Sun Rays on Yosemite Valley

Landscape photography workshop in Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley sunrise, Monday, May 8, 2018

 We had amazing conditions for the photography workshop in Yosemite last week. This was the first morning’s sunrise, with sun rays shining down on morning fog.  It rained the day before, but he skies were forecast to clear up overnight, so I figured that it would cool down enough to have the water vapor condense as a ground fog.

Heads UpWhen we arrive the next morning, it was just thick enough to reach the tree tops, creating some nice photographic opportunities.

There had been several dozen people at this viewpoint minutes before the sun rays appeared, but once the sun cleared the mountains, nearly everyone decided to go get breakfast. Someone in our group asked about that, but I said “Let’s give it another five minutes.” Sure enough, when the sun closed the gap in the clouds and started shining down between them, light rays started moving around the Valley.

The dynamic range of the scene was too great for one exposure, so the sun ray image above was created from five bracketed exposures, adjusted in Lightroom 5.7 and combined in Photomatix 6 (beta 2) HDR software.

For comparison, I produced a quick field edit of an adjacent sequence using Photomatix 5.  I like the image produced with the newer software better, but the old one still became my most popular posts on Twitter!

It was also one of my most popular posts on Instagram, and posted to my Facebook Page it has received over 22,000 views so far.  I don’t spend much time on social media any more since most sites are moving to more of a “pay to play” model that price small businesses out, but it’s fun to see those rare occasions when an image breaks through the algorithms and actually gets seen.

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Conditions for Our 2016 Eastern Sierra Spring Workshop Next Week

My early May blog post on spring Eastern Sierra conditions contained a collection of possible outcomes and opportunities for spring.  I’ve been out a few times since then, checking the emergence status of various wildflowers, the water level at Mono Lake tufa sites (and their muddiness, since they form over springs), unpaved road access conditions, snow levels and lake iceout conditions around Tioga Pass, pond water levels and reflection opportunities in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, bird and wildlife photography opportunities, and so on.


Wildflowers vary in intensity and timing from year to year, which is why I do these scouting trips before the workshop, and not while dragging customers around.  Even knowing where various species can be prolific, checking the current year’s status and timing involves many less than fully productive searches.  Wild iris seemed to be a bit behind in timing.  Mules ears have been starting to emerge over the past 2 weeks, and could peak in the next week or two.  The few days of clearer, warmer weather in the forecast early next week could help them along.  Paintbrush was doing well at low elevations but it is too early to tell how prolific it’ll be at mid to high altitudes.  Lupine were healthy in some areas and should still be available for another week or more a lower altitudes, and emerging at mid altitudes.  Wild peach has been strong, and yellow bitterbrush has bloomed as enthusiastically as many local residents can remember (one even mentioned that this native must be a new invasive species), but the peak is now past for both.  Isolated patches offered a variety of other species, sometimes dense, but you really have to search for them.  I’ll be back out over the next few days to see if some of the patches have increased in intensity, enough to warrant a visit during the upcoming workshop.

All of the photos in this post are from May 2016

The weather has been unsettled, great for daytime photography as but less conducive for many types of night photography.  That’s pretty typical for May, which is one reason why I only ran a couple of Bodie night photography workshops then, but currently focus more on June and later.

Some locations are on the wet and muddy side, not unsurprising for spring, but certainly good to know before you show up for a sunrise or sunset and can’t access the compositions that you might have enjoyed in the past, in summer, fall, or simply a drier year.  In other cases, a site might be more dependent upon long term trends, and the long term drought continues to provide cracked earth foregrounds.  If you’re shooting in one basin and the weather and light looks like it might be better 25 miles north or south, you can save an hour of driving if you know that the site that you have in mind isn’t in great condition that week.  Conversely, you can make your day, week or month if you know that a site is in great shape, and you arrive to find great light to complement the site’s full potential.  A good workshop is made great when you can “connect the dots” to consistently arrive at a series of good sites, in great seasonal condition, offering optimal lighting, while reacting to the day’s weather conditions.  There are no guarantees in landscape photography, and that’s part of what makes it exciting, but scouting trips do resolve what would otherwise be unknowns in the mix, increasing the odds of everything coming together just right.

A quick iPhone snapshot is good enough to record conditions, break out the DSLR upon returning in better light

The somewhat early opening of Tioga Pass is not surprising given a fairly dry month of February and the winter’s overall normal to low snowpack (93% in the Mammoth lakes area, closer to 100% north of Tioga Pass).  It has re-closed at times as moisture causes afternoon and evening storms, but it’s open again now.  Lakes are in various stages of losing their ice.  Tenaya Lake was clear by the time the pass opened, Ellery may be completely clear now, Tioga was mostly frozen last week, so it may still hold some ice into next week.  The terrain is complicated up in that area, so having spent many sunrises and sunsets up in that area is important to knowing what is likely to be productive, vs. a bust.

Tuolumne Meadows currently offers a lot of seasonal ponds.  Determining ahead of time which of them provide decent compositions at current water levels helps keep the workshop moving efficiently.  Many workshop leaders spend a lot of time and money marketing, and do a great job filling their workshops.  Good for them.  I prefer to spend my time in the field, develop extensive site and condition knowledge, and over time earn the reputation for delivering great opportunities and results.

