Some advice for President Obama

Gary Hart Photography: Sunset Storm, Half Dome from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite

Sunset Storm, Half Dome from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
6 seconds
ISO 100
Canon 24-105 f/4L

President Obama and family visit Yosemite this weekend, and rather than wait by my phone for him to call with questions, I thought I’d just share my suggestions here

Dear Mr. President,

I just heard that you’re coming to Yosemite this weekend. Bravo! I’m sure by the time you leave you’ll agree that Yosemite is worthy of its reputation as the most beautiful place on Earth. But that said, I am a little concerned about the wisdom of your decision to visit in summer. Of course Yosemite is beautiful any time, but boring skies and shrinking waterfalls make summer Yosemite’s least desirable season for photography. Photography notwithstanding, the biggest reason to avoid Yosemite in summer is the crowds—much as I’m sure you would avoid invading Canada when they’re conducting military exercises.

Had you checked with me first (as pretty much every other person who visits Yosemite seems to do), I’d have told you that any other season in Yosemite is less crowded than summer, and each has its own charm: Yosemite in autumn is decorated with red and gold leaves that reflect in the Merced River; winter, with its clearing storms and fresh snow, can be Yosemite’s most spectacular season; and spring, when the dogwood bloom and the waterfalls boom, is Yosemite’s postcard season. But summer? It’s all about the people. So unless you have an armed security brigade to clear a path through the crowds…. Oh, wait a minute—never mind.

Secret Service or not, you’ll need to brace yourself this weekend—if you think Congress is difficult, just try squeezing your tripod into the scrum at Tunnel View for a summer sunset. Fortunately, despite the mayhem, there are a few things that will enhance your summer visit to Yosemite. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Since you’ve brought your family, I strongly suggest that you leave your tripod in the room and be content with a couple of quick snaps at each stop. Trust me on this—nothing ruins a vacation faster than planning everything around your photography. (And given all that you have to deal with at work, the last thing you need is tension with Michelle and the girls.)
  • No matter how crowded Yosemite is, if you get up and out at sunrise, you’ll have a couple of hours to wander Yosemite Valley in genuine peace. Before 8 a.m. is definitely the best time to hit Yosemite’s most popular landmarks and vistas.
  • I try to stay as far from Yosemite Valley as possible in summer, so once the tourists start streaming from their tents and hotel rooms, it’s time to head for the hills.  Though Glacier Point and Tuolumne Meadows will be crowded too, they’ll certainly be more tolerable than Yosemite Valley.
  • Yosemite’s hiking trails will be more packed than a Rednecks for Trump rally, but at least on a hike you won’t need to be looking for a place to squeeze that limo. It seems like every Yosemite visitor does the Vernal Fall Mist Trail hike, or the hike to the top Yosemite Falls—they’re nice, but if I had only one hike to do in Yosemite, it would be the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point (actually 4.8 miles). It’s a lot of work, but unlike the other hikes I mentioned, there are spectacular views along the entire route, so you can go as far as you want and turn around without feeling like you’ve wasted your time.
  • If you do manage to get out with your camera and tripod (surely if you can negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, or convince teenagers to join your summer vacation, you can arrange some quality photography time while the rest of the family rents bikes or something), here’s some knowledge to help you make the most of the photo opportunity:
    • Any view of Half Dome is best at sunset.
    • El Capitan gets really nice light in the early morning, starting about fifteen minutes after sunrise (the “official,” flat horizon sunrise).
    • In summer, Yosemite Falls doesn’t get good light until mid-morning.
    • Bridalveil Fall and Cathedral Rocks get their best light in late afternoon (though the east side of Cathedral Rocks gets good morning light too).
  • Mid-morning rainbows are possible in the mist beneath Lower Yosemite Fall from the pedestrian bridge. Bridalveil Fall gets rainbows in late afternoon (time varies with the date and viewing location).
  • I’ve got a lot more information on Yosemite throughout my blog—feel free to browse. Or if you don’t want to spring for the WiFi at (the hotel formerly known as) the Ahwahnee, you could just pull it off the NSA servers. In the meantime, here’s a link that will help you plan: Yosemite locations.

Mr. President, I’m sure you and your family will enjoy your visit, but I encourage you to return in Yosemite’s other seasons. Come January you’re going to have lots of free time on your hands, so once you get settled in your new place and have made a dent in the honey-do list, let me suggest that there are far worse things to do in your retirement than a photo workshop. Check out my workshop schedule—and don’t forget to ask about my “Past President” discount.

Best regards,

Gary M. Hart

A Yosemite Gallery

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