Firefall!

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

Another one from the Firefall series. I can’t believe how lucky I was to see this natural event. So many years in California and I didn’t even know about this until I got into Photography. Well, better late than never 🙂

I can’t imagine how Galen Rowell must have felt when taking the first-known photograph of the natural Yosemite Firefall. I am sure several others saw the phenomenon before Galen Rowell, he just was the first to Photograph. Such a beautiful thing to witness.

So many things have to line up and work harmoniously for the event to happen. To start with, the Horsetail Fall must be flowing. Obviously! But, think about it. If there’s not enough snow in early February, the Horsetail Fall will not be flowing. Assuming there is decent flow in the Fall, then weather conditions need to be near perfect. The Western Sky must be clear during Sunset. If there are any clouds, they’ll prevent Sun’s rays from hitting the Horsetail Falls and it will not light up. If the Fall is flowing and if weather conditions are good, then the Fall will light up for about 10 minutes and that too only during a 2 week period in February.

But to witness it, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The Horsetail Falls is visible from multiple locations in Yosemite. You have to be in the right angle to see the event in action. Now you can see why you should consider yourself lucky to witness this event. I sure was!

After debating whether or not to stick around and gamble to witness this event, we finally decided to stay. Then came the question of where to shoot it from. After walking for a bit, we decided to stick to our original spot. Until the very last minute, we didn’t know if it was going to light up. It suddenly did and it was simply superb.

I manually focused on the waterfall, went with what is considered to be the sharpest aperture for this lens (f/8) and kept firing away. I changed the focal length and orientation once in a while to switch things up.

From a processing stand-point, apart from my regular processing, I did some dodging and burning to highlight the lava-like waterfall. I like how it turned out.

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Reflection of Yosemite Falls!

Location: Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5/6 IS STM | 13mm | f/8 | 1/50s | ISO 100

This was taken during my visit to Yosemite National Park in February to capture the Natural Firefall. I processed this photo a while back but didn’t publish it as I had several others that I personally liked much better than this one. I probably wouldn’t have published but the two friends I went to Yosemite with both published a photo that is very similar to this one. All 3 of us shot standing right next to each other. They asked that I publish mine as well so all 3 can be compared in terms of how we shot as well as how we processed.

The other two guys shot it (or cropped it) almost identically. They also processed it very similarly. Both are good shots. I like how theirs turned out. I was using my ultra-wide lens so my shot is wider compared to theirs. My processing is also different. I dodged and burned a bit more than they did. For some reason, I dodge & burn my B&W photos but not my color photos. I need to play around to see if I can add dodging & burning to my regular post processing workflow.

In terms of the shot, we were going around Yosemite Valley stopping anywhere we could to get shots during the day. One of the stops was Sentinel Bridge to shoot the Half Dome. We can clearly see Yosemite Falls from the Sentinel Bridge parking lot. We notice a puddle of water in the meadows next to the parking lot. Reflection of Yosemite Falls was pretty clear on the puddle so we decided to try shooting.

As I said, all 3 of us were standing right next to each other. For most of the trip, we were standing shoulder to shoulder. I didn’t know they were going to convert this photo to B&W. I did it because the contrast called for it and honestly, B&W looked better than the color version. Coincidentally, they processed in B&W as well.

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.

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.

Week 5 – Reflection

The Challenge for Week 5 of the 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Reflection. I love reflections; especially those that occur in nature such as waterscapes. For some reason, I am drawn to reflections and love capturing them. To me finding reflections in nature is like a scavenger hunt; I try to seek out as many reflective surfaces as possible – lakes, ponds, water puddles, windows, mirrors, and on and on.

In my mind, the keys to photographing reflections is to achieve an acceptable amount of clarity in the reflection so both the main subject and its reflection are super clear. I often move around to find the perfect reflection. I try to get a clean reflection of my main subject and nothing else. This brings in symmetry as well. In some cases, I find a small rock or driftwood, or tree bark, or something in the foreground to offset that symmetry. But in most cases, my goal is to capture a mirror reflection.

During my recent visit to Yosemite National Park, I shot this reflection of Three Brothers. I have been to this particular location a couple of times before. The first few times I went to Yosemite last year, I was not able to find a good location to shoot the Three Brothers. During one of my visits to Yosemite with Sowmya and her mom, I was on the lookout for a location to shoot the Three Brothers. Not only that, I knew that there is a location in the Valley where you can get a good reflection of the Brothers.

While driving around, Sowmya found a pullout that she thought would be a good spot to park our car and walk off-trail to see if we can find a spot to shoot the Three Brothers. We got lucky. This spot was not too far away from where we parked our car. I was very happy to get the reflection of Three Brothers. Actually, that morning, almost all of my shots were reflections – El Capitan, Half Dome, Three Brothers, Tenaya Peak, Stately Pleasure Dome, and Cathedral Rocks.

During my recent visit to Yosemite, we went to this location again to get the reflection of the Three Brothers. I converted it to B&W as the contrast seemed to work very well. The water was pretty still. I was able to get this shot hand-held and still get a sharp focus on both the main subject and the reflection.