Creative Juice: Yosemite – Seduced by a Landscape

This past fall I took a trip down to Yosemite with Find Your Focus. I wasn’t exactly sure why I was going or what to expect but one of the organizer’s, Cris Duncan was quite persistent that I should attend.

So I did.

Yosemite or bust. #fyf_2016

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After a train-ride (just for kicks) from Seattle to Fresno, I met up with the group and we headed to the park. Within an hour or two of being there, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. I was mesmerized by the landscape. Our five days were packed with early mornings, breakfast wraps, long hikes, sunrises and sunsets. It had been ages since I had dedicated entire days to photography. What a privilege.

The majority of my growth from this trip came from two different exercises. The first was a result of creating photographs with a small group of people. This was the first time I had ever done that, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it! What I found, was that it challenged me on a whole new level. I didn’t automatically get the “best” spot. I was forced to study the landscape even deeper, so that I could create something that was truly my own. In the process, I found myself climbing logs, crossing rivers and well, actually having a lot of fun!

The second bit of growth came from my decision to have a photography show 6 weeks after I returned. Instead coming home from a trip like that and backing up the photos on a hard-drive, only to be seen a year or two from now when I got bored (You know what I’m talking about!)…I had to curate a collection of photographs from my trip…and then I had to edit them….completely! I printed everything myself and fell in love again with the process. I mostly found myself working with the shadows, making sure no detail was lost in the prints. I felt like a true craftsman.

So here is the collection of work and the stories behind the photographs. If you want to learn about how to  pull off an art show, I wrote about what I did here.

Self Portrait

I spent most of this morning balanced on rocks with my tripod in the river. Once I felt like I had got my shot (see Morning Glory), I ran back to this beautiful sequoia on the ground. I knew I wanted in this shot – so I managed to set up my tripod as far back as I could get (against another log), set my timer and ran across the rocks, scaled up the log and got myself into what I hoped was the right position. (I didn’t want my head popping up over the horizon.) I had time for 3 shots before everyone was piling back into the vans. I love the branches from the trees above the camera mimicking the angles of the mountains. I felt pretty good about this one!

Morning Glory

This photograph required an “alpine start”. My alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning and I quickly got all layered up. With a breakfast burrito and coffee in hand we set out to get to “The Gates of the Valley” in time for sunrise. We arrived with plenty of time to explore and find a pleasing composition.

For this photograph, I had my tripod set up in the river, as I sat and waited on a log for the sun to come up. As the sun rose, I drank my coffee and clicked my cable release every minute or two until the show was over. I love the warmth of the light reflecting off the mountains and into the river.

Wee Frosty Tree

This particular morning we were treated to a frost. We had arrived at Tuollomne meadows and as we were gathering our gear from the vehicles the sun rose over the mountains. The fields around us had instantly transformed into a glorious winter wonderland and we were off! I followed the trail a little further than the others and came across a quiet river with icy banks. I hiked down and discovered the hoar frost on little sticks on the rivers edge. I immediately saw a peninsula of these mini-ice trees and grabbed my macro lens. This photo was challenging to create because the camera needed to be on the ground…and in order for me to be behind the camera, I would have had to lay in the icy river.

So, in the most awkward hands-and-knees-leaning-sideways position I managed to compose, focus and create this photograph.

Fire on the Dome

The first night in Yosemite we went to Washburn Point. The sun was setting, the clouds were full of character and I was in my element. This was my first look at Half Dome and the valley and while I was studying the landscape, I found a tall rock to climb to gain more perspective. I ended up ditching my tripod, and balanced the camera on a rock with my camera strap wedged to keep it level. The intensity of the light on Half Dome lasted for only a minute. I remember having a huge adrenaline rush as the light hit its peak and then the show was over.

Reaching for Half Dome

I arrived at Washburn point and saw that the light was changing fast. The adrenaline kicked in and I started scrambling up and down boulders trying to find my photograph. I was searching for some sort of foreground element (which is hard to find at the edge of a cliff) and spotted a tree with branches low enough I might be able to use them. I climbed up a boulder, set up my tripod and created this photograph. I love the layers and the colour pattern of the clouds in this photo.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View is seen from a pull out after driving through the Wawona tunnel. It is one of the more popular sunset spots in the park and as we grabbed our gear from the car, there were already photographers setting up elbow to elbow. I paced back and forth studying the landscape and noticed that it was possible to hop down over the wall. I tossed my gear down and had a lovely bit of solitude while enjoying the sunset and creating this photograph.

