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Blue and White, Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 6 March 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Is it just me or is there something inherently breathtaking about fresh snow against a blue sky? I rarely shoot in light like this, but I like taking my groups up for the rainbow that appears like clockwork at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall each morning, so here I was. We got the rainbow, but my eye was drawn to the white ridge top trees against the vivid blue sky.

The composition here is a little unusual; it illustrates what I try to encourage others to do: stop analyzing the shot and start feeling it. There are so many diagonals in this scene that thinking about it too much risked analysis paralysis. So I put on my 70-200, took my camera off the tripod, and started hunting compositions with my right (intuitive) brain. I moved my view around the scene slowly, left/right, up/down, wide/tight, until the composition felt right ("Use the Force, Luke"). Perhaps not a masterpiece (that's not for me to judge), but probably more "my own" than if I'd calculated the scene following accepted compositional "rules."

After setting my exposure and returning the camera to the tripod, the last thing I did before exposing the image was adjust my polarizer to darken the sky. I use a polarizer on virtually every daylight shot, but rarely do I use it to darken the sky. Rather, I like the way a polarizer cuts color-robbing reflections on rocks and foliage. In fact, about the only time I don't use a polarizer in daylight is when I don't like what it does to the sky. But today's image is an example of a conscious decision to polarize for maximum blue in the sky to emphasize the blue/white contrast.

Of course using a polarizer requires more than attaching the filter the end of your lens and forgetting about it. A polarizer filters light at 90 degrees to the filter's axis; you adjust the filter's axis by turning its outer ring as you look through the viewfinder, stopping when you like the effect (if you don't see much difference, the angle of the light is such that the filter isn't necessary for that composition).

A polarizer will reduce one to two stops of light, but unlike most filters, there's no photoshop substitute for a polarizer. You can't undo a polarizer's effect on reflections, nor can you add it later (though you can sometimes duplicate its effect on the sky). And be aware that minimizing reflections with a polarizer will completely erase a rainbow. Usually I polarize to reduce reflections and maximize color, but sometimes I use the polarizer to enhance a reflection--it's simply a matter of watching the polarizer's effect as I turn the outer ring and stopping when I like it best. Regardless of your desired effect, when a polarizer is on your lens, you must get in the habit of turning it with each composition or risk doing more harm than good to your final image.

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

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Quite stunning. Absolutely amazing rock.

6 Mar 2010 5:54am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

How beautiful nature can be... and what a stunning blue sky ! Well done Gary :)

6 Mar 2010 10:11am

@Tamara: Thanks, Tamara. Believe it or not, I actually had to desaturate the sky a bit.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

This is just amazing, Gary! I love that I can even see the individual branches of the icy trees at the top of the granite...The textures, the contrasts, and the clarity are awesome!

6 Mar 2010 3:02pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. I love the sharpness of my 70-200L.

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Great composition Gary. The rock detail is fantastic. So many textures to look at. I think most photographers would make the falls the star of the show-I like how you have drawn the eye up from foreground to midground to background with something interesting in each area. Good example for shooting in this kind of light.

6 Mar 2010 4:23pm

@Julie Brown: Thanks, Julie. Yeah, I was more interested in the trees agains the sky than I was in Yosemite Fall. I think at least partially because I'm so familiar with the fall, but I rarely see the trees like this.

Julie from Easton, United States

I agree with you about the snow, and that sky is just amazing! (oh, I love the waterfall too!)

6 Mar 2010 4:42pm

Sandy Weston from Madison, Maine, United States

Majestic look to this shot! I am glad you spoke some about the polarized filter which is something I just purchased for the first time and have been trying to work with.

6 Mar 2010 9:32pm

Chris B from Dacula, GA, United States

That kind of blue sky, especially when shot with a good polarizing filter, really pops! GREAT new photos Gary... keep 'em coming! Chris

7 Mar 2010 12:35am

Gina Rocca from Bothell, United States

I was so captured by the black and white verticals that it took a minute to recognize the "blue and white"....multiple levels of enchantment here!

7 Mar 2010 1:41am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

the polarising filter really did give you a beautifully deep blue sky here and it looks like it also improved the contrast in all the rocky textures of the mountains - the detail is quite amazing!

8 Mar 2010 12:57am

shoti from somewhere in, China

it is breathtaking indeed. the light mesmerized me

8 Mar 2010 7:22am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Beautiful compo, great rock layers and detals.

8 Mar 2010 9:06am

Cathie Crow from Murrells Inlet, SC, United States

This is a beautiful shot. You are an amazing photographer. I was in Yosemite in 1997 and absolutely fell in love. I took 9.5 roles of film in three days, what I would do now with my digital camera is anyone's guess.

8 Mar 2010 7:30pm

@Cathie Crow: Thanks, Cathie. Yeah, the rules for photography have changed a bit with the advent of digital. In the film days every shutter snap cost money; with digital, the more snaps you take, the greater the return on your investment. Depending on how you use it, a digital camera can be a great learning tool (if you think about every shot and use digital's instant feedback to make immediate corrections) or an invitation to laziness.

MEC from Setúbal, Portugal

But great picture.

8 Mar 2010 10:07pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Is this captured from the same place than the 2 previous images? just stunning...make me want to hike through this amaising nature...

10 Mar 2010 1:21pm

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

Amazing texture to the rocks. Very jagged looking though, the cleavage says don't climb here [at least to me].

12 Mar 2010 11:54pm

David from Detroit, United States

I really like this composition, whether it breaks the "rules" or not. It is all line and texture, and my right brain also breaks it up into large geometric shapes. Very nice.

28 Mar 2010 4:16pm