The Rock Star of Yosemite

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (a very sheer, 3000′ tall granite rock), you’ve heard about the landmark free solo ascent of El Capitan that climber Alex Honnold made this week.  Free soloing is exactly as it sounds – climbing by yourself, without any safety gear to secure you to the rock except your own two hands and feet.  It’s about as risky as it gets, and when you combine free soloing with a granite face higher than the world’s tallest skyscraper…well, we just summited a whole new level of crazy.

Without any warning, without any fanfare, the internet suddenly went ablaze this week with stories of this amazing feat of physical and mental dominance.  I mean SERIOUSLY – who does this??!!  I can’t even shimmy within 5 feet of a 30 foot vertical drop without a jolt of leg-liquifying adrenaline pulsing through my vertiginous joints.  How does someone have the power and nerve to climb the incredibly flat, notoriously fragile face of a cliff that is over a half mile high?  Without ropes?  Without a safety harness?  Without a parachute or wing suit or paraglider or God knows what to ensure a pleasant glide to the bottom should one of your 3,000 steps fall short?  Can someone please explain to me….HOW DOES SOMEONE DO THIS?????

The point is, we can’t explain it.  That’s why Honnold’s story has captivated us so much.  He has single- (or, more appropriately, double-) handedly thrown not just the climbing world, but the world of rational thought into an existential tailspin.  Because it’s not just his awesome athleticism that is inspiring – climbing El Cap in under 4 hours is insane enough to make him the stuff of legends – it’s the mental muscle it took to overcome the very real, very human fear of falling/dying and will himself to do something humans (or really, any animal) aren’t supposed to do.  Didn’t he ever look down and think, “man, that’s pretty far, I kind of wish I had my ropes with me today?”

In the short snippets of interviews with Honnold that have already been released, he mentions that mental preparedness is just as important to his free solo ascents as physical fitness.  That’s why we didn’t hear anything about this landmark climb until after it was all said and done.  Heck, his MOM didn’t even know he was doing it, which in retrospect, was a fair call there, Honnold.  For him to believe, truly believe that he could do the incredible, he needed to only be surrounded by others who believed he could do it.  Too much worrying, too much hype, too high of expectations and his whole chi could go haywire.  Which pretty much meant Honnold’s circle of trust centered around himself (and a handful of National Geographic photographers, videographers, and journalists that may or may not have believed he could do it, but wisely thought it best to keep those thoughts to themselves).

In celebration of what is either the craziest or most inspiring thing to happen in Yosemite this year, I thought I’d share some rock-centric images from my April trip to the park.  Congratulations to Honnold for proving that what was once impossible can become incredible – if only we look within, and then UP.

Cheers!

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In the early morning, warm sunshine bathes the east face of El Capitan.  Look closely and you’ll see the cables for a climbing route.
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“El Cap,” as it is affectionately called, is on the west end of Yosemite Valley.  Here it is silhouetted against a sunset view of Half Dome, giving some perspective on just how tall and sheer it is.
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The abstract beauty of Yosemite’s granite walls is something I never tire of.
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Coffee, anyone?  Climbers waking up 1500′ above Yosemite Valley, preparing for another day of climbing the face of El Capitan.
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A tributary fall spills over the east edge of El Capitan, catching the dawn light as it cascades to the rocks below.

 

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A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Once upon a time, my sister Melissa turned 42.  And on this birthday, as she had upon so many birthdays before, she made one wish: to celebrate at her favorite place on Earth, Disneyland!

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Proving that age ain’t nothin’ but a number, Melissa embarked upon her theme park odyssey with the zest and zeal only the young at heart possess.  Lucky for me, some family traits don’t branch far along the family tree, and I was only too happy to grab the mouse by the ears – err, bull by the horns – and join my sis in some Disney debauchery.  “YOLO” isn’t just the county this chic lives in, it’s a way of life!  (Yes, Melissa DOES live in Yolo County.  Because, of course.)

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OK, so we didn’t do anything worth getting thrown into the infamous underground jail for (Although I threatened!  Who wouldn’t want to get locked up by Little John?), but we did have a blast eating junk food, riding fast roller coasters, seeing Johnny Depp (for reals), and otherwise just being obnoxious kids.  Except we aren’t in third or fourth grade – more like our third or forth decade of LIFE.  Doesn’t matter.  YOLO.

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Melissa has cognitive and physical disabilities that have always made her daily life a balance between a challenge and many blessings.  Challenge because she can’t do or understand things as easily as most of us, and that creates frustration for her and sometimes confusion and judgement from the people she interacts with.  Blessing because more often than not, the very traits that make her “different” are also the things that bring out a wellspring of grace and love from the wonderful people of the world.  The fact of the matter is, Melissa is a pretty happy woman, and she’ll be a Mickey’s uncle if you aren’t going to greet life with a happy smile, too!

