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Winter's Chill, Upper Yosemite Falls

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 6 January 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


Winter Big Sur Photo Workshop - Magic Light and The Pfeiffer Beach Arch - January 11-14, 2011 (Workshop Sold Out)
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(Workshop Sold Out)
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In my previous post I discussed making a connection with your scene prior to photographing it. Let's discuss a bit more what I mean by the word connection. Often times while teaching workshops we arrive on a scene and inevitably someone will ask, What are we photographing here? It's as if they are waiting to be hit over the head with the obvious image. This is what I mean by a literal representation of the scene. Alright, there is Half Dome with a double-rainbow emanating from it so that must be the picture, why else would we be stopping here?

When we take the step forward from literal to expressing an emotional representation of the scene, what one is expressing is how the scene makes them feel. There must be that connection when you put the camera to the eye where your pulse skips a beat, where you say to yourself, Whoa, look at that! If that is not happening, how can you expect your viewer to respond to your image?

When photographing in an icon-laden location such as Yosemite Valley, I try to challenge myself to look away from the obvious (easier said than done). Yet, there are times when the icons reveal themselves in such a manner that they cannot be ignored. Today's image was one that simply could not be ignored. After photographing the Valley floor for three hours in early morning light, the sun began to make its presence and it was time to break for a late breakfast. While driving towards the Yosemite Lodge, I came across this familiar scene of upper Yosemite Falls from across Cook's Meadow and stopped dead in my tracks. I have past this scene countless times and have witnessed it under many types of light, but on this bone-chilling 14-degree morning, the sun's heat warmed the ice and snow along the ridge of the falls and created an appealing mist that added that extra touch to a familiar scene. Without a doubt, I had my whoa look at that moment!

The foreground cottonwoods were still in heavy shadow and worked perfectly to frame the bottom of the frame. I tried some frames that included the base of the trees but the snow around them distracted my eye from the lit portion of the frame, thus, I cut the trees in half to clearly indicate I wanted them cropped.

So the next time you are on location looking for images, frame your scene then check your pulse. Are you having that whoa moment? If so, work the scene for as many compositions as possible. I guarantee your image will resonate with your viewers. Bottom line: trust your emotional response to a scene!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/30 second F/16.0 ISO 100 54 mm

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James Guillory Photography from Garner, United States

Smith, Beautiful image, heavy shadow of the cottonwood looks great. Heading to the outer banks for 3 days tomorrow.

6 Jan 2011 5:52am

@James Guillory Photography: Have a fun trip - hope you are taking your son again, sounds like you guys had a good time on your last trip.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Whoa look at that, is right!!! Exactly what I thought when I saw the screen!

6 Jan 2011 7:04am

@Tracy: Last night I was watching a video of an interview with one of my favorite photographers, Charles Cramer, and he said almost the same thing when asked about finding images! I believe he said something like, It has to make your blood pressure rise. Anyway, it's a good concept to remember. If the scene isn't stirring something inside of you, perhaps it's not worth the effort of capturing it.

Sylvie49 capture image from Anjou - Maine et Loire, France

Beautiful image.

6 Jan 2011 7:21am

@Sylvie49 capture image: Thank you Sylvie.

Richard from Duns, United Kingdom

It's like a '4 colour process' Beautiful!

6 Jan 2011 7:53am

@Richard: Generally I will not photograph when the sun is this high (especially in snow scenes as it is too hard to control the contrast) but with the mist rising off the fresh snow against that cobalt blue sky, the scene was simply too hard to pass by.

Jean-Louis from Nîmes, France

Un endroit ou il ne doit pas y faire très chaud !!!
Belle photo de ces pics enneigés !!
Bonne journée .

6 Jan 2011 8:28am

@Jean-Louis: Not sure if you can understand English Jean-Louis, but thank you very much. Wish our exchange student Florent was still here to help me translate.

