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Sunrise Reflection, Valley View, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 17 June 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Because most of its "classic" views feature shaded subjects against the brightest part of the sky, Yosemite Valley isn't a particularly good sunrise location. But all that changes when there are clouds on the eastern horizon to catch the sunrise color.

This is from a chilly October morning a few years ago. Given the clear sky forecast, it would have been far more pleasant to stay in bed that morning. But I learned a long time ago that I'm a far more productive landscape photographer when I actually go outside, so I dragged myself to Valley View for sunrise. As you can see, it doesn't take many clouds to change a normally bland (or at least as bland as anything in Yosemite can be) scene into something special.

I saw these clouds as soon as I arrived at Valley View and had time to prepare my composition before the light struck them. In this light there's very little of interest to the left of El Capitan and the right of Bridalveil Fall. And since the primary features of my composition, the rocks, mound of grass, reflection, and sky were oriented vertically, the decision to orient my frame vertically wasn't difficult. Once I'd made that decision, it was simply a matter of arranging foreground. I positioned myself so the rocks framed the reflection.

Exposure was tricky, but a three-stop soft graduated neutral density filter allowed me to save the color in the bright sky and pull out a little detail in the shadowed foreground. In post processing I dodged (lightened) the foreground and burned (darkened) the sky to even the light.

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

photomf from ravenna, Italy

wow !

17 Jun 2010 7:27am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

This is a very beautiful composition/image. The light is fantastic, and thanks for the tecnical tips/orientations in the text.

17 Jun 2010 8:31am

Florence from Paris, France

You're a great and talented photographer Gary. No doubt. What a clever composition. Colors are just amazingly beautiful.

17 Jun 2010 8:56am

MK from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

WOW, this is immense

17 Jun 2010 9:18am

Did from Ispagnac, France

Toujours autant de belles photos.
Bravo !

17 Jun 2010 9:27am

Philip from South Wales, United Kingdom

This is such a nice creation. It is very artistic and I must admire your skill and eye. The cloud colour, mist and water reflections are my favourites.

17 Jun 2010 10:53am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow these reflections are stunning Gary ! It's so beautiful.... especially with the mist ! Have a nice day :)

17 Jun 2010 2:45pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

the color in the clouds and the reflection in the water are the key elements that make a very nice composition outstanding.

17 Jun 2010 5:36pm

Random Eyesight from s, Canada

Definately a wow - looks like a movie scene - perfect exposure and yet moody - well done!

18 Jun 2010 1:33am

studio17a from California, United States

Great shot, beautiful image.

18 Jun 2010 1:39am

ad fontes from Langley, Canada

Wonderful lighting and well done on the processing, bringing the foreground and the sky into closer balance. It works great!

18 Jun 2010 2:24am

Sarah Owens from United States

This just takes my breath away. Amazing.

18 Jun 2010 2:42am

ISO from Bogota, Colombia

Great colors and textures.. but the reflection is perfect.

18 Jun 2010 2:57am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

superb work with light and composition! the flashes of colour and their reflection catch the attention instantly amongst otherwise wonderful shapes and rocks! this must be one of my favourite photos on Am3!

18 Jun 2010 3:04am

Dutch from Chicagoland, United States

I can see how this would be rather bland without the sunlit clouds. It would have more of a ghostly feel with the fog in the distance and the water looking probably the same as the sky. Here though with that gold it's quite stunning and the processes you used to bring it out show your skill. The burn and dodge I know but you lost me with the ND filter. Three stop?

18 Jun 2010 4:25am

@Dutch: Thanks, Kristen. This was a few years ago so I'm only guessing on the GND I used, but it was probably a 3-stop soft (hards don't work too well in Yosemite Valley). I don't like the GND transition to show when I can help it, so I usually dodge and burn to hide it better.

Wild Mustang Photography from Carlisle, United States

Superb! 5*****!

18 Jun 2010 4:31am

Marie from FRESNES, France

j'adore, superbes reflets, et très belle compo.

18 Jun 2010 8:38am

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Reflection is very nice here, and after admiring that there is lot of other details to see in this wonderfiul landscape! Great to have mist, too. And the "green head" in middle is lovely :-)

18 Jun 2010 1:35pm


just beautiful 5*

18 Jun 2010 4:10pm

Julie from Easton, United States

What I would give right now to be sitting on one of those rocks with many thoughts through my head. Excellent photo!

19 Jun 2010 4:56am

tsenwei from Sydney, Australia

fantastic, simply fantastic!

19 Jun 2010 8:52am

Cathy Hammer from Vienna, VA, United States

Absolutely breathtaking!!

19 Jun 2010 1:52pm

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Geez Gary this is great - The clouds pretty much make the story but your placement and entire composition do it as well. Five stars for the photag and an extra day's pay for the lighting Guy!!

20 Jun 2010 2:18am

Kelly Morvant from United States

Absolutely LOVE this one! I think it's the reflection of the wonderful light on the clouds. Thanks!

30 Jun 2010 9:30pm

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful reflections and POV

11 Jul 2010 9:56am

Josh from New York, United States

I love this one!

26 Jul 2010 4:33pm

Anne McKinnell from Victoria, Canada

Thank you very much for your wonderful blog. I am planning a trip to Yosemite next month and have found your blog an invaluable resource. Such gorgeous shots. I'm already thinking a trip back in the winter for a photo workshop would be wonderful. I also just picked up your book on digital landscape photography. I have just started reading it and like it already, especially the part at the beginning about visualization. Again, thank you.

1 Sep 2010 2:26am

@Anne McKinnell: Thanks, Anne. Enjoy your trip!

Anne McKinnell from Victoria, Canada

Oh, terribly sorry, the book I was referring to was by Michael Frye (how embarrassing)!

1 Sep 2010 2:50am

@Anne McKinnell: No need to apologize, Anne. The best way to plan a visit to an unfamiliar location is to find as many resources as possible. I'm very familiar with Michael's book and enthusiastically recommend it.