I recently took a trip to Yosemite with my good friend Carl. I had never been there and didn’t realize how close it was to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Road trip!
It was hard for me to go to Yosemite and not think of Ansel Adams. I don’t typically work in that style but I do enjoy his photographs and his books very much. Most everything he knew is in a book of some sort and his Zone System is the gold standard for black and white exposure, processing and printing. It’s also hard to go to Yosemite and not notice Half Dome or walk away without a picture of it. Our campground was just below Half Dome’s base.
The photograph was taken from Glacier Point and is fairly simple and straightforward; it does help immensely that the subject is so striking. What was fascinating was the number of people doing the same thing. I’m guessing that there were about 250 people standing beside me, behind me and in front of me. All kinds of cameras and lenses were being used, from view cameras to cell phone cameras. If you do a search on Flickr for “Yosemite” and/or “Half Dome” and then refine the search further by date (10/9/09 through 10/12/09) you can see I wasn’t alone up there and that we all have very different results.
Ansel Adams’ versions are much more dramatic and, after visiting Yosemite, it’s easy to see why he printed his photographs the way he did. The grandeur of the park is amazing and the vistas are long and wide. You can see Half Dome from almost everywhere in the valley and when the setting sun hits the face it becomes even more beautiful.
The photograph was made with my Pentax K20D, digitally, and not with a view camera, as would have been appropriate in true west coast landscape fashion. I didn’t pull out my spot meter and expose using Zone System calculations either, instead using my camera’s auto-bracket function to get a good range of exposures once I had the basics down. While I haven’t printed the image yet, I know what I want already. I decided to tone it warm, not in cooler selenium. The sky wasn’t doing much but I liked the way the light struck just below the dome, creating a sliver of light roughly the inverse shape of the dome.
If you want to hone your technique, pick up one of Ansel Adams’ books. I have The Negative, The Print and The Camera in addition to Examples, the Making of 40 Photographs and his auto-biography. I’ve learned a lot from these books and continue to refer to them, as I did after I returned from Yosemite this week. Also, it’s important to remember how much of an appreciation Adams had for nature; it shows in his photographs.