Fuzzy Reflections!

Location: Santa Teresa Park, San Jose
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-s 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM | 18mm | f/8 | 5s | ISO 100

This was shot during my recent (February) visit to Yosemite National Park to catch the Firefall, which is an amazing natural phenomenon. More on that on my other post titled El Capitan & His Fiery Horsetail. We reached Yosemite right around lunch time. Sowmya had packed some potato sandwiches for us. She thought she was made enough for just breakfast on our way but we had more than enough left for lunch as well.

After eating the delicious sandwiches, we started exploring Yosemite Valley. We stopped at different locations; some well-known but others considered to be part of ‘secret’ location. Nothing really ‘secret’ about it; you just have to explore a bit. After hitting a few of those places, we ended up at the Sentinel Bridge.

This is a very famous photo spot. You can see Half Dome clearly from this bridge and if conditions are right, you can get a perfect reflection. Also, during Sunset, you can get the famous red/pink/orange headed Half Dome. When I was in Yosemite last year during Spring, I happened to be near Sentinel Bridge and watched the setting Sun hit Half Dome. It was spectacular.

This time around, I shot this during mid-day. I took a couple of shots hand-held but didn’t like the rough waters. Merced River was flowing pretty rapidly. I then went to the car, got my ND filters and put on a 6 stop ND filter. I was able to smooth out the running water. I liked how the reflections turned out.


Road to Half Dome!

Location: Yosemite National Park, California
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS SM | 14mm | f/8 | 1/200s | ISO 100

After catching the spectacular ‘Natural Firefall’, we went to Valley View and Tunnel View to see if we could get any post blue hour shots. Nothing really worked; at least for me. We then went back to the Cabin so we could grab dinner. We had some awesome home-made parathas and some cream rolls. After dinner, we relaxed for a bit in the heated tent cabin and chit chatted.

After an hour or so, we ventured out to try some light painting. Well, I really didn’t shoot as I was waiting to see how it was going to turn out. I was just standing in the middle of the road enjoying the night sky. So many starts! Going to Yosemite (or I would imagine anywhere with no light pollution) to see the night sky is absolutely worth it. Anyways, light painting didn’t really yield the results we were looking for. So, we decided to head to Tunnel View to see if we can capture the starts. That didn’t workout either.

When we got back to the cabin, I was ready to hit the bed. Even though my friend asked me to, I forgot to bring a sleeping bag and I suffered; a lot. It was extremely cold. The heater in the cabin helped but only to a certain degree. I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

We woke up early in the morning to catch sunrise at Tunnel View. That was a bust as there were no clouds, no colors, and no drama. I still got some good shots that I can turn into B&W. After sunrise, we went to get some breakfast.

After breakfast, we were near Curry Village and I saw this road leading to Half Dome. Actually, I saw it before as well but every time we were in this road, there were lots of cars. The park was pretty empty Sunday morning so I went to the middle of the road and took this shot. I wanted to take a few more shots but cars started coming in.

I like the way it turned out. Processing was pretty straight forward. I bracketed these shots so I converted them to HDR in Lightroom and followed my usual workflow.

El Capitan & His Fiery Horesetail

Location: Yosemite National Park, California
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 56mm | f/8 | 1/8s | ISO 100

What a spectactular natural phtenomenon! It was truly mesmerizing. Until a few years back, I didn’t even know such a natural phenomenon happened year after year. When I heard about it, I wanted to do it. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it last year. This year, I definitely wanted to try.

The ‘Natural Firefall’ is one of Yosemite National Park’s most amazing spectacles. Around the second week of February, the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall at just the right angle to illuminate the upper reaches of the waterfall. And when conditions are perfect, Horsetail Fall glows orange and red at sunset.

