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DavidFisk
12-Jul-2007, 15:10
Hi, all. I'm planning the next Yosemite jaunt, and have a chance to let the wife slumber while I head out for some shooting. Thinking about doing the switchbacks to the upper falls, although not all the way to the top. Anyone ever done this? Is there room to set up a tripod in the first third of the trek, or so? Any other suggestions will be helpful.

Thanks in advance.

Rick Moore
12-Jul-2007, 15:36
It's been thirty years since I did that trail, but I doubt it's changed all that much. There is very little room for a tripod on the switchbacks on the first stage up to the cascades. Still, you might be able to do it at the ends of the switchbacks on the curves.

Same goes for the switchbacks on the upper section.

One warning: if the falls are flowing, there is a ton of water in the air around the cascades. Each time I hiked the trail when the falls had not dried up, I was soaking wet by the time I got past the base of the upper falls. Felt damn good, too, in the summer heat, but would not be very good for a LF camera. The mist was very pervasive - an umbrella would not have helped, since the mist is coming from every direction, up as well as down.

Fortunately for me, back in those days I was using a Leica M4 and was able to keep it dry in one of those clear plastic bag protectors with the glass insert for the lens (forget the name).

Eric James
12-Jul-2007, 16:02
You have to be careful. The trail starts behind Camp 4 and when you are climbing past "the first third of the falls" the trail is not close to the falls. I've heard that if you get off trail in this area at night you can crater. Also, the bears that frequent Camp 4 by night hang in this area by day.

If you're careful and are a skilled hiker you'll be fine.

You might check out the base of the lower falls! Where the bridge crosses the lower falls effluent, you can boulder hop all the way to the base of the falls where you'll find a beautiful emerald-green pool. There's also a trail in the woods to the left that goes most of the way.

Bruce Watson
12-Jul-2007, 16:03
Hi, all. I'm planning the next Yosemite jaunt, and have a chance to let the wife slumber while I head out for some shooting. Thinking about doing the switchbacks to the upper falls, although not all the way to the top. Anyone ever done this? Is there room to set up a tripod in the first third of the trek, or so? Any other suggestions will be helpful.

Thanks in advance.

Yes. Plenty of spots. You do a section of steep climbing switchbacks, then you come to a section that's not so steep and not so switchback-y that gives you some good views down the valley. Then you'll come around a bend and you're nearly level with the base of the upper fall. Some excellent views there. Your about two miles in and about 1/3 the height.

Then more steep switchbacks with some good views on the way up.

I hope you are in good shape. It's one of the more rugged trails/climbs out of the valley. But if I can carry my 5x4 up the mountain, so can you ;)

Keith S. Walklet
12-Jul-2007, 18:22
2,700 foot elevation gain in 3.5 miles. The trail faces south and is a hot hike when the sun is up and there is little to no water this time of year in the small creeks that cross the trail. The falls themselves are well past prime, and will be lucky to last until the end of the month.

Eric's suggestion at the lower fall is a much easier and cooler alternative. There is a dry creek bed to the left of the creek and lower fall that one can follow to the base.

The first third of the upper fall trail is a long set of switchbacks through a wooded area that climbs to the first "bench" on the north wall of the valley. From there it heads east along the bench and up a second series of switchbacks to the second "bench." With less shade and fewer obstructions, there are more clear views of the valley below. The first designated vista is at Columbia Point, which is about halfway up to the point where one gets the first view of upper Yosemite Fall. A lot of people choose this for a picnic. Most people take about an hour to get to this point.

More switchbacks and a bit of a sandy slope and a short downhill section take you to "Oh My Gosh Corner" where you get your first view of the fall. If you proceed straight at that corner instead of left like the rest of the world, there is a spur trail (poorly maintained) that descends to a wonderful view of the Inner Gorge between the Upper and Lower Fall.

If you turn left at "Oh My Gosh Corner" and continue on the trail, it descends a bit and heads north toward the falls, and a bit to the left. For frontal views of the falls, this section of trail is where most people set up. With the sun at your back, there can be a nice rainbow in the mist. This is about the midpoint of the hike.

The trail continues up the gorge to the left of the fall, initially providing views of the Upper Fall in profile, and then moving deeper into the gorge and out of the view of the falls.

