Seek more creative and unique imagery and break free from the past

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Winter, Yosemite Valley, California

Yes, indeed, Yosemite is an amazing place to photograph. Living in or next to the park for the past 31 years has given me many blessings and taught me many lessons. When winter comes, I watch the weather patterns and hope to catch a great day with fresh snow, dramatic clouds and lighting that takes your breath away.

Last winter, I spent a wonderful Sunday making images, right after a snowstorm passed through. I visited some of my favorite locations for intimate landscapes, some unvisited for many years, and some to which I always return. I also visited some of the “landmark” locations where the classic views remind us of Ansel Adams’ photographs.

Top among those views has to be Tunnel View. I visited there, along with many other photographers, watching the light ebb and flow, waiting for some magic light. While watching and waiting, I fooled around with making multiple frames for Photomerge panoramic images, and bracketed frames for possible extended range imagery. I tried wide-angle views, and zoomed in for more detailed views of trees and cliffs, shadows and light. I also made some fun impressionistic “blurs.” One thing about living here is that I don’t feel pressed to make the traditional Yosemite photographs.

By late afternoon, after making several rounds through the Valley, I ended up in the Turtleback Dome area, which offers a different view looking back east into the Valley. The light looked great, and so I went to work. I started out making some panoramic “sets” of frames, so I could convey the grandness and breadth of the scene. I also bracketed many of my compositions for possible exposure blending in postprocessing.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Winter, Yosemite Valley, California

I’m including two of my efforts here to share with you. The broader, more classic view was created from three vertical frames using Photomerge in Photoshop CS4. I have photographed here before, but never found the same excellent conditions! Also, I think that the panorama format is important to this image.

The tighter view, from the same location, was made using Photomatix with four different exposures. I made these images with my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, and this image probably could have been created with one exposure, given the high image quality. However, it would have taken a good deal of “pushing” and “pulling” in postprocessing to reveal the same highlight detail and clean, open shadows seen in the HDR version. I feel that the tonal gradations are smoother, and the blacks have less noise. This will be hard to appreciate in a small magazine reproduction, but it makes a big difference in a large print. In terms of its composition, I found a way to push past the classic framing while still portraying the scope of the view and the essence of the moment.

I think it’s vital for photographers to spend much time and energy seeking out more creative and unique imagery. Even still, when visiting a place like Yosemite, I see no need to close one’s eyes to the classic views. On that winter day in the great Valley, I tried many options, including traditional ones. These two show two similar images, from the same spot. The wider, more traditional image is one I like very much and, in fact, I published a poster of it! But the tighter-framed image shows that, with a little push beyond the obvious, we can expand our options, and our vision!

To learn about William Neill’s new ebooks, Impressions of Light and Landscapes of the Spirit, visit his photoblog or sign up for newsletter updates on his courses with, go to

William Neill is a renowned nature and landscape photographer and a recipient of the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection and The Polaroid Collection. Neill's published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. He is also regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer with his column “On Landscape”.

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