A Yosemite Year – Photographer’s Almanac: January 2014

There is nothing like a winter’s day in Yosemite Valley – even if there is no conventional winter weather to speak of.  The landscape is quiet and serene.  The air is crisp.  And the photographic potential plentiful if one is willing to look for it.  All in all, it is a good day to be out and about.

During my time living in Yosemite, I have witnessed a handful of January storms that leave behind a bountiful blanket of snow which vacationers, skiers and photographers alike look forward to enjoying at it’s freshest.  For those photographers, the subsequent chance to capture the fabled clearing winter storm shot from Tunnel View at sunset, or Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge with the powder festooned banks of the Merced River in the foreground, are apropos to their entire reason for traveling to the park this time of year.  And perhaps it is Ansel Adams’ iconographic, well-traveled imagery, as well as related work by other photographers before and after him, that has given rise to a spurious notion that “it is just that easy.”  That one need simply show up in Yosemite during any “winter” day to capture their white whale – photographically speaking.  Sadly, this is not the case.  But it is hard not to think that way.  After all, how many prominently published photographs of Yosemite in winter don’t incorporate the romantic element of fresh snow?  Doubting there is a practical way to answer that question in a quantifiable way, an educated guess would be: not that many.  That being said, regardless of the weather – or lack thereof – that you may encounter during a visit to the park, there are plenty of images to be made out there.  Remember, when asked which image from her life’s work was her favorite, photographer Imogen Cunningham always replied, “The one I make tomorrow.”

*Please be safe and cautious while hiking in Yosemite National Park.  Take plenty of water, food and appropriate clothing and footwear for everyone in your party.  Trails can be hazardous.  Always seek advice from authorized National Park Service rangers before venturing out on the trail in Yosemite.  In winter, trails can be icy, even long after a storm has passed through the Sierra.  Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.


Bridalveil Fall and Ice, Yosemite, 2012
By Evan Russel

It may not be Tunnel View, but Bridalveil Fall is no slouch when it comes to inspiration.  I frequently find myself stopping by the famous waterfall throughout the winter months, mostly because it is a subject that is in constant flux, and thus frees me from the constraints of the often times repugnant “preconceived notion.”  This transient quality allows for reconciliation with the genuine side of landscape photography that piqued my artistic interest many years ago, and I find it relaxing.

Bridalveil Fall and Ice by Evan Russel © All Rights Reserved

Bridalveil Fall and Ice by Evan Russel © All Rights Reserved

The accompanying photograph of “Bridalveil Fall and Ice,” was taken in January 2012.  Even with it being a dry start to the year, there was enough water coming over the fall to constantly renew the pattern of ice that formed on the adjacent cliff walls each chilly morning.  I used many lenses that day, as well as filters and mostly slower shutter speeds to experiment and play around with the movement of the water.  No two images were alike.  But once I found an interesting composition within the pattern of ice, I would set up the camera, frame the scene, make the appropriate adjustments to the shutter and aperture, and then interact with the water for what seemed like hours.

Evan Russel, Curator and Staff Photographer

There are a number of good locations to set up your camera when attempting to photograph Bridalveil Fall during this time of year, including right from the trailhead parking lot, the South Side Drive pull-out, the North Side Drive pull-out just across the river (you may need a longer lens for this one), or by walking up to the vista point at the end of the (VERY icy in winter) trail.  Depending on your intentions to isolate the cliffs and fall, or to include the context of the surrounding forest, creeks and valley rim, will determine where you ultimately decide to set up your camera.  This is a great subject in winter, and should you find yourself in Yosemite with unseasonable weather or conditions, I encourage you to make a visit to the fall and play to your heart’s content.


Fallen Limb, Snowstorm, Yosemite, 2011
By Mike Reeves


Many visitors have asked staff members if we ever get tired of photographing in Yosemite.  The simple answer is: not in the least. Even if many scenes present themselves similarly throughout the year, we do have the luxury of witnessing the constant change that is Yosemite – and that keeps us on our toes.

Fallen Limb, Snowstorm, Yosemite, 2011 by Mike Reeves

Throughout the spring, many of my favorite river spots are underwater.  The summer and fall months are the only time I can access the high country for backpacking and photography.  But in the winter, the high traffic of summer is gone, and a photographer feels alone in this vast space.