Once at the top, you can follow a trail to the lip of the fall, though IMO there is very little to lend a sense of scale, and it isn't as impressive as the view you get from below.

But, if you decide to continue to the top, another popular spot is to follow the rim of the valley east to where you can see Lost Arrow Spire, a finger of rock about the size of the Washington Monument. Climbers often set ropes between the rim of the valley and the spire and traverse on the rope, which makes for some exciting documentary photos.

Any high vista in the valley is impressive iMO. If you decide to hike the upper trail, I'd start as early in the day as possible, even before sunrise. Take plenty of water and if you have them, hiking poles. Though as wide a road in some places, it is a rocky and sandy trail, which in combination, make for some interesting footing during the slog uphill and back down.

Eric Leppanen
12-Jul-2007, 18:27
I took the trail to the base of the upper falls a couple years ago. There are definitely some spots where you can get some good shots of the falls, but be prepared to manage the ever-present mist (keep the lens cap on until you are ready to pull the shutter) and wind (use a sturdy camera and tripod) near the falls. I'm not sure if fast film is worthwhile since normally an exposure of a half second or so is needed to achieve a good flowing effect from the water. When shooting waterfalls I normally carry a couple ND filters just to be sure I can achieve a slow enough shutter speed in bright light.

Also, IMO the falls look best when sidelit during the morning or afternoon (according to Michael Frye's book The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite, the falls are sidelit around 9:00-10:00AM and 3:00-4:00PM during Spring, which was consistent with my experience; you may want to check with a ranger as to the best time during Summer).

It's a steep, hot hike, so be sure you are in shape!

Vaughn
12-Jul-2007, 18:41
Another way to get to the top of Yosemite Falls is to have a friend drop you off at just past Porkupine Flat Campground on the road to Tioga Pass, and hike down all the way to Yosemite Falls...but a longer hike. I've done this with side trip to the top of North Dome (with another side trip to Indian Rock), then down the Yosemite Falls Trail with a 4x5 ...and again with an 8x10, but going down Snow Creek Trail (to Mirror Lake) instead of Yosemite Falls. Both trips were started at about noon and arrived in the Valley after dark...and on both trip I was wiped out physically (the trip with the 8x10, I had to called my friend from the Ahwanee Hotel to pick me up -- I could not make it the last mile to Yosemite Village!)

But without the side trip to North Dome, it would be a lot easier!

Vaughn

Keith S. Walklet
12-Jul-2007, 19:19
But Vaughn, wasn't the trip to North Dome worth it?

That is one of the finest vistas in the park.

It is almost mandatory if you are going to do Yosemite Creek/Snow Creek (which is even harder on the knees than the upper Yosemite Fall trail.)

Eric James
12-Jul-2007, 19:36
And then there's the grand traverse: YOS Falls to Snow Creek. If I remember, it spit me out by the Stables, but I was a bit hypoglycemic by then. I remember passing by the North Dome spur and thinking better.

I've visited the North Dome summit since then and would agree with you Keith - that's a hard view to beat! Where else is Half Dome been the least-impressive sight in a 180-degree panarama?

Keith S. Walklet
12-Jul-2007, 20:12
If I remember, it spit me out by the Stables,

No better description ever than that.

That hike up and across will kick your butt. The smart people are the ones that spend the night midway.

There is also a tendency to think it is possible to take a short cut from North Dome down to the valley when you've arrived, dehydrated, hungry and otherwise totally spent. Multiple people lost their lives doing just that when I lived in the park.

DavidFisk
12-Jul-2007, 21:07
I'm not sure if fast film is worthwhile since normally an exposure of a half second or so is needed to achieve a good flowing effect from the water. When shooting waterfalls I normally carry a couple ND filters just to be sure I can achieve a slow enough shutter speed in bright light.


Since there is such a large water flow, wouldn't it be better to use a relatively fast shutter speed to capture those delicate tendrils of water which would be lost in a long exposure? IMHO, the idea behind shooting a large fall is to capture the power of it, rather than a silky feel to the flow. At least I was never satisfied with a long exposure in shooting Vernal Falls for just that reason.

But maybe that's just me.

My 2.4 cents.

Keith S. Walklet
12-Jul-2007, 21:36
Dave, if you can find a copy of Yosemite Reflections (there was one on Amazon a moment ago for just $12), it is the words of John Muir with photos by Ted Orland.

