View Full Version : Yosemite before Christmas - to LF or not to LF?

31-Oct-2009, 12:55
Some months ago I received some helpful suggestions from forum members about photo destinations here in the US. I arrived from London in September and am going to be spending 4 days in Yosemite the week before Christmas so I wondered if I could pick people's brains again to help prepare for the trip.

I'm making my way in and out of the park by Amtrak and the Yarts bus from Fresno and Merced respectively. Got my flights and accommodation booked and I'll have four full days in the park of which two will be filled with fairly challenging all day guided hikes. I don't expect that LF or any tripod shooting will be feasible for the two day hikes but I'll have my Mamiya 6 and some fast print film with me so that I can shoot casually on the trail. The other two days should give me the chance to shoot from the tripod, whether MF or LF.

So... a few questions:

- I like to keep my kit as minimal as possible and I'm sorely tempted to leave behind my LF kit altogether and just bring along my Mamiya 6 with the single wide lens and a ton of roll film. Stupid idea? If I only take MF I can fit everything I need, film and all into my small Lowepro mini trekker pack and be that bit more mobile in the park, perhaps giving me a different perspective and encouraging me to avoid the cliche shots.

- On the other hand, I have a Peli 1510 at my disposal. At the moment it's crudely lined with the pick and pluck foam. I figure if I get the photo divider interior I ought to be able to pack my Mamiya 6, a one-lens LF kit, accessories and Quickloads into the Peli (which I can carry on the flight) and then transfer either LF or MF kit to a day pack once I get there, leaving the other system locked up in the Peli at my hotel when I'm not using it.

- Lenses. I have a 90mm, 150mm and 210mm lenses for LF shooting. The wide and long are both modern multi-coated lenses. The 150mm is an ancient convertible lens and is a much softer lens than the other two. If I take LF kit with me to Yosemite at all, I only want to bring one lens and am torn between the 90 and 150. Which would you take? I'd go for the 90mm but am concerned the lack of movement might be restrictive. The movement I miss when shooting with the 90 is front rise - I get very little. I know I miss this movement when shooting in urban locations but I've never shot rural landscapes in LF before (to date all my LF shooting is in cities). Is front rise a sacrificable movement somewhere like Yosemite? On the other hand, if I go with the 150 I get tons of movement but a much inferior lens.

- Tripod. I have an aluminium tripod and geared head. Can't carry on the plane and I have reservations about putting it in my checked in luggage in case my bag doesn't make the connection to Fresno in LA. I wouldn't want to risk arriving with no tripod at all so I thought about Fed Exing my tripod to my lodgings a few days before the trip. Would you bother or should I just chill and check my tripod?

- Insurance. None of my kit is currently insured. I need to get a renter's insurance policy for my home possessions anyway but I want something that will cover all my photographic equipment home and away. Any recommendations?

Sorry for so many questions. This will be my first trip to the West and - if I do bring my LF kit as well as MF - my first experience of shooting 5x4 outside of an urban location. I want to plan carefully to make sure I bring back some good images.

31-Oct-2009, 13:30
One other thing which has just occurred to me re my comments above about possibly hauling everything in a Peli 1510. My LA - Fresno flight is in a small regional jet (Embraer 120) and I'm guessing that, despite its dimensions, the Peli 1510 may not be allowed as carry on on such a small aircraft. Any thoughts?

Dan Baumbach
31-Oct-2009, 15:48
It's hard to answer such a question for someone whom I don't know. I don't know your photographing style or what kind of images that you want. Keep in mind if the weather is clear and sunny, and you're shooting color, you'll only have the early mornings and late afternoons for most locations. I'd hate to have to rely on the shuttle to get me to a location to catch a sunrise or avoid the sun rising over the cliffs.

I know Yosemite Valley relatively well and if it were me, I'd go with what ever was the most portable and versatile. Even though my preference would be for photographing Yosemite in large format, under your circumstances, I'd probably opt for a high quality DSLR or maybe your medium format.

31-Oct-2009, 16:19
Cheers Dan. Thanks for your suggestions. I'm staying in Yosemite valley so I'm hoping I should only need Yarts bus to get me from and to Merced Amtrak on my arrival/departure dates. Rest of the time I'm hoping to be able to get round the valley on foot. Mirror lake looks from the maps to be less than 3 miles from the village and I'm hoping it's walkable in under an hour.

