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Clearing Storm, Valley View, Yosemite

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 1 March 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


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Rarely would I ever be out with my camera when the sun is bathing the scene. Contrast issues generally raise a red flag making a single-image (think non HDR) capture impossible with the limited dynamic range of today's 35mm sensors. Yet, when a storm is just beginning to break, all bets are off and situations quickly present a green light for exciting photography.

In a recent Yosemite workshop where I assisted Gary Hart, our group was departing the Valley after breakfast when a persistent snow storm began to break just as we were passing by the iconic Valley View location. With only a handful of photographers already on-scene, foregrounds were still pristine (something most photographers quickly ruin for most) and we quickly got the cameras out and got to work.

Thanks to the softness of the cloud cover, the scene metered just a hair over 7 stops of light from the brightest portion of the snow to the darkest of shadows (the foreground portion of the Merced River and the shadows of the trees below Cathedral Rocks near the upper right of the frame). Knowing my sensor could handle 6 of those stops of light, I knew my RAW converter could gain back the other stop of shadow (depending on your monitor you may or may not be able to see the detail I was able to bring back but it is there). During processing I did add an adjustment layer and using PSCS5's burn tool (set to Highlight / 10%) did a slight burn of the snow near the edges to work the eye back into the scene. One wants to be very subtle with the burn in a situation like this but on the other hand, white snow is an eye-grab and having on the edge of the frame can lead the eye out of the composition. Ansel Adams was a master at subtle edge burns to prevent eye-leaks.

Valley View (also referred to as Gates of the Valley) is really one of those locations that one can shoot year-round, regardless of the conditions. It is an excellent sunrise/sunset location and as you can see, you get the iconic El Capitan monolith on the left and the before-mentioned Cathedral Rocks on the right - tough to miss!

Not much more I can say about this image other than if you are ever in Yosemite, stop by (the exit out of the Park along Northside Drive takes you right past this scene). And if you are as fortunate to see it under freshly coated snow as we were, pinch yourself, it doesn't get much better than that.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/80 second F/16.0 ISO 100 20 mm

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