The American Landscape 2014 Contest Winners

Grand Prize Winner: Cameron Teller

Title: Horsetail Fall

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.

Second Place Winner: Bill Shupp

Title: Big Sur In The Moonlight

Taken near Bixby Bridge just north of Big Sur in May 2013. Single shot with my Canon 6D, Rokinon 24mm at f/2, ISO 6400, 20 second exposure. Moon illumination was at about 72%, but it was low in the sky. There was a bit of a foggy haze which you can see around the horizon, and also a light glow around the mountains from a lighthouse around the bend. A really beautiful night to spend under the stars!

Third Place Winner: Benji Studt

Title: Gators Goodnight

Walking through Pine Glades Natural Area on a stormy evening looking for wildlife, I made my way back to the car. As I slogged through the marsh, the sun broke through a pocket of clear sky and illuminated the storm clouds in pale orange and blue. The faint light shows the soft green of the marsh…just before the lights go out.

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