Sunday, February 8, 2009

Snow in the Forecast

The National Weather Service is predicting snow tonight and tomorrow down to 3500 feet near Yosemite, and they've issued a winter storm warning. They're expecting unsettled weather all week, with another system arriving Wednesday, and a third around Saturday. In the short term this could mean some great conditions for photography between storms. In the long term this is good news for the state's water supply, and for photographers hoping for waterfalls and wildflowers.

I was in Yosemite Valley Friday afternoon and all day Saturday for a private workshop. The valley received a few inches of snow Friday morning, but it had all melted by the time I got there. Saturday brought a mix of sun and clouds, though mostly clouds early and late in the day, blocking the best light.

Despite the clouds my student Tom and I found plenty of things to photograph. In the afternoon we headed to the river near the old Camp 6, hoping for Half Dome to emerge from the clouds. Some pretty light on the cottonwoods across the river caught our attention and we temporarily forgot Half Dome. I made a series of images with the white trunks of the cottonwoods and some orange willows, one of which you can see above.

Here's a little exercise for you: take a quick glance at this photo, then look away. Now answer this question: which is closer to the camera, the white cottonwoods, or the orange willows? After answering take a longer look. I know the image is small, but a close look will reveal that the willows are in front of the cottonwoods. In fact the willows were about 50 feet closer to the camera than the cottonwoods. A 200mm telephoto lens compressed the space and flattened the appearance of the image. Long lenses are great for creating visual juxtapositions between distant objects. I use this telephoto compression all the time to create abstract designs and patterns.

In fact I didn't just stumble upon this composition. I saw these trees from about two hundred feet further to the left. From that angle the willows were well to the right of the cottonwoods, and trying to include them both would have left too much space in between them. But I knew that if I moved to the right I could position the willows in front of the cottonwoods and might find an interesting juxtaposition.

This ability to think in three dimensions, to imagine what might happen if you move left or right, forward or back, up or down, is an essential photographic skill. Ansel Adams wrote that while sitting in a chair he would often mentally compose images of his surroundings, and imagine how the composition would change if he moved a little to one side, or higher or lower. This is a great exercise - try it sometime!

Here's hoping that the approaching storms will bring lots of photo opportunities and chances to exercise our composition skills.

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