Making sense of nature

Cascades, Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite

I love the iconic captures as much as the next person–scenes like Yosemite’s Horsetail Fall in FebruaryAntelope Canyon’s heavenly beam, or McWay Fall’s tumble into the Pacific, are gorgeous and a thrill to photograph. But standing elbow-to-elbow with tens (or hundreds!) of photographers, each recording identical images that are already duplicates of thousands of prior images, while lots of fun, isn’t enough to stimulate my creative juices. What keeps me going is the opportunity to experience nature with more than just my eyes. Nothing in photography makes me happier than enduring images (my own or others’) that stir the non-visual senses, evoke emotion, and soothe the soul. Colorful sunsets and dramatic clouds might draw the ooohs and ahhhs so many photographers covet, but give me images that convey the sound of running water, the fragrance of evergreen, the texture of granite.

Once upon a time photographing even the most popular scenes in solitude wasn’t difficult. The tourists who overwhelm the best known views during the comfortable times of day would vacate just when the photography started getting good. But the proliferation of digital photographers, combined with the easy exchange of information in our connected world, means there are no secrets anymore and opportunities for solitude have become few and far between. Today if you capture a beautiful image, posting it anywhere is sure to immediately draw photographers like cats to a can-opener.

Given that Yosemite Valley’s eight square miles attracts nearly four million visitors each year, you’d think it would be impossible to find the solitude I crave. But on even the busiest summer day, rising for sunrise will give you at least a couple of peaceful hours. And of course in Yosemite’s backcountry, while relatively crowded by wilderness standards, solitude is always just a short detour away. But even when I’m not in the backcountry, and the sun is up and tourists teem like ants at a picnic, I still have a few quiet spots that get my creative juices flowing.

Near the top of my list are the cascades beneath Bridalveil Fall. Here in the shadow of Yosemite Valley’s shear south wall, with just a little bit of scrambling I can photograph in hours of quiet (contrast-soothing) shade. Variety is no problem here because Bridalveil Creek is different each time I visit:  In February it might be frozen solid or smothered by snow; in May the creek roars with snowmelt; in August it’s a quiet trickle beneath a canopy of green. My favorite month might be October, when the gentle stream tumbles through a carpet of colorful leaves.

This fall Yosemite’s color was a little late. Rather than the explosion of color I often find in late October, the leaves were simple accents for the whispering cascades. After playing with some tighter compositions that featured individual leaves among the rocks, I spent at least an hour with this set of cascades–the longer I stayed, the more I felt there would never be enough time to capture everything I saw. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that images like this won’t excite people the way my more dramatic images do, but they make me happy, and that’s what matters most.

6 Comments on “Making sense of nature

  1. I’ve learned over the years that you need to shoot what makes you happy. Because if you’re happy, then your images will make others happy.

    When I first moved to Aspen, I went to the Maroon Bells often. That soon passed as I got tired of running into so many wannabe photographers shooting from the same place: the edge of Maroon Lake at sunrise. The same image shot a thousand times by a thousand different photographers.

    Going at night afforded me the luxury of being alone and capturing something unique out of something common.

    A photo that reaches deeper into the soul will always be better than those that just grab the attention. Those just scratch the surface. But an image where one can spend some time is better.

    That’s why I like this one so much. It’s simply beautiful, and as I continue to view it, I find more reasons to keep looking.

    It’s a beautiful photo and very well done.

    Thank you Gary

  2. Wonderful image, Gary! We decided to move to Western NC because of a photography workshop we did with Bill & Linda Lane in the Great Smokys. Many times since then I’ve tried to capture an image like yours! This is the standard toward which I strive, and have yet to achieve :-(.

  3. Gary,

    As usual, your composition is flawless. It’s the secret sauce in great photographs. This is no exception.

  4. Hi – I just found this. I know you wrote it a while ago but I really enjoyed it. Thanks. These are amazing pictures. Reminded me of a piece I wrote about my experience in nature. You might like it. It starts:

    “Some things in life just can’t be explained. Why do very simple events in our life, that usually occur during childhood, print an indelible mark in our memory cells and register with us so completely that, even as older adults, we remember the finite details . . .”

    Here’s the link: http://johnarcher11.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/natures-silent-music/

  5. Gary, nice to meet you at Olmsted and I almost nailed that one..a few stops away. Lessons and the beauty of the night were just as good. We did get some great Milky way images I hope I can print when I get noise Ninja.

    I love the Mts but Monterey has a beauty of its own. Thanks for this post as it kicked me out the doors to shoot sunset at Garapatta of the waves and hues on the rocks.

    I too like Bridalveil creek and have shot there often.

    Thanks for sharing what makes you smile as this images helps me as I can see it in my minds eye……w/o all the people. Looking fwd to many trips there this winter.

    Thanks for your love for HIS Creation and its inmate detail

    Tom the hat, ball, and rifle!

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