One of my favorite places to photograph throughout the year is El Capitan Meadow.  Budding trees in spring, vibrant pine trees in summer, colorful oaks in fall, and snowstorms in winter leave me with plenty of options.  The meadow can be broken into three rough sections.  To the east, the meadow is open, lined by oaks and pines.  The middle of the meadow is mixed with pines and oak trees, many of which have seen the lenses of talented artists.  The west end features dense oaks with many fun and abstract shapes to capture in every season.

Mike Reeves, Staff Photographer

The accompanying photograph of “Fallen Limb, Snowstorm” was taken in January 2011.  The storms that year seemed to never end.  On one of many trips to El Capitan Meadow, I was walking among the oaks in snow up to my knees.  In conditions like that, I always like to stop and catch my breath every so often so I don’t miss something.  (Trying not to trip on hidden branches and rocks is always tough when walking through this meadow, so be sure to take a moment to look around and orient yourself should you find yourself in a similar situation!)  As I looked towards the open meadow to the east, I found a snow-covered oak tree limb. The limb itself was not immediately interesting to me.  But an elusive quality about it kept my attention.  I studied it for some time before deciding to use it as a foreground including the rest of the meadow.  After several compositions, I made this photograph at 1/13 of a second.  The exposure was just long enough to blur the snow but not too long that the snow would turn into long streaks. The snow was heavy enough that the background retains shape but loses some detail.  The tall rock cliffs disappear completely and give this image a sense of intimacy that it may lack in the summer or fall and I enjoy the somewhat abstract nature of the background, which is a nice contrast with the sharp branch.

Moon, North & Half Domes, Merced River, Jan. 2014
By Kirk Keeler

Winter is, for me, a time for slowing down.  Not only am I slowing down, but it seems the landscape around me follows suit.  The falls are but a trickle, some defiantly ending their cascade until the first storms flush it over the cliffs once more.  The Merced River, normally swollen with water from snow-melt Spring through Summer, is quite docile in its winter meandering.

Moon, North & Half Domes, Merced River, Jan. 2014 by Kirk Keeler

During these winter months, I can be found at many of the placid locations along the Merced – searching for reflections!  And if capturing a reflection of a Yosemite icon, such as Half Dome, is on your list, then Winter in Yosemite Valley is a great time for your visit.

Couple all of this with a rising moon, and it really doesn’t get any better!  While the Sun sticks to a more southerly orbit, staying rather low in the winter sky, the moon has the opposite transit, appearing more northerly on the horizon.  Depending on where you’re standing in Yosemite Valley, this north-orbiting moon tends to rise somewhere in the neighborhood of Half Dome between November and February.  Even Ansel Adams in 1960, driving on a now-defunct road along the east end of the Ahwahnee Meadow, took advantage of a similar alignment when he glanced up and saw “Moon and Half Dome” – capturing the pivotal moment with his Hasselblad Camera.

While guiding a visitor in Yosemite Valley in January 2014, I had a “Moon and Half Dome” moment myself!  After a day of walking on the valley floor and up to Vernal Fall, I decided I’d take my client to the banks of the Merced.  We headed back towards Yosemite Village hoping to photograph evening light on Half Dome reflected in the calm eddy east of Day Use Parking.  Having taken the shuttle from Happy Isles to the parking lot, we never got to see the full sky until we were right on the bank.  That is when we saw Half Dome, shrouded in an elegant evening light, reflected in the water, with a waxing moon – three days from full – very near the dome!

The timing was perfect.  We were there the night you really want to photograph a moon rising in Yosemite Valley: a night with enough luminance against the sky to see the moon’s features, but not too bright to “blow out” the face of the moon.  Thankfully, for my client and myself, the almost jarring sight of the moon near Half Dome left us exuberant, as though we had discovered this phenomena for the first time.

Kirk Keeler, Staff Photographer

My picture, “Moon, North & Half Domes, Merced River” brings many winter Yosemite features together in one photograph.  Snowy banks, bare and dormant Cottonwoods, calm water, warm light interplay between Half Dome and North Dome, and finally, a moon overseeing all the beauty!

Day Use Parking (Parking Lot A) is easily accessed in Yosemite Village and well-marked on most park maps.  I recommend arriving 45 minutes before sunset to allow enough time to watch, and photograph, the remaining light on Half Dome and the surrounding cliffs.  Wanting a moon in the shot?  If arriving between November and February, plan the shoot for two to three days before the full moon.  Using software, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, will help even more with the planning.  Good Luck!

