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Alpenglow on El Capitan, Yosemite

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 10 December 2009 in Landscape & Rural.

UPCOMING 2009 / 2010 WORKSHOPS:

Spring Big Sur Photo Workshop - March 29 - April 1, 2010 (1 spot remaining)
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Redwoods and Mendocino Coast Photo Workshop - June 15-18, 2010 (space available)
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New Article on my Website: Night Photography

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Photographer's Guide to the Big Sur Coast (e-book version - 102 pages)
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Every once in a while nature puts on a display that can simply take one's breath away. Tuesday evening was a perfect example, as vivid alpenglow-light painted the face of Yosemite's El Capitan, and cast its warm reflection into the Merced River, on what arguably had to have been one of the coldest days I photographed in recent memory.

I had kept a close eye on an arctic air mass that had swooped down out of the Gulf of Alaska and over northern California on Monday, and deposited a fresh blanket of snow across Yosemite Valley. Predicted highs for the valley on Tuesday was 27 degrees - a perfect green light situation. Friends Mike Hall and Scott Schilling arrived at my house at 3:00 am Tuesday morning (we all got about 3 hours of sleep), and three hours later we arrived at the Tunnel View Parking lot greeted by a bone-chilling 13 degrees and a stiff breeze. By 11:00 am, after 5 hours of shooting various locations around the valley, we decided to take a break and realized the temperature had risen to only 16 degrees - in the sun! Needless to say, the fresh appearance of the newly fallen snow was staying put.

Two hours later we were back out and decided we would shoot sunset from Valley View, even though the sky was void of clouds. Shortly after 3 pm, we noticed a few clouds forming over Half Dome and Cloud's Rest, and our collective pulses' quickened. Arriving a short time later at the Valley View parking lot allowed us our first clear view of El Capitan, and to our astonishment, there were these beautiful clouds forming around the top of the rim.

We quickly picked out a shooting location (no one else was around) and began photographing, as the scene and light were changing by the minute. Posted sunset was 4:38 pm, and by 4:30 pm, the light had faded away. Six years prior I had been in this same location and was told by a local photographer to not leave after the sun had set. I was rewarded that evening with an alpenglow show that knocked my socks off, so there was no way I was going to leave on this particular evening.

About five minutes later, this incredible warm light began to appear, and this was a single frame (processed twice) captured prior to the light fading for good. I realize similar images have been made with this light (and even with fresh snow), but I would put this evening up against any I have seen. I would be hard-pressed to see a more amazing combination of light and color at this location within my lifetime.

Needless to say, we were like three giddy schoolboys on the trip home. We all knew we had witnessed an incredible display of nature's light and form at its best. It is moments like these (and they are few and far between) that make me glad I decided to climb out of bed in the middle of a freezing-cold December night!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/5 second F/16.0 ISO 200 35 mm

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This image has been featured in 2 Remix collections.

Nature by Akbar&Armaghan

Winter by Akbar&Armaghan