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Winter, Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 11 April 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Like my previous image, this image from last week is a product of California's schizophrenic spring. I had driven to Yosemite with a two-day private workshop customer who had flown out from Kentucky to photograph poppies. We photographed plenty of poppies on our drive to and from Yosemite, but in the park it was full-on winter. Six inches of fresh snow draped every exposed surface, and small flakes still swirled in the cold wind. We spent the afternoon watching spring push back, photographing parting clouds and intermittent sunlight, finally ending up here beside the Merced River for sunset.

One of the challenges in photography is effectively rendering a three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional medium. Adding a foreground helps create an illusion of depth that at least partially overcome this limitation. Anywhere in Yosemite with a view of Half Dome is great for sunset, but I particularly like this location for the river and cottonwoods provide the foreground options I look for. Often I need to contend with a distracting hodgepodge of footprints and debris in the immediate foreground, but the fresh snow that evening erased these distractions and made the riverbank an additional attractive feature.

Most scenes including Half Dome are ruled by Half Dome. But in this scene I think the wintry foreground is the primary element, served by Half Dome looming in the background. To compose I moved along the river until Half Dome and its reflection were framed by the V made by the stark tree and snowy riverbank. The bare cottonwoods upstream hold the eye in the bottom half of the frame, causing the viewer to linger in the frigid foreground just a little longer. Even though the river's surface was far from mirror-like, I took care to ensure that Half Dome's reflection wasn't obscured by the snowy bank. My final decision was how to handle the river's motion. With little wind and no hope of freezing the water, I opted for a very long shutter speed to, which blurred the small bubbles drifting on the surface and underscored the symmetry of the water's flow.

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

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Gary, this is absolutely beautiful! This is a masterful composition. You have interesting elements in every part of the image. The reflection and the motion blur of the water really enhances this scene. One of my favorites!
Thanks for taking the time to describe your process. I enjoy reading how you execute your craft.

11 Apr 2010 2:02pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

like the water.

11 Apr 2010 2:42pm

Don Smith from California, United States

Beautiful image Gary!

11 Apr 2010 3:09pm

Julie from United States

The slight swirling of the water really caught my eye. But the low lying clouds are beautiful!

11 Apr 2010 3:15pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

An awesome one! I love the way my eye is drawn in by the swirling water, then moves along all the way to the peak of Half Dome and the clouds....I am really having so nature photographing withdrawals, being so crazily busy, I haven't been able to plan many "photo days" just for me!

11 Apr 2010 4:53pm

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Love the movement effect in the water ! A bright and crisp shot... nice :)

11 Apr 2010 4:55pm

Steve from Camdenton, United States

A beautiful shot Gary. The foreground, the backgroud, all working together to make a superb photo...congrats!!

11 Apr 2010 8:11pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

The water is fantastic..great image!

11 Apr 2010 9:25pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

this is fantastic! the swirl of water in the foreground is almost unexpected but it looks superb, and works especially well when i followed the water path towards the mountain in the background - very nicely composed and though out!

12 Apr 2010 12:56am

Sandy Weston from United States

At first I thought the river was nice clear ice with snow swirling on it...then I read your narrative. This is certainly a winter wonderland and you captured it's beauty!

12 Apr 2010 2:04am

flyingwind风飞扬 from Bridgetown, Barbados

Wonderful! Talented!

13 Apr 2010 1:27am

Marcia from United States

I know this exact spot....beautiful!!
I am going next week, are the Dogwood trees in bloom yet?

13 Apr 2010 7:46pm

Mike Cirella from United States

Masterfully crafted Gary. Your description of the pre-visualization you had in mind adds to the treat you have given us. Thank you.

13 Apr 2010 7:49pm

Kelly from United States

WOW! Enough said!

14 Apr 2010 1:36am

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

The swirl in the water through the reflection.. well captured. And.. it's time for flowers Gary it's spring! ;)

14 Apr 2010 3:45am

Mike from California, United States

Gary, Great image !

14 Apr 2010 9:24pm

drphoto from Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

I love how the long exposure has allowed the vortex in the foreground to appear without destroying the reflection of the mountains.


16 Apr 2010 1:59am

Gene Burch from Frankfort, United States

Great shot Gary, I love the small eddy in the foreground.

Gene Burch

22 Apr 2010 1:13am

Bob Towery from Granite Bay, United States

Incredible image. I'm always thinking there cannot be anything new done in Yosemite. You just proved me wrong. Yes, the water really makes the image. Way to go, working this out.

25 Apr 2010 5:37pm

JT Storm from United States

When you are shooting at 15 seconds, how are you not completely overexposing the image? Neutral density filters are what I use for shooting in the Columbia River Gorge...are you just using like 10 of them?

1 May 2010 11:36pm

@JT Storm: This was taken in very low light, about 20 minutes after sunset. I was also at f16 and ISO 50, with a polarizer. I do have an 8-stop variable neutral density filter, but didn't use it for this image.