About the Photograph – Saint Francis Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

St. Francis Church in New Mexico by Ansel Adams – available as a matted reproduction for $135.

“Many of my early photographs were made on orthochromactic glass plates or film” wrote Adams, “which gave a lighter value for blue sky than does panchromatic film.” The photograph was made in the afternoon with no filter, rendering the blue sky quite pale and the shadows soft. “This image is an experience in light” wrote Adams.

Some of the twentieth century’s greatest artists (Paul Strand and Georgia O’Keefe, among others) have also interpreted the church, although Adams had not seen their works when he made this photograph. The rear elevation, he wrote, “define this building as one of the great architectural monuments of America.”

New Exhibit in Yosemite “In Harmony: Light and Land”, Photographs by Charles Cramer

May 30 – July 27, 2013 (Reception June 5th from 3-5 PM)

Charles Cramer is a photographer who revels in exploration and craftsmanship. A masterful artist, his career broadly parallels that of Ansel Adams: an early focus on music, finding inspiration in Yosemite National Park, and exploring the developing medium of photography. Charles has worked in the darkroom for many years, mastering the complex Dye Transfer process. He was also one of the first landscape photographers to work with the “digital darkroom”, offering more control to realize his artistic interpretation of the scene.

Cramer was selected by the National Park Service to be an artist-in-residence in Yosemite in 1987 and again in 2009. He is also included in the books “Landscape: The World’s Top Photographers,” published in 2005, and “First Light: Five Photographers Explore Yosemite’s Wilderness,” published in 2009.

Remembering Liliane De Cock Morgan, Photographer, assistant to Ansel Adams

Liliane De Cock Morgan by Ansel AdamsLiliane De Cock Morgan, a child of World War II Belgium who later became a vital part of the west coast fine photography world and photographic assistant to Ansel Adams, before continuing her career in the New York area, died quietly in her home in Wiscasset, Maine, due to complications from cancer, on May 25th.  She was 73 and had moved to Maine in 2010 from Ridgefield, Connecticut.

In Morgan’s 1973 monograph, Ansel Adams described her photography in the introduction: “De Cock presents to us a personal, private world.  It is a world of individualistic beauty and intensity. She communicates to all who will respond; she relates to no particular pattern of concept or execution.  Hers is fine photography—and what more can one say?”  Their association had begun a decade earlier when photographer Brett Weston had recommended Morgan for a short-term position spotting prints for his Portfolio IV.  Adams wrote, “I was quite impressed with her work from the start and with her perseverance in finishing off some four thousand prints.  She stayed on with me for a little more than nine years…” Morgan was a full-time photographic assistant to Adams from 1963 to 1972, and lived nearby the Adams home in Carmel, California.

During this time working with Adams she printed his master works, prepared prints for exhibitions, travelled with him to capture images, instructed in summer workshops, and was an integral part of the social environment that connected scores of artists, intellectuals, and conservationists of that time.  Between 1964 and 1967 Morgan supported Adams and Nancy Newhall as they captured images and stories for Fiat Lux, the University of California system’s centennial book.  Along the way she learned the craft of photography by apprenticeship as well as through her own experience traveling throughout the United States.  It was a remarkable ascent considering her challenging beginnings.

Born September 11, 1939 in a suburb of Antwerp, daughter of a milkman and a mother she never met, Morgan lived with the rigors of wartime northern Europe.  During the war she and other children were sent to orphanages in the south of Belgium to be safe from potential bombing.  These separations left a lasting impact on Morgan. After the war she grew up amidst hunger, family strife, and a succession of stepmothers.  At age 14 she left home and never returned. She finished secondary school through her own perseverance, but was unable to fulfill her dream of a university education.  Instead, she worked factory jobs, including time in the darkroom at Gevaert, a company that made photographic materials and is now part of AGFA, saving money until she could legally leave the country without parental consent at age 21.  Within two months of her birthday in 1960 she was aboard a ship to New York to begin a new life, a vision she had held since the age of 12.

Within days her life had truly set on a dramatic new course.  On the boat she met photographer Brett Weston, son of Edward Weston, who was then traveling on a Guggenheim Fellowship.  By the end of the voyage they had formed what would become a life-long friendship with big implications for Morgan’s new life.  She spent less than a year in New York, before moving to California where, after only minor dabbling in photography as a hobby, she was introduced to Ansel Adams by Weston.

