Dec 25 2010

Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Day and I’m home alone. Don’t feel sorry for me though; I’m just resting up for my third (!) Christmas celebration tomorrow. Christmas around here is kinda disjointed with travel to various family celebrations, but also because as an oncology nurse, my wife occasionally works Christmas Day. Unfortunately, cancer patients don’t always get to spend the holidays with their loved ones, so today is a special day on her unit. She and all of the nurses there are pretty special people, too.

Christmas 2010

Take some time today and over the rest of the holiday season to hug your friends and family and spend some quality time together. Slow down. Take a minute or two to focus on the moment at hand. It’s not only good for you as photographer, it’s good for you as a human.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from me and my family to you and yours.

Take care, Stuart

Dec 16 2010

Day 4: Farewell, Yosemite… for now

It was our last day in Yosemite. We planned to spend the morning shooting, grab some lunch and head back to San Francisco in the afternoon. After the previous day’s disappointing skies, Jeff Fielding and I hoped for a little break in the weather and perhaps get a few more of the grand landscapes this place is known for. Sadly, it was not to be. This is what we got instead.

Tunnel Fog

Hardly Clearing Winter Storm, eh? To top it all off, it was pouring, and Jeff and I got soaked waiting for the fog to clear. Eventually, the fog dissipated enough to get some pretty good stuff of the fog-shrouded valley, but the distant peaks—including Half Dome—were still completely invisible. Ah, well. Looked like we’d spend our last few hours here focusing on the details once more.

We again drove to the valley floor and to Yosemite Falls to see if we could find anything there that wasn’t a complete white out, but we weren’t too hopeful. The fog and rain were thick and heavy and pretty much stayed that way while we drove along. However, just before we got to the falls, the rain slowed and the fog began to lift a bit. We pulled over at one of the nearby meadows and hopped out of the car to see what we could find.

Valley Fog

Yeah. Now we’re talkin’. While the fog was still pretty prevalent, it cleared enough to start seeing some of the valley floor and the mountains beyond. It was beginning to warm up a bit, too, so the fog also began to rise from the warmer air temperatures reacting to the cold snow on the ground.  It started to feel like there might be some cool stuff coming, so I spent quite a bit of time here, and this was by far my favorite shot.

Once we’d had our fill, we drove over to the Yosemite Falls parking lot. Here the fog was a little thicker, especially on the ground, and things were beginning to disappear again. There were a few deer grazing near the meadow, so I got a few head shots of a young 6-point buck, but there wasn’t much I really liked. One of the deer, however, broke away from the group and meandered out into the meadow by himself. I immediately thought of a photograph of the buck in the meadow with the fog, the trees and the towering mountains in the background. Cool, right?

I tried. I really tried, but I just couldn’t pull it off. Either the fog was too thick or the deer was in the wrong place or there was something else wrong. It was quickly turning into an exercise in frustration. I followed the buck around  for a little while (being careful not to pass him, though :-) ), trying to get the shot I had in mind.

Nope. Never worked.

He finally wandered off to the back of the meadow and into some rather thick brush. I stood there for a bit, hoping he might come back out, but to no avail. I turned to walk back to the main part of the meadow… and the fog cleared ever so slightly.

Valley Fog 2

I really like this one. It shows how quickly the fog consumed the mountains in the distance, but opened up just enough to provide the perfect context for the trees and the creek  in the foreground. When I see this photograph, it instantly reminds me of that day.

After lunch, we changed into some dry clothes and pointed the car back to San Francisco. As we drove out of the park, the sun began to poke through the clouds, the rain stopped, and the fog began to dissipate—almost as if saying, “Nice try this time, but come back again. There are more wonders here to see.”

Not to worry, old man. I’ll be back.

Dec 15 2010

Day 3: Yosemite… again

Wednesday was our full day in the park and we were hopeful for some great opportunities. The sky was blue with just a few wispy clouds, so we thought we’d revisit the Tunnel View Overlook to see how things looked. Of course I couldn’t resist trying my best Ansel Adams impersonation.

My Ansel Adams Impression - Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park

I have to say that this is a tough place to shoot. Not that there aren’t a plethora of subjects available; the mountains, streams and valleys here have an amazing array of eye-catching scenes. (It really is difficult to imagine the scale of these monoliths from any photographs. The word “towering” was invented here, I think.) It’s pretty difficult to find something that hasn’t been done before. I’ve found myself falling victim to the same things I warn about it Close to Home: snapping away at the “trophy” images. I keep reminding myself that “your subject is not your photograph”.

So I’ve tried to take my own advice and dig deeper to find the photographs that describe this place to me. It’s still pretty hard to do, though. Trying to make a photograph that says “Yosemite” and isn’t one of the classic views is a(nother) lesson in humility. It doesn’t help, either, that terrific photographs by Ansel Adams, William Neill, and others are in practically every building in the park. It also doesn’t help that I’ve never been here before, and two and a half days isn’t nearly enough time to discover the soul of this place.

I can tell you the words that come to mind, though. Ancient. Everlasting. Monumental. If the stone here could speak, you would near the voices of all of those who have gone before us. These stones have seen the passage of time since this world was young, and their solidity and strength give me a kind of comfort. Touching them makes me feel like I’m reaching back in time and the cares of this world just fall away in the presence of something this everlasting.

Mirror Lake

The photograph here was made near Mirror Lake, under the looming presence of Half Dome. After the magnificent morning sky, the afternoon turned cloudy and gray. The light was fairly bright, but the sky was completely washed out. (How do you deal with a washed out sky? You don’t, right? You try not to include it in your photograph.) This enormous chunk of granite was in the middle of the stream, which was calm enough to throw a good reflection. I included the trees on the opposite shore for scale, so you could see the size of this thing. (There are larger boulders, though, and they are everywhere in the park.)

Jeff Fielding and I had parked the car in the North Campground and walked the service road to the lake. It took us about three and a half hours to cover the 1.2 miles. We stopped multiple times and scrambled down the river’s embankment to photograph the rushing water through the rocks and the reds, oranges, greens and blues between them. The experience reminded me of the same kind of thing I did in the Smokies a few months ago.


Afterward we walked back to the car, taking considerably less time to do so, and drove to the lodge to warm up with a couple of drinks and dinner. Tomorrow would be the last day in the park and I was hopeful that we’d get a break from the crappy skies, but the forecast wasn’t too encouraging. I knew the rock would still be there, though, waiting for me.

That night, I dreamt of giants.