A Yosemite Year – A Photographer’s Almanac March 2014 (Continued)

Trees in Snowstorm, Cooks Meadow
by Kirk Keeler

Kirk Keeler, Staff Photographer

Snow in Yosemite Valley has been infrequent the last two winters.  I moved to Yosemite in March of 2010, during a snowstorm.  The following March (2011), the inhabitants of the park experienced what has affectionately become known as ‘Snowmageddon’; a series of snowstorms that dropped several feet onto the valley floor and well over ten feet in the higher elevations.  The park had to close for a few days while crews cleared roads and restored power.

If you happen to be here during a significant snowfall, you can experience quite a transformation!  Trees that were snow-free and green when you arrived can alter to white snow-sculptures, many of their tops curling back toward the ground from the weight of snow.  Trails get erased from the landscape.  Meadows become vast open spaces, devoid of most things that signal signs of life.  Perhaps this is why snow is so often referred to as a blanket, as it is the insulator between the air and fertile ground.


Trees in Snowstorm, Cooks Meadow © by Kirk Keeler –  All rights reserved

In March 2012, after a fairly dry January and February, March signaled a shift in precipitation, bringing with it several beautiful winter storms to Yosemite.  It was during one of these storms that I had a digital camera class scheduled.  When the students arrived to the gallery, the storm hadn’t really began yet, so I told them we could begin outside and if conditions got too snowy, cold, or otherwise miserable, we could spend the remaining class time in the warm workshop room.  They were game!

I brought them out to the edge of Cooks Meadow to begin the class, which was about the same time a few flakes began to drop.  After an introduction to histograms and exposure underneath the shelter of the Black Oaks, I brought them out to the middle of the meadow to experience a different perspective and present new compositions.  This was the same moment that the storm really kicked into gear.  Large flakes began to fall and storm clouds crept their way down to the valley floor, erasing any evidence that 3000’ cliffs ever existed in Yosemite Valley.  As I turned back to look where our first stop was, this scene stared right back at me!

Many times, I teach about simplifying compositions by picking out certain aspects of the larger scene.  In this scene, the weather did that for me by eliminating everything except the trees and the snowflakes falling.  My students and I worked several compositions from this spot and this one felt the strongest.  I chose a shutter speed of 1/180 to suggest some movement, yet still give an impression to the size of the flakes.  There is a feeling of perspective – as one looks at a city-scape where the tallest building is located near center while the buildings retreat behind it, getting smaller toward the edges of the scene.  Only…these ‘buildings’ are trees in nature.  The feeling of perspective is heightened by the closest trees being sharp, while the trees behind them have a mistiness to them; an effect painters have used for many centuries to induce the effect of distance.      After spending some time here, the students and myself began to get cold and our equipment was getting wet.  We retreated back to the gallery and to the warm refuge of the workshop room, where I finished teaching the remaining Digital Camera class.  Despite the cold, the students enjoyed the adventure of capturing images during the snowstorm.

If photographing snowstorms sounds exciting, then March is a wonderful time to visit Yosemite Valley.  Crowds are still non-existent and snowstorms like the one I captured can happen regularly.  If you’d like to photograph a snowstorm in Cooks Meadow, I suggest parking on Northside Drive near the Yosemite Falls loop trail; stop 6 on the free shuttle.  The meadow is opposite the shuttle stop.  A paved path circumnavigates the majority of the meadow.  In addition to the oaks and cedar in my photo, a beautiful elm tree stands alone near the northern edge of the meadow and makes a great subject to photograph during a snowstorm.  If the shroud of clouds retreats, views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome can be experienced from many spots around the meadow.  While the path can be hard to locate with snow on it, please do your best to stay on it.  Even when dormant, disruption of soil from footsteps can disrupt the growth of native grasses and wildflowers.

A Yosemite Year – A Photographer’s Almanac March 2014

I love to hear Yosemite Valley sing.  It can be a subtle aria – a muffled wind through the trees, a cascade chortling down the cliffs or the background thrum of rain as it harmonically raps on the surface of the Merced River.  But March usually introduces a crescendo.  As spring unfolds, the falls begin to boom.  Rivers begin to roar.  The rain becomes thunderous.  And the rivers heave in sync with the cycles of the day.  As a witness, these manifestations of seasonal Energy can compose your experience of the park.  As a photographer, the self imposed task of articulating this power artistically can often times leave one feeling powerless and discomposed, with visually rhetorical and empty results.  And then it dawns on you: perhaps is not so much about the magnitude of the place, but the sense of place.

