Are you a photographer or a tourist?

Rainbow and Bridalveil Fall

Storm’s End, Yosemite Valley

When the weather gets crazy, do you sprint for cover or reach for your camera? Your answer may be a pretty good predictor of your success as a photographer. It’s an unfortunate fact that the light, color, and drama that make memorable landscape photos all come when most sane people would rather be inside: at sunrise, when the rest of the world is asleep; at sunset, when everyone else is at dinner; and during wild weather, when anyone with sense is on the sofa in front of the fire.

Last spring I guided a photo workshop group through Yosemite. On the final day we circled Yosemite Valley in a steady rain, stopping to photograph many of my favorite cloudy-sky spots. Through it all my hardy group persevered, wet but happy, but by mid-afternoon their energy had started to wane a bit. Rather than risk mutiny, I detoured to Tunnel View to give everyone a breather.

With El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Fall all on prominent display, it’s no secret why Tunnel View is the most photographed location in Yosemite. After a storm, Yosemite’s dramatic landmarks emerge from swirling clouds as if appearing on earth for the first time. Storms in Yosemite clear from west to east, making Tunnel View the first place to capture this unforgettable experience and my go-to place to wait out Yosemite weather.

The rain fell in sheets as we pulled into the Tunnel View parking area. Throughout the workshop I’d tried to impress on everyone how quickly conditions change in Yosemite, but it’s pretty hard to appreciate exactly how quickly until you actually experience a change yourself. So, despite my prodding to the contrary, when I donned my rain gear and invited the group to join me in the rain, they all opted for the warmth of the cars. And there I stood, five soggy minutes later, accompanied only by my tripod and camera (me beneath an umbrella, my camera beneath a plastic garbage bag), when without warning a ray of sunlight broke through, briefly painting a rainbow above Yosemite Valley, from El Capitan to Bridalveil Fall. After rousing the group I had time for three frames before the rainbow faded into the clouds. Everyone else was still wrestling with their gear.

Did I know a rainbow was going to happen? Of course not. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d have wagered I wasn’t going to get anything but wet. But no matter how slim the odds were, a special image was infinitely more likely in the rain than in the car.

So. Are you a photographer or a tourist? There’s nothing wrong with the tourist mentality that only takes you outdoors with the masses, well rested and appetite sated in midday warmth. On the other hand, if one spectacular success is compensation enough for the other hundred tired, hungry, cold, and wet failures, you may just be a photographer.

8 Comments on “Are you a photographer or a tourist?

  1. Well, let’s hope for a blizzard next month! (and some good sunset lighting of Horsetail). Great perspective, Gary. I agree 100% about braving the elements.

  2. Beautiful image! I know for me that when something magical happens, even if i am cold and wet I forget all about it, and get caught up in the wonder of nature…sometimes it is just a small thing that grabs my attention, but I am grateful for all the opportunities I have to experience them. I love the new blog Gary- WordPress is highly recommended by the instructors at my school, and we are really being encouraged to use it!

  3. I love to to landscape when i can. I think myself they are the hardest to get really good. I never seem to have time enough to wait for the miracle moment.
    I love your pictures. 😀

    • Thanks, Carlotta. My advice is to learn how to manage exposure and depth with your camera (it requires getting out of auto mode), and take lots of pictures of whatever you love most. Never be satisfied with “good enough,” and no matter how good an image is, always look for ways you could have made it better.

  4. Thanks to Gary during our October workshop, a photo from Olmstead Point in Yosemite of Half Dome emerging from a cloud after sunset was one of the most spectacular I have ever taken (and purely fortuitous.)

  5. I admire the many “stormy” images you have captured! What tips do you have about shooting in such conditions…do you keep dry in the car and set up your tripod only if something spectacular begins to happen, or is the tripod already sitting in the rain awaiting that moment? What about protecting your camera from the rain? Please redirect me if you’ve previously covered this topic, or consider it as a future blog topic. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Rick. I wear waterproof clothing that keeps me completely dry in the rain. Even though my camera is pretty weatherproof, I use a plastic garbage bag to keep it dry when it’s waiting on the tripod. When I’m ready to shoot I remove the garbage bag and use an umbrella to keep rain off the front lens element. If it’s not too windy a lens hood helps, but I rarely have one with me because I find them more trouble than they’re worth. I keep a hand towel in my bag to dry everything off. The most important thing is keeping water off your front lens element or filter, so check it frequently. Also monitor it for condensation.

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