I'd really like to be able to take my LF kit but logistically it's going to be difficult to do I think. Also, I'm still pretty new to the format and have zero experience of shooting LF in the field. All my LF so far has been on the streets of London. I can see myself fumbling about and missing shots if I go the LF route - almost running before I can walk. Whereas I know I can work and move quickly with the Mamiya and it still gives me decent sized negs and slides. (Plus bracketing E6 is easier and cheaper in 120).

Your comment about a DSLR got me thinking... don't have one. It would certainly be a handy bit of kit, especially for long distance trips. Budget isn't available at the moment though so I expect a 35mm SLR will accompany the Mamiya as my backup.

Rich Eskin
31-Oct-2009, 17:11
I had an opportunity to do a 3 week residency in the Cascades a couple of years ago and wanted all of my gear. I UPS shipped packages to where I would be staying far enough in advance that I could confirm their arrival before my departure. It wasn't cheap but worked well and I would repeat rather than take a chance or suffer the hassle in the airport. Since I find I always want the piece of equipment I left behind, I tend to take more rather than less. Your first trip on the hikes will tell you what you need for the individual trips and you won't be so constrained by minimal equipment.

I also got an insurance rider that cost only a little more than $100 for $8650 worth of equipment and would cover even things like dropping it in a stream - $100 is cheap for peace of mind. Good Luck and have fun!

31-Oct-2009, 19:27
What a great opportunity!

I am biased towards large format, but considering your circumstances, I would suggest the medium format and a tripod. Do you have a normal or long lens for the MF? Just seems to me that everything will seem so far away with just a wide lens in your kit.

Two days to photograph in Yosemite would not be much time to use the 4x5 considering the hassle of carting it halfway around the world. It sounds too much like something I would do. In fact, what the heck, bring both -- life is short. Perhaps just the 210mm lens for the 4x5. You already got the short end covered with the MF and there is no sense is using a questionable 150mm. In my opinion, you will find that the openness of the mountains will call for the 210 where the 90 serves well in the closeness of the cityscape. (but if you are going to carry all that stuff, tossing in the 90 would hardly be noticed!)

There is a free shuttle bus in Yosemite Valley, so that will help you get around and reduce some of the walking.

have fun!


31-Oct-2009, 20:30
Given your circumstances, I'd go with the MF and a longer lens to compliment the wide angle. A tripod will be a boon.

The walk up to Mirror Lake is wonderful. You can grab the shuttle there to hit other spots. The hike up to Vernal Falls is very nice, and, If you've not seen it before, it is quite a site. Also, in late December it will likely be quite cold in the mornings. If conditions are right, you could have nice mist/fog rising off the meadows and the river.

I hope you have a great trip!


Jim Graves
31-Oct-2009, 20:37
Bring the MF and 4x5 ... use the MF on the long hikes and the 4x5 near the village.

There are some iconic Yosemite LF shots within very short walking distance of the village lodging and with very easy set up conditions... some really nice shots of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, The Merced River, El Capitan, Cook's Meadow, and Yosemite Chapel that can be shot within an easy 5-20 minute walk or shuttle ride from Yosemite Lodge. And, if there's snow you'll have shots wherever you look. The bridge over the river at the base of Yosemite Falls is 1 mile from the Lodge and Mirror Lake is only 2 miles from a shuttle stop ... both hikes are on a paved trail the whole way.

And, even if they're "cliche" ... they make great LF shots ... and if you get the right weather and light conditions, they make GREAT LF shots. How nice would it be to sit back in London and look at a really nice "cliche shot" of Half Dome in a clearing storm with the snow-edged Merced River in the foreground that you took from the sidewalk of the Sentinel Bridge with your 4x5 just a 15 minute walk from your room?

One filter you may want to invest in is a graduated neutral density. On sunny days (you can always hope for a sunny day in December) the brightness range with either the granite or the snow will blow out your highlights or blacken your shadows to carbon.

The Peli 1510 was supposedly designed to the dimensions of the largest carry-on allowed by the airlines. But, I think I'd contact United Express/Skywest directly ... I used to fly on their Embraers in and out of Santa Barbara and they're pretty tight. You don't want to end up getting charged another $50 each way for an extra checked bag.

You'll have fun no matter what you take.