It’s important to me for my knowledge to include photographic technique and post-processing skill.  Anyone can apply a filter in post-processing software or use a certain technique to make a landscape look wacky, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that, it it’s the style someone chooses, rather than is trapped into through less than optimal exposure technique or lack of alternate post-processing workflow options.  Getting through the end-to-end digital photographic process with realistic results is like walking a tightrope: bay far the easiest thing to do is to fall off.  There are subtle things you can do all along the way to optimize results.  You don’t need the latest camera or software, it’s more about fine tuning the various steps.

Backlit storm clouds at night

Ansel Adams produced timeless results by producing heavily manipulated but seamlessly realistic results, while popular trends included hand-tinting photographs to add color.  Most of us don’t know the names of his contemporaries today.  No doubt Ansel could have had great commercial success producing those colorized postcards, but any era’s hot trends can look cartoonish years later, out of the unique social context of the time.  We’re not immune from that today: I have over-saturated digital photos from the mid-2000s, tonemapped HDRs from the late 2000s, and I’ve dabbled with luminance masking, color light painting, and lately software filters.  I gravitate more realistic results, and for the experiments with various trends, I’m gradually re-processing many of the more over-the-top post processing results.  It’s useful to try a range of things to settle on your own preferred style, and to continue to try new things for variety and to see if you want to broaden your options for post-processing any given scene in the future.  So I want to maintain a broad enough collection of experiences to be prepared to help photographers who want to expand their own skills.

While the goal of my pre-workshop explorations are mainly to visit locations to assess conditions, it’ll be a fun challenge to line up the sites for great light and weather during the workshop next week.

iPhone 6S+ panorama

With the storms in the past weeks I haven’t been out for night photography as much as I would like, but we should have a great time in Bodie June 4/5, and I hope to be out a few times in the coming nights to assess a few new locations as well.

Starry Night over Bodie Church

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Mobile Phone Pictures From the Weekend

Apparently compact digital camera and DSLR sales are down lately, and it's easy to see why. Mobile phone cameras (and their sensors) have gotten pretty darned good.

#mobilephotography #LGG4 #photography #workshop


In Album LG G4

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Mobile Phone Images from a Visit to Bodie

I added over a dozen more photos from my workshop in Bodie last weekend to my LG G4 album.

#LGG4 #mobilephotography #travel #photography #workshop
+Bodie Photo Workshops


In Album LG G4

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Adding to the Death Valley Album from the March Visit

It turns out that sharing this collection of new images starts you out at image #29 in the album of 59 photos, so here's a link to the entire album:
  #DeathValley    #LandscapePhotography    #Workshop  

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20 More from the March 2013 Workshop
I'm heading back to Death Valley to meet some folks late next week.  I always like to review photos from previous trips as I work out a likely itinerary, so I took a look at shots from my January, March and November visits this year.  Here are 20 more shots from March; visit the album to see nearly 60 photos from that trip.

If you'd like to join us in Death Valley this month, contact me or visit the Death Valley Photography Workshops page on my blog for more details:

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Smoking Ghost Tires

Here's a light painting shot from our August 24 trip to Bodie State Historic Park.  How can you bring life to a long-dead car?  We lit the headlights with small LED lights, +Chris Whiting had an LED panel for the interior which he put a warming filter over, and Chris suggested a smoky effect with "el wire".  We tried a few variations, and soon we were getting results like this.  We had limited time on this night to run around and get Milky Way shots before the moon rose, so we didn't quite have time to perfect the concept.  

On each visit we try to introduce a few new concepts as well as continue to perfect old ones we initiated on past trips.  The light is a little bright with the moon down like this, but with the moon up, or more light on the car, we should be able to balance the elements of the scene well.  

I could post-process this twice and decrease the brightness of the blue light in one of the results, then blend the two back together in Photoshop.  I like to do as much as possible in camera though, so I'll probably try this again on our upcoming October 12 visit: #Bodie   #nightphotography   #workshop  

Ghost tires smoking

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Milky Way Photography Workshop

Milky Way Reflection and meteor at Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border, 2013

The best time to view the Milky Way in the Northern Hemisphere is close to the Summer solstice June 21, which is coming up fast. My best workshops for capturing the Milky Way will be June 14 and June 29 in Bodie State Historic Park:

I still have a couple of spaces left in each session. The June 29 date may be the better of the two for Milky Way shots, since The moon rises late, so we’ll shoot mostly under a dark starry night sky.  As an added bonus, fellow astrophotographer Steven Christenson will be co-leading this one.  We’ve both won awards for our photography in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest conducted by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in London (the observatory is home of GMT, Greenwich Mean Time, and all GPS coordinates in the world are defined relative to their site).  June 29 is also the same date as the Google+ 2 year anniversary photowalks, so we may offer a free photowalk in the eastern Sierra earlier that day.  Contact me if you’d like to join us!

Milky Way Reflecting, and Eta Aquarid Meteor?Milky WayStargazing - Winning Image, People and Space CategoryPerseid Meteor Over Bristlecone PineSummer Milky WayMilky Way Over Big SurMeteor and Milky Way Over Banner PeakMilky Way Over The Sierra CrestMilky Way Over SoyamajeMilky Way Over Bristlecone PineMilky Way Over Mine RuinsStars Over Star Dust

Arch and StarsAlien TerrainMilky Way Over Mono LakeMilky Way Over Mono Lake Tufa 4Milky Way and Mono Lake Tufa Light PaintingMilky Way and Light Painting Mono Lake Tufa

Other WorldlyMilky Way Over Sawtooth RidgeMeteor and Milky Way over the Sierra NevadaPerseid Meteors over Bristlecone PinesLife From the StarsMeteor Over the Salt Flats

Milky Way, a set on Flickr.

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