Young Oak Tree in Smoke, Yosemite National Park

We walked around El Capitan meadow in an early morning of November when it was filled by thin smoke from controlled burn. Unlike fog, the smoke had slight blue hue, which would make any warm colored objects stand out from the background. When passing by this young oak tree next to the bank of Merced River, we knew we have found our subject. Because the smoke was thin, the forest on the other side of the river was barely visible and lack of distracting clarity. It provided the perfect context we wanted. There was not any wind in that morning. Thus, we could capture super sharp image of leaves of this oak tree with a relative long exposure. It was a lucky moment when all conditions of a perfect exposure came together.

Bloody Sunrise at Yosemite Valley

Thanks to the accurate prediction of Sunrise-Sunset Forecasts Photographic Service by ccnbbc@WeChat, we captured this dramatic scene in Yosemite valley in the morning of November 6, 2021.

As a pre-caution to avoid Covid-19 exposure, we did not go to the now-always-crowded Tunnel View. Moreover, we always feel that Tunnel View does not provide a balanced composition for El Capitan and Half Dome since these two iconic landscape features are separated too far away from each other. In this view, these two giant rocks are much closer. One drawback of this composition is that Bridalveil Fall is blocked by the mountain on the right side of the composition. However, since it was the dry season, Bridalveil Fall was short of water anyway.

National Park Service was conducting controlled fire to reduce the amount of dry plants on the valley floor, a major source of fuel to wild fires across California during the past years. The fire created a thin layer of slightly blueish smoke near the entrance of the valley, adding to the atmosphere that photographers can only dream to have.

The Make of the Picture Merced River Reflection

We carried our new toy, the Intrepid 4×5 large format camera to Yosemite in the past weekend. With this modern day remake of the old technology, every step of photography leaped back like good old school days.

There’s no WYSIWYG viewfinder but a half-transparent ground glass on the back of the camera — we had to wrap it with a silly black cloth in order to see the scene.

There’s no auto-focus but a nob at the bottom of the camera and a magnifying glass — we turned the nob and peeked through the magnifier on the ground glass to make our best guess of the focus.

There’s no metering system on the camera — we had to hand hold a light meter to measure the exposure readings of different areas of the scene and make our best judgment of the appropriate exposure.

There’s no memory card to store the images — we need to mount a pre-loaded film holder to the back of the camera in order to take one single picture. Taking a second picture requires a new film holder.

There’s no room for errors — we had to adjust the focus, the aperture, the shutter speed on the camera, check and re-check every setting, test fire before taking the actual picture. And there’s always a haunting thought afterwards about forgetting to set everything correct.

With every press of the cable release, a half cup of Starbucks coffee was gone. Thank goodness, we only “drank” one full cup of coffee that morning.

The result is hardly satisfactory. Nevertheless it was a fun experience.