It's 5:00am and I am standing next to my rental car in the car park of the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. It's dark. It's raining.
This situation may be familiar to the Landscape Photographers amongst you and especially those who combine family vacations with a photographic hobby. We drag ourselves out of our warm beds, scramble on clothes and gather together our gear, silent as ninjas.
Dawn is a convenient time to take photos on vacation. This might seem like an oxymoron but bear with me.
Golden Hour Light
Landscapes come alive during the 'Golden Hour' The light around dawn and dusk brings long shadows that lift detail in scenes bathed in warm light. Skies can become a subject in themselves with clouds lit up in oranges, reds and pinks.
Peace and Tranquility
There is no one around at dawn. At dusk you can't move for romantic couples taking selfies on their iPhones but at 5:30am in the morning you will often be alone.
Wind is often low in the early hours which will often result in mill pond calm waters and very little movement in leaves and branches
I have started photographing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland at 4:30am, shot happily across multiple locations for 4.5 hours and still joined my family for breakfast in the hotel. The obvious disadvantage of this strategy is that said family are now ready for a days trekking in the wilds and I was ready to go back to bed.
Yosemite National Park
I had travelled 5200 miles or so to be standing in this particular dark and rainy car park and I was not about to give up and go back to my warm bed. Well, actually I was about to give up and go back to bed, I was judging the situation to assess whether this would be a 'good dawn' and concluding not.
It is very tempting in the early hours to look out of a hotel window and conclude that this mornings photography will not be worth the effort. There are mobile apps (skyfire for example ) available to help the judgment but in the end of the day it comes down to will power.
On this morning will power won (mostly due to the 5200 journey to get to this location) and I headed into the park in the pouring rain.
As I drove into Yosemite from El Portal on Route 140 I was surprised to see that the rain had fallen as snow in the park. The cloud was beginning to clear and the sun was shinning through an early morning mist. Beautiful
I came across Swinging Bridge and jumped out to take some photographs of this popular spot. It has spectacular views of Yosemite Falls and is very easily accessible from the road. The wooden bridge was covered in ice but made a solid platform for a shot of Yosemite Falls and the clearing mist.
I walked into Cooks meadow which is adjacent to Swinging Bridge and took some photographs of the magnificent Yosemite Falls through the mist
No visit into Yosemite National Park is complete without a photograph of the magnificent El Capitan rocks, towering over a kilometre above the valley floor
I stopped the car from time to time as I drove back to the Hotel in El Portal. The Snow in the valley was already beginning to melt and later on in the morning when I returned to the valley with my wife the snow had disappeared.
The moral of the story is of course not to listen to that voice in your head telling you to go back to bed. Sometimes the most un-promising of mornings can turn up a surprise.
I enjoyed my brief morning in Yosemite and was pleased with the crop of photographs taken on this one cold (rainy) day in May 2011.
I would not hesitate to recommend a visit to this beautiful place if you have a chance. My favourite time is Spring where the parks waterfalls are in full flow (They are fed from snow melt and dry up by Summer)
You should grab a copy of 'The Photographer Guide to Yosemite' by Michael Frye which is a very useful reference for Photographers and really helped me to make the most of the morning.