Shortly after the first of the year, I received an email through my website from a gentleman from New Orleans. His name was Maji, and he was interested in coming out to Yosemite for the long Presidents Day weekend to photograph in the park. Since he had never been to Yosemite and had just two full days to shoot, he was looking for both a guide and instructor, so I was grateful that he found me on the Internet.
Going way back to my teenage years, I have been to Yosemite hundreds of times to photograph, hike, climb, ski, camp, cycle, lead photographic workshops and even roller-skate (not recommended by the way). So I guess over the years that I may have started to take Yosemite and our proximity to it for granted. Now don't get me wrong, I still love going to the park and it's still magical for me. The park is always changing, the light always different. Every season is different from the one before, and each season allows a different photographic opportunity: the peaceful, quiet calm of a winter day with a fresh blanket of snow; the green meadows, blooming dogwood and the waterfalls on a bright spring day; the lazy warm days of summer alongside the Merced River; the beautiful golden colors of a crisp fall day.
I am very fortunate that I was able to share this magical place with someone who has never been there before and share my love of photography with him. But it made me feel a little sad, too, for all of the visitors who travel thousands of miles to be in the park for just a short time. For many of them it will be their only visit.
In the weeks leading up to my weekend with Maji we exchanged emails and phone calls detailing travel plans and logistics. I had Maji email me some images so I could determine his skill level. Maji is a skilled intermediate shooter but needed some help with composition, so we agreed that is what I'd concentrate on as far as photo instruction.
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Maji sent me his "wish list" of places in Yosemite that he wanted to photograph. I had to chuckle a bit when I received his list, as it would have taken us more than a week to adequately photograph everything. Yosemite is a very big place, and much of the high country that he wanted to see was now (finally) closed because of winter conditions. I had to condense his photographic visit to Yosemite Valley and the dozen or so places that he wanted to photograph in the valley.
Maji was particularly interested in photographing Horsetail Falls. It's a phenomenon that occurs during the last two weeks of February when the angle of the setting sun streaks across the small, little known waterfall near El Captain, setting it ablaze with color. Three things are required for this to happen at Horsetail Falls. First, you have to be there during the last two weeks of February; second, there has to be water coming down the falls; and third, the sunset can't be obstructed by clouds.
We had the first one covered, as we were there at the peak time for the angle of the sun. The last two ingredients proved to be a little more elusive over two nights.
We started early each morning and finished at sunset. At the end of each day we were both exhausted. In our rare downtime from shooting, I took him to the Ansel Adams Gallery and the Ahwahnee Hotel, where he marveled at the architecture and beautiful stone work. I helped Maji make some great images and showed him some little-known Yosemite Valley photo spots that he would have had a hard time finding in the short time that he was in the park.
But, in the end, it was Maji who reminded me what a truly remarkable place that Yosemite is and how fortunate I am to be living in Merced, the Gateway to Yosemite.
I'll be leading two spring landscape photography workshops to Yosemite, one in April and the other in May. I am also available anytime for private workshops and photo tours to Yosemite Valley. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jay Sousa has been a full-time professional photographer for 32 years. He owns both Jay Sousa Photography and Gallery on the Square in Merced, teaches photography at Merced College, and leads private and group photography workshops. You can contact him at email@example.com.