Traveling for the sole purpose of photography is not the same as photographing your travels. Let me use my recent trip to Yosemite with a group from So Coast Explorers as an example.
Let’s start with the choice to go in winter. Unless you’re a skier, snow-shoer or just like it cold, is that when the typical traveler will choose to go to Yosemite? A photographer will choose to go for the snow, winter conditions and chance of stormy skies.
For the photographer, choosing February in particular, is for the chance to photograph Horsetail Falls on FIRE. In a small two week period in February, if you have clear skies at sunset and Horsetail Falls has the right amount of water, the falls will look like they are on fire. Photographers by the hundreds will descend on Yosemite for a chance to capture this natural phenomenon. Many come year after year for the chance only to leave empty handed. This year we were one of the hundreds.
Our first attempt starts with a decision to not try and shoot it as it’s looking pretty cloudy from where we were at. Cloudy skies will block the sun from reflecting on the rocks. It’s this reflection that makes the falls look like they are on fire. We decide to catch the clouds at Tunnel View instead. The closer we get to Tunnel View the clearer the skies become. Have we made the right decision? After taking a few photographs from Tunnel View, we decide not. We figure if we hurry we can still try for Horsetail Falls.
The adventure starts with choosing the right location and finding a parking spot. Since we are short on time, we look for something on the Southside road. Finding the right location is a little more challenging when you look up at where you think the falls are, but you’re not sure because there is NO WATER! Yes the falls were dry, but that didn’t stop us photographers from trekking into the snow and pointing our cameras up at where the falls were supposed to be.
As we waited for the sunset, we amused ourselves with taking photos of what was around us and each other.
As the sun set we could see the band of color move across the rocks. From our vantage point we had a broad view of the light that gets more intense in color before starting to fade.
We then join the mass exitus leaving the park only to return for SUNRISE.
Coming back for Sunrise means leaving the cabin by 5:45 as it’s an hour drive into Yosemite Valley. A non-photographer is likely still asleep dreaming of a nice warm breakfast. We arrive at Swinging Bridge which has a view of Yosemite Falls as the sun is coming up. It’s so cold there is hoar frost on the leaves and ice in the river.
Once the sun is fully up, it’s time to move on. A decision is made to go to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir as most of the group had not been there. We were expecting some nice reflections from the water. We arrive to the turn-off after about an hour of driving to find a sign that says the road to Hetch Hetchy is closed. Do we stop and turn around? No we continue on, to see how close we can get. We get to where the road is closed and park, as it’s ONLY two miles further, we can hike it. A beautiful walk on a paved road for two miles gets us to the ranger station. Turns out it’s another 7 miles to the Reservoir. We turn back.
Back in the car, on the way back out, we see Birch Lake and stop and take some photographs.Birch Lake had some nice reflections, we chalk up the 4 mile hike to some needed exercise. Next up lunch at the Ahwanhnee Dining Room.
The concierge at the Ahwanhnee suggests a hike from the lodge to Yosemite Falls, that will take us up over the tree line and give us a different view of those falls. Haven’t we hiked enough today? NO. What is one more mile? Well the mile did include a brief view above the tree line, although there was no view of the falls until the trail dumps us on the same trail to Yosemite Falls we had been on the day before. Yes, nothing new here, just another mile walked. So what’s next?
Yes another shot at Horsetail Falls. This time from the North side. We are not alone.
Still no water, but everyone is still ready to get the shot as if God is going to turn on the faucet and there will suddenly be water. From this side the band of light is much narrower and you can get a better sense of how it should look.
The sun is down and most of the crowd leaves the park. Time for us to leave too? After all no sun, no photography, right? We have been out since before the sun came up. But no, we plan to photograph by the light of the half moon. So it’s off to find dinner while waiting for it to get darker.
It’s about 8:45 PM when we get back to Sentinel Bridge which looks out over Half Dome and the river with the moon behind us. Night photography involves a bit of trial and error to figure out how long to keep your shutter open so that you get enough light to capture the scene but not so long that the stars move. The passing traffic with their headlights and taillights also had an effect. Although it is bitterly cold outside, we were having so much fun, it was 10 pm before we left.
We left the cabin at 5:45 AM and returned at 11:00 PM, with 5 miles of hiking and a lot of photos in between. Not your typical vacation getaway, but a lot of fun.