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Clearing Storm, El Capitan, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 1 September 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Years of leading photo workshops and reviewing the work of others (during workshops and online) has convinced me that to have consistently drop-dead great images, you need to decide whether you're a tourist or a photographer. I say that completely without judgement--there are times when I opt for tourist mode myself (on a recent trip to Mexico I didn't even take my camera).

I see many well composed images taken at the wrong times--harsh shadows, cloudless skies, and poorly located light are all signs that the photographer was sightseeing with his or her camera. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as long as your priority is simply to record the scene, and you won't later lament the quality of your captures (and of course, there are those lucky moments when location and conditions converge). On the other hand, many family vacations and intimate getaways have been ruined by the photographer who thinks there's time to sneak away before breakfast, or wait "just a little longer" after sunset.

When I'm a tourist, my goal is to relax and and enjoy the sights--I leave my camera home and simply take in nature's splendor. My sleep and rise times are based on my comfort and enjoyment, and my trips are timed to coincide with the most pleasant weather for being outside. This approach keeps my body and mind fresh, and gives me a perspective that I think ultimately benefits my photography (try it sometime).

But when I'm a photographer, my decisions put me outside when the conditions are most conducive to the images I want without concern for comfort or convenience: Sunrise, sunset, overcast skies, wild weather, and after dark are all great times for photography, but not necessarily the most comfortable times to be in the elements.

For today's image I pretty much hung out in miserable snow and wind waiting for the storm to break. On this stormy evening I chose the bridge just east of El Capitan Meadow. Though there were no guarantees, I knew if I went inside to warm up, I'd be out of position if something special happened. Shortly before sunset the snow stopped and soon thereafter I was treated to about 20 minutes of beautiful warm light dancing with the thinning clouds that swirled atop El Capitan. Of course there are many times when nothing happens and all I get is soggy clothes and frigid limbs for my trouble, but those times only make the successes like this that much more special.

Next post: September 5 (please view my previous posts by clicking the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

The lighting on El Capitan is really coming through. Lovely

1 Sep 2009 5:19am

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

Beautiful image
I love the tones and composition
Superb post processing

1 Sep 2009 6:50am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Landscape photos are my favorite photos, and this one is fabolous. Congratulations.

1 Sep 2009 8:04am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Wonderful light ... well worth the discomfort and wait.

(I find this similar to pg. 79's image.)

1 Sep 2009 1:24pm

@Judy: Thanks, Judy. I see you've already received the book--that's great. I hope you like it. And yes, the light is indeed quite similar to page 79 (and 78). Believe it or not, all three are from different days, so you can see why I'm reluctant to go inside during a storm in Yosemite.

shoti from Everywhere in the, Philippines

Fantastic! the mist adds mystery to the scene. those pine trees are really imposing, something like a gate to "El Capitan"

1 Sep 2009 1:48pm

@shoti: Thank you, Shoti. From this spot El Capitan looms right above you and is quite imposing itself.

Steve from Camdenton, United States

Wonderful photos through out your portfolio! I have enjoyed them and been educated about the technical settings to get the shot....thanks for helping. But I must ask, on scenes such as this is your camera focus on El Capitan or the foreground trees? Or does it matter knowing you are using a wide angle lense and small f-stop and the result is having the entire scene in focus anyway? Steve

1 Sep 2009 6:08pm

@Steve: Thanks, Steve. I'm very conscious of DOF on every image--sometimes I want a lot, other times very little. For this scene I wanted a lot, but that was pretty easy because nothing in my foreground was so close that it wasn't in sharp focus at 17mm and f11.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Oh, this was SO worth the cold & wet! I would have had to wait too...just in case! :)
I have started having to separate family time from photo time as well- fun for me is torture for them, so I don't try that any more :)
Now all I need to do is leave the camera at home & just enjoy once in a while! *it's harder than it sounds*

2 Sep 2009 3:17am

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. I think the cold and wet only makes the result more rewarding.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Wonderful ,

2 Sep 2009 4:54am

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Worth waiting for! The light is very beautiful.

2 Sep 2009 7:58pm

MARIANA from Waterloo, Canada

Amazing scene . Fantastic shot !

2 Sep 2009 10:08pm

Lee from Fort Frances Ontario, Canada

It is shots like this that make it all worth while. One can even persuade themselves to forget how long it took for this to happen, or how damp and cold it was while waiting.

3 Sep 2009 2:56am

Loner from Wörgl, Austria

An excellent landscape image - well done !

3 Sep 2009 8:32pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Stunning. Incredible light. Marvelous reflections.

4 Sep 2009 3:11am

Natalie Miller from Rocklin, United States

This photo is sensational! We sent for copies of your book from Barnes & Noble - and they were shipped almost immediately. Plan to give some as Christmas gifts. We were so pleased and love the book. Just wish that your photos could have been labeled somehow.

4 Sep 2009 4:33am

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

This is a very special "drop-dead" image in my book. I appreciate that you did what you had to to capture it. The colors reflected in the water are particularly moving.

4 Sep 2009 6:21am

daniela scharnowski from Berlin, Germany

I´m sort of blown away looking at this.
Chapeau for your energy to stay out there, a marvellous result.

4 Sep 2009 8:50pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

rather pretty.

5 Sep 2009 2:02pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Yeah.... I'm the one in the "tourist mode" when it comes to landscape! LOL I'm hoping that one day (when the kids are old enough to stay home alone) I can go out there and take my time to wait for that perfect light, take the time to compose my image, etc....etc.... and maybe then I will get something close to what you can do with your camera! Brilliant!!!

5 Sep 2009 6:58pm

@Magda: Thanks, Magda. It sounds like your priorities are in order. :)

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Just beautiful image!

7 Sep 2009 7:59pm

k@ from Paris, France

Reminds me of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich - majestuous**

13 Sep 2009 5:48pm