Archive for the ‘Yosemite’ Category

The Critical Moment: Half Dome at Dusk

Getting a unique shot of a subject like Half Dome in Yosemite is no easy task. Millions of tourists, many carrying good cameras and armed with a good grasp of photography, visit this location every year. The plethora of photographs taken from all angles at all times of day really does make this a challenge, but Andrew, Giacomo and I set out to do it anyway. In doing some night photography on the previous nights, we noticed that there was a window of about 10-15 minutes where the light “lingered” in the sky; the sun had officially set, but there was still a decent amount of light left, enough to provide depth in the foreground and a gradient of color above. Timing, however, was critical, as it wasn’t always obvious exactly when to start shooting, and we only had one shot as we knew we’d need close to a 30 minute exposure to achieve the star trails we wanted. The second we pressed the shutter, we were committed to that time window for that night. Too early and we’d have too much light in the sky and be unable to see the stars; too late and we’d have a normal star trail image which would lack any detail in the foreground. We knew we were going to be at Mirror Lake the next night, and the view of Half Dome from that spot is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and iconic, so we wanted to have the perfect shot lined up, which would require learning precisely when this window of light would occur. That final shot came out well, but it was thanks to our observation the night before that we were able to get that critical window of light. This shot, from Glacier Point, is another single shot HDR, and as such required a good bit of Photoshop to get it the way I wanted it. Other byproducts of these ultra-long exposures include sensor-level noise, as you can see in the lower left corner of the shot, as well as a distinct loss of detail in moving objects, which can be seen in the “clumpiness” or softness of the tree. Despite all of this, the final shot is just how I like it: surreal but not insane. It makes people stop and say “wait a minute…” and you get to explain to them why it’s not just a photograph. At that point they either write you off as a talentless hack or beg you to teach them how to use Photomatix…

The band of yellow light just above the horizon is what we were going for by waiting for that moment just a few minutes after the sun set directly behind us.

I know I make this point very often (indeed, as often as I can!) but here, yet again, is an example of why I value HDR as much as I do. Take a peek at the original shot… at best it is “eh, kinda cool.” Definitely not blog post material. But with a lot of tweaking, all that data in the 30MB+ RAW file can be turned into, well, my new desktop background anyway 🙂


Those streaks in the sky that are clearly not stars are airplanes... unbelievably annoying to remove! Next time I do this I will set up AA guns next to my tripod...

Half Dome Under the Stars

This has to be one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the past few years. It was one of those times when “everything came together” as they say, and as Andrew mentioned it was in a large way a group effort between the three of us. Knowing we wanted to get a night shot of the iconic Half Dome with star trails behind it, we scoped out the location early on in the day, while there was still plenty of light. We spent hours taking test shots to get the framing we wanted, and as night fell we had all 3 of our cameras constantly taking images, comparing exposure times, apertures, every variable really, trying to do our best educated guesswork as to what the final settings should be. We knew we had about a 15-minute window to get the “perfect shot;” there is a very small period of time right as the first stars begin to show before the sun truly sets, leaving you some light in the sky that we knew would reflect off the mountain and give some detail to the foreground as well as give the sky a much bluer hue. As luck would have it, the setting sun cast a reddish orange hue directly on the face of Half Dome, which translated really well in the long exposure that I ended up finally taking. That exposure was 868 seconds long, at an aperture of F/4, ISO 200, and 16mm. Of course, it was just a single shot, and I had to process it out in Photoshop to create the light and the dark images needed to make the final HDR image. If I could go back and do it again, I’d bump the ISO to 400 and go for about 1000 seconds, but overall this came out pretty well! It took a huge amount of time to get right, as I had to remove a ton of pixel-level noise manually, especially in the foreground trees (if you zoom in on the full-rez image you can still see there’s a lot of it!) but needless to say, this one’s been my desktop background since I got back from Yosemite! Now we need a new banner image….

In addition to noise, I also had to Photoshop out about 5 different airplanes that cut across the entire image... Yosemite may be far from LA by car, but the planes never stop flying over!

Finally, More from Yosemite

Admittedly, It’s been far too long since my last post, and for once I cannot attribute this to a lack of material, as I still have a lot from Hawaii and TONS from Yosemite to process. My problem now is time, as classes have started and I’ve got lots of work for those, in addition to beginning an internship at the Clark Art Institute here in Williamstown. I’m excited to continue working at a museum, as my experience at the High was incredible. Anyway, here’s a shot from Yosemite, from the first day we were there. We trekked out to Happy Isles, an easy walk, and spent hours composing shots and just generally taking HDRs. We waded out into the river after a while, and set up the tripod rather precariously on some rocks to get a neat vantage point. The HDR process really lets the color of the sunlight underwater shine through, something that is hard to see even with your own eye. I was afraid that this image would be a a pain to process because of the rapidly moving water, but I didn’t end up having to do anything with it and am pleased with the result. I will try my best to find time to process more images over the next few months, but for now, here’s this shot.


A series of fallen trees and well-placed rocks allowed us to walk above the river nearly endlessly, providing many cool places to shoot.