IMO, it has the finest image of Yosemite Falls I've ever seen and is just as you described, with the sun backlighting the water curling off the falls as it drops. Charlie Cramer also has a very nice one. Those two images, the one in Michael Frye's book, and my own, were all taken early in the day from pretty much the same position, and much earlier in the year when the falls were full and those curls were prominent.

I have never asked Ted about his shutter speed, but it is a very sharp image with lots of implied movement, but none that seems to be actual movement due to a slower shutter speed. Regardless, it was perfectly timed. Stunning.

Michael's times for sunlight on the falls are fine for May, but the sun this time of year rises much further north of Half Dome and tracks much higher across the sky than two months ago. You might find some backlit water, but I wouldn't count on getting much of a shower. This was one of the driest winters, reminscent of the 80s when I saw the falls dry by July 4 one year.

Take a peek at the webcams at yosemite.org and you can see when the sun illuminates the wall to the north of Half Dome. That will give you an idea of when it hits Yosemite Fall. The falls are in an alcove that is at almost the same angle as that wall, but with a cliff in the way that casts a shadow until the sun has tracked far enough south to light them up.

Eric Leppanen
12-Jul-2007, 23:14
David and Keith,

You guys are right, for shooting such a large, dynamic waterfall a shorter shutter speed would be better. I shot Yosemite two years ago and more recently I've shot smaller, more intimate waterfalls where the "flowing" look was more appropriate. With regards to shutter and film speeds, here is what Michael Frye suggests:

Experienced photographers often choose a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of a large waterfall, accentuating the shape and texture of the spray...a speed of at least 1/125 of a second or faster will freeze the water's motion.

In bright sunlight you'd be shooting 1/100 second at f/16 with ISO 100 film per the sunny 16 rule. My recollection is that I was closer to f/22-f/32 when shooting at the base of the upper falls with my 4x5, so film speed is indeed an issue. B&W apparently is not a problem (Tri-X, HP5+, etc.), but color would seem to pose a challenge. Provia pushed one stop would be marginal at f/22, and contrast starts getting out of control if you push further. Maybe Portra 400NC?

Vaughn
13-Jul-2007, 00:07
But Vaughn, wasn't the trip to North Dome worth it?

That is one of the finest vistas in the park.

It is almost mandatory if you are going to do Yosemite Creek/Snow Creek (which is even harder on the knees than the upper Yosemite Fall trail.)

It is fantastic. I was only wiped out physically...mentally I was high. No one else was on the Dome -- or anywhere near as far as I could tell. The Valley floor was a zoo, but none of that could reach me there.

The trip with the 4x5 wasn't too bad -- just long...and I made one of my favorite images I have made in the Park (of the arch). The camera pack and pod probably only weighed 30 or 35 pounds. When I did the hike with the 8x10 (60+ lbs of gear), I went a little up hill from Indian Rock, and then straight down cross-country to Snow Creek and the trail...quite a work-out for the knees. Then I took the trail down to Mirror Lake (what a great trail -- with Half Dome just sitting there in front of you!) By the time I got down to the lake it got dark. I did not take enough food and water, so I guess I "bonked". Foot-sore and exhausted, I could only walk for 10 minutes or so without stopping...and I hated stopping because it hurt so much to get going again. I should of had Glenn stash a bicycle at the lake for me! I would have found a way to ride it down, 8x10 and all!

I'll do it again...but I'll take my boys and get them to carry more food and some of my gear!


Vaughn

Keith S. Walklet
13-Jul-2007, 07:38
Experienced photographers often choose a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of a large waterfall, accentuating the shape and texture of the spray...a speed of at least 1/125 of a second or faster will freeze the water's motion.

Eric, the other pieces of the puzzle to zeroing the proper shutter speed are the lens choice and distance from the fall. In 35-speak, for freezing motion, "one over the focal length of the lens" is starting point, and you go from there.

But motion is relative and typically, the closer to the falls and the longer the lens, the faster the corresponding shutter speed.

Students this past May tested this and we concluded from across the valley with the falls at their peak, that between 1 and 2 stops below 1 over the focal length gave enough motion to convey the power of the fall without it looking like a white tornado.

