Location: El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California
Date Of Photograph: February 10, 2014
I traveled to Yosemite National Park in February 2014, specifically to photograph
the annual phenomenon at Horsetail Fall, where, for just a few days, the evening
light narrows down to a vertical strip highlighting the fall briefly before disappearing.
It turned out I was a little early in the month for the event because there weren't
nearly as many photographers as I had expected. With my small group of traveling
companions, I anxiously set up my gear in the valley floor in the afternoon, with my
lens pointed up to the wispy waterfall plunging down the face of El Capitan, that
iconic monolith so loved by Ansel Adams and fearless rock climbers worldwide.
The presence of low clouds and fog worried me, and I fretted that they would prevent
the illumination of the rock at the crucial moment. But the field of light on the granite
persisted, and as it narrowed, my heart began to race because I realized the roiling
clouds were imparting a thrilling, romantic drama to the scene! All conditions were
coming together perfectly. Just before sunset, a puff of mist drifted out of the waterfall, catching a golden hue from the twilight, and in that second, the magic happened.
I adjusted the Vibrance in Lightroom to make sure the trees at the very top of the
peak had the look I experienced in the field. While not a large portion of the photograph, I think those trees say a lot about the scale of the scene, and I wanted to make sure they were just right.
I'm a geologist—rocks are my thing—and the enormous rock formation called El
Capitan represents for me one of the most visually impressive geological formations
in the nation. It has taken my breath away since I was a little boy visiting with my
family. To this day, perhaps no other single rock embodies more the tantalizing paradise of the American West. Photographers from Charles Leander Weed and Carleton Watkins in the 1800s to Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell in the 20th century presented images of Yosemite's landmarks to viewers as art, but also as invitations to experience our Western frontier. They certainly have that effect on me. I see El Capitan, with its sheer cliff and snowy cap, as a 100-million-cubic-yard symbol of American ruggedness, adventure and natural beauty. In this photograph, I think the clouds heighten a sense of nature as a dangerous, brooding force, guarding unimaginable treasure.