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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Trip to Yosemite Valley

Residents of San Francisco Bay area are very lucky to have so many beautiful and fun weekend getaways like Carmel, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Valley!

We try to go to Yosemite Valley at least once during the month of May. During this period, the snow in the sierra mountains is melting and there is so much of water in the Falls. This year also, we planned a trip for May second weekend (although it turned out little different this time).

Also, this was my first trip to the valley with a digital cam in my hand. So I was very excited.


  • A total of 1 GB of memory (1 of 512MB + 2 of 256 MB cards)
  • I grabbed the laptop also just in case I ru out of memory
  • Housekeeping camp, where we were staying, do provide an electrical outlet. So I was not worried about battery recharging etc.
  • For the camp fire side shots, I also bought a Canon 50mm F1.8 Lens (more on this lense in a separate post)

First Problem
I was testing my new 50mm F1.8 lens for sharpness and tried various very small apertures, and suddenly a hairline started showing in all the pics. Upon further Investigation of pics, lense and camera, I concluded that this was due to a scratch on the 20D sensor! This was a really BAD news as this would rule out all the long exposure (smooth water shots) ! I contacted Amazon and they promised to replace it. But for this trip I had to live within F9.0 or so! Anyways.

Overall, I took about 125 shots only ! And most of them I did not like once I got them on the computer. I mentioned about this feeling of "It looked better then this picture" feeling earlier too. Well, it was like Deja vu. But this time it was for different reasons. Check lessons learned. Pics posted below are the few I liked.

I wanted to do better post processing with Adobe Elements 2.0, but it is becoming so hard to find time for everything, especially when weekends are busy withmore opportunities for taking pictures. So finally I did simple fixes with Picasa 2, and created a gallery with Adobe Elements 2.0. Please View the Gallery for higher resolution images.

Entering the valley Floor
For the first time I hit bumper to bumper traffic in Yosemite National Park. Here are a couple of pics of Yosemite Falls that I snapped from the driver seat, when traffic was at stand still.

[View Gallery]
Despite our best attempts, we wasted a whole lot of first day in just reaching to the camp. And thet was the sunniest day of our trip!

Camp fire
I had grabbed the 50mm F1.8 lens especially for the camp fire shots. Here are some of the camp fire shots.

[View Gallery]

Curry Village
Between running behind kids (my nephews) and doing BBQ, I don't know how the second day was gone already. Both days, I wasted so many shots due to lack of Dynamic Range. I won't blame it on 20D though, it was just too bright and sunny and I was trying to take pictures in the middle of the day!!! Here is a decent one that came out nice, because it was in shade.

Pizza Patio at Curry Village

And soon it was evening, and then clouds and rain!!!

Leaving Yosemite
Next morning, we were wondering if we wanted to stay for the day. It had been raining all night and was still raining. Suddenly park rangers showed up and informed us that we had only 15 to 20 minutes to pack up and leave!!! All that sunny weather on the previous day plus the rain all night had the Merced River over flowing and it was about to move in our tents. We packed the cars in 10 minutes in rain and left hurriedly. I made BIG one mistake, placed the camera bag behind other stuff!!!

On the way out, we could see the river moving in our tent, which actually created an increased sense of urgency to get "out of the woods". Although it was nothing dangerous, we just did not want to get stuck in the park, if they close the access roads.

The best photographic opportunities showed up at this totally unexpected moment. Although I had passed up on the raging rapids of Merced river, the beautiful scenes below were just too good to pass, so I pulled over and had to get the camera out again. And I'm so glad I did :-)

[View Gallery]

Lessons Learned

Rushing out of the woods

Looking back, this did not turn out to be the kind of trip I expected. But I learned more about photography by making some mistakes and I guess that makes it worth. Here are some lessons learned.

  • Dynamic Range:
    I had not even thought about dynamic range before this. Dynamic range in short is the range of brightness the camera can capture from the brightest object to dakest object in the scene. Anything brighter then upper level shows up washed out or white anything darker then darkest level of the range shows black. In very bright situations like what I faced, either I can get a beautiful bright and blue sky or I can get details from shadows in the trees. Getting both is tough. Either the sky will be all washed out and white, or all the shadow details will be dark underexposed. Many of my shots of falls did not come out right. I lost the detail in water while trying to make sure the surrounding greenary came out properly detailed. More on dynamic range some other time.
  • Viewfinder does not show Dynamic Range
    Now, think about this. When I shot the picture, viewfinder showed an excellent detailed optical view, so I clicked. But, the viewfinder in no way indicates, what will be underexposed/overexposed. You have to review your image closely in preview. I did some preliminary review, where I missed the fact that water was completely whitened out(overexposed). This would have been OK, if I was taking long exposures at very small apperture for that smooth water flow effect. But due to sensor scratch problem I was limited by F9.0. So at faster shutter speeds (no smooth effect) , the overexposed water made the picture look mediocre to totally bad.
  • Time of the day is important:
    because, Sun does not follow your time table. If you wanna get good shots, get out of the bed/tent earlier or wait for late afternoon or evening. Atthese times, Dynamic range is smaller and with patience, you can get a good shot. My evenings were reserved for family activities, and mornings ... well... I went there for rest too :-)
  • Pack your Camera First, but keep it on top of the luggage
    Later on, in the evening I saw the park being closed, and the Merced river rapids that we passed by, regreting not taking pics. Safety first, but leaving the camera in an easily accessible locationwon't hurt.
  • Make a Plan
    I was more disappointed because, I really did not take any trips to more scenic places like Mirror lake etc. If you go with other family members, your options can be limited. Advanced planning would have helped. I guess, I am just spoiled because Yosemite is a weekend getaway for us here in Bay Area.

Leaving Yosemite
Since this trip, my camera has been replaced by Amazon and I think I learned some valuable lessons in this trip. I hope to visit Yosemite again before end of summer!

Please feel free to post any comments or share your experince.

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