When we opted to freeze the motion entirely, it looked like an icecycle, which is nothing like Ted's snap.

But up close, from the trail, is a completely different matter. There, the balance between implied motion and actual motion is trickier, and a faster shutter speed used at the precise moment to capture the curls at their apex seems to the key.

Pushing some PROVIA 100 a couple stops seemed to be the ticket. If my memory serves me, what is also amazing about Ted's photo is that the sun is included, and there is a spectacular starburst but no flare. Just slivers of water that resemble individual hairs peeling off a twisted column of water that looks like one of those carved candles.


I did not take enough food and water, so I guess I "bonked". Join the club! I hiked down from Mt. Hoffman via that trail and when I got to Mirror Lake, I made a beeline (more of an awkward stumble) for the payphone. That trail takes every bit of energy you have in exchange for the awesome views.

And Vaughn, the more I hear of the antics of those boys, the more I get a vision of you as a sow with three cubs starring in a Disney feature.

Eric Leppanen
13-Jul-2007, 09:08
Students this past May...and we concluded from across the valley with the falls at their peak, that between 1 and 2 stops below 1 over the focal length gave enough motion to convey the power of the fall without it looking like a white tornado. Keith,

When shooting across the valley with a normal lens (50mm in 35mm format), I presume this would work out to the following:

50mm lens = approx. 1/60 shutter speed (nearest full stop) plus 1 stop minus 2 stops equals 1/30 second target shutter speed.

In your experience, would this target shutter speed also be applied to normal lenses in larger film formats (approximately 150mm in 4x5, 300mm in 8x10)? Or would you go through the following calculations:

4x5 format: 150mm lens = approx. 1/125 shutter speed (nearest full stop) plus 1 stop minus 2 stops equals 1/60 of a second target shutter speed.

8x10 format: 300mm lens = 1/256 plus 1 minus 2 equals approx. 1/125 of a second target shutter speed.

Due to the amount of haze that frequently inhabits the valley, I often prefer shooting 8x10 for across-the-valley shots to compensate for the haze diffraction. 1/125 of a second is not possible with 8x10 (assuming shooting at around f/45) even with pushing Provia in bright daylight.

Vaughn
13-Jul-2007, 10:12
"And Vaughn, the more I hear of the antics of those boys, the more I get a vision of you as a sow with three cubs starring in a Disney feature."

Are you perhaps referring to our last visit to Yosemite when my boys were doing some bouldering behind the AA Gallery wearing their roller skates?

Vaughn

Keith S. Walklet
13-Jul-2007, 10:20
Eric, I think again, it is relative. I started with a 35mm camera and so all my decisions are relative to what I learned in that format.

Since a 90mm 4x5 lens has approximately the same field of view as a 24mm on a 35-SLR, I'd use the 1/30 to freeze the motion, and 1/15 to 1/8 to get some implied motion.

I apply the same logic when calculating exposures for my Pentax 67. My Pentax 45mm lens is approximately the same field of view as a 24mm on a 35-SLR, and so, to freeze motion with it, I need 1/30 of a second. 1/15 and 1/8 get me some a bit of gesture in the water. It makes a huge difference.

The small apertures necessary for so much of my own work, given my fondness for near/far compositions, (plus a polarizer) makes the need for speed problematic. So I routinely push my Provia two stops. That film pushes so well and Calypso Imaging pushes the film without a service charge, so it is a workable solution.

Keith S. Walklet
13-Jul-2007, 10:23
Are you perhaps referring to our last visit to Yosemite when my boys were doing some bouldering behind the AA Gallery wearing their roller skates?

LOL. I heard something about climbing some trees, but bouldering is even better.

c marks
13-Jul-2007, 12:42
It would be a couple of hours to a good view of the falls and about a 1200' elevation gain.

Note that the falls are already almost dry as of early July 2007 The drought in California has caused them to dry up early this year. In fact they are almost not worth the effort right now. I would go for the rock formations.

DavidFisk
16-Jul-2007, 12:05
Thanks for the input, guys.

seawolf66
16-Jul-2007, 18:43
David: I was there tis year, last two weeks of may and there was plenty of water then, but at this time its a long shot:

Jeffrey Sipress
16-Jul-2007, 18:43
All this talk and no photos?