Over the weekend I visited Yosemite National Park with several other photographers I’ve met through the Disney fan community. It was an incredible weekend filled with wonderful photo ops, good times, and great friends. It was the most fun I’ve had taking photos in a long time, and the best group photography outing I’ve had since visiting Walt Disney World in October 2009. I’m already itching to do it again.
This photo was taken from Union Point, the final stop on Four Mile Trail before Glacier Point, which offers arguably the best view in Yosemite. Unfortunately, the path to Glacier Point closes during the winter to (as the sign puts it) “extreme danger.” William McIntosh, a Yosemite vet, suggested to the group that we head up to Union Point, as he thought it would be a good vantage for photography. Given that it was a fairly difficult three mile hike in what promised to be treacherous conditions and would be feast/famine for photos, only two of us took him up on the idea, Todd Hurley and me.
Treacherous it most definitely was. About halfway into our hike, we began encountering locations where avalanches had swallowed the trail, leaving steep banks of hardened snow for us to carefully cross at a snail’s pace. After about the fourth of these, we were just about ready to concede defeat. Thinking our view was just around the corner, I continued on…and on…and on. It most definitely was not right around the corner! Three miles in snow is more like 23 miles in normal conditions, I think. Nearer the top, the hardened snow gave way to waist deep powder, which was actually quite preferable, as one wrong step in powder won’t cause you to plunge to your death, whereas slipping on the hardened snow easily could have led to that result.
When I finally arrived at Union Point, this was the view. The notable mountains in the photo are Half Dome (right) and Clouds Rest (left and behind Half Dome). Clouds Rest is actually the taller of the two, despite appearances in this photo. While there are a lot of photos of Yosemite National Park online, I doubt you’ll find many others from this vantage in the winter. Not many people make it up to the top of this trail, and fewer still lug around zoom lenses with them!
This is my favorite photo from the trip, despite it being far from my best photo. I like this photo–don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful view and the clouds coupled with the soft late afternoon light make it a winner in my book–but it’s the effort that went into capturing it that makes it really special to me. As Bill put it on the way down, photos like this have a different kind of creativity to them: the determination to create the photo.
Much like the idea that a good camera produces good photos, I think this is something non-photographers have a difficult time understanding. Good photography isn’t just a matter of showing up whenever with an expensive camera and pressing a button. Good equipment and great subjects certainly help, but knowledge and the resolve to get the photo are much more important. Getting to those tough-to-reach vantage points is part of the process, as is getting up at 4 am (or staying up all night!) to ensure that you’re where you need to be when those soft, photogenic rays of the sunrise hit.
During the course of three nights on this trip, I got a grand total of about 8 hours of sleep and kept going far beyond the point of ordinary fatigue. As a result, I put myself in a position to capture some cool things that a lot of people never see in Yosemite: dawn, sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, star trails, and the Milky Way. Conspicuously absent from that list is “the middle of the day.”
My point with all of this is that people often want to “be good” at photography and act as if buying a nice camera or drinking some magic elixir is what’s necessary to accomplish that. I know this is not unique to photography, the desire for success without effort is pretty common across all aspects of life. As with just about everything else in life, there’s far more to “success” in photography than nice equipment and showing up.
Just something to consider if you want to take great photos but don’t have a lot of money to put towards the hobby. Determination, knowledge, and an inexpensive camera will get you far further than a nice camera alone ever will. Oh, and the hike turned out to be a big time feast for photos as we began to descend the mountain and sunset hit. More on that later…
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Photographed with a Nikon D600 and the Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens. For a relatively simple image, the processing here was pretty complex. First, three exposures in Photomatix for HDR processing. Since the three exposures were handheld, I had to have it align the images. This produced a slightly soft image, which I think was because of the alignment. So I abandoned this image. Instead, I edited a single exposure in Adobe Camera Raw, which had ample dynamic range for shadow and highlight coverage, but the sky looked a bit flat as compared to what I remembered seeing, even after I did finishing in Photoshop CS6. So, I processed that same single exposure in Photomatix to give the sky a bit more pop. Unfortunately, the resulting tonemapped image looked too unrealistic for my taste, so I brought it back into Photoshop, layered it on top of the normal photo I processed in Adobe Camera Raw, and reduced the opacity on the tonemapped photo to 25%. In retrospect, I probably could have gone to about 50%, as I think the photo could look a tad more “ethereal,” which would be accomplished with more of the tonemapped image present.
I concluded the processing with a brightness/contrast curves adjustment, a warming filter adjustment for the mountains, and a curves adjustment. Had I just processed the photo in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, start to finish processing would have taken about 2 minutes. Instead, I spent over 30 going back and forth tinkering with little things. Ultimately, the end result isn’t even that much different, but it was an important photo to me, so it was worth taking the extra time to get right.
Whether or not you’re interested in photography (and if you’re not, there’s obviously no need to go to great lengths described above to capture photos to preserve memories), I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences with people assuming “success” in your hobbies, passions, or career is simple. Let’s hear some of your thoughts on this (or anything else) in the comments!