People ask all the time for my favorite season in Yosemite, and I really can’t give them an answer that doesn’t sound like a press conference by a waffling politician—there are things I love about each season in Yosemite, so asking me to choose is like asking me to pick a favorite child.
But what I can do is tell you what I like about each season, and I’ve always felt that spring in Yosemite is the most consistently photographable—it doesn’t really matter what the conditions are, I can always find something to photograph. In my workshop last week we had lots and lots of blue sky, nice for tourists but usually death to photographers, but we didn’t skip a beat.
Spring is when Yosemite’s waterfalls peak, and Yosemite Valley starts to green up. Many of the meadows are home to ephemeral pools that reflect Yosemite’s iconic monoliths, soaring cliffs, and plunging waterfalls. And with all the water in the falls, spring sunshine means rainbow opportunities from many spots if you know when to be there.
Maybe my favorite spring sunshine treat is the dogwood, which is great in full sun—just put the sunlit blooms against a dark background, expose for the flower, and go to town. And the translucence of backlit dogwood give them a luminosity that appears to originate from within. Either way you shoot it, front or back, dogwood in full sunlight allows shutter speeds that can largely mitigate frequent spring breezes.
My general approach to photographing dogwood is to start with a bloom, group of blooms, or entire branch, that I can isolate from surrounding distractions. Once I identify a likely candidate, I maneuver myself until I can get the subject against a complementary background—other dogwood, water, shaded (dark) evergreens. I usually opt for a shallow depth of field to eliminate or smooth distractions.
This branch of dogwood blooms was just one of many waving above the Merced River at the Pohono Bridge. I was able to isolate it against another similarly festooned branch in the background, and used a fairly large aperture to soften the background branch just enough to keep it recognizable (without making it a distraction). Exposing for the sunlit blooms darkened the Merced River in the distant background, allowing the brighter dogwood to stand out even more.
The biggest problem I had working this image was the gusting breeze, which blew quite strongly most of the time, often waving the branch completely out of my frame. But I found that by setting up my composition (on a tripod!) and exercising a little patience, the wind would eventually subside for a few seconds, allowing me to fire off a couple frames, sometimes even with enough time for quick adjustments in between.