As described by the Joseph Bellows Gallery: “Under the guidance of Ansel Adams and with a 4 x 5 inch camera lent to her by the artist, Morgan began photographing the landscape and soon developed a unique vision and printing style which utilizes the full tonal scale of the medium with a strong attention to the melancholic values.”  Each year Adams would grant Morgan 3-6 weeks of vacation in which she would travel alone around the continental United States capturing images of rural America.

Morgan’s skill grew as she also contributed more to the photographic community of that time. In personal correspondence Ansel Adams, in the mentor role, once wrote, “I have unlimited faith in you as a person and as a photographer!!”  She eventually instructed in and coordinated the Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshops and was a founding trustee of the Friends of Photography, among other contributions.  By the early 1970s she was recognized as a fine photographer. She received a number of awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972. Her important early solo exhibitions included the George Eastman House (1970), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1971), the Witkin Gallery (1972), the University of Rhode Island (1972), and the Amon Carter Museum (1973), among other venues.

Morgan left Carmel in 1972 after her marriage to Douglas Morgan, publisher of Ansel Adams’ early technical photography books, who she had met during a workshop in Yosemite Valley.  She moved to Dobbs Ferry, New York, and later to Pound Ridge, New York where she started a family and became enmeshed in the Morgan family businesses.  Working with Douglas and her brother-in-law, Lloyd Morgan, at Morgan & Morgan publishers and Morgan Press, she edited over a dozen monographs of prominent photographers, edited the Photo Lab Index, and contributed to many other fine photography titles.  At the same time she became master printer for her mother-in-law, famed dance photographer Barbara Morgan, who, along with her deceased husband, Willard Morgan, had been a colleague and friend of Ansel Adams for over 40 years.

During this time Morgan shifted much of her personal creativity towards raising her only son, Willard Morgan.  She studied cooking techniques from around the world, nurtured a small menagerie of domestic animals, and continued a hobby from her Carmel days of discovering unique treasures at flea markets and antique stores.  Photographically, she tried her hand at architectural photography, documented summers at Camp Treeptops in Lake Placid, New York, and experimented with still life scenes.  Morgan issued a limited edition portfolio of her most prominent work in the early 1980s and had her last solo exhibition in her homeland of Belgium at FotoMuseum Antwerpen in 1991.  A number of later books, including the History of Women Photographers by Naomi Rosenblum (1994), recognized Morgan’s contribution to the world of photography.

After a divorce in 1997, Liliane moved and remained connected to photography as a technician in a custom photo lab in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where she transitioned from black and white darkroom technique to the new technology of digital printing, learning full color techniques as well. In 2002 Morgan attended the Ansel Adams Centennial in Yosemite Valley where she spoke in a panel of all the living former photographic assistants.  She was one of only two women who held that role for Adams (the other being Morgan’s close friend, Gerry Sharpe).

In 2010, Morgan retired from full-time work and moved to Wiscasset, Maine where she enjoyed being near family and the big sky vistas of the ocean.  Morgan is survived by her son, Willard Morgan, his wife, Jenn Barton, and her granddaughters Sierra Morgan (6 years) and Zella Morgan (6 months), all of Alna, ME.  In addition to her son, she is survived by five stepchildren: Adele Morgan, Eric Morgan, Lael Morgan, Seth Morgan, Jennifer Morgan, and their families.  A private service will be held this summer.

Willard Morgan
P.O. Box 35
Alna, ME  04578

Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man

Check out this wonderful lecture on Ansel Adams by his former Assistant, Andrea Stillman.

for more video on and about Ansel Adams, see our Video page

White House Ruin

White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942 -- available as an Archival Replica

White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942 — available as an Archival Replica

“Only when I had completed the prints [of this image] months later did I realize why the subject had a familiar aspect: I had seen the remarkable photographer made by Timothy O’Sullivan in 1873, in an album of his original prints that I once possessed. I had stood unaware in almost the same spot of the canyon floor, about the same month and day, and at nearly the same time of day that O’Sullivan must have made his exposure, almost exactly sixty-nine years earlier.” Adams’ photograph differs from O’Sullivan’s; he included a triangle of sky in the upper right corner and used a filter to darken the sky and cliffs.