John Szarkowski qualified the profundity of Ansel Adams’ imagery by branding each composition as a myriad of sensory encounters, and not just one simple visual episode.. In front Ansel’s photographs, it is possible to feel the temperature of the scene; whether it’s the biting cold on your nose in a snow covered meadow, or the last rays of the sun on your shoulders before it sets.  You can taste the viscous air and smell the pine in the wake of a Sierra storm.  And you can hear the peaceful hollowness of a distant gale and the resonating clap of a thunderstorm as they make their way across the high desert.  And all of it is an invitation to the viewers to step in and explore.  Which is undoubtedly our own hope as photographers when we share our creations, and a facet of Ansel’s work that made even the grandest of scenes more “sensible.”

When you come to Yosemite to photograph, look for the light, land and elements to emphasize the best sense of place – to communicate potential visual, aromatic, auditory, savory and tactile traits.  Some may be obvious and others devious, but all can compliment your work.  So as spring progresses and the crescendo builds, don’t be senseless and allow the power of the season overwhelm you and your photographs.

*Please be safe and cautious while hiking in Yosemite National Park.  Take plenty of water, food and appropriate gear, clothing and footwear for everyone in your party – especially with consideration to the duration of your hike.  Trails can be hazardous regardless of length or amount of elevation gain.  Stay away from cliff edges and rushing water.  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.  Never hike at night and/or in cold conditions without the proper gear.  Permits are required for any overnight stay.  Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

Don’t Look Down
By Phillip Nicholas

Phillip Nicholas,
Staff Photographer

The Upper Yosemite Falls trail is one of my favorite hikes in the entire park. The hike is a worthy adversary – it gains 2,700 feet of elevation on steep switchbacks and winds up for 3.6 miles, topping out just to the left of Upper Falls. Although it can get flooded with people in the summer months, it offers an unmatched view that I never tire of. To make a photograph, all you need is a sliver of light in the right direction and, of course, a camera.


Don’t Look Down, Yosemite Fall 2014 © by Phillip Nicholas – all rights reserved

Once you reach the top of this challenging and beautiful trail, you can walk in any direction and find interesting subjects to photograph along the winding forest paths. Spring brings with it the tiny plant, Stone Crop, which can be found by the trained eye of the macro observer. The mosses on the trees retain some moisture from the winter months and hold an intrinsic green glow that contrasts nicely with the red bark on the high elevation conifers. And, the panorama of Yosemite Valley is quite eye-catching as well.

There are many interesting views of Yosemite Falls from the valley floor, but, when making this photograph, I wanted to get something different. I was searching for a new perspective of the awesome power of this natural wonder – I wanted to not only photograph it, but also to see the first droplets of water begin their harrowing descent into the world below. I ventured up to Yosemite Point and traced the cliff wall back down until I found a place where I could peer over the edge. When I looked over, I realized with a sudden shock that I was directly above the base of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Like a blast from an Internal Combustion Engine on a rocket ship heading to the moon, Yosemite Falls spews over the jagged granite edge, falling 2,425 feet to the valley floor below. In the peak season spring months, the waterfall can be both seen and heard from the farthest reaches of the valley. At the top, the water is so loud that the sounds of birds chirping and the rustling of wind through the trees is replaced by the sheer power of one of nature’s grandest displays.

The echoes of crashing water ring off of the cliff walls with a thunderous roar that seems to warn all to maintain a safe distance. Nature’s beauty is often seen from afar or with a proper zoom lens. When hiking this trail and other trails in the park, please be careful. Do not attempt to drink out of streams without filtering the water and be cautious where you step, as trails can be slippery.

A Yosemite Year – Photographer’s Almanac: February 2014

High up on the trail – above where the conifers start to cling to their purchase, and the cliffs begin to bend toward the sky – the low winter sun avoids any and all obstructions, a warming respite from the fervent chill lingering around Yosemite’s floor.   Down below, the recent flurries have colluded in the shadows to form a frozen tundra.  But up here, in council with the sun, the snow has already begun to melt – here yesterday, gone today – the promise of cascading ephemerals forming a garland of waterfalls around the valley rim.

