Here in California, we do not have the autumn hues to rival New Hampshire or Colorado. Nevertheless, the Sierra Nevada mountain range attracts a good number of photographers and seekers of fall colors every autumn. Yosemite Valley, situated on the western slopes of the Sierras has its own display, thanks to the Black Oaks, Maple, Cottonwoods and Dogwoods, which flourish here. Apart from these, there is the famous Elm tree in Cook’s meadow, which in peak color offers a memorable light show at sunrise and I believe it to be the most photographed Elm in the world.
During my recent visit to Yosemite, I found the Elm has withered. So I decided to walk 0.5 miles upstream along the Merced River from Sentinel Bridge and photograph the cottonwoods beneath Half Dome with their reflections (one of my favorite spots). The scene came to life as soon as the Sun crested a cliff and backlit the cottonwoods, which were close to their peak color.
After making the above image, I walked couple of steps to the left and opted for a vertical composition to include some leaves on the river bank. Using a small aperture allowed me to keep sharp focus across the frame.
The above four tree species usually do not turn together and as a result, fall color in Yosemite can linger for a couple of weeks. In some years, an early winter storm juxtaposes the whites (snow) with gold (clash of seasons) and can lead to unique photo opportunities. On the downside, early storms can damage lot of leaves and bring an abrupt end to the fall season. I have seen cottonwoods shedding their leaves without turning at couple of occasions. Typically, Yosemite Valley has sunny, pleasant days with cold nights during the autumn season. Often, early morning frost and mist can be spotted in meadows and forests, both of which make an excellent subject to photograph.
Visitors who have only experienced Yosemite in the spring season are in for a real surprise. There are no roaring waterfalls (Yosemite falls dries almost completely), the Merced River has the lowest water level and the crowds have thinned considerably. The quiet waters of Merced River give rise to beautiful reflections and a hike around the river in autumn can fill your memory card really fast.
Hiking for about 45 minutes from Yosemite Lodge, I found a really picturesque scene along the Merced river. After a few failed compositions, I opted for a 3 image stitched panorama, which worked really well in the end.
Many granite cliffs do not receive either the morning or evening sunlight in Yosemite and in autumn their blue hues act as perfect contrasts to the yellow, backlit leaves of oaks and cottonwoods. Cook’s meadow, El Capitan meadow, Sentinel bridge area and Swinging bridge area are good places to look for such warm-cool juxtapositions that help create unique images.
In my recent trip to Yosemite, I really wanted to photograph back lit glowing trees against the blue hues of the cliffs in shade and after half a day of search, I eventually got what I wanted. These cottonwoods lined perfectly along the still Merced River while the sheer cliff served as the desired backdrop.
Soft, even lighting can be easily found in autumn in Yosemite Valley, thanks to the sheer granite cliffs and low angles sun. In such situations, I look for colors and textures to come alive and can potentially shoot almost all day without worrying about harsh light. Bridalveil creek, beneath Bridalveil Falls and the intersection of highway 120 and 140 are two such places among numerous others.
Clear sky makes autumn a good season for night sky watching as well as for photographing Yosemite Valley in moonlight. Car lights and jet trails are always a nuisance in the Valley if one is shooting in the night. I tend to make shorter exposures (< 5 min) and usually use a lens hood to get around these issues. Many short exposures can be later stacked in Photoshop to create longer star trails if desirable.
Yosemite Valley in autumn is really picturesque and is a real treat for someone looking for unique images in addition to the Yosemite classics. The play of light and land in this distinctive valley has always left me mesmerized and compels me to visit it repeatedly in every season. Next in my list is to catch Yosemite Valley in an early winter storm with peak fall color as well as photograph those red Dogwoods, which somehow have always eluded me. Maybe next fall, I will get lucky.
Superb images Vaibhav !!
Awesome photos and ideas. I particularly appreciated your tips about backlit fall colour and juxtaposing cool shaded backgrounds – Thanks!