Half Dome from Glacier Point

This will be the first of many posts from our recent trip to Yosemite! This was a particularly fun trip as it was the first excursion that all three members of TAG have ever undertaken together; all of our other content on this site has been generated individually or in twos as we capture images from our travels. It was very fun to be hiking around with Giacomo and Andrew, each with their own backpack full of lenses/tripods and camera slung around their neck, and to come to a great lookout site and say “Ok, lets post up here for some HDRs.” Normally whoever you’re traveling with will roll their eyes and say “ok, but just don’t take as long as you did LAST time…” but we must have spent hours just setting up and shooting wherever we felt like it. We spent a particularly long time at the outlook on Glacier Point (we were there from about 5pm to 11pm or so!) Andrew and Giacomo had done the Yosemite trip last year around this time, and you may recall some shots they posted from that trip, but the Glacier Point overlook was one spot that they hadn’t come to, so we decided to check it out. It was a bit of a drive, but once you’re there you have an incredible panoramic view of Yosemite Valley and all of the mountains surrounding it, including, of course, the iconic peak of Half Dome. We plunked down all our backpacks, tripods, and cameras in a little corner, and literally sat there eating sandwiches, photographing chipmunks, and taking the occasional HDR as the light changed. The point of the whole thing was to get star trails and night photography, but this shot I’m posting to kick off the Yosemite HDRs is actually one from minutes before sunset. This was taken in that 1 minute span of time where the sun has just a sliver remaining above the horizon, and it cast this amazing red glow that hit just the top of Half Dome and a few other mountains. I will post at least 2 or 3 more from Glacier Point in the coming weeks, but the star trail images take a lot longer to process, particularly if I want to make pseudo-HDRs out of them, which I intend to at least try. Anyway, here is the view of Half Dome right before sunset, from Glacier Point.

About half an hour later all of the lights come on along the streets and in the houses on the valley floor.

Falling down the Falls

Andrew and I had originally planned to hike to North Dome our first day at Yosemite, figuring the ~8 miles wouldn’t be that bad. I mean, we could run a mile in less than 10 minutes, so walking it shouldn’t take more then a few hours, right? Wrong-o. We started hiking around 1pm because we planned to get to get there with plenty of time for sunset…but…3 hours later we were only halfway there and already flagging to say the least. Which is why we eventually decided to stop and give The Pedestal its name. Halfway there was at Yosemite point, which had a nice overlook down Yosemite falls and of course the excellent pool which Andrew and I paused at for a good few. We only really dropped by the overlook, but while there I held my camera over the edge to snap a few handheld brackets. I’ve been struggling with this picture for a while, since there was a lot about it I didn’t like, but since it is down the falls and catches some of the cool sprayinbows, I’ll put it up.

It was actually difficult for me to take this picture, because I'm pretty afraid of heights. Fortunately there was a really solid steel railing for me to cling onto for my dear life or else I wouldn't have even gotten close to the edge...

Hidden Gardens

Unfortunately, we’ve all been busy, because we still have a lot of great material to post. Back at Yosemite, while Andrew and I waited for sunset to happen at the Pedestal, I wandered off for a bit and looked at the surrounding area. In this foreste

d area behind and above the Pedestal there was a lot of awesomeness to be seen. However, I realize now it was harder to photograph than it looked. I’m still working on some of the other shots….I haven’t gotten them many of them in a state I like yet…but here’s one I have:

Yosemite was far too full of hidden beauty to be covered in the scant 2 days Andrew and I were there...

Yosemite: Mist Trail Steps

At one point the Mist Trail takes you right around the rim of the Vernal Falls basin (the area my previous post is about) and this is an image of the trail that does so. For about a half mile the trail consists of slippery stone steps that look like

they were lifted from some elvish fantasy. Depending on the direction of the wind, the stairs can be downright treacherous so you have to be extremely careful. We were nearing the end of this section of the trail when we emerged from an overhead outcrop that makes a sort of cave/tunnel and were presented with this stunning angle of the falls and the continuing stairs up around to the right. It took about 15 minutes (and finally stepping out to ask) before I could get this angle with no people in it. And yes, it is absolutely worth bothering people when you can see an awesome result on the other end. This is where a full frame sensor would really have helped (and actually permitted the use of a tripod) because in order to get wide enough I had to prop myself into a wedge in the rock face behind me. In the end it came out nicely, but the 16 just barely covered this one. Favorite part: the reflection. Least favorite part: the boring sky.

Because the reflection in the pool of water wasn't going to be a PERFECT mirror image of the actual falls, I chose a wider aperture than usual to let the -3EV exposure reach a 1/8000 shutter speed for maximum waterfall stoppage. I really wanted the frozen waterfall to be as distinct as possible in the reflection so this was my counter to the diffraction caused by the pool's surface: Yosemite CA

Yosemite: Vernal Falls Basin

It’s called the Mist Trail for a reason. If the wind is in a disagreeable mood when you get to this part of the trail… you will get soaked. Fortunately we found a not too windy nook where we could set up and look down on the basin. The sun’s position in the sky afforded us a convenient double rainbow to liven up the shot and we sat here for what felt like hours taking variations of this angle on both cameras and in several video formats. Giacomo already posted the Bokeh Edition of this angle so I will add the wider version that lets you see the entire basin and where it becomes the stream of water that eventually reforms into the Merced River. Pretty spot, huh?