Looking to the West from this vantage, the shoulder of El Capitan protrudes into view, and just off its lower eastern flank, the renowned ephemeral known as Horsetail Fall shows promise.  Beginning around Valentine’s Day, through President’s day and on into late February, this waterfall of contemporary legend begins its metamorphosis into “The Fire Fall.”  Between 5:00 PM and 5:45 PM (depending on the timing of your visit) the sun emblazons a narrow sliver of El Capitan with vibrant oranges, reds and pinks – the same sliver of cliff that Horsetail Fall happens to call home.  As a result, at sunset the waterfall (and only the waterfall) radiates the semblance of molten lava, as the neighboring granite walls withdraw into the dormant world of cool hued shadows.

However, for the waterfall to glow, conditions must be superb and not just “good.”  Typically, January and/or early February must be cold and wet (and if the current forecast plays out, and early February is indeed a wet one in Yosemite, circumstances may be ripe).  Added to this, during the window of time that the sun sets in the correct astronomical position, there must be clear skies in the far West over the Coastal Range of California (and not just clear skies over Yosemite).  Therefore, you cannot count on the event happening each and every day – if any day for that matter; an elusiveness that makes even those most veteran Yosemite photographer replete with anticipation.

This event has piqued the interest of many artists.  Photographers of record from Ansel Adams to (most famously) Galen Rowell, Keith S. Walklet and Michael Frye have made it a subject of their work – with arguably one of the most successful compositions being made in 1997 by Jeff Grandy.  Today, some come to photograph the fall, while others just come for the physical thrill of being a witness.  As time has progressed, it has even become a pilgrimage and social event where photographers congregate much earlier in the day to regale each other with stories of their travels and imagery, successes and failures, and future plans.  Then hopefully, at the end of the day, Horsetail Fall progresses through its motions, culminating in a flourish of colorful, liquid pageantry.  But if not, at least the now cold, soggy and perhaps nonplussed shutterbugs have experienced a veritable Photo-Con of Yosemite tradition; even eager and well-deserving of a warm meal back at The Mountain Room in Yosemite Lodge.

Now, back on the trail, today is wrapping up and the sun is commencing its final approach on the horizon.  It reclines on the back of The Cathedral Rocks, one last requiem for the day.  My camera made it out of the bag only a few times during the hike, recording very little of consequence.  But perhaps that is just as well, for February is here and the shutter will be frantic soon enough . . . and besides, all I can think about now are my fatigued legs and dinner at The Lodge.

*Please be safe and cautious while hiking in Yosemite National Park.  Take plenty of water, food and appropriate gear, clothing and footwear for everyone in your party – especially with consideration to the duration of your hike.  Trails can be hazardous regardless of length or amount of elevation gain.  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.  Never hike at night and/or in cold conditions without the proper gear.  Permits are required for any overnight stay.  Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.


Half Dome, Sunset Haze, Yosemite 2014
By Phillip Nicholas

Phillip Nicholas, Staff Photographer

The High Sierra Winter. These words evoke a feeling of deep contentment that resonates within my soul. I think about the bone-chilling nights that I have spent gazing out into the vast sky for a single glimpse of the crimson peaks as the sun sets on these magnificent monoliths. I think about the many nights I have spent huddled in my tent during a snowstorm waiting for the warm breathe of the early morning light. There is nothing in this universe that is quite like it – the peerless, white, snowcapped peaks extending as far as one can see, the wind-swept trees bending as if bowing to the greater power of the harsh winter, the gentle whispers of the chilling mountain air, and a silence that is both comforting and foreboding, a silence that beckons the artist.

Half Dome, Sunset Haze, Yosemite 2014 © by Phillip Nicholas – all rights reserved

During the winter months, the park goes mostly silent. The traffic dies down to a low rumble and faces become scarce in the expansive stretch of the valley. It is a wonderful time to be a photographer in Yosemite. The tripod holes of summer enthusiasts start to disappear and places that are as packed as any other summer beach become vacant. These are the times that I most enjoy photographing. Like my fellow artists, I also enjoy the views from Cook’s Meadow and Sentinel Bridge.  However, my favorite places are far away from any roads. As the weather gets colder and the park empties, I head out into the backcountry. It may take me a day or two to get to many of these spots, but I am rarely disappointed. I find that, the higher I go into the vastness of the Sierra, the more beautiful the light gets.

