Autumn Mirror, Half Dome, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony/Zeiss 16-35 f4
People stay away from Yosemite in autumn because that’s when the waterfalls are at their lowest. But believe it or not, Yosemite isn’t all about waterfalls. El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, the Three Brothers (I could go on) are great subjects in their own right. Subtract the waterfalls but add the yellows, oranges, and reds of Yosemite Valley’s many deciduous trees and you have what I think is a pretty a fair trade. And when the water is low, the usually turbulent Merced River smooths to a reflecting ribbon of glass; suddenly, pretty much any scene can be doubled at your feet.
These reflections add layers of creative possibilities impossible the rest of the year. I usually try to photograph each reflection scene several ways—splitting it in the middle for a 50/50 mirror effect, isolating the reflection only, emphasizing the reflection with just enough of the primary scene to establish context, and using a partial reflection to accent to the primary scene—then decide later which I like best.
In this image I split the frame 50/50, but dialed down the reflection with my polarizer. Even polarized, the bright sky’s glare washed out much of the river surface, painting the outline of El Capitan like a negative that uses the trees with a jigsaw of submerged river rocks.
This one is all about the reflection, with the snow-covered forest used to frame El Capitan’s image in the Merced River. Here I dialed my polarizer to a mid-point, holding the reflection of El Capitan but dialing down the homogenous gray sky.
Here I used a more conventional composition, emphasizing El Capitan’s bulk against clouds that were spitting small, wet snowflakes.
About this image
I took another favorite approach for the featured image at the top of this post, using a long exposure in low light to smooth moving water and enhance the reflection. My workshop group had already had a nice shoot that evening—it started with warm, late light on Half Dome, some nice color at sunset, and rapping up with textured clouds above Half Dome as darkness fell.
By the time I captured this frame the scene was much darker than what you see here. With the reflection disturbed by slight ripples and floating bubbles, the darkness of post-sunset twilight enabled me to extend my shutter speed to 30 seconds, which smoothed the reflection and turned the bubbles into soft white streaks.
A Gallery of Yosemite Reflections
Click an image for a closer look and slide show. Refresh the window to reorder the display.
Sunset Palette, Half Dome from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
Rocks and Reflection, El Capitan, Yosemite
Winter Twilight Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite
Reflection, Half Dome in the Merced River, Yosemite
Sunset Reflection, El Capitan and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite
Winter Arrives, El Capitan, Yosemite
Horsetail Fall Reflection, Yosemite
Moonlight Reflection, El Capitan and the Three Brothers, Yosemite
El Capitan Reflection, Yosemite
Winter Storm Reflection, El Capitan, Yosemite
First Snow, El Capitan, Yosemite
Star Trails and Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite
Autumn Twilight, Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite
Autumn Snow, Valley View, Yosemite
Spring Moon Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite
Autumn Morning, El Capitan Reflected in the Merced River, Yosemite
Winter Reflection, El Capitan, Yosemite
Autumn Moon Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite
Autumn Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite
Half Dome Reflection, Merced River, Yosemite
On the Rocks, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite
Reflection, El Capitan winter morning, Yosemite
Leaves and Reflection, El Capitan, Yosemite
Spring Reflection, El Capitan and Three Brothers, Yosemite
Half Dome Sunset Reflection, Mirror Lake, Yosemite
Winter Light, El Capitan, Yosemite
Moonlight Magic, El Capitan, Yosemite
Autumn Reflection, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite
Morning Sun, Half Dome, Yosemite
Autumn Shroud, El Capitan, Yosemite
Autumn Mirror, Half Dome, Yosemite