Yosemite in Autumn 2017 Trip Report

By Kevin McNeal on Dec 04, 2017

The 2017 Yosemite in Autumn tour was a photo adventure to one of the most spectacular parks in the US to witness the fall colors. The national park is renowned for its impressive granite cliffs, endless waterfalls and giant sequoia groves. But in late October, Yosemite changes its colors to reveal vibrant fall foliage. This element only adds to the already stunning scenery. In autumn, the brilliant color is reflected in the Merced River flowing through the Yosemite Valley.
 
During our time in Yosemite we were able to explore all the areas of the park that make it so unique. Each morning, the group photographed sunrise from a different location. Each place not only provided something compositionally, but offered a variety of vantage points for shooting Half Dome or El Capitan. During our time in the park, we were able to not just photograph the “main attractions,” but we also captured a few sunrises at much lesser known locations with beautiful views of El Capitan and the Three Brothers.
 
yosemite-2017-trip-report-1.jpgFor our first sunrise shoot, we photographed reflections of the granite cliffs in the Merced River. This year it was unusually calm in most sections of the river, which made for spectacular reflections. Because of the soaring height of the cliffs, first light is the idyllic time to photograph. For this reason, everybody in the group looked for vantage points along the river with views of both the fall leaf color and reflections of the cliffs.
 
The group also took time to explore the more intimate details for macro images of the fall foliage. The combination of color and texture found in these smaller elements in the park created ideal conditions for macro photography. Following sunrise, we explored the park, particularly concentrating on the diversity of the Yosemite’s trees. The varied textures of the bark made for unique black-and-white images.
 
Every year, I find it fascinating how a group of photographers can photograph at the same location at the same time—and yet come away with completely different images. This year, several photographers in the group devoted their time to capturing something that was completely different. Rather than just photographing the iconic mountain views, some participants made an effort to photograph views of Yosemite you usually don't see. At the end of each photography session it was great to get together and compare our images.
 
yosemite-2017-trip-report-2.jpgOne of the main points I encourage photographers to strive for when shooting is to tell a story with each image. Yosemite will mean different things to different people. As a photographer, it's essential we connect with something in the image that allows us to photograph it in a way that's unique to the photographer. I encourage everyone to find out what that connection is for them. The images photographed while on this tour demonstrated such a wide variety of different elements, yet each was meaningful to the individual photographer. While the group visited many locations within Yosemite that have been photographed before, I encouraged everyone to find completely new compositions and new points of view.
 
While the photographic elements within Yosemite are second to none, what each photographer must learn to do is to tell a story with the quality of the light that is present at a particular time. One of the more memorable moments this year occurred during a stormy afternoon. The weather forecast was calling for showers and overcast skies. As we headed out that afternoon we all noticed the unusual light and the storm clouds that were forming. Because of the inclement weather, the park had become very quiet due to the lack of other people. It was in this stormy moment that, as a group, we really captured the essence of what it was like to experience Yosemite. Often, in nature, it is the moments like these that make us really appreciate the opportunity to photograph in such beautiful locations.
 
yosemite-2017-trip-report-3.jpgNot only is light critical to photographing Yosemite, but also the combination of the light with the atmospheric conditions. When light is combined with unique conditions, such as fog and mist, the mood of the scenery is raised to a whole new spectrum.
 
Because of the time of year, the temperatures are lower and thus fog and mist were quite common in the mornings. The colorful autumn meadows of Yosemite mixed with early morning frost and mist made for ethereal atmospheric conditions. Many of our early mornings were spent exploring the park for interesting elements, such as trees that look fantastic in the fog. On a few occasions throughout the week we were even treated with “sunrays” shining through the trees onto the frost.
 
What makes Yosemite National Park so special for photography is the fact that it's always changing. Conditions are always different due to light, weather and time of year.
It is up to each photographer to create personal images that connect with those changing elements.