For everyone who woke up today thinking, “Gee, I sure wish there were more Yosemite pictures from Tunnel View,” you’ve come to the right place. Okay, seriously, the world probably doesn’t actually need any more Tunnel View pictures, but that’s not going to stop me.
Visitors who burst from the darkness of the Wawona Tunnel like Dorothy stepping from her monochrome farmhouse into the color of Oz, are greeted by a veritable who’s who of Yosemite icons: El Capitan, Cloud’s Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Sentinel Dome, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Fall, and Leaning Tower.
Camera or not, that’s a lot to take in. First-time visitors might just just snap a picture of the whole thing and call it good. For more seasoned visitors like me, the challenge at Tunnel View is creating unique (or at least less common) images. But that’s not enough to keep me from returning, over and over.
Many people’s mental image of Yosemite was formed by the numerous Ansel Adams prints of this view. And while it’s quite possible those images were indeed captured at Tunnel View, many Adams prints assumed to be Tunnel View were actually captured from nearby Inspiration Point, 1,000 feet higher.
Before Wawona Tunnel’s opening in 1933 completed the current Wawona Road into Yosemite Valley, the vista we now know as Tunnel View was just an anonymous granite slope on the side of a mountain. Before 1933, visitors entering Yosemite from the south navigated Old Wawona Road, a steep, winding track more suited to horses and wagons than motorized vehicles. Inspiration Point was the Tunnel View equivalent on this old road.
To complicate matters further, there are actually three Inspiration Points in Yosemite. The original Inspiration Point is the location where the first non-Native eyes feasted on Yosemite Valley in the mid-19th century. Decades later, Old Wawona Road was carved into the forest and granite to provide an “easier” (relatively speaking) route between Wawona and Yosemite Valley. The valley vista that was established on this route and labeled Inspiration Point is the one popularized by Ansel Adams. But today that version of Inspiration Point has become so overgrown that hikers hardy enough to complete the steep climb up to the Ansel Adams Inspiration Point, must make their way a short distance down the slope to a spot where the view opens up, forming the New Inspiration Point. But I digress…
My total visits to Tunnel View, which predate my oldest memories, by now have to exceed 1,000. At first I had no say in the matter, having simply been a passenger on family trips since infancy. But when I became old enough to drive myself, my Tunnel View visits increased—most Yosemite trips included multiple visits.
The Tunnel View counter started clicking even faster as my interest in photography grew. More than just a one-of-a-kind scene to photograph, Tunnel View is also the best place in Yosemite to survey Yosemite Valley for a read on the current conditions elsewhere in the valley.
And as I’ve mentioned (ad nauseam), the view at Tunnel View is beautiful by any standard. And as it turns out, beauty is a pretty essential quality for a landscape image. Unfortunately, another essential landscape image criterion, especially for landscape photographers who pay the bills with their photography, is a unique image—ideally (aspirationally), but not necessarily, a one-of-a-kind image. So Tunnel View’s combination of unparalleled beauty and easy access means million of visitors each year, which makes finding something literally unique (one-of-a-kind) here virtually impossible.
But there are a few things I do to increase my chances of capturing something special enough to at least stand out—things you can do at any popular photo spot. Here are three:
The image I’m sharing today combines a couple of these approaches: a tighter than typical focal length, and special conditions. Though the Bridalveil Fall rainbow isn’t exactly unique, its combination of beauty and relative rarity keeps me coming back. And because the sun’s angle at any given moment, as well as the angle of view to Bridalveil Fall, are precisely known, I can predict the rainbow’s appearance each spring afternoon to within a few minutes (it varies slightly with the amount of water in the fall).
This rainbow makes a fantastic first shoot for my spring workshops. Usually I’m content to just stand and watch—and listen to the exclamations from my workshop students—but sometimes it’s to beautiful to resist. This year, with beautiful clouds overhead, dappled sunlight below, and a strong breeze to spread the rainbow’s palette, was one of those times.
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