Though it was merely a happy accident that the rainbows were present for this shot, I think they may actually steal the show... Yosemite CA

Yosemite: Happy Isles Area

As I keep happening across handfuls of yet to be processed images from the Yosemite trip, it’s fun recalling the specific context in which each was taken. This, for example, was only arrived at after climbing over a couple of trees that had fallen across one side of the path. Also, while I was taking these shots of the river through this section of the park, we were debating driving up to Glacier Point for the sunset having seen the sunset from the north side of the valley wall the night before. We elected to do Tunnel View instead and I’m very happy with the choice. Regardless, I love how this image turned out but of course wish that the sky had been a little more cooperative for us. It just means we’ll have to go back next fall I suppose… and speaking of which, next year’s trip will be planned a week or two later to be in accordance with August’s Perseid Shower so we manage to nab the city-less view of the spectacular meteors streaking across the sky every 20 seconds. Happy Isles and the associated trailheads to Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail may be my favorite area of the valley floor because of how gorgeous the Merced River is when it splits the floor up into these heavily wooded slivers of land on the east end of the valley.

Daytime time-lapse for the silky water was facilitated with a 2-stop ND filter, a super tight f/22, and above all else, waiting for an area that was already out of direct sunlight: Yosemite CA

Rainbow Preview

I know it’s been a while for me, but my laptop has been in and out of the apple store in the last couple weeks. Anyways, I’ve been looking over some of the shots Andrew and I shot at Yosemite, and I would post all of them…but I’m going to hold back for now. Here’s a taste of some more of what we got on the Mist Trail on the way to Vernal Falls.

The mist blew all around the valley, keeping us cool and throwing the light in fun ways.

Yosemite: Sunset from Tunnel View and the Emerald Pool

Been a while but here are some more shots from the Yosemite trip. You know what these are each missing? Some really awesome clouds. Nonetheless, I approve of the scenery. The first shot is the same angle from Tunnel View as my earlier post and the second shot was from around the top of the Mist Trail leading up to Vernal Falls. More on this “mist” and the amazing rainbow shots later…

The same angle as the earlier shot but a few hours later: Yosemite CA

The Emerald Pool just above the edge of Vernal Falls. Nevada Falls can be seen poking through the trees in the background: Yosemite CA

Yosemite: Tunnel View, pre-sunset

It’s always refreshing to suddenly realize there are dozens of Yosemite HDRs sitting around waiting to process. Tunnel View is probably the most iconic view in the whole park. There are three entrances that all feed into the same east end of the valley, but only the southern most of these routes passes through the tunnel. Upon exiting the passageway, visitors are slammed with a jaw-dropping view that showcases Yosemite’s most famous landmarks all at the same time. In the image below, El Capitan, the distant Half Dome, and the closer Bridal Veil Falls frame the famous valley. Regarding the HDR image itself, this one in particular is special because Giacomo and I felt it necessary (and by “necessary” I couldn’t mean more of the opposite) to use six shots to cover a 14-stop range from -7 to +7. It was uncalled for to say the least but pretty much made it impossible to not have enough material to bring out or tweak any level of exposure within the image. The sunset timing of this exact same angle is in the works…

Not a whole lot to say. Classic angle on a classy place: Yosemite CA

Yosemite: Starting Things Off

So Giacomo and I trekked up north to Yosemite this past Sun-Wed and came back with approximately 25GB of pictures and videos. I had been once before in 2000 and it was amazing to be able to go back with such a different perspective on the place now that I love photography so much. It really is one of the most beautiful places on earth and as such commands a near infinite number of photographic opportunities. On our first day there, we snagged a parking spot at the Yosemite Lodge before the place got too crowded. The plan was to try and be up on top of the valley ridge by  the time sunset rolled around. Although this flies in the face of official hiking advisements to hit the trails early in the morning before the sun is out, we figured that we should start the 3.2 mile climb up the Yosemite Falls trail around 1pm. Fortunately, the sun is so high in the sky by this point during the day that on this particular trail, hikers are afforded a great deal of shade even in the afternoon since the sun is already blocked by the valley wall. More details to come later, but suffice to say that a stupid number of pictures was taken over the course of two days and we’ll be backlogged processing HDR’s for a month (I still have the Getty trip from a few weeks ago and last Friday’s Disneyland trip to sort out!). Here are three to start things off…

About a mile up the trail you can step out to a frail railing and take in this lovely view. The circular polarizer does what it can to make an utterly cloudless (and therefore boring-ish) sky look the best it can: Yosemite CA

If you adventure off the path away from the edge of the falls, you can sneak back into a little pool near the top of the falls. Instant relief for tired feet: Yosemite CA

About a mile past the falls you reach Yosemite Point and about a quarter mile past that you get to an amazingly epic outcrop we dubbed The Pedestal. As the sun set to my right, it lit the fringe of the valley walls. I can't point it out in this image, but this is Glacier Point and the west end of the valley... Yosemite CA