Recently, I stumbled across just such an example of beautiful light.  The accompanying photograph is taken from atop Mount Watkins during the first storm in February. Standing at 8,500 feet above sea level, the massive Mount Watkins offers outstanding views of Clouds’ Rest, the Clark Range, Half Dome, North Dome, Mount Starr King, and many more. As I stood on top of this enormous mountain, I watched the storm clouds build around me in every direction. I set up my tripod on the east side of the mountain to exemplify the sloping east face and add an interesting angle to the photograph. Just as the sun was setting, a few light and wispy clouds came into view and caught some of the vibrant orange light, creating a hazy effect. The hues changed from yellow to orange, and then from red to pink. I made this exposure just as the sun burst through a cloud system to the west, forming a hard line on the face of Half Dome and illuminating the sky a final time for the evening.

Getting to many of these locations requires a good sense of mountaineering and the ability to analyze a map. I would suggest packing a tent and camping at one of the designated use areas to spread the long hike out into a multi-day adventure. For a small fee, a backcountry permit can be acquired from the Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley.  The rangers will also be happy to provide some free maps and other useful tips. It is always a good idea to take an experienced guide with you if you are not familiar with the area, as the terrain can be extremely dangerous.


Young Cottonwood, Yosemite Valley
By Evan Russel


Evan Russel, Curator and Staff Photographer

I’m willing to admit it: I’m not much of a morning person. . . especially in winter.  As a photographer, this puts me in a bit of a quagmire.  And it makes any photographic success during the early parts of the day even more difficult to endorse.  This is due mostly to the fact that I know I should be out during those “artistic” hours, and that the light is magnanimous.  It is just that the outside, frozen world looks so uncompromising, and my heated Yosemite bungalow so cozy.

Last winter, the photographer in me woke up early one day, determined and well layered, to trace the banks of The Merced River.  A few weeks prior, I had been teaching a couple of eager visitors during one of The Ansel Adams Gallery’s guided photo sessions, and from our vantage point on the boardwalk, we noted the elegant light on the cottonwood trees right along the river’s edge.  We stayed and played a little while as the sun rose and shifted in the sky, but eventually had to leave in pursuit of a more comprehensive Yosemite experience.  Returning on my own time, and at a casual pace, I found several compositions worthy of consideration, compositions that compounded as the day progressed.

Young Cottonwood, Yosemite Valley © by Evan Russel – all rights reserved


About mid-way through my morning, while I stood on the north bank of the river near Swinging Bridge, I noticed “Young Cottonwood, Yosemite Valley.”  The sapling stood very resolute in the distance, backlit and regal on its plinth of brush.  Due to the distance between the subject and myself, a 300mm lens was required to crop accordingly.  Furthermore, this long focal length gave the added illusion of compressed space, exaggerated proportions and created a planar tapestry from the framework of cottonwood branches lingering in the shadows.  Symmetry was key to the organization of the space and to give weight to the main subject.  Therefore, much time was spent lining up the brush, young cottonwood and background branches to ensure a left/right balance without introducing extemporaneous pieces like a wayward foreground limb or a bright mottled sky behind the canopy.  Almost too much time in fact, as one minute after this exposure, light began to filter over the cliff and illuminate the entire scene, making the isolation of the young tree unfeasible.  Which just goes to show you, the early photographer gets the light – or perhaps, the right amount of light as the case may be.

Of all the exposures made that morning, “Young Cottonwood, Yosemite Valley” quickly became my favorite – although I have found myself in the darkroom revisiting other images made that day.  I find the bare trees, unable to hide their structural patterns behind a façade of leaves, full of photographic potential, and highly recommend their study for your next winter visit.

The Intimacy Of Changing Seasons, Yosemite National Park, 2014
By Michael Wise

Michael Wise, Staff Photographer

Recently, while guiding another photographer in Yosemite Valley, I was engaged in some interesting comments and conversation.

Chasing the winter light can be a fun adventure in Yosemite Valley. The sun is at a low access to the horizon and resides part of the day hidden behind the cliff walls. The south side of the valley remains in shade the majority of the day. And even though we have visions of being presented with amazing cloud formations and spiritual light beams, this surprisingly does not always occur, and brilliant blue skies prevail.

I accompanied an experienced photographer who traveled from his home in a warm temperate climate to Yosemite National Park. Unaccustomed to the snow, this gentleman anticipated the thrill of photographing landscapes in wintry conditions. Unfortunately, he was not afforded so much of the snowy scenery during his visit, as weather has been quite absent from the Sierra this year.  However, winter still presented its special charm.

