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White Magic, Yosemite Valley

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 29 December 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

A couple of years ago California was blessed with a cold winter storm on the eve of my Yosemite winter workshop. My group rose on the first morning to a world of white, with snow sttill falling and no end in sight. I had to do a bit of selling to convince everyone that it really would be a good idea to brave the elements rather than retreat indoors to the land of fireplaces and hot coffee. After a few good-natured grumbles we piled into the cars and were on our way.

When we pulled into the Tunnel View viewpoint about 30 minutes before sunrise, the snow was falling so hard that El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall were no more than promises. I deflected a few dubious looks from my group with my standard line: "Nothing is guaranteed--we could be here for hours and nothing could happen. But if it does happen and I don't have you here to see it, you should sue me for malpractice." So we stayed.

Within 20 minutes the snow stopped and a patch of blue appeared overhead. I told my group to get ready because here it comes and as if on cue the clouds parted to reveal a world of pristine white. Within minutes the day's first shafts of buttery sunlight streamed through, painting the clouds in gold. For the next 45 minutes the only sounds were clicking shutters and occasional gasps of amazement.

As I often do I bracketed many compositions in the rapidly changing light. In typical Tunnel View scenes the foreground trees are a non-factor at best, and often a distraction. But when they're laden with snow the trees become an important part of the scene. For this image I opted for a vertical composition because I wanted to emphasize the beautiful trees. (I've always felt people tend to go too wide with their Tunnel View compositions, and a vertical composition also helps avoid that.)

The rest of the day was similarly glorious and we were still high on adrenaline at dinner when we ran into another workshop group also staying at our hotel. They had checked the weather before sunrise and opted to return to bed. We tried not to gloat (I swear), but was impossible for any of us to contain our excitement as we described our sunrise experience.

For the rest of the workshop we were treated to fabulous scene after fabulous scene as a series of storms passed through--one break in the weather even allowed a sunset shot of Horsetail Fall. But I'll never forget that first morning, guiding a group of strangers who had trusted me enough to pay me a fair amount of money and travel great distances (from as far away as Europe) for their first Yosemite experience.

A final thought: Consistently successful photography requires a degree of sacrifice. There really are no guarantees that the sacrifice will produce anything of value, but I can pretty much guarantee that you'll get nothing of value if you don't at least put yourself out there.

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

Lambspun from Madison, Maine, United States

Glorious captures everyone must have received that looking at this one you can only envision all the others :)

29 Dec 2009 5:36am

Julie from Easton, United States

Just a beautiful shot! I guess the trip was well worth it!

29 Dec 2009 5:56am

Barbara from Oakland, United States

Gary, a point well proven! This is just gorgeous.

29 Dec 2009 7:19am

Babzy from Besançon, France

What a good choice , to see such a beauty must have been a spiritual experiment , the shot is awesome !

29 Dec 2009 8:12am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

I almost jalous... We have such wild area...But I've the impression that our wilderness never reach such levels as yours...! ;-)

29 Dec 2009 9:36am

@KriKridesign: Thank you, Christine. Every region has its own beauty though, doesn't it? I know Switzerland has some of the most beautiful mountains in the world and I'm sometimes jealous of those who can see them every day.

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Stunning photo again Gary ! That sky is amazing and with the snow on the foreground it's marvelous ! Have a nice day :)

29 Dec 2009 10:41am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

I'm sure all of your 'work-shoppers' still praise your tenacity!
One such shot in a lifetime would be wonderful and you create them on a regular basis!

29 Dec 2009 11:58am

@Judy: Thanks, Judy. Well, I sure looked like a genius that morning. :)

mAnifesto from Lausanne, Switzerland

Wow, incredible picture ! Thanks a lot

29 Dec 2009 12:21pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

nice shot of the valley. great clouds/fog & light.

29 Dec 2009 1:53pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

I always love your photography Gary, but this one is incredibly special! You were all rewarded by hauling yourselves out of bed and venturing into the cold with only the promise of possibilities to spur you on! Just to see this scene in person, let alone be able to photograph it must have been an experience of a lifetime for your workshop!

