Monday, April 27, 2009

Photographer's Guide to Yosemite

I've been getting lots of questions recently about my book The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite. It's been out of print for several months, but is being reprinted and should be available again in late May. However, The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite just received 25 copies, so if you call them at 209-372-4413 you may be able to order one before they run out.

On a different note, the dogwoods in Yosemite Valley are progressing slowly because of cool weather. You can find some in full bloom around the Ahwahnee Hotel and old Rivers campgrounds, as well as near Gates of the Valley (Valley View). Many more are still in the "green" stage.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dogwood Update

The dogwoods in Yosemite Valley haven't fully bloomed yet, but they're progressing. Many are now in their "green" stage, where they sport greenish-yellow blossoms. These will change to white soon, although I don't know exactly how soon. Cooler weather has descended on the Sierra and is expected to linger through next week, so that could slow things down a bit, but I would still expect most of the valley dogwoods to be in full bloom a week from now.

The waterfalls are roaring, but they should calm down a bit with the cool conditions. The Park Service is saying that the Glacier Point Road could open May 1st, however I'm not counting on it as there's precipitation in the forecast, and if any of that falls as snow it would likely delay the opening.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Photoshop and Lightroom

Everyone has heard of Photoshop. It's permeated our culture deeply enough to become both a noun and a verb, as in, "She Photoshopped a telephone pole out of the picture." So when photographers first dive into the digital world they naturally think of Photoshop or it's baby sister, Photoshop Elements, for their image-editing software.

Until recently there wasn't much choice. But in the last few years the landscape has changed, and photographers have many other options. One of the best of these new tools is Lightroom. Actually the full name is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom—it's made by the same people who make Photoshop. Yet despite the name Lightroom seems to be off the radar screens of most photographers.

In the Spring Yosemite Digital Camera Workshop I'm leading for the Ansel Adams Gallery this week I teach both Photoshop and Lightroom. One of my students asked me recently why she should learn Lightroom when she has Photoshop CS3. What can Lightroom do that Photoshop can't?

My answer was: very little. Photoshop is the most powerful image-manipulating tool in existence, and can do anything to a photograph that Lightroom can, and much more. But Lightroom has two main advantages over Photoshop: It's a much better editing, sorting, keywording, and cataloging tool than Photoshop combined with Bridge, and it's easier to use. And while it's not as powerful at manipulating photographs as Photoshop, for most images it's all I need. The image of Mono Lake above, for example, was processed entirely in Lightroom. Having one program that elegantly integrates all these functions takes a lot of friction out of my workflow.

I should point out that I've used Photoshop since 1998 and know it inside and out. So I don't use Lightroom because Photoshop is too complicated for me. But for many people Photoshop is difficult to learn, and Lightroom is a friendlier alternative. I should also add that Lightroom is not for snapshooters. It's for serious photographers who want an easier, more integrated solution than Photoshop. 

There's one more advantage to Lightroom: It's a non-destructive editor. Adjustments you make in Lightroom never modify the original Raw or JPEG file. The adjustments are just a set of instructions describing how you want the image to look, and these instructions are only applied when you export the image out of Lightroom. While Photoshop can be tricked into behaving in a non-destructive way, that's not the way it was designed.

Photoshop is still essential to me for things that Lightroom can't do. But I'd never want to go back to using only Photoshop and Bridge. And I think Lightroom is a better tool for many photographers than Photoshop. It's probably time it appeared on more photographer's radar screens.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dogwoods and Waterfalls

I've heard reports of the first buds appearing on the dogwoods in Yosemite Valley. This puts them on track for their typical blooming period, which usually begins near the end of April and continues through about mid-May. I prefer to photograph them when they first bloom, before the leaves get large enough to obscure the blossoms. You can't photograph them from behind, as I did in the photograph above, after they're leafed out. If you miss the show in Yosemite Valley, they bloom about two weeks later at higher elevations, like the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias.

Of course the main pursuit for Yosemite photographers in the spring is waterfalls. This is shaping up to be a typical spring, which means the peak flow should arrive around the end of May or beginning of June. Meanwhile the water flow will fluctuate with the weather—the warmer the temperature, the higher the runoff.

Yosemite Falls, the big spring attraction, gets basically terrible light this time of year. But the other big three—Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil—are all positioned to receive late-afternoon sunlight. You can find rainbows on all three between about 5 to 7 p.m. depending on your viewpoint. The Mist Trail opened recently, giving access to Vernal and Nevada Falls. The trail is usually crowded, but for good reason—in the spring it has to be one of the world's most spectacular day hikes.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Keeps Progressing

The poppies are mostly gone from the Merced River Canyon, but other flowers have replaced them—although in smaller quantities. Lupine, owl's clover, and gilia have formed small carpets throughout the canyon, and the redbud are near their peak. I made this photograph of lupine, owl's clover, and poppies near El Portal on Saturday.

In Yosemite Valley it's still too early for dogwoods. They usually start blooming near the end of the month. Late April is also when the deciduous trees start leafing out. Cottonwoods, alders, and maples turn bright green, while black oak leaves often appear red or orange when they first appear.

The last few days have been warm, but rain is predicted for tomorrow, with snow possible down to 5000 feet on Wednesday. Another weather system is supposed to arrive Friday. This cooler, wetter weather will temporarily reduce the flow in the waterfalls, but help preserve the snowpack for May and June. It's too early to tell how this weather might affect the timing of the dogwoods—for now I still expect them to arrive at their usual time in late April. Of course any rain or snow provides opportunities for clearing storm photographs.