We planned a trip to Yosemite National Park specifically to catch the Firefall. However, when we actually started our journey, we had very little hope that we’d see this spectacular event as the conditions didn’t seem promising. Throughout the day, we didn’t even think about the Firefall as 1) the water flow on the Horsetail Falls seemed too low and 2) conditions didn’t seem right for the falls to light up. Until the very last minute (literally), we were debating if we should try our luck or just go to the famous Tunnel View for Sunset.

We decided to stick around to see if the magic happens. Now the question was where do we setup our tripods to watch the firefall. We stopped our car a bit far from one of the well known locations – El Capitan Picnic area. There was a small opening close to where we parked our car. Even though there were trees all around, there was enough of an opening to get some good shots and catch the firefall.

We decided to walk close to the El Capitan Picnic area to see if that would offer a better view. When we went there, a couple of us felt that the water flow seemed to appear higher from the location close to where we parked. So, we decided to walk back to that spot.

When we initially came to this spot, there weren’t anyone ‘occupying’ this spot. When we returned, the place was pretty packed. We still got spot to setup our tripods. Then the waiting game began. No one knew whether or not it would light up. Sunset was around 5:25 and around 5:15 there was no hint of it lighting up. But all of a sudden, we saw the lower part of the falls light up. We immediately knew it was happening.

I dialed in my setting, focused on Waterfall and started shooting. I paused to enjoy the show and not just see it through my viewfinder. I also took a few photos and videos on my Phone and sent it to Sowmya. She was so happy that I got to experience the Firefall. Looking at the camera, I knew I got some good shots that were sharp and in focus.

In terms of processing, I didn’t add any color. The falls naturally lights up and even with just the naked eye you can see that colors. I only enhanced the Vibrance and Saturation a bit.

I am so glad we decided to stick around. It was a great show! It happened at the last minute and it only lasted for a few minutes but the memory will last a lifetime.

Snowy Reflections!

Location: Yosemite National Park, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 18mm | f/8 | 1/500s | ISO 100

As mentioned in my previous post, a few of us decided to head to Yosemite to catch the ‘Natural Firefall’. We started from the Bay Area around 9 and we were in the Yosemite Valley right around lunch time. The last time I was in Yosemite (during early December), there was a lot of snow. It wasn’t fresh snow so we didn’t get the shot we were looking for. Nevertheless, there still was enough snow for us to get some great shots of Yosemite in Winter.

This time around, not so much snow in the Valley but there still was snow in the higher peaks. We just stopped at some of the usual places that we go to in Yosemite and experimented with some shots; primarily reflections. We then decided to check into our cabin at Curry Village (formerly Half Dome Village). After registration, we walked o this meadow where lot of snow was accumulated. When I saw that much snow on the ground, my aim was to get a shot of the snow covered Half Dome with lot of snow in the foreground.

When I started walking towards the meadow, I noticed puddle of water that had great reflection of Half Dome. I now decided to focus on getting the reflection. Getting to a spot where I could get the reflection was a bit tricky. Water was running everywhere and we really didn’t find an easy path close to the puddle where we could stand.

We somehow managed to get there and I got several shots from this location. This is one of my favorite shots from that series. I tried processing it in color but since it was shot midday, the colors weren’t that good. It was rather harsh. Given the contrast in the scene with the snow and the dark mountain & trees, I decided to go B&W. I really like the B&W rendition of this shot. I dodged and burned a little; added some contrast, and then touched up a little in Lightroom.

Week 8 – B&W

The goal for Week 8 of the 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to shoot Black & White. I love B&W Photography. I have always been drawn to B&W photos. Ansel Adams is one of my favorite Photographers. What he was able to do with his photos as well as Photography in general is unbelievable. I take a lot of inspiration from Ansel Adams as well as several Photographers from that timeframe who primarily shot in B&W like Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Mary Ellen Mark, Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, and many others.

Black & White Photography is extremely rewarding to me. What I have seen is that even people who aren’t into Photography are usually drawn to a great B&W image. My friends, many of whom are not into Photography, are drawn to my B&W shots more than color.

