Most of the wildlife sightings in Yosemite last week were fleeting. We saw a few deer crossing the road; we watched ravens scavenging; we heard the sounds of pileated and acorn woodpeckers and nothing more. But, on our last morning as we pulled to the side of the road to photograph from one of the famous photographic viewpoints of Half Dome that Ansel Adams used, a coyote in its thick winter coat was so intent on capturing its morning meal, a small rodent tunneling below ground, that our presence was not noticed. We were closer to these coyotes than we were to the wolf kill in Yellowstone, only a hundred feet or so. When Sadie, Moose’s English Beagle who accompanied us on the trip, let out a loud bugling bark from the van where she was confined. I captured the look of the coyote as it turned its head to see where the threatening sound had come from.
Bridalveil Fall is so-named because when the fall is at its peak in spring and early summer, the winds push the spray out in such a way as to mimic a bride’s veil. Although precipitation in the valley has been slight this year, the winds whipping the spray from the falls still created frozen patches of ice and snow that are reminiscent of a white veil. We hiked up the steep icy path to the base of the falls and were treated to another spectacular and iconic view in Yosemite Valley.
We stayed in the Yosemite Valley Lodge which is steps away from Yosemite Falls. I used a 6 stop neutral density filter to slow the shutter speed to blur the water on both upper and lower Yosemite Falls in this photograph. Because of the harsh sunlight, I rendered the final image in black and white. The wind blows the water and the water vapor freezes to the granite walls overnight, making a unique pattern on either side of the falls the changes daily. As the sun warms the rock, huge chunks break off with a resounding boom.
Yosemite National Park is gorgeous every season of the year. In winter, it is even more gorgeous with its stunning vistas covered in snow. On our second morning, after a day of snowfall, we visited Yosemite’s Tunnel View area (the tunnel was behind us but this view can be appreciated through the tunnel, hence, the vista’s name). On the left, El Capitan is kissed by the first rays of sunlight to hit its face. In the back is Half Dome and to the right, just out of view is Bridalveil Falls.
I’m calling this blog post The Kiss because not only is the face of El Capitan “kissed” with the first gorgeous rays of morning sunlight, but when I took the photograph and later on when I finished the photograph, I was reminded of Moose Peterson’s general philosophy of photography, the K.I.S.S. theory: Keep it simple, stupid. When I took this photograph, I was standing next to Moose and we discussed the major problem with the scene which was the bald skies which would draw the eye away from the real subject of the photograph, the kiss of light on El Capitan and the reflected kiss on the granite opposite it.
K.I.S.S. is something I struggle with every day with my photography. And, after five years of experience with Moose, even knowing his philosophy, I still struggle and I always seem to make things more complicated than they need to be. When we had our first Digital Darkroom session during the Yosemite workshop, I once again struggled with how to make this photograph exhibit the beauty it deserved. It took quite a while for Moose to extract the correct approach to finishing the photograph from me that would convey the emotion I felt when I witnessed this scene. And, it was a deceptively simple fix, right in line with his K.I.S.S. theory. When I first looked at the RAW file, I did not like the photograph and told Moose I didn’t have much of an emotional response to it. After Moose stopped beating his head against the grand and gigantic historic granite fireplace in the storied Awahnee Hotel (now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) where he conducted the DD session, he patiently extracted from me the simple steps needed to create the beauty it deserved. I won’t go into detail about this except to say that it took just a few “simple clicks” as Moose is wont to say. And, the most important click was to change the white balance using the white balance selector tool in Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw. Once I selected a patch of white snow, the warm colors suddenly appeared, reflecting the stunning morning light that created this photograph and it came to life. Yes, this photograph does represent the KISS in more ways than one.
One of Montana’s nicknames is “Big Sky Country.” And, while Yellowstone is partly in Montana, most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming where I took this photograph. I think those “Big Skies” claimed by Montana extend well into Wyoming. After I converted this photograph to black and white using a Luminar 2018 preset, I thought the clouds became much more dramatic and so the “big sky” analogy seemed to fit perfectly.
Most of our days in Yellowstone last month were gray, snowy, and colorless—great for black and white photography but there were not many opportunities for colorful landscapes when we weren’t at one of the geyser basins with their colorful mineral and algae displays. The one exception was on our second day. Shortly after we entered the park, we pulled over and slogged through knee deep snow to the edge of the Madison River and were treated to a glorious sunrise complete with god beams. Or, maybe I should say, complete with god beam. There was a single beam that shined straight up from the rising sun. The god beams in this photograph had a little help from Luminar 2018.
After they had rested and their stomachs had begun to digest their earlier feast , the Yellowstone wolf pack returned to the bison kill and gnawed on the remains.
I love watching the Winter Olympics. The sports are so different from the mundane football, basketball, and baseball with which we are inundated on a daily basis and, so much more elegant. I marvel at the dazzle of the skaters, the grit of the boarders, the grace of the skiers, and the courage of the sledders. The sports of the Winter Olympics are so unique and so difficult and I am captivated by them all.
In the midst of the cold, snow-banked Madison River in Yellowstone last month, this pair of Tundra Swans paddled by ever so elegantly. While their leisurely swim by was not comparable to a Winter Olympic sport, their simple movements were effortless and I was captivated by them, too.
I just can’t get enough of the wolves that I photographed in Yellowstone. As I continue to review my images (I took almost 4000) I keep finding gems that I didn’t notice the first (or second or third) time through. The young wolves playing together were the most captivating to watch. Of course I took lots of them gnawing on the bison carcass but those aren’t nearly as appealing as those of the wolves just being, well, the big dogs that they are (gray wolves are Canis Lupus and domestic dogs are Canis Lupus Familiaris.
In the first hour of the first morning on my recent visit to Yellowstone National Park, we stopped to photograph this lone tree just off Highway 191 which is the main road that parallels the Madison River into the park. It was barely light with heavy overcast when we stopped about 8AM. There was banter about this being a potential Christmas card photograph. Since I haven’t sent any Christmas cards in more than 20 years, it is doubtful that this would ever become a Christmas card. Consider this a (very) early Christmas greeting.