Do you want to hear a ghost story? I have one for you. It’s a story about a self-doubting landscape photographer facing a place that has been photographed by two world-famous landscape photographers. Who is the self-doubting photographer? None other than yours truly. The place is Yosemite National Park, and of course the two ghosts were the great landscape photographers Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell.
To say that these ghosts were intimidating was an understatement. Ansel Adams made landscape photography a legitimate art form while Galen Rowell colorized Adams’ vision of Yosemite as well as creating his own unique vision of the park. How was a landscape photographer from Ohio who only had a week to photograph Yosemite supposed to create photographs worthy of these ghosts? This was the question I asked myself as my family and I reached the park.
As soon as we entered the park I was awestruck and emotional. Tears welled up in my eyes. This was the place that Ansel Adams immortalized. This is the park that inspired two men who motivated me to become a landscape photographer. I was excited and terrified at the same time. How was I going to bring a fresh new perspective at one of the most photographed national parks? How was I going to exorcise these ghosts of Yosemite?
I began by photographing the first landmark a visitor sees in Yosemite Valley, El Capitan. I was marveling at how huge the granite monolith was when an idea struck me like a lightning bolt. Instead of photographing El Capitan at eye level, why not lower the tripod and shoot up at the landmark? It worked beautifully. Not only did this create a new view of Yosemite, it emphasized just how grand the landscape really is. I also used this technique in Yosemite Valley for the more famous landmarks and for the Tuolumne Meadows and vistas seen along the Tioga Road.
Suddenly, poof! Yosemite’s ghosts disappeared. Actually, I don’t really think anyone else saw these ghosts but me. I was feeling overwhelmed by the thought of competing with Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, then I came to realize that emulating the ghosts was impossible. What I had to do was create my own unique vision of Yosemite and learn from Adams and Rowell, not compete with them.
So, the next time you are in any park, be it state or national, feeling overwhelmed and wondering if you can ever photograph the area like so many professional photographers have, take a deep breath, grab your equipment and try to create your own unique vision of the park. It will help to exorcise your demons and ghosts.