Photographing the same scene as hundreds of other people is less than exciting, making August in Yosemite a difficult time to realize photographic creativity. While choice of exposure settings and framing do allow some originality beyond a generic “point and click” shot, most of what makes Yosemite such a Mecca for photographers is the scenery itself. Thanks to Ansel Adams, the impressive rock formations, waterfalls, and vistas are truly classic landscapes (see some of Ansel Adams’ photographs). Still, while it’s easy to get discouraged by the throngs of “iPad photographers” shooting Bridalveil Falls or the dozens of more legitimate-looking professionals staking precious tripod space at Tunnel View at sunset, nature photographer QT Luong reminds us (in an article in Outdoor Photographer Magazine, and expanded on in a blog post) that all is not lost in Yosemite.
“I actually like the fact that so many great photographs have been made there before. Rather than hindering me, this creates a benchmark against which I can measure my own images and progress, and see if I can do something new. A lot of photographers do not go beyond the established trails and overlooks. Often, finding new perspectives is just a matter of walking a short distance from the designated viewpoints.”
Even more originality is possible by working at different times of day. I’ve seen countless Yosemite photographs taken at sunrise and sunset, and even plenty taken at night by moonlight, but only a few taken during early dawn. To that end, I’ve found The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) indispensable in planning early morning shoots. More than basic sunrise/sunset and dawn/dusk times, TPE plots the sun and moon azimuth/elevation angles vs time, and shows them on a map.
This photo was taken from Glacier Point at 5:33am, when the sun was 8 degrees below the horizon, on my second early morning drive there from Yosemite West. On the first morning, I arrived closer to sunrise, but decided after some experimentation that I wanted a darker scene. Unlike during my sun-down photography attempts at Green Bank, here I was prepared to make long-exposures with my tripod and cable shutter release. Number of other photographers present: one.