What I have learned is that images that taking a Photo and merely processing it to B&W may get you good results but often times, you’ll be disappointment. To get best results with B&W photos, you have to not only think about post processing but also deliberately think about B&W while shooting a scene. You have to assess a scene to see whether or not it would work well in B&W. You’ll have to look at things like Tonal Contrast, Texture, Pattern, Lines, Shapes, Forms, among other things.

I have seen a lot of people say that they convert their photos to B&W if lighting is bad. This may work but unless you look at things I mentioned above and deliberately shoot a scene with the intention to convert to B&W, the results are not going to be optimal. Don’t get me wrong, B&W does ‘soften the blow’ when you are dealing with bad lighting but there’s more to B&W than just converting to B&W in post processing.

To be honest, I do both. Meaning, I deliberately look for scenes that will be good in B&W as well as convert shots that don’t look good in color to B&W to see if turns out better. I have definitely had better results with the former approach rather than the latter.

One of the places that I look to capture in B&W is Yosemite National Park. How can I not think about B&W given that some of my favorite photos of all time are Ansel Adams Yosemite series? Yosemite definitely screams B&W, especially during winter. I have several shots from Yosemite where I shot with the intention of converting to B&W. A couple of shots in this Photo Challenge series are B&W shots from Yosemite.

This particular shot was taken during my recent visit to Yosemite. We didn’t have fresh snow during our recent trip but all the mountains and peaks were covered in snow. We went to Tunnel View for Sunrise and I zoomed in on the Cathedral Rocks with the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls and decided to capture that with the intention to go B&W for multiple reasons: 1) the tonal contrast in the scene 2) the snow capped Cathedral Rocks with dark rocks 2) the bright Bridal Veil Falls and 4) B&W was basically the only option that day as the weather wasn’t ideal.

Definitely not the best B&W I captured but I think it turned out well. The best thing was I went with the plan to shoot B&W and executed my vision.



Week 6 – Zoomed In

The Challenge for this week was to zoom-in on the primary subject and eliminate everything else. When you think about Landscape photography, what immediately comes to mind is the wide sweeping landscape. One of the first things you need as a Landscape Photographer is a wide angle lens; the wider the better.

Most of my Landscape photos are wide sweeping scenes. I have noticed that going wide (or ultra-wide) sometimes distracts the viewer. I remember shooting Sunset from Asilomar Beach and I love the scene that was unfolding in front of me. It was a gorgeous Sunset and there were lot of rocks in the foreground. I took a lot of shots and felt I had some keepers. When I reviewed the photos to pick the ones I wanted to post process, I didn’t really like a lot of photos from this series. Why? The scene ended up being too confusing; too distracting. Way too many rocks in the foreground; no clear focus point; no leading line; no symmetry; no balance.

Got me thinking that no matter how beautiful a scene may me, it is up to the Photographer to focus on the right things and tell a compelling story. That’s where the different compositional techniques come in. With a wide landscape, you have to pay careful attention to where you place different elements of the scene.

One of the compositional techniques used masterfully by some of the world’s best Landscape Photographers is to zoom-in. The goal is to put the primary subject the sole focus of the image and eliminate everything else from the frame. Ansel Adams did this very well. His shot titled “Moon and Half Dome” is a great example.

When I was in Yosemite recently, I decided to try the zoom-in technique. I was shooting a reflection of Half Dome with my wide-angle lens – the 10-18mm. I loved how those shots turned out. I wrote about one of those shots – Snowy Reflections! I didn’t have my camera bag with me so didn’t have the option to go beyond 18mm. When my friend walked in with his camera bag, I borrowed his 24-105mm lens. This lens is considered a good walk around lens as it covers a wide range.

On my 7D, which has a 1.6x crop factor, this lens essentially becomes 38-168mm. I zoomed in to get  close up shot of Half Dome. I tried a couple of different frames and liked this particular frame. I convered to B&W as the contrast between snow and dark shadows of the Half Dome came out clearly.