White House Ruin is featured as one of the Images of the Southwest

Dogwood Blossoms

Ansel Adams made this image with a 5″ x 7″ view camera in 1938, the year he trekked through the high sierra with Edward Weston. Depending upon the year, dogwoods typically peak during April or May in Yosemite , evoking bursts of starlight against the bare forest backdrop. This dramatic contrast prompted Adams to compose one of his only still-life images. To capture the 12 blossoms in this spectacular spray of dogwoods, he placed them atop a nearby rock covered with pine needles and lichen.

The Sierra Club published “Dogwood Blossoms” in 1960 after Ansel Adams selected it, along with 15 other images, for inclusion in “Portfolio III, Yosemite Valley .” Later, Adams selected it for his Museum Set Collection, a retrospective portfolio of what he considered his strongest work. The image has been published in Classic Images , the book based on the Museum Set, Yosemite and the Range of Light (out of print) , Yosemite, The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, Yosemite and the High Sierra, and Ansel Adams Monograph (out of print)

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944 – Modern Replica in sizes up to 30″x38″

Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944 by Ansel Adams

On four successive mornings Adams tried to take this photograph from the east side of the Sierra. On the fifth day it was still dark and bitterly cold when he set up his camera on the new platform on top of his car and retreated to the warm interior. As dawn drew near, he returned to the camera to await the sun’s first rays on the meadow. “I finally encountered the bright, glistening sunrise with light clouds streaming from the southeast and casting swift moving shadows on the meadow and dark rolling hills.” At the last possible moment, the horse turn to offer a profile view. Many years later he wrote “Somethings I think I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter!”

Purchase this Modern Replica

Re-Introducing “Half Dome, Olmsted Point”

Half Dome, Olmsted Point – Yosemite Special Edition Photograph has been re-released

Half Dome, Olmstead Point - A Yosemite Special Edition Photograph

Half Dome, Olmsted Point – A Yosemite Special Edition Photograph by The Ansel Adams Gallery

It has been many years since this photograph, part of the Yosemite Special Edition Photograph series has been available. Half Dome, Olmsted Point was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1959. We are pleased to be able to re-introduce this stately photograph back into the series. Purchase this Photograph

Yosemite Special Edition Photographs – Ansel Adams launched the Yosemite Special Edition series in 1958. Today, Alan Ross makes each Special Edition Photograph by hand from Adams’ original negative on gelatin silver fiber paper. Ross, a master printer and fine art photographer in his own right, began working side-by-side with Adams as his photographic assistant in 1974; he’s been the exclusive printer of this series since 1975. Each of the prints in this limited series bears an identifying stamp. Yosemite Special Edition Photographs are available only from The Ansel Adams Gallery. Starting at $295. See all Yosemite Special Edition Photographs

Stone & Brush: The Paintings of Penny Otwell

Exhibit runs from August 20th – September 30th (Reception September 13th, from 3-5 PM) at The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park.

Like the voice of a singer, a visual artist has her own signature style.  I am an “alto” in the choir of painters I know.  My work has evolved from 48 years of painting outdoors and hiking in the Yosemite Sierra. Using a brush and palette knife to design paintings of granite and metamorphic mountains, here is my 2012 show, STONE & BRUSH. See more of  Penny Otwell’s artwork

 This past winter was unique as the High Country roads were open due to the lack of snow.  I did an initial series of drawings on large paper starting in December 2011, working “en plein air” without the normal crowds of people at the most popular spots.  At Glacier Point and on Tioga Pass road I next worked drawings in ink directly on canvas (30 x 24”) for paintings I would complete in the studio.  The work began to change, leaving visible lines next to opaque and transparent paint and the paintings began to sing to me with clarity.

Each piece has several thin transparent glazes that produce a rich depth and harmony. Oranges, golds, teal greens — but few blues, another big change in my work for this show.  As the year progressed, this series of paintings of warm shadows, instead of cool, gathered into a cohesive body of work.

In books I’ve studied about painting, I’ve learned to leave ”line” out of my work, focusing on shapes.  But I decided to let line predominate because of my love of drawing.  This journey has been a fun exploration of line and color.  Some paintings were done from drawings I made in Yosemite in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and others were drawn just this year.  *

The paintings reflect my connection with nature while the line portrays the strength of the mountains and the jewel tones communicate how I feel about them.  I trust they will sing for you!

 Penny Otwell, 2012