Misty Sunrise from Tunnel View by Kirk KeelerKirk Keeler, Staff Photographer
From time to time, I will do some pre-planning to be in the right place at the right time to capture a natural phenomenon, such as a full moon rising behind a certain peak like Half Dome or Cathedral Peak. Using software, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, or Apps like Michael Frye’s Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, help me make educated decisions about what time to be in a location and where I should be standing in order to have that sun or moon in near perfect positioning with the Yosemite icon of my choice. Sometimes, I’ll even double check my positioning with an old-school 7.5 minute topo map. It’s all part of the joy of trying to make real what I see in my mind as a nice composition.
Other times – Let’s say more times than most – a composition presents itself in the moment. Ansel used to say, “Luck favors the prepared mind”, meaning that all the day-to-day practice behind the camera, getting quicker and quicker at maneuvering the dials, buttons and focus, will pay off when a glorious moment presents itself. One of those moments came for me on April 8th, 2013, on my way to work early in the morning.Misty Sunrise from Tunnel View by Kirk Keeler – All Rights Reserved
I was driving into Yosemite Valley via the southern entrance, Hwy. 41. I began my drive just as the eastern horizon was lighting up – a little before 6:30am. About an hour later I got to the long tunnel, a long gauntlet for many a visitor, which is rewarded on the other side with one of the world’s most wondrous views – Yosemite Valley unfolds instantly before the eyes! It had snowed the night before and the storm and its clouds were lifting.
I instantly made the left turn into the Tunnel View parking lot, seeing that the conditions were exciting for photography. I quickly got out of my car with my gear and ran over to the lookout, setting up the tripod in my favorite spot. After about ten minutes of picture taking, I noticed that an area above Bridalveil Fall was getting very bright – a signal to me that the sun would be rising there any second. I quickly repositioned the camera and almost instantly the sun began to rise. I visualized having a sunburst effect emanating from the sun, requiring the aperture to be set at its biggest number, which for my lens was f22. I bracketed my exposures, in the event that I would need to use HDR to improve the detail in post processing the final photograph. The hardest part was constantly adjusting my shutter speed as the sun rose to maintain the correct exposure. It happened very vast and within a few minutes, the sun had fully risen and the clouds had dramatically changed, completely altering the feel of the scene.
April can be a very diverse month, weather-wise, in Yosemite Valley. Within one week, the Valley can experience a snow storm, then 75 degree temperatures within days. Visitation is just starting to ramp up, depending on when spring breaks and Easter happen. If you want the chance of a snowstorm like I have photographed, perhaps plan your visit for early April. If you do, show up to Tunnel View on April 8th and the sun should rise right where I photographed it. Make sure you have your tripod just to the right of the NPS interpretive sign. If you’re a few days late – no problem! Just move more to the right and you should line up just as I have. Pay attention to the tall, flat-topped tree on the right edge of my photo. Moving too far to the right might put it directly in front of Bridalveil fall! If you come around April 1st, try setting up to the left of the interpretive sign. Above all, look for the bright glow in the neighborhood of the middle peak of the Three Graces and adjust your position the moment the sun rises.
Tunnel View is about a 15 – 20 minute drive from Yosemite Village. Get onto Northside drive and follow the exit signs towards Hwy 41/Wawona/Glacier Point. Tunnel View is about 2 miles from the entrance to Bridalveil Fall. In early April, you most likely will have the view to yourself, plus a few staff photographers from The Ansel Adams Gallery!