31-Oct-2009, 21:16
Thanks for all the replies. I think if I do take my LF I'll Fedex the kit ahead of me in my Peli and just carry the MF stuff with me when I fly. Jim pretty much confirmed what I was thinking - that there should be some amazing LF opportunities that aren't far or hard to hike from the lodge. Plus I have my last unopened box of Acros 100 Quickloads ready to shoot. What better place to get through it than Yosemite?

Kirk Fry
31-Oct-2009, 21:23
Look on Wikipedia for Sierra Point, Yosemite, California (panorama of 5 major waterfalls at once, the park service DOES NOT want you to know about it) and the 3 mile trail up to glacier point is awesome. If it was me I would take my el cheapo slik tripod that fits in my roller bag and my crown graphic with a kowa graphic 210mm lens which folds into the case. This has worked extremely well for me in both Alaska and Hawaii. It is fast enough that my family does not go bonkers. Good luck. Public transportation sucks in the US by the way. Most sane folks rent cars.

John Kasaian
1-Nov-2009, 09:27
You might be blessed with snow in Yosemite Valley---and that makes the photogenic valley more photogenic-er ;)

1-Nov-2009, 11:33
At this point, which is still two months out, I would plan on bringing the Mamiya 6. My reasoning is that this may be an El Nino year which, if it happens, translates to frequent winter storms blowing in from the pacific and heavy snow for the mountains.

El Nino year or not, if your trip coincides with a snow storm LF would not be practicable but MF (with a 'raincoat' for the body) would. MF (6x7) lens that I have found to be most useful are 55mm, 75mm, 90/105mm, and 165mm (in 35mm terms: 28mm, 35mm 50mm and 85mm). If I was limited to taking just one lens it would be the 75mm for the 6x7 and the 150mm Apo Sirona S Rodenstock which has the same FOV as the 6x7 lens. But then my shooting style favors the 'grand vistas."

Currently the southern portion of the Mirror Lake trail is closed due to a rock slide but the lake itself is still accessible. (If it snows while you are in the valley, get your ass to the lake as soon as it lets up! Both color and B&W will work fine and for my vision the 75mm MF and 150mm LF lens gave the perfect perspective.) The four mile trail to Glacier Point will be officially closed and you would probably need technical climbing gear to climb it. The Mist and possibly the Yosemite Falls trails will be officially closed but both are doable with good traction footwear (lots of ice to slip on).


1-Nov-2009, 12:29
The Four MIle Trail and the Mist Trail are 'killers' if they are iced up: stay away!

I'd forgetten about the Mirror Lake Trail closure. You might check at the visitor center to see if that's still the case when you arrive.


Jim Fitzgerald
1-Nov-2009, 22:24
I just got back tonight from Yosemite. In December there is a good chance you will have snow. I'd bring the MF gear. It depends what you like to shoot for your choice of lenses. I live close and go about 5-6 times a year. For this trip I took my 645 and my 35mm, 80mm and 300mm lenses. I found the close up's with the 300 to be most interesting to me. I've done the iconic must do images.

The bus in the park is great for getting around, even in the snow.


Lon Overacker
3-Nov-2009, 14:57
I'm biased as well being a 4x5 shooter AND a frequent visitor to Yosemite. If you have 4 FULL DAYS in Yosemite and LF is of particular importance to you, I would most certainly bring the gear.

Not withstanding the traveling, packing and carrying issues.... but is this a "once in a lifetime" trip to see Yosemite? If this is, Bring your LF, the 90 and 210. You will regret not having it.

Yosemite is one of those places that doesn't require long and difficult hikes. You could spend a lifetime photographing from within 100yds of any road, trail or the Merced River.

Be prepared for wet. It's always a crapshoot - you could get snow, rain, clear skies, OR the more popular "clearing storm."

I say go for it. And if it's snowing, you may see me there in December.


Brad Rippe
3-Nov-2009, 18:44
I second what Lon said. Yosemite is an amazing place. I know LF can be a hassle, but we all know this, and we still carry what we need to make the best images possible. It will be difficult to take in Yosemite with one visit, I've been going there since I was little, and there is still an infinity to discover, every time.

3-Nov-2009, 21:05
Thanks for the encouragement guys. I've worked out a way to Fedex my LF equipment ahead of me so it might cost me a few bucks more but I should be able to shoot some LF too. Afterall, this is not exactly a routine trip. I know I'd regret leaving that last box of Acros Quickload in the fridge in DC!

