Yesterday I spent an incredible day in Yosemite, guiding a group of photographers from the Sacramento area. When I schedule these trips, I do my best to time them for nice conditions, but of course there’s no guarantee things will work out. Yesterday they worked out. Big time. Not only did we catch Yosemite Valley at its fall color peak (it’s late this year), we found everything blanketed with fresh snow that continued to fall lightly, and intermittently, throughout the day. I have lots of images I can’t wait to get to, but until then I offer this one from a few years ago, chosen because it’s quite similar to the scene with which we wrapped up the day yesterday.
Much like last night, the view on this spring evening was a classic Yosemite clearing storm. I arrived at Tunnel View to find El Capitan and Half Dome, partially obscured by swirling clouds, teasing the audience like exotic fan dancers; a carpet of plush fog twisted along the valley floor. With sunlit clouds and granite above a shaded valley, the light was tricky, but as the sun dropped, so did the contrast and photography became simpler. Eventually the direct sunlight left Half Dome entirely, but patches spotlighted El Capitan right up until sunset. While the clouds never achieved brilliant sunset pinks and reds, they radiated an ethereal gold that intensified over several minutes before fading.
When the sunlight left entirely, as if on cue, the fog hugging the valley floor expanded, slowly obscuring the scene like a curtain signaling the show’s end. With the view gone, the crowd packed up and headed to wherever they needed to be; suddenly I was alone. But I’ve photographed Yosemite enough to know that it’s a mistake to try to predict the conditions in five minutes based on the conditions now, so I stayed, hoping for an encore. As quickly as it had closed, the foggy curtain pulled back, unveiling Yosemite Valley once more, this time illuminated by the magnificent pink and blue pastels of a twilight wedge. By now the sky was quite dark, but all the faint, shadowless light that remained needed was a bit of extra exposure to reveal more of the most beautiful view on Earth. (This is a 1.6 second exposure at f7.1 and ISO 200, with my usually present polarizer removed.)
Even though this image adds to the seemingly infinite number of Yosemite Tunnel View pictures in my own portfolio and others, it remains one of my personal favorites. It’s one of the images I think about every time I consider leaving a scene, and it’s what I showed the group last night when some suggested leaving. So we stayed and were among the very few rewarded with memories of Yosemite Valley’s sweet encore for the drive home.
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