How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains! - John Muir
Often, when looking to properly express the emotions I feel having been to the mountains, I find that Muir has said it best. I had the good fortune of taking my camera around the Yosemite valley a bit this past weekend and will have many a photograph to share as time goes on. For now, I will leave with you this one, simple frame I made from a favorite spot and an anecdote (after the photo). Scroll all the way to the end of this post to read about the workshops!
Live (and photograph) in the now.
Photography is a strange brew of pre-visualizing the photograph to be made and then reacting to the curve-balls that nature throws our way. When I first began taking photographs - I would try so hard to visualize exactly what the image would look like and then would focus on making that mental image a real one. As I have gotten better, I've realized that this attempt is rarely, if ever, successful. Instead, the best photographs are the result of matching a preconceived photographic concept with the constraints of reality.
For example, I decided the night before I made this photograph that, the rising sun being somewhat north in the sky this time of year and the view from the Tunnel View pullout almost due east, I could get a great frame of the sun peering around the massive, granite cathedral walls of Yosemite. I didn't know exactly where the sun would peek out and I wasn't sure the concept would work at all - but I headed along the Wawona road prior to sunrise, idea in head, ready to react. The reality of sunrise from Tunnel View did not exactly match the image in my head - but the main elements were all there. Importantly, however, the best light was just before the sun popped out from behind El Capitan, something I didn't expect. The valley was a little foggy and the chilly, early morning mist made for incredible, diffuse light. Amber rays streamed along the length of the valley and illuminated the dewy pine needles and the face of Half Dome. Those little moments where you see something so awesome yet unexpected are what make the journey (not to mention the dragging-your-ass-out-of-bed-before-the-sun) of photography so worth it!
While I was making this image and basking in the splendor of it - a few other photographers were experiencing it in their own way. One very nice fellow had been there since well before the sun had come up - and another, like me, arrived right before the show began. At some point, like-minded and like-interested people get around to talking shop. I gathered that the other late-arrival had some experience as a photographer. He began telling his neighbor that, "Well, this is a good spot for photographs and the sunrise was nice, but I really prefer there to be clouds in the sky."
Now, this photographer was nice enough and I'm sure a stand-up guy, but this attitude is the antithesis of a successful one for photography (especially nature photography). At the very least, this attitude ensures that you will rarely, if ever, be in love with the photographs you make. The world is messy and non-uniform, and one must be flexible to react appropriately and make something beautiful photographically. I assume this photographer meant that his photographs might be better if there had been some clouds in the sky. What he might not realize, however, is that, had there been clouds, the conditions that made for those big, beautiful sheets of golden sunlight permeating the valley would not exist. The clear sky overnight meant the Earth radiated an enormous amount of heat and, as warmer, moister air settled over the valley, the ground cooled it so that misty formed. Moreover, had their been clouds, sunrise might have been behind a cloud entirely, it might have been raining, etc etc. All I can say for sure is, it wouldn't have been as it was in reality. So, what I heard when he said that was, "This amazing, beautiful, jaw-dropping and inspiring sunrise that I was privileged enough to witness, well it was okay. I mean it would have been awesome if there were clouds, but then I would probably also want there to be a black bear fighting an elk in the middle of the frame as that large tree on the right were being struck by lightning during a day-time meteor shower."
You only go around once, there's no after, no rapture - some people never see Yosemite, let alone from Tunnel View with a camera at sunrise. Reality and life's surprises are always more splendid than our paltry imaginations. And that is the heart of the matter. Do you want to react and participate photographically in reality, or are you merely after a very particular photograph, doomed to forever be disappointed by glorious nature when it doesn't line up with your expectations? Live in the now - enjoy what is and free yourself from the burden of wanting to order the world in your own way.
Photography workshops, Saturday, June 25th and Saturday, July 30th.
Last year, before I left Chicago, I ran a few photography workshops and had a blast doing so. I had about 12 participants in all and we had a wonderful time making some photographs around the city and learning about how to improve composition, exposure and processing for cityscape and landscape photography. I have managed to stay in contact with a few of those people and follow their photographic work and have remained available to answer their questions ever since that workshop. All in all, it was a really fun experience and I want to repeat that success out here in California. These workshops are going to be hosted on 6/25/2011 and 7/30/2011 in a few of my favorite spots along the San Francisco coast. We will probably head to the area along Ocean Beach, Lands End and end up somewhere where we can get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I'll be sharing more and more details as we go forward, but to give you a general impression, we will focus on effective visualization and composition through a few exercises at home before the workshop and in the field during. We will then focus on getting perfect exposure and how to capture images for HDR processing. I structure these workshops so that everyone from the very novice to the experienced photographer will find them entertaining and useful. Each workshop will have an optional, additional session that will cover exactly how I process my photographs, this is really useful for those of you interested in using HDR effectively. After the workshop, we will stay in communication via a Google Group forum so that you can share experiences with one another and ask questions if you've forgotten something or want some advice.
Price is $200 for workshop, $250 with post-processing portion. Bring a friend and you'll both get $50 off (you will also get $50 for each additional friend you bring, i.e. bring three friends and they each pay $200 for both workshop and post-processing session and you pay $100). The goal is to have fun and connect and learn together, so I will aim for a group big enough to have fun and small enough that we all get to work together directly.
Register by filling out the form below or by sending me an email with your name and which date would work for you! If you are signing up with a friend - just send me a note or put that information into the "Questions/comments" section in the form below. Hope to see you in June or July!