Jim Fitzgerald
3-Nov-2009, 21:08
Thanks for the encouragement guys. I've worked out a way to Fedex my LF equipment ahead of me so it might cost me a few bucks more but I should be able to shoot some LF too. Afterall, this is not exactly a routine trip. I know I'd regret leaving that last box of Acros Quickload in the fridge in DC!

Tough decision, but either way you won't regret it. Enjoy!


Gene McCluney
11-Nov-2009, 14:43
In regards small planes and carry on baggage. Most "commuter" type smaller planes that have limited carry-on capacity allow you to still "carry" up to the plane (more or less) and they take the bag from you and stow it until you land, at which point it is presented back to you as you are deboarding. With this system, you still get the low-dose x-ray or the hand inspection of carry-on, so you are quite OK with regards fogging. In other words the carry-on is processed exactly like any carry-on, except it is stowed.

John Jarosz
11-Nov-2009, 18:37
George just beat me to the same comment about the small planes. If it's legal caaryon size, then you carry it to the steps of the plane and they stow it for you. You'll get it back as you leave the plane. It's called gate checking.

After reading the new posts, my second comment is superfluous. I was going to say that if you decide MF only, you might consider a monopod instead of a tripod, as they are much smaller to travel with and give you quite an improvement over hand holding.

Have a good trip.

Keith S. Walklet
12-Nov-2009, 13:48
Some good suggestions already. You'll find both formats useful, depending on your state of mind. I find I personally don't reach for my 90mm often with LF, instead using the 210 and a 360 typically, as they work well for the broad scenes and details. I also reach for my MF system first, especially when things are changing quickly, which is often the case for Yosemite in winter.

The public transportation in the valley gets you to the east end of the valley, where the free shuttle will run you around. That covers about 1/3 of the valley destinations. The "extended" system that goes to the west end of the valley only runs in the peak season. Though there is plenty to see in the east end, I favor the west end of the valley. You don't mention a budget, but might consider hiring one of the AA Gallery's staff for private guiding. That will get you both an experienced guide, and transportation to more distant locations.

You'll find the quality of light in December (the sun doesn't get above 35 degrees on the horizon and more or less creeps along the south rim of the valley) permits working all day, though the most intense color happens at dawn and dusk. But there are wonderful opportunities to work sunlit objects against the shaded cliffs on the south side of the valley all day, and reflections of sunlit cliffs by just moving to the other side of the river.

Jim Ewins
12-Nov-2009, 23:14
You may consider the problems with Homeland Security and sheet film. The idiots want to open the boxes. They are more comfortable with roll film ( if they see the leader sticking from the cart), but anything can set these xxxxs off. I've stopped flying altogether.

John Kasaian
13-Nov-2009, 07:45
The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley may be able to have your film of choice in stock if you don't want to risk the x-rays at the airport. I noticed that their LF film stock was depleted last time I was up there so they might have to order some for you if you're interested in going that route.

Where will you be staying? It can get kind of chilly willy!

29-Nov-2009, 21:06
Been a crazy couple of weeks at work and I haven't had nearly as much time as I would have liked to prepare for my Yosemite trip. I've ordered Michael Frye's guide to photographing the park and am thinking about booking a gallery guide to show me the ropes. Has anyone worked with a gallery guide before?

As for the logistics I've now pretty much decided to Fedex all my LF equipment ahead of me from DC and carry my MF and as much film as I can cram into my hand luggage. Costs of the trip are racking up but it really is a once in a lifetime trip for me. Normally I'd spend mid December at my folks in rural Worcestershire - scenic enough but not on quite the same scale!

Keith S. Walklet
1-Dec-2009, 12:13
Has anyone worked with a gallery guide before?

The service is relatively new. If I am not mistaken, it started in the last couple of years as sort of an outgrowth of tours the staff did of Ansel's favorite tripod holes on his birthday. Now, year-round, it is a great concept. The photographers doing it range in experience from a few years (shortest tenure) in the Valley to nearly 30 years. So they have had time to get to know the way the light moves in the valley, and the seasonal changes.