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Hi Don - I quite agree with the "connection" philosophy...if we simply plod along like a robot from one spot to another and close our eyes in between, (although I am guilty of that myself many times), we are not allowing ourselves to be part of the spirit of the locale, the surroundings, the atmosphere. Feeling is as much a part of photography as the selection of settings for one's composition. As a lover of music, I like to rely on my feelings anyway. Dang good thing I do, because the "selection of settings part" is still way off in the distance for me ;-) Anyway, we often hear phrases such as "Be at one with your surroundings" and maybe we chuckle, or dismiss them, but we shouldn't do that, because, in my opinion, that's really what it is all about. Part of the reason I like AM3 so much is becasue we are asked to title our images. Mine today talks about a ballet on misty water...that title came, not at the moment of capture, but later, upon reflection...but it was the reflective culmination of an emotional response that occurred at the time of discovery. Your title today, and all the days before,is the same kind of reaction ...You were at Yosemite passing by this familiar location, it was "FAC" (my old Army term for "Freezin' a.. Cold") and the light and mist was doing awesome your title is the literal description of an emotional, visual, natural, and physical experience...What a marvelous scene,. what a marvelous view....thank you so much for being there...Happy New Year Don ! DJ

6 Jan 2011 1:09pm

@Denny Jump Photo: Hey Denny, funny in that I had my alarm set for 2:15 am (so I could depart by 2:45 am) and be in the Valley just as dawn was breaking. I made it but in the process of rushing, got a contact (I'm rather new to this) stuck under the eyelid of my non-shooting eye. With the 14-degree temperatures, I could feel every blink - more of an annoyance than anything else - but I was looking forward to getting into a warm building and getting the contact out of my eye. Couple that with the fact that I was hungry (and desperately needed a cup of coffee) and making one more stop was really not on the agenda. In retrospect, I am glad I did. Oftentimes one is uncomfortable in the pursuit of good images (early alarms, missed meals, sleep depravation) but it goes with the territory. Funny also that you mention titles. I was told by one of my Getty editors to dump the poetic titles if I had any hopes of my images showing up on Google searches. She told me to keep them literal and descriptive and to mention the place where the image was captured. The SEO with AM3 is awesome. I'm sure anyone who posts regularly on AM3 can attest to that. So, that is how I think when it comes to adding titles. Thanks as always for your well thought-out responses and Happy New Year to you also!

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

My eyes are so bad I can't qualify for contacts..but the Army took me..go figure :-) All me best Don..

6 Jan 2011 3:51pm

@Denny Jump Photo: As long as the Army didn't make you the lead scout...

Greg Stotts from United States

What a great article, Don. It captures what photography means to me. Having that "whoa" moment is what drives me and makes the early, frost-bitten mornings worth it. I suspect it's like the feeling a prospector has when finding gold. Very addictive. Beautiful image.

7 Jan 2011 3:39am

@Greg Stotts: I can remember this feeling as a kid when I used to go fishing with my dad. When a trout would hit my line there was a sudden jump with my pulse - kind of the same feeling except these days I am fishing for images! I think the bottom line is having a passion for photography, without that, there really is no basis for motivation. Thanks for joining in on my blog.

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

love the colour contrast here and the wispy clouds hanging about the mountain - they are almost like the extension of the snow below - fabulous work!

7 Jan 2011 3:59am

@DarkElf: Sometimes one is just in the right place at the right time. Thanks as always for your kind comments.

Jean-Louis from Nîmes, France

Merci de votre commentaire , même en Anglais , je me sers de Google pour traduire directement !!
Les photos que vous faites et le indications sont très ... très intéressentes !!
Bon WE à vous !!

7 Jan 2011 7:19pm

@Jean-Louis: Merci Jean-Louis.

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

I like your work on this Don with the strong black tones on the foreground in silhouette to the background scene! It adds a ton of depth to the image! Great work on this one and I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

7 Jan 2011 9:09pm

@Scott F. Schilling: Have a great weekend also Scott. For me, this is the calm before the storm!

klauSZ from Kufstein, Austria

wow very impressive! it´s a beautiful detail so see the trees in the front only by its sillhouettes
and you definitely can feel how monumatal the mountain is!

8 Jan 2011 2:59pm

@klauSZ: I've always wanted to visit and photograph the Alps klauSZ - perhaps one day. Thanks for your nice words.

Maria Draper from California, United States

Don, very beautiful scene, and you write very beautiful, too...I like your explanation.
All true, probably for everyone who takes photos, even that probably not all of us think of the logical explanation behind.
And I totally agree with the viewer's response, although I assume that it also depends on the interests that one has. I for one can be indifferent at some scenes that can raise the pulse of many, while I can have my pulse out of control when looking at some scenes that probably interest very few.
This image is a "whoa" for me too, from bottom to top, left to right. Just a very well planned image, but what I like the most, are the colors of the rocks in combination with the white snow.
And the low clouds/mist...
And ...the black trees...

8 Jan 2011 9:26pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Magnificent! Your explanation is clear and seems simple enough but I know how hard it is to achieve what you can with your eye and camera! :) Thank you for sharing your expertise with us!

10 Jan 2011 2:12am