By Kevin McNeal
The 2015 Yosemite in Spring photo tour began with expectations of lush green landscapes, spring-fed waterfalls and endless bloom of dogwoods—and Yosemite did not disappoint. After meeting my group at the Fresno airport we made the journey north through Wawona and into Yosemite National Park. En route we took the opportunity to look at a few of the anticipated highlights of the park. Our accommodation for the week at Yosemite Lodge was nestled right in the heart of the valley, so we would have access to many locations that were a short distance away.
Our first photo session was special as it was a night with a full moon and the anticipation of moonbow photography. This event occurs as a full moon in spring or early summer shines directly on a rushing waterfall to create a nighttime lunar rainbow. Mist from the waterfall, a dark sky, bright moonlight and the right “rainbow geometry” must all come together. Following dinner, our group was at Lower Yosemite Falls to see the rainbow and get good images of this spectacular event.
The following morning we were at Ahwahnee Lodge for breakfast and enjoyed some time to photograph the classic lodge in its stunning setting among blooming dogwoods. Photographing the interior of the lodge gave us a chance to practice some creative photo techniques. Later, returning to Yosemite Falls, we found some unique compositions and practiced our skills using a neutral density filter to photograph long exposures on the waterfall to create a different mood. Following lunch, El Capitan Bridge provided many opportunities for shooting reflections in the Merced River. The river was running very nicely considering California’s drought conditions. The lush green vegetation was better than expected and provided some nice backgrounds. At sunset we continued our exploration of reflections by shooting images of Half Dome in the Merced River near Chapel Meadow.
Starting out very early the next morning we drove to Tahiti Beach, a special spot along the Merced. It was a good morning for reflections in the river and in spring-fed pools and we were treated to stunning light on the Three Brothers and iconic El Capitan.
After a well-deserved late breakfast, we took a park shuttle bus—exciting for everyone as it was reminiscent of summer camp—to Mirror Lake. Taking our time hiking the 2-mile trip to the lake and back, we stopped along the way to photograph waterfall cascades. The lake provided some of the best photographic opportunities we had, including numerous unique reflections.
After dinner that day we headed out to the stone arch of Pohono Bridge to photograph spring dogwoods and sun stars. This gave us some good practice using creative techniques. We focused on both the dogwoods and a sun star to really capture both in the same image. We were even able to shoot some stunning late light under the Pohono Bridge. In the last two days we had found some incredible photographic compositions along the Merced River.
Still excited from the night before and the images we shot, the following day we looked for more interesting compositions at the Swinging Bridge which spans both sides of the Merced River. Here, the sunrise light hits Upper Yosemite Falls and reflects nicely in the river, making everything around it look lusciously green. We took the morning to shoot at a spot we found where we could photograph in all directions—and had something different to shoot every time.
After spending the last few days in Yosemite Valley we got news that Tioga Pass and the Upper Yosemite Road had opened. This was a nice surprise as the pass does not usually open up until late May. We spent the rest of the day on the journey over Tioga Pass, traveling to Lee Vining for dinner. Along the way, we found many places to shoot, including an out-of-the-way lake that was perfect for reflections. A stop at Olmstead Point provided one of the most stunning vistas of Half Dome, where we focused on finding unique compositions and using some of the photogenic solo trees in the image. We returned to Yosemite Valley for a sunset shoot at Tunnel View where some dramatic clouds made the breathtaking scenics even better. After a great day of shooting we headed back to our lodge for some well-deserved rest.
The next morning we woke to some very atmospheric mist and fog in the valley, making for interesting images at El Capitan Meadow, including some early wildflowers. After hearing news of overnight snow in the upper elevations of the park we drove to Tuolumne Grove for some forest scenes with snow falling around the giant sequoias.
Our final full day of the tour began with photography along the low-lying mist-draped Merced River. Then, as the fog began to lift, rolling in and out of the valley, Yosemite’s dramatic rock formations covered with the fresh snow rose out of the mist. I think we photographed just about every spot in Yosemite Valley when we saw those amazing conditions! While we were shooting in Cook’s Meadow we even had the rare opportunity to see two coyotes playing with each other for almost an hour—all while the surrounding peaks were providing some unforgettable moments. That evening we celebrated our day of success at our final group dinner.
In one week, we had experienced enough drama in the Yosemite’s springtime weather conditions and created stunning images to last us a long time.
On our final morning of the tour we were ready for an early start back to the Fresno airport, but rather than stopping for breakfast, we decided to take our last opportunity to look for the early morning fog which had made for some spectacular shooting conditions. Within minutes we knew we had made the right decision. Cook’s Meadow was lit up with beautiful morning light mixed with the low-lying fog—making it the best morning we had yet. We got some great shots and even made it to the airport in time!
We had captured Yosemite’s expected iconic landscapes, cascading waterfalls and creamy-blossomed dogwoods, but we also left with images of rare moonbows, unique “reflectionscapes,” unanticipated vistas, sequoias in a snowfall, playful coyotes, and dramatic low-lying tendrils of fog in Yosemite’s deep valley beneath towering rock peaks. Saying our good-byes we were already looking forward to reliving the week through our images.