Yosemite in Spring - 2 Day Photography Workshop Recap
There's nothing like Yosemite Valley in the Spring. During the first part of May the dogwoods are blooming beautifully and when they reach their peak can completely cover an entire area with their striking white petals, one of my favorite sights. In addition to the dogwoods, the Valley's famous waterfalls are at their peak, the rivers are flush with winter run-off and new life is everywhere, there aren't too many sights cutier than young does grazing in a meadow as you wait for morning light. I'll say it again, there's nothing like Yosemite Valley in the Spring, which is why its the perfect place for a photography workshop.
Our Yosemite in Spring photography workshop started as my workshops always do, on Friday evening with a friendly and social meet-and-greet in my room. During the meet-and-greet we introduce ourselves and each person gets to share a little about themselves, their photographic backgrounds and what area(s) they're hoping to improve upon during the workshop before I layout the itinerary for the next two days and get a good night sleep.
The meet-and-greets are always a good time and is usually where the laughter starts flowing, something very important in building comradery and friendships, which is a major aspect of the weekend, to leave the workshop with new knowledge and new friends.
An early wake-up call is a trademark of my workshops as I feel its important to scout and get to know an area before you can make the best images possible. So, like usual we were the first people in Cook's meadow to greet the sunrise. Cook's meadow was amazing, filled with new green grass, a seasonal pond lined with tall grasses (the pond is a favorite hangout for ducks), the famous black oak and of course Yosemite Falls looming directly overhead. it's the perfect spot to greet the day.
I started by introducing the area, pointing out some of the key elements and what the light will be doing as we work the location. I finished with a quick demo of how to use graduated ND filters and then let everyone loose to start creating.
I generally don't create many, if any, images during the workshops as I prefer to be available to answer questions, look at images and point out different opportunities as the light changes. The large black oak tree that dominates the meadow is usually a favorite subject as the sun back lights it's leaves while rising and it was no exception this time around either, everyone loved it.
After working in the meadow I lead the group on the short walk to Yosemite Falls to introduce the area for tomorrow and give everyone a sense of what they'll be working with, along the way we stopped to make a few images before heading to Curry Village for breakfast and some great dogwoods.
Meal time is always one of my favorites during the workshops, and not just because I love to eat. it gives us all a chance to sit down, talk about the day's sessions so far and get to know each other a lot better as photography is usually only a small bit of what we discuss.
After breakfast we photographed the awesome display of dogwood blossoms surrounding Curry Village, focusing on using back-lighting and simple floral portraits before breaking for a few hours to allow everyone a chance to relax, rest up or see some of the awesome sights Yosemite has to offer. It's hard to believe but by this time we've been up and photographing for nearly five and a half hours, the days are long but very rewarding.
I like to continually teach during the workshops, not just in the field during the morning and evening photography sessions when the light is ideal but also during the middle part of the day with lecture and classroom sessions. To keep the learning going we met back in my room for the afternoon lecture on creativity, where I quickly learned that the word discussion is a far better term than lecture, more exciting I guess. A major part of my workshops are more than simply learning how to use filters and compose a thoughtful image; the workshops also focus on the creative process of landscape photography, how to look for light and the process I use to create an expressive image.
After a wonderful afternoon discussion we headed back out to one of my favorite seasonal pond and finally Valley View for the sunset where we focused on the dogwoods lining the river's shore and the reflections of the sun in the river's water.
Our long day ended with dinner at the Yosemite Lodge's Mountain Room Restaurant among beautiful artwork and great food. It was a great way to end the day.
Sunday's forecast called for partly cloudy skies and a chance of rain in the late afternoon, I knew this could mean a great sunset and crossed my fingers for what may be. We again started our day early at Cook's Meadow in order to give everyone an opportunity to work with some of the subjects they didn't get a chance to the day before. It was also an exercise on location scouting as everyone was now more familiar with the area, it's light and subjects. As I met with everyone it didn't take me long to see the progression everyone was making in the complexity of their compositions from one day to the next. It's exciting to see such fast progression across the board as it lets me know how fast everyone is learning and taking the lessons to heart. In addition, with the storm that was moving into the Valley we had wonderful cloud formations, a great surprise.
After fulling exploring the meadow we headed into the Yosemite Falls area and to a favorite spot of mine. While some of the other areas nearer the falls are filled with people this area is generally empty or close to it which allowed us to work freely with the river and other subjects that are in the area.
Soon our stomachs stared calling so we headed to the food court at Yosemite Falls for breakfast followed by a few minutes timeout to call our Mom's and wish them a happy Mother's Day. Yeah, the second day of the workshop was on Mother's Day, which I didn't realize until the week before...really I'm a terrible son, but my mom didn't mind, thankfully. With our stomachs full and our phone calls completed Cascade Falls was the next stop on our trip. This is one of the best spots in the park, no where else can you really feel the power of almost being in a waterfall. While some photographed from the bridge I lead part of the group down a bit of a steep trail to an outcropping of rocks that put you just a couple of feet, and in some areas inches, from the water. What a sight!
Our afternoon classroom session was on Photoshop. I try to change up my Photoshop presentation as much as I can as I tend to have a lot of returning students and I don't want them getting bored. For this lesson I discussed Adobe Camera Raw, worked through dual processing a Raw image for single image HDR's, showed my technique for dodging and burning, showed the power of layer masks, demoed how I ready images to print, talked about working with a pro lab and more. As I mentioned, Sunday's forecast called for 20% to 50% chance of rain and by the middle of our afternoon session it finally came in the form of heavy rain and hail. Luckily by the time we finished our print sharing the rain had stopped and the storm began to break, I knew we'd have a chance to end the workshop with an amazing sunset at Tunnel View.
As always we got to Tunnel View very early, this is one of the park's most popular photography locations and with the stormy skies I knew we'd either have the area all to ourselves or be sharing it with half the people in the park, it was the latter. Luckily however we were among the first on the scene and everyone was able to set up in prime locations to capture the wonderful cloud display. While it was very cold it was also one of those special days in the park that you just don't see very often. The breaking storm provided ideal clouds and the light from the setting sun was amazing. We finished the workshop with a group portrait and some long good byes before finally heading our separate ways.
It was a truly wonderful workshop, filled with great people and amazing light, I couldn't have asked for more. You know, Ansel Adams use to say that he just seemed to be at a location right when God wanted someone to click the shutter. I feel continually as blessed with the remarkable participates that fill my classes. Thanks again for a wonder Spring in Yosemite workshop!
A few additional images