Thursday, February 21, 2008

Yosemite in winter

This blog was also published here at NWP Photo forum.

I've been living in SF Bay Area for several years and have visited Yosemite NP about a dozen times. Yosemite has never stopped fascinating me with it's widespread natural beauty so much that it has become one of my favorite places in the world. This was my 3rd or 4th trip in winter, I had never seen snow on the valley floor. Since the big storm had come last week in the area, I was very hopeful of seeing tons of snow this time. So, another photographer friend, Anand and I decided to go to the valley for the weekend.

We started from bay area late afternoon and managed to reach the valley by evening. The drive was long due to traffic but it went by in a jiffy chatting about pictures we are going to take, plans for more trips, photo techniques, workflow, Galen Rowell, Thom Hogan, yada yada yada...

Woke up early to shoot the sunrise from Cathedral beach. There are not many good points in Yosemite valley to shoot sunrise from (or at least we didn't scout many), by the time light hits the cliffs, sun is quite up so usually there's nothing magical left in the light.

Some of these shots we were standing in the middle of the frozen Merced river, which for us was a surreal experience.

After breakfast we decided to take a short walk to Lower Yosemite falls.

Gates of the Valley is a beautiful spot towards the end of Northside drive in the valley where you can see El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls, El Cap gets good light during the sunset. We talked about shooting the sunset from there, but soon we found out that the road the this spot was closed. So I talked to Ranger at visitor's center to find out how to get to that spot. He explained me about an inconspicuous spot on the Southside drive where I could park and walk about a quarter mile to get there; it sounded very simple.

After lunch, we stopped in cook's meadow. It was completely covered in snow.

We had couple hours before sunset so we decided to stop at the El Cap meadow and take some shots.
As soon as we got down from the car, we spotted a little puddle and El Cap's reflection.

We saw this Coyote happily roaming around there; apparently it was looking for a place to relieve himself.

Both Anand & I got so engrossed at taking pictures of the El Cap here that we kind of lost track of time…. Realizing this, we decided to hurry to our sunset spot. What seemed very simple when the ranger told, was seemingly difficult to find… (or we thought we found), we parked the car & ran with our gear. We were losing good light minute by minute; now is when I started to curse myself. Apparently this was not the way to the gates of the valley spot; we were in the middle of trees, not even able to see El Cap. We hurriedly decided to just drive back and hoped to reach Sentinel Bridge before the light was completely gone. Something should be better than nothing.

That 3 miles drive seemed like an eternity… when we reached the bridge, there were at least 20+ photographers with tripod, shooting the sunset.

Fairly disappointed with the sunset mishap, we went back to curry village. We wanted to do star trails with Half Dome in the night, so we went scouting for a good spot in the meadow in front of Curry Village.

Later that night after dinner we headed back to the same spot. Temperature was in the teens and despite multiple layers for our protection, we were shivering a lot. We were standing in the middle of the mist. To setup the tripod we went pretty far into the meadow, hoping to avoid any stray lights from the village during the exposure. Somehow managing to setup the camera with the composition I wanted, it was shutter time. Started the exposure and moved towards the trail side, shivering and talking about how crazy we had to be to be doing this. Despite it being past 11 PM, there were just too many cars & buses going around Curry Village to have gotten into our exposure due to which I ended up cropping this shot. Here I also learned that my Feisol tripod is not "that" great in very cold conditions. I had hard time folding it back as the knobs kept turning (this continued to happen next day as well). Most of my other gear seemed to have handled the cold well.

With the plan to wake up early and head to Tunnel View, we went to sleep. This day's sunrise didn't bring much good light, so was not really expecting much next day as well. I was not wrong.

On the way to breakfast I spotted morning mist floating in the meadows

After breakfast we decided to just hang out at the visitor's center, checked out Ansel Adams Gallery and watched the movie "Spirit of Yosemite" which turned out be very nice.

Yesterday when we had reached Sentinel Bridge at sunset, I met the same ranger who had told me the way to get to Gates of the Valley spot. I think luck was on my side, so I told him my sob story how I couldn't find it and so. He, very patiently explained to me again… this time I was sure I got it. Since I really wanted to shoot the sunset from there, both Anand & I decided to get there couple hours early, just in case.

This time, we found the parking spot easily; we had gotten our lunch packed; so we parked and had few bites and then lugged our gear. There was no clear access to get close to the river, so we got into bit of snow to get there. Once there all looked cool, El cap in the background, mist was forming above the water to add interesting center , snow covered rocks seemed perfect near subject for wide angle shots.

I just got a 20x30 metallic print of the last shot and it IS going on the wall :)

I had recently purchased Singh Ray's Gold & Blue Polarizer which I got to use here. After looking at these shots, I think the price was justified.

Well, the sun was down, the light was gone and it was late… that meant, we were headed back home.
Anand & I chatted about Life, Photography & Everything on this trip and had good time.

Thanks buddy.

Checkout Anand's pictures from this trip here.

Check out my pictures of Yosemite from some of the previous trips here, here and here.

To see more of my work you can checkout my photo galleries here.