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I learned a lot from you website.
I want to know have you used polarizer for take inverted images?
Particularly the first, the third and the fourth photo.
For these photos, can you please disclose more details during the shooting? (e.g. time, camera and lens settings)
Thank you very much!
I am glad you liked the photos and thanks for visiting my website. Now to your questions:
Yes, I used a polarizer for the reflection images. You need to be a bit careful as a polarizer can also get rid of reflections. Digital helps you there as you can bracket polarizer settings :)
Most of the reflection images were made when the scene was in shade, i.e. no direct sunlight on water.
First image: Dusk, 5 minutes after sunset, D700, Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR, f/8, 1.6 sec, 20mm
Third image: Sunrise, D700, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 ai, f/16 (for sunstar), 1/20 sec
Fourth image: Sunrise, D700, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 ai, f/16 (for dof), 1/20 sec
Hope this helps. Thanks!
I will try on next shooting trip.
Thank you for detail information! :)
Can I have your email?
Please send me a message from here: www.lyricaloutdoors.com/contact.html
and I will respond with my email address.
Beautiful pictures Vaibhav. Would you mind tellilng what size lens you used please? I am making some decisions about wide angle lenses and this information would help. Thank you.
I used Nikon D700 with the following lenses:
16-35mm f/4 VR, 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VR, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 ai (manual focus), Nikon 55mm f/2.8 ai (manual focus) and Nikon 35mm f/2 af-d. Apart from these, I used Polarizers and grad-neutral density filters.
I hope this helps. Thanks.
Which of those lenses did you use for the second photo? I cant get a decent star effect from Any of my Nikon lenses. I dont know whats different. When I had Canon equipment I had no issue with it, but when I changed over to Nikon a couple years ago, this was something I immediately noticed.
I used the 35mm f/2 af-d for that image. The 16-35mm f/4 has rounded diaphragm so the stars are not that great. Nikon’s older manual focus lenses have straight diaphragms and make beautiful sunstars.
Thanks for the info!
Great images…more than color makes a good photo.
I love your post processing . Can you teach me how do you do the post processing for this kind because your post processing is same as Fuji Velvia film. Please call me at 714-665-4274 or email me. If you can do webinar that will be great too.
I never tried to achieve the Velvia look. I just like shadows in my images and try to find scenes that have striking shadows and make sure that the final rendition is close to what I saw in my ‘mind’s eye’. Not over processed, not too saturated etc. Most of the processing is done in Lightroom followed by local edits in Photoshop using Nick Viveza and dodging/burning.
Gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing.
As both a climber and a landscape photography enthusiast I am simply going to have to visit Yosemite at some stage!
I am glad you liked the photos.
This is going to sound nit picky but in a lot of your photos their seems to be a reddish color cast. Other than that, and it IS nit picky, they’re pretty good.
I am glad you liked the photos. Is your monitor color calibrated. Let me know, in which photos you see the reddish cast as I do not see any in my TIFFS here. Is it the Adobe RGB vs SRGB conversion?
Yosemite-in-Autumn-3.jpg appears to have a lot of reddish-orange. A lot of the others do, to a lesser degree. I’m going by the sky since, having never been to Yosemite, I can’t accurately judge the other elements. A few of them appear to be correct. I know a lot of people intentionally warm up autumn photos to bring out the leaves but I don’t like to do that globally. I prefer to boost the individual hues. Hopefully, I’ll get out there some day and verify your colors are correct and the issue was my monitor but, I’ll probably forget all about it when surrounded by such amazing scenery…
My monitor is color calibrated, though I haven’t updated it in a few months.
I plan to go there 2015 so I start doing my homework. If you want information, pls go to this website www.tripadvisor.com….and type up Yosemite. You will get everything you want to know.
Great shots. Beautiful colors. Yosemite is one of my favorite parks next to Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for looking. I am glad you liked the images.