial lake that once filled most of Yosemite Valley at the end of the ice age. The lake used to be regularly dredged, but now it is left to nature and it is slowly filling with sediment and it will, no doubt, disappear in time without human interference.

Anyway, the lake is usually higher than that which we were presented with and the mirror surface that it is famous for was sadly lacking and the reflections in the water that we hoped for were disturbed by the moving water and ripples. We scouted around the area for a better composition, but decided to call this one off and head off to Bridalveil Fall.

One the way we took a quick stop one of the river bends and another shot of Half Dome from a different angle. I mounted my tripod with two legs on a large log and Paul explained that I needed to be careful because tourists would jump onto the log and walk along it. This causes vibration which my longer exposures would pick up. I therefore needed to be extra vigilant throughout the shoot. I shot my chosen image wide and caught some of the plants and wood at the side of the river. This has become another of my favourite images of the valley.

Bridalvale Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA - Copyright 2015 M4PhotoBridalveil Fall is one of the most prominent falls in the park and it can be seen from many of the parks viewing points. At 617 feet (188 meters) high, the fall flows nearly all year round. There was a short hike up to the tourist viewing point and thankfully the spray from the fall was manageable. One of the tourists asked Paul to take their photograph and it was fun to think that they had no idea about the person taking the image – a Reiffer for free – now that’s a bargain.

My initial composition had the falls to one side using some trees to one side. Paul quickly explained that the better view would be to have the fall directly in the centre of the frame because it is the one and only feature in the composition.

My chosen composition took advantage of the sky which had some moving clouds. I also shot slightly more upwards to avoid the steps that were full of tourists climbing up closer to the fall. I therefore opted for the big stopper filter to get some movement in the clouds and thankfully the water cascaded straight down during the long exposure. I also included a graduated filter to balance out the light difference between the bright sky and the rocks around the fall.

Sunset would be shot over at Tunnel View. We arrived and used our new found knowledge and experience to setup in the best spot, with filters and best settings. Interestingly, we were rewarded with a fabulous rainbow which stretched from the middle base of the valley across to the right and into the sky. With the outlook filling with photographers it became a race to capture a good shot of the rainbow before it disappeared. Owing to the unusual opportunity I decided to take many exposures at different camera settings to hedge my bets and to maximise the opportunity to obtain a good shot. The rainbow lasted ages and it was towards the end of the session as the sun was setting that I caught my best shot and the one that I will process for my Flicker account.

Mark, Paul and I all got great shots with different perspectives and we all finished the day on a high. The weather has been unusual on this trip for the time of year, but the fabulous locations that Paul has chosen have been enhanced with some great but unexpected weather conditions.

Rainbow Climbing High - Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Rainbow Climbing High – Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.


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