29 Dec 2009 2:41pm

@Tracy: It's so much fun showing people Yosemite for the first time. Half the thrill of this was watching the reaction of the rest of the group, and then listening to them talk about it later. (But the other half was my own excitement at what I'd witnessed--it takes an amazing scene for me to even take my camera out of the back at Tunnel View.)

Claudia from Illinois, United States! I hardly know how to comment on this one. :) Waves of golden mist rolling at me down the corridor of a sinking ship. Magical!

29 Dec 2009 4:03pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

White magic, indeed! Winter in Yosemite is about as magical as it gets. I love the sense of depth in this.

29 Dec 2009 4:50pm

Elora from Genoa, Italy

Amazing! I love the soft gold colour in the clouds! Hope you had a great Christmas :)

29 Dec 2009 7:27pm

Mike from California, United States

Gary, I like how you captured all of that soft warm light reflecting off the snow covered trees.

29 Dec 2009 9:38pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

simply fantastic composition and great light! the golden light and mist coming from the top are enchanting and contribute greatly to the amazing mood that you have brought us here!

30 Dec 2009 12:53am

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

This is an absolutely magical scene.

30 Dec 2009 4:08am

Steve from Camdenton, United States

Superb shot! My first reaction upon seeing your photo was!

30 Dec 2009 6:47am

Marie LC from Voiron, France

Splendid !

30 Dec 2009 8:17am

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

Great image Gary! I do like the vertical composition - as you mentioned it is not often done - but in this instance I think is isolates the key elements perfectly! A great story and I am glad you were persistent!

30 Dec 2009 6:36pm

@Scott F. Schilling: Thanks, Scott. As you know, I have tons of Tunnel View images, and at least 80 percent of my favorites are verticals.

MARIANA from Waterloo, Canada

Congratulation on Spotlight page . Fabulous image !

30 Dec 2009 9:49pm

Levi Cusio from West Vancouver, Canada

absolutely breathtaking! congrats on the spotlight!

30 Dec 2009 10:21pm

Jerry - a moment in time [...] from Chicago, United States

that's a very cool image and yes congrats to be the spotlight!

30 Dec 2009 11:10pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Congratulations on the Spotlight! Well deserved! Absolutely magnificent! Magical! Wonderful! Breathtaking! Bravo! :)

31 Dec 2009 7:08am

@Magda: Thanks, Magda. It's nice to hear from you again.

Zing from Hamilton, New Zealand


31 Dec 2009 8:07am

larans from Lund, Sweden

An incredible image from an extraodinary landscape- I really like this.

31 Dec 2009 8:20am

Ana Lúcia from Leiria, Portugal

BEAUTIFUL. Congratulation on Spotlight page.

31 Dec 2009 8:41am

Benoit Darrieux from Tripoli, Lebanon

Ooh splendid place, very nice.

31 Dec 2009 10:41am

Marie LC from Voiron, France

Félicitations pour ton spotlight et bonne année 2010 !

31 Dec 2009 10:41am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

I wish you and you family all the best for 2010 !

31 Dec 2009 12:54pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Superb image, fantastic 2009 photo ending. A happy 2010 to you and yours.

31 Dec 2009 1:01pm

Calusarus from St Sorlin en Valloire, France

5 stars for this beautiful winter landscape

31 Dec 2009 2:37pm

Ron from Saint Louis, United States

A beautifully realized composition of stunning natural beauty. The light in the background is amazing, and your lesson [point] on shooting too wide is well taken ... I've written myself a journal note on this subject, and I thank you for sharing! All the best in the new year ... ron

31 Dec 2009 3:10pm

Skyriani from Nelson, New Zealand

Thank you for this very special photo. Happy New Year!

1 Jan 2010 12:58am

Ralph Jones from Detroit, United States

This is truly fantastic! Congratulations on the spotlight and happy 2010!

