Pileated Woodpecker, Yosemite National Park

The second location I had decided to focus on was one I’d never shot at before. Fern Spring is a small artesian spring, along Southside drive close to the Pohono bridge, where El Portal Rd, Southside and Northside all come together. It’s quite easy to miss; if you look at the photo at the top I took with the iPhone, it’s quite small and doesn’t exactly jump out at you. It’s under a number of trees and always shaded, and the pond is maybe 6′ wide.

Fern Spring is, I think, a bit of a rite of passage for a Yosemite photographer, much like the Chapel is. Once you get past shooting some of the epic features and locations like Tunnel View or El Capitan, it’s locations like this you visit to dig into the more intimate details of Yosemite.

I think Fern Spring and the Chapel have something else in common: they’re both really easy to photograph, and surprisingly hard to photograph really well and require some thought and creativity in your composition. The Chapel is like that to me because, honestly, it’s a rather plain building that you have to dress up with your composition. Fern Spring is a small pond of water with a tiny waterfall without much else to see, and so the question is how to bring out the best of it.

Why hadn’t I shot it before this trip? Because in all honesty, in the half dozen times I’d remember to go stop and try, every time I did, there were at least two photographers there and set up already, and it’s just not that big a location. As I said, it’s a bit of a rite of passage.

When I got there, I was alone, which was awesome. Except as I started to set up, I got company, as this Pileated Woodpecker flew in and started feeding about 20′ away. Birding wasn’t the reason for this trip, but this triggered the BIRD BIRD reflex, which I tried to ignore, but ultimately I hauled out the big lens for a few shots before going back to the landscape.

To complicate things further, the Pileated brought a friend, and the two of them spent my entire shoot in the trees near me, sometimes as close at 15′, while I tried to ignore them and focus on the spring.

I’m happy with the results. I only tried two compositions and only liked this one. I did a few different variations on shutter speed, and ended up processing a couple in different ways, warming up one and emphasizing the cool tones of the water more in the other, each with slightly different crops based on whether I wanted more or less of the surrounding greens visible.

And with that, I now have images of Fern Spring, and unless I come chasing fall color some year where I run into freshly fallen fall leaves in it, it’s unlikely I’ll ever try shooting here again, because honestly, it’s hard to see a different interesting composition here. Unless maybe I bring a ladder and shoot straight down into it. Hmm…

Yosemite National Park

Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park