Consequently, on this particular private photography guide, one involving relatively cloudless days, we found ourselves exploring the southern banks of the Merced River. Or, more appropriately stated, the thick ice leading into the water from the banks edge. We discovered many opportunities to photograph intimate landscapes: cracked ice patterns, water reflections, and frosted leaves for example.  And this is the setting that inspired some interesting thought.

The Intimacy Of Changing Seasons, Yosemite National Park, 2014

The Intimacy Of Changing Seasons, Yosemite National Park, 2014 © by Michael Wise – all rights reserved

Despite his participation and relative joy in this approach, my new friend stated that intimate landscape photography is somewhat “timid.”  Consider Ansel Adams, who encountered similar situations. Ansel writes about a time when he was photographing a very intimate subject and an honored friend questioned his purpose. This friend stated that the “abstract” landscape photograph had “no meaning,” and thus, no thrill of purpose.

I could elaborate, but perhaps that it best served in a future post. Instead, I will ask our readers for your thoughts concerning these statements and intimate landscapes. I wonder if there is “meaning” in the presented image.

Clearing Storm, Bridal Veil, Yosemite National Park
By Mike Reeves

Mike Reeves, Staff Photographer

It is said that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. In the case of photography, I would say that is usually the case during heavy storms here in Yosemite. A photographer can wait for hours for clouds to part or for the sun to come out.  But other times, as if on cue, you can simply pull up to a viewpoint and have the clouds magically part as soon as you arrive.

Clearing Storm, Bridal Veil, Yosemite National Park © by Mike Reeves – all rights reserved

This image was taken in February 2012 as several small storms made their way through the valley. A couple of days before, the mountains were free of snow but all of a sudden the forecasts changed and storm systems brought colder temperatures and snowy conditions. Because of Yosemite’s tall cliffs, we often see drastic change in temperatures during storms, which can quickly cause fog to linger. As I was waiting for the right moment at Tunnel View, El Capitan was relatively clear but Bridalveil Fall started to become enshrouded by a persistent cloudbank. Over about 2 hours, two storm cells passed through the area. After each, the view was completely clogged by a soupy fog. The few people that remained waiting at Tunnel View were determinedly pointing their cameras directly into what amounted to a white abyss!

Trying to be patient during a storm is often easier said than done. The snow is wet, the wind is cold, and hoping the storm clears can often be little more than a pipe dream. However, on this occasion, the clouds parted to reveal Bridalveil Fall highlighted within successive layers of clouds and mist, as The Three Graces loomed above, dusted with fresh snow. Most of the crowd had left, and those that had waited were rewarded with this classic scene revealing itself one more time.  So I encourage one and all to be resilient (shy of being foolish), as they hope for The shot.

Yosemite Artwork, the Soul and Spirit of the Park

Moon Dome, North Dome by Penny Otwell

Moon Dome, North Dome by Penny Otwell

Yosemite is steeped in tradition, mythology, ceremony and adventure.  This is the soul and spirit of the park – the water sings it, the granite walls echo it, and the animals steward it.  And behind the semblance of rigid sentinels, it is in habitual flux, walking the trail between repose and renewal.  Each and every visitor encounters this spirit – confirmed by the stories we share back home, and by any wish we may have to return.  However, to interpret such a delicate subject can sometimes prove more challenging.

Artist Penny Otwell has been both a participant and witness of Yosemite, the product of a long-term and candid relationship with the Sierra, and evidenced by her inclusion in the recent book, Art of the National Parks, published through The University of New Mexico Press.  Her approach seems to find solace in the familiar Change that the park embodies.  New materials and ways of seeing a subject are very much in play during studio and en plein air sessions, where forces of nature exact their influence on the paint.  In the end, Penny’s canvases and watercolors don’t merely quote the spirit of Yosemite, but are in constant dialogue with it, as her roaring rivers, cavorting cliffs, rising moons, sensuous seasons and sincere wildlife reveal an intimate world that only a kindred spirit could communicate.

Selections from Penny’s new work have recently been added to The Ansel Adams Gallery website. Some pieces are also currently on display in our Yosemite gallery.  I invite you to please view the site, or come visit us in the park to see this passionate work in person.

Happy travels,

Evan Russel


The Ansel Adams Gallery

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