Picture: Water rushing over boulders in the Merced River (Detail), Yosemite National Park, California
California’s long, cold, wet season has finally given way to the heat that typically accompanies late Spring and the start of Summer. With the sun now beating down relentlessly on the Sierra snowpack, ranked between 150 – 170% of seasonal norms, the water spigot has turned on, and is wide open. If you’ve never had the chance to see some of California’s great Sierra-born rivers at the peak of their waterflow, this is the time to go check them out. Parts of Yosemite Valley are already starting to flood due to the increased run off. But if you can make it there, the power to be seen in parts of the Merced River will take your breath away. The best locations to witness this in person is along the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls right at the Bridge, and along Highway 140 in the first couple miles east of El Portal.
For photographers who always want to know how we get the water to look all silky, this is what I generally tell them; you need a camera that lets you control your shutter speed and aperture, something most point and shoots don’t really allow you to do. If you have a camera that lets you do this, you’ll also need a tripod. The goal is to shoot as slow as possible to achieve the best results. Set your camera to the lowest ISO (25, 50, 100) and a high aperture (f 11, 16, 22). By changing the aperture in one direction or the other will vary the amount of time the shutter stays open, and changing the appearance of the water as it flows through the scene.
This shot was taken using my Nikon D7000 camera, an 80-400mm VR lens, shot at ISO 100 at f/14 at 1/6th of a second.
If it’s too bright outside, there are a couple tricks that well help. One way to slow down the camera shutter speed is to add a polarizer like I did with this shot. That alone will generally remove 1.5-2 stops of light, If it’s still too bright, you can purchase something called a Variable Neutral Density filter (mine is from Singh Ray) that will be like adding (adjustable) very dark sunglasses in front of your lens. However, these filters aren’t cheap, typically costing several hundred dollars. The last trick is the easiest, but not always available. Shoot a stretch of water that’s in shade instead of water in direct sunlight. That alone will make a huge difference on how slow you can shoot.
Image ID#: 110522_YOS-0862
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