Upper Yosemite Falls in a winter storm, Yosemite National Park, California

When you read this, I’ll be somewhat on the valley floor of Yosemite National Park, unplugged from Social Media, work and everything outside the park, taking in the scenery and maybe taking a few photos. It’ll be my first visit since 2016, when I went up there for the Cocoaconf conference. I’ve been wanting to get back since, but schedules have been tough to coordinate.

This year, I was really hoping to find time to get up there during dogwood season, but because of my various commitments, I realized it wasn’t going to happen (again), and if I didn’t get the visit in soon, I wasn’t going to have another free time until after Memorial Day, and at that point, the crowds are in full force. So practically speaking, I was looking at right now, or putting it off again until after Labor day (again).

When I went looking at hotel rooms, I lucked out, and was able to snag a room at the lodge near Yosemite Falls for three nights. I drove into the park Sunday and I’ll be back in Civilization Wednesday.

In between? I’ll be exploring the valley floor, having a couple of nice dinners at the Mountain House, and more or less playing it by ear.

Yosemite Rediscovered

Every time I take a trip like this with the camera, I like to write a brief to myself to help me think through what I want to accomplish, which helps me understand what gear to pack. It also forces me to step back and think about what’s possible and practical and set priorities on where to focus my time and energy.

I’ve decided the conceptual reason for the trip is Yosemite Rediscovered — it’s a location I have visited and photographed since my youth, but not a location where it is so familiar to me I tend to go into old habits, so I find it a very nice place to explore and experiment. What I’ve decided I want to try is to look at this old friend with new eyes and attempt to show what attracts me to it in ways different than I have before.

My primary lens this trip will be my 50-140 (the Fuji equivalent of the 35mm 70-200) which is a lens I’m frankly not comfortable with and need to spend time learning what kind of images I want to take with it. Yosemite, being in a valley with high vertical walls on all sides, tends to discourage the landscape mentality of “wider is better” and the 70-200 is a great lens to get a little intimate with this landscape. If you study the work of Michael Frye, (and you should), you’ll find that most of his impressive library of Yosemite photos are taken with the 70-200 lens, not with super-wides.

So I want to spend time seeing Yosemite with my 70-200 and see what happens, both to spend time learning a piece of gear I’ve never really mastered, and to use it to see a place I love in a different way.

I also plan on carrying my 16-55 (Fuji equivalent of a 24-70), for the more traditional/iconic landscape look.

Those will be the lenses on my X-T3 and X-t20 respectively. To fill out the kit I’ll include a fisheye lens to play with. I’ve been debating carrying my big bird lens or leaving it home, and I’ve decided I’ll pack it in the car so it’s there if I run into a situation where I really want it, but I won’t have it too handy so I’m not tempted to fall into my chase-the-birds mentality too much.

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park

I’ve got two specific locations I intend to focus some time on, one I haven’t ever photographed for reasons I can’t explain, and one I’ve been trying to get back to for three trips, but haven’t photographed since 2007. Both should lend themselves to experimenting with my new, upgraded ND and polarizer filters with long-exposure shutter work. I fully intend to play with minute+ exposures again and see what happens.

I will plan on one evening at Tunnel View, because I always do that, if only for the chance to sit and chatter with the other photographers, although I hope it’s too early in the season for the idling diesel fumes of the tour busses to be too annoying. I also, from what I can see, expect the waterfalls to be flowing nicely and that will create opportunities, but I want to stay away from spending too much time on the “easy” iconic shooting in favor of more intimate and abstract work, perhaps some travel-styled images, just generally finding what catches my eye and finding ways to bring it to life for me. I may also explore some night photography depending on the weather and my energy levels and mood.

It should be noted that a good battle plan only survives the first skirmish, and after that it’s all making it up as you go along, and a photography trip like this is no different. When I see the park from the road as I drive to the hotel, I’ll start seeing what it brings to my attention, and then I’ll follow that and see what happens.

And when I get home, we’ll see what I bring with me and how closely I keep to the brief, or not, and whether the deviations were good choices or not.

But it always, to me, makes sense to sit down and do some planning before you go, so you set expectations for yourself, rather than go in without a plan and expect epic masterpieces to fall into your lap. A bit of thought and planning goes a long way to getting your brain thinking in the right ways to be ready for the place when you arrive.