The Valley Reveals 

Tunnel view is shot from a typical sightseeing parking lot, at a wide angle from the very edge. Naturally, I didn’t like the idea of having the same shot as everyone else in the area, so I climbed over a barrier and scurried down in front of everyone. After a few test shots I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired, until I noticed Half Dome off in the distance. Catalyzed by my love of the mountain, I quickly changed my lens to my 70 to 200 and created this photograph.

I love how the face of half dome is lit by the setting sun behind each layer of the mountainscape, and the point of intersection between each element at the bottom of the piece.


Rising Through the Kingdom

I created this photograph at Glacier Point after climbing 3200 ft on the 4 Mile Trail. At the end of the hike I reached a tourist lookout where hundreds of people were taking selfies. I sat down on a rock and noticed a cluster of weathered wood on the edge of the cliff. I immediately thought it could make for an interesting foreground. I headed down to check it out just as our group was leaving, and I quickly took 3 photos. The last two photos I took were graced with a bird that swooped through the frame. This was my favorite.

One of the Grove

At the end of the 4 mile hike, you are treated to this beautiful sequoia grove as you approach summit. I was mesmerized by the texture of the bark in the trees and was looking for one that inspired a photograph. This was a particularly large tree and I wanted to create something that would embrace the soft, almost mythical feel of the forest. This was my favorite.

The Calm Before the Snow

This photograph was created while hiking the 4.7 miles (7.5km) on the “4 Mile Trail”. As I was nearing the top point of the trek I found myself following the weather rolling in around me, and the air felt like snow.

When I created this photograph, I scrambled down the slope a bit so that I could get a clear view of the face. I was admiring the way the trees in the foreground seemed to mimic the far side of Half Dome as they descended into the valley. I continued on with my trek, and it turned out that I was right about the snow.

Evening in the Alpine

This photo was created on my last night in the park during the Yosemite retreat. We got up to Glacier Point without much time to spare, chasing the light and the tones that were being cast on the mountains. I had too many lenses to choose from and felt a bit panicked as the light was changing and I couldn’t find a spot. Still determined, I finally managed to climb up a boulder and set the tripod up in time to get this shot before the sun went down.

I especially appreciate the different perspective in this mountainscape between other pieces in the series. The light is kissing some of the mountaintops just enough to set a dream-like tone I had been searching for in the making of this photograph.

El Capitan

This piece was created with a lot of determination. Photographed in the early morning, I was hesitant to cross the river to find the right perspective. It was deep and the morning was cold… risking most of my gear to be soaked for the rest of the trip. I extended my tripod’s legs as tall as they would go and used it as an anchor to cross a log. Triumphantly, I walked down the other side looking for the right angle to get the reflection. I finally spotted a small island just big enough for my two feet and hopped over to it with my gear. I set up my tripod, took some test shots and waited for the light to change. At one point, I seconded guessed the composition and moved the tripod, but quickly realized I had it right and spent a good 20 minutes trying to find the exact spot again. I found it…just in time for the sun to rise on El Capitan.

All in Perspective

This photograph was created after waiting patiently for darkness to set in. I had arrived at Olmstead Point almost 40 minutes before and scouted a few locations. This was the first time I had attempted to photograph the milky way and wasn’t 100% sure I was going to create something worth showing. I took a total of about 50 exposures that night. I love the way the night sky looks like it’s opening it’s

I took a total of about 50 exposures that night. I love the way the night sky looks like it’s opening it’s curtains for the milky way….and by having half dome on the horizon looking like a tiny little bump, it really puts the grandness of our universe into perspective.

So that was the collection of 12 (13 with my self-portrait) I chose to showcase. I hope my experience and the collection inspires you to make some time and space to just go out and create your best work. Thanks again to Cris and Deanna Duncan for creating such a wonderful opportunity!

And hey, if you have a moment – let me know your fav photo in the comments below!

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