Yosemite game-changer

Gary Hart Photography: Evening Reflection, Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Evening Reflection, Mirror Lake, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony 12-24 f4 G
12mm
1/15 second
F/9
ISO 100

“Game changer” is most certainly a cliché, but every once in a while I get to use the term without shame. I used it when I switched from film to digital; again when I discovered that the Sony a7R (and now the a7RII) gave me 2- to 3-stops more dynamic range than my Canon 5DIII; one more time when I first turned the Sony a7S (since replaced with the a7SII) toward the night sky. And I think I’ll trot it out once more for Sony’s new 12-24 f4 G lens.

Of course I can only speak for the 12-24’s change in my game—your results may vary. But as a landscape-only shooter who spends a lot of time in Yosemite, this lens allows me to capture images that were heretofore not possible with anything in my bag: Game changed.

Early last month, with only a few days to play with the new (and at the time, top secret) lens, I beelined to Yosemite. My first stop was Mirror Lake, a wide spot in Tenaya Creek that isn’t technically a lake (it’ll be dry by summer’s end), but each spring is most definitely a mirror. The coveted feature here is Half Dome, which towers more than 4,000 feet above the glassy water, close enough to require some serious neck craning. Many times at Mirror Lake I’ve visualized a composition that includes Half Dome and its reflection, only to be thwarted because even at its widest, a 16-35 lens isn’t wide enough.

Since my days with the lens were limited, I wasn’t able to time my visit for interesting weather or some celestial event. No worries, I rationalized, even on Yosemite’s standard blue-sky days, I can always count on warm, late afternoon light bathing Half Dome—not spectacular, but reliably nice.

I arrived at the lake about an hour before sunset and immediately started seeking out compositions to put the new lens to the test. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to mount the 12-24 on my a7RII, put my eye to the viewfinder, and see all of Half Dome and its reflection with room to spare. It wasn’t long before I zeroed in on the scene you see here (that required me to balance atop a rock about three feet from the shore, tripod 10 inches deep in frigid snowmelt).

As luck would have it, just as the light started to warm, a few clouds drifted down from the north, so I quickly adjusted my composition and waited for them to slip into my composition. They were moving quite fast, leaving a window of just a few seconds when they filled the sky without being seriously truncated by the border. With composition, exposure, and focus set, I clicked a half dozen rapid-fire frames before the clouds started drifting out of the frame.

This was just my first stop with this lens. On the walk back to my car I stopped for a shot that I shared a few weeks ago; that night, and again the next morning, I tried it at a favorite El Capitan View with great success (to be shared in a future blog). And before returning home, I discovered a completely unexpected use at Yosemite Falls. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered this lens—I expect to see it next month.

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A Half Dome Gallery

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2 Comments on “Yosemite game-changer

  1. Can’t get past the perception that many of these images look “enhanced,” sort of like articial breasts, too perky to be true.
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    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Joel. Though I doubt it was your intent, because my images are all indeed “true,” I’ll take your words as a compliment. Often people who don’t understand photography expect that the camera’s job is to duplicate human vision. But that’s impossible, because the camera’s vision is two-dimensional, static, and bounded by a rectangular box. Also, the human eye sees a far greater range of light, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights, than a camera can.

      But these “shortcomings” create opportunities. The nature photographer’s job is to leverage his or her camera’s unique vision to express overlooked aspects of the natural world: convey motion, create perspective, and use depth and light to guide the eye. The reality is, because I do no blending of multiple images (a popular technique in today’s digital world), nor do I add elements that weren’t there at capture, my images are far more “true” than many.

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