Two From Tuolumne:
For this Unique Print Offer, I
have selected a pair of images from the Tuolumne River. Both of these images
were made on extended “First Light” backcountry expeditions with my good
friends and fellow photographers Charles Cramer, Karl Kroeber, Scot Miller and
Mike Osborne. The good company, unhurried pace and lengthy immersion
in the wilderness that the expeditions provide are a wonderful recipe for
The two images share some common
characteristics, but, I selected them as much for their contrasts as their
similarities. “Backlit Cascade, Tuolumne River” is a classic view of the
Yosemite backcountry captured in 2011. A broad, literal portrait of the area,
it celebrates the energy and delicate beauty that to me, define the Tuolumne
The second image, a detail of
the convoluted surface of the river, was captured last year, and is far less
about the location, and more about the special conditions which provided the
wild color and surprising shapes.
Backlit Cascade, Tuolumne
I had hiked for a couple of
hours in the brightening dawn to arrive at this spot before any direct light
was falling on any of the elements. I was rewarded for my efforts with two
hours to explore the photographic possibilities before this moment arrived. It
was literally a moment, as the sun rose over the ridge and the angle of its
light matched that of the granite slope, backlighting the hurtling water.
The extra time that preceded the
light show was an opportunity to work with the lower dynamic range of open
shade, which is much easier to record than when there is a mix of direct and
indirect light. Though I had a target shutter speed in mind, I played with
alternatives to see how they were rendered.
The extra time was also an
opportunity to just enjoy the beauty of the hypnotic water without the camera,
calming my inner self and opening me up to creative possibilities. As the day
brightened and the trees of the distant ridge were illuminated, I set up for
the image I was there to capture.
Success with moving elements can
be elusive. The pulses of water, though continual, do not occur at regular
intervals, nor do they hold the exact same shape and location. So there is a
bit of planning and a bit of luck.
One by one, elements lit up.
Once the light illuminated the closest rooster tail of water, the section of
rock behind it remained in shadow for less than a minute before I lost the
contrast that was essential to the scene. In that minute, I was able to capture
just three frames of the pulsing water with the “personality” I hoped for. At ¼
of a second, the highlights of the backlit water were stretched into silver,
hair-like strands. This was my favorite of the three
Fire and Water, 2014
This image was a fortunate
juxtaposition of circumstances. After a week in the wilderness, our group was
en route to a new campsite, having broken camp after our dawn photographic
session. The packers had arrived and loaded our gear onto mules while we set
off cross-country to get there ahead of them.
Even though our trips are
usually in late September, midday light typically does not offer many
photographic opportunities, so the decision whether or not to carry one’s
photographic equipment or leave it for the packers to transport is a personal
one. It seems that I never seem to be able to hike without my gear, fearing
that somehow, there will be something I would miss out on capturing.
Truthfully, this has rarely been the case, as I can probably count on one hand
the meaningful images I’ve made while en route midday from one camp to another.
This day was different.
It was a windy day and the route
was difficult. If one had asked me whether I was happy to be carrying my
equipment 45 minutes earlier, I would have probably cursed in reply. But, on
this day, the Meadow Complex Fire started on the slopes below Half Dome. Our
group could see the mushroom cloud of smoke rise above the canyon wall of the
Tuolumne as we hiked, and collectively we were wondering what was burning.
The cloud of smoke rose in a
towering plume, expanded, and then obscured the sun. Ash rained on us and the
light took on a copper hue. Suddenly, I was very happy to be carrying my full
photographic pack. The glacially-polished cliffs of the Grand Canyon of the
Tuolumne reflected the orange light like mirrors and the river looked more like
lava than water.
At this spot, the turbulent water
of a cascade spread out into a quieter section of river creating a visual
contrast of flowing water with that of the irregular shapes of the surface of
the river reflecting the copper sky. At first I worked with the just the
undulating copper surface with faster shutter speeds to freeze the shapes that
occur in fractions of a second. Then I shifted to the relationship between the
cascade and specular highlights, using a slower shutter speed to extend the
point light sources into lines--white feathery lines for the cascade, copper
scribbles for the specular highlights. As I captured this image, I was thinking
about the relationship between fire and water, the colors present and the
similarity of the shapes of the cascade with those of flame.