Since you've already got his book, you might consider actually booking Michael Frye for a private workshop (though at $600 per day, it is twice the fee of the guiding service). You can direct your questions via email to Dustin@anseladams.com (he's the workshop coordinator), or call the gallery direct at 209-372-4413 (PTZ).

As I mentioned earlier, the guiding service gives you both mobility and a high level of familiarity with the park. Good luck!

2-Dec-2009, 10:38
The latest on the weather:


2-Dec-2009, 12:27
Cheers for the weather update. I'll need to keep an eye on it over the next fortnight. It would be just my luck to plan the trip of a lifetime and end up in Yosemite while it's pouring with rain!

Drew Wiley
2-Dec-2009, 14:26
The weather varies almost daily this time of year. Could be warm, could be cold, could
be dry, could be wet, could be calm, could be windy. But I would personally consider
rain a blessing, especially for color photography. That's why Goretex was invented.
Even my darkcloth is Goretex. In fact, I rarely go to Yos Valley unless the weather is
what keeps all the regular tourists away! And I have a house not very far away. The worse the weather, the better for photog in Yos, as far as I'm concerned.

2-Dec-2009, 15:41
Cheers Drew. I'm reassured. I like the idea of a goretex darkcloth!

16-Dec-2009, 08:58
Heading out tomorrow. Field camera and tripod are on their way to Yosemite Lodge ahead of me and carry on bag is stuffed with film, a digi point and shoot and my Mamiya 6.

I hope to report back early in the New Year with some pictures. Thanks for all the advice from forum members. Merry Christmas all!

17-Dec-2009, 12:36
Have a good trip Riverman!

24-Dec-2009, 15:45
Thanks TGT. Merry Christmas to all on LF.

I returned to DC from the west coast this morning. Yosemite was simply breathtaking. I shot medium format on the upper Yosemite falls hike then spent 2 days working in LF in the valley. Second day of LF I was SO lucky with the weather as the previous night's fresh snow clouds cleared during the day doing wonderfully crazy things with the light.

I shot more Quickloads in one trip than I've shot in the 18 months beforehand. Often the light changed so quickly that I fear I've screwed up a few exposures but certainly hope for some good keepers. Trip to the lab next week will tell. I definitely do not regret having the LF with me. I couldn't have had a better subject for that very last box of Acros Quickloads which has been sitting in my fridge!

I am off to sing Christmas carols this evening so I hope to post a fuller report in the next few days, as well as some images once processed. Scanning could take a while though as I currently lack a flatbed. In any case, I'll post some digi shots to Flickr soon. As well as my LF and MF I had a Canon S90 with me all the time. It is a remarkable little camera.

Thanks again for all the advice from you West Coast LFers ahead of my trip. I am extremely jealous of the quality of light you have over there. Coming out of Yosemite on the Yarts bus the countryside round Mariposa literally glowed amber. It was as if someone had painted the world in Velvia. Beautiful.

Merry Christmas everyone.

25-Dec-2009, 00:02

Here's one shot of the meadow. This is from the Canon S90.

25-Dec-2009, 12:18
Glad to hear the trip worked out well! That's a great shot you posted and I'm looking forward to seeing more.

IMO the winter is the best time for photography in the west. Not only is the sun at its lowest angle, but the crowds are gone, motels are cheap, campgrounds are empty and there is drama in the sky on a regular basis. Great time for a road trip!


25-Dec-2009, 13:44
Cheers Thomas

Here is a link to the other digi shots I've uploaded to Flickr. After painstakingly arranging them in chronological order in Bridge for some reason the order is all jumbled up in Flickr. Can't wait to process my film next week.

I'm impressed with this little Canon point and shoot though. A great thing to have on a trip like this. The images are straight from the camera, converted to greyscale and auto-leveled in Photoshop.


Jim Graves
25-Dec-2009, 14:17
Riverman ... excellent! Thanks for posting the pre and post-travelogue.

26-Dec-2009, 08:03
xcellent stuff I am headed there next wed . i hope I can cover with my lf and a 100 lense I will take my med to after seein your images thanx for sharing

30-Dec-2009, 22:21
Well I picked up my large format stuff. The colour and black and white negatives look pretty good. I shot some out of date sheets of Provia which were given to me but I think the film had turned - definitely colour shifting. Doesn't bother me too much though as my negs look pretty printable.

I'm hoping to post some images as soon as I can scan.