1 Jan 2010 3:48pm

Marie from FRESNES, France

wouaw, c'est de toute beauté !!!

1 Jan 2010 8:00pm

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

This is a truly magnificent image, and well worth the Spotlight honour (it was just a matter of time!). Gary - thank you for all the advice and wonderful images during 2009. I wish you a superb 2010. Take care.

1 Jan 2010 8:23pm

Meysam from Montreal, Canada

Extraordinary shot! This one has everything you want to see in a photo. Five stars!

1 Jan 2010 8:59pm

Sean McCormack from Galway, Ireland

Beautiful Gary. It's funny how a little snow can change a view. I've never been to the US to shoot, and at some stage I'd like to go to Yosemite. In the meantime, I'll continue to search for lesser known shots in my local landscape haven, Connemara.
Croatia is on my list too. I've been to Liechtenstein via Zurich and it too is beautiful a country (62 sq. miles!) between the mountains and the Rhine vally. Unfortunately I wasn't shooting then, bar a very basic film camera.
I'm looking forward to peeking through more of your photos.

2 Jan 2010 4:57am

@Sean McCormack: Thanks, Sean. Places like Yosemite certainly deserve the accolades they receive, but there are so many opportunities close to home no matter where we live. I love water and color and would love to just wander the Irish countryside with my camera.

GJC from Kyoto (京都), Japan

Simply stunning. Thank you for sharing.

2 Jan 2010 8:23am


wow what a nice shot

2 Jan 2010 10:03am

Loner from Wörgl, Austria

What a fantastic landscape image ! Congratulations to "Spot Light"

2 Jan 2010 12:53pm

Seb! from Cévennes, France

Wwwooooooooooooooooow !!! great and magic !!! congratulation ;-)

3 Jan 2010 9:17am

Marie-France from Sceaux d, France

very fantastic picture...

3 Jan 2010 3:09pm

laurent from 93, France

meveilleux !

4 Jan 2010 10:03am

Sylvie49 capture image from Vallée de la Loire, France

De toute beauté !

4 Jan 2010 4:51pm

Betsy Barron from Chester Springs, PA, United States

dramatic, stunning, gorgeous. Have I said enough?! Happy New Year!

4 Jan 2010 6:23pm

@Betsy Barron: Thanks, Betsy. Happy New Year to you.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Wonderful atmosphere wonderful sky

5 Jan 2010 5:47am

Ben from Lyon, France

It's a so wonderfull shot.
Congratulations !!

5 Jan 2010 9:50am

digitalCG from Manchester, United Kingdom

Another top notch image Gary, and a just reward for your efforts and tenacity. The foreground trees are a marvellous piece of composition.

6 Jan 2010 1:19pm

Lee from Fort Frances Ontario, Canada

I think I just viewed an image very similar to this one in a magazine last month. Just went and checked, Nope. It still is Extraordinary. Well done my friend. One must always be ready. There is never any guarantee when it comes to nature and cameras. Patience, patience and more patience. A happy and prosperous New Year to you.

9 Jan 2010 4:01am

Dimitrios from ATHENS, Greece


10 Jan 2010 3:20pm

John Paul Williams from Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom

Awesome shot! Superb depth, colour and crispness coupled with great composition.

10 Jan 2010 7:15pm

sawsengee from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

magnificent shot....beautiful light, colours & amazing atmosphere

13 Jan 2010 3:12pm

Bethany from Michigan, United States

Congrats on your spotlight - you have a special photo here.

17 Jan 2010 2:28pm

M.Ebrahimi from Kerman, Iran

breathtaking! Congrats on your spotlight

20 Jan 2010 11:02am

Monique from Netherlands

Wonderful and magical picture! This is really something special!

27 Jan 2010 5:50pm

Alun from cheshire, United Kingdom

fantastic image, the lighting, the cloud, amazing

29 Jan 2010 10:55pm

Rosa Frei - Photo Emotions from Ouarzazate, Morocco

Amazing image with superb light and colors!

22 Jan 2011 11:38pm