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I think I know why Melissa loves Disneyland so much: It’s the one place she truly feels free and accepted.  Walt Disney wanted his humble little theme park to be a place where the young, and the young at heart, could come and lose themselves in a world of imagination and fantasy.  It has always been a place focused on promoting positivity and providing a personalized experience.  In keeping step with their unique brand of all-encompassing customer service, Disney has always been at the forefront of inclusivity.  A trip to one of the Disney parks is truly a chance for us ALL to have our inner child cherished.

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Accompanying my sister around Disneyland and California Adventure for two solid days was a chance for me to see the world through her eyes.  (Eyes which clearly have laser-sharp focus for Space Mountain and the Matterhorn).  It was also an opportunity for me to witness the care and kindness of people from all stages and walks of life.  Watching the news or surfing the ‘Book, we only see the extremes of human behavior: grown children slinging slurs and verbal dirt at each other like playground bullies, or a heroic good Samaritan saving a cat/dog/dolphin/orangutan from imminent doom.  What we don’t see are the leagues of everyday folks – like you and me – that live our lives with consideration for the lives of others.  Melissa and I met so many good people in those two days, enough to remind us that the “Happiest Place on Earth” is also filled with the “Nicest People on the Planet.”

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Because I’m a photographer, my birthday gift to Melissa was the gift of remembrance.  Between pushing her wheelchair up and down deceptively steep ramps (“pull your brake!!”) and sipping on Coke and a cold beer in the food plaza (thank you thank you thank you Karl Strauss), I was snapping shots of my sister enjoying her Disney experience.  Below are a handful of my favorites.

Happy birthday sis-tah!!  May you never stop being young at heart.  YOLO.

Your lil’ sis,

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Yosemite Winter in Black and White

No matter how advanced digital photography gets in color capturing and printing technology, there will always be a special place for black and white photography in Yosemite.

John Muir was spot-on when he christened this natural gem the “Range of Light.”  The rugged 2,000+ foot granite walls sheltering the narrow Yosemite Valley, with its northeast-southwest orientation, make for spectacular plays of reflected light and deep shadow all through the year.  Anyone who photographs in Yosemite is aware of the challenges that such hard contrasts in light can bring to a full color image.  But when viewed in black and white, these hard stops reveal texture, form, gravity, and emotion that aren’t immediately obvious in the full color scene.  There is a sensitivity and richness that comes through when the color is stripped away and the landscape laid bare.

Ansel Adams was, of course, the king of black and white Yosemite photography.  If he were alive today and had the option to record his vision in color, I wonder if he would see things differently?  I’m secretly glad he didn’t have a palette of technicolor tools at his disposal.  There’s a reason why, despite having access to advanced technology, millions of photographers continue to emulate his style.  Adams’ images are so clear, so honest, so strong yet delicate in their handling of light and darkness.  It’s like watching a ballet unfold frame by frame.  Without the beautiful distraction of color, a whole new world opens up that invites a new kind of contemplation.

This January was my first winter camping trip to Yosemite.  Although I did not approach every scene with the intent of capturing it in black and white, I found that I was often pulled that direction in my editing.  White snow, black shadows, bare tree branches outstretched against a pale gray sky…all lent themselves perfectly to the black and white approach.

What do you notice first in each of these images?  Would you see something different if they were in color?

Cheers,

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Fall in Love with Yosemite

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Pssst…I’l let you in on a local’s secret: Yosemite National Park is horrible in the summer.  When the waterfalls are raging and the days are long and warm, there is no place I’d rather NOT be than Yosemite.  During this extremely popular time of the year, there are throngs of people and cars clogging every walkway and road, dirty air fed by forest fires and Central Valley smog, and a dry, sweltering heat that leaves me pining for air conditioning and a freezer full of Mint Oreo ice cream.

Pretty much every month outside of June, July, and September is better for visiting, although I think Fall is the best. There’s a cool crispness to the air…mmmm, that pristine mountain kind filled with the fresh, lung-scrubbing fragrance of damp pine needles and joyously littered with a colorful confetti of falling leaves.

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There’s also that glowing, golden sunshine that bathes the Valley Floor during the day, a luscious light that only comes at this time of year.  It’s warm and beautiful, especially as it illuminates the face of Half Dome in the mid-afternoon.

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A face I never tire of.
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I always say “I won’t photograph Half Dome this time!!”  But that’s lazy-talk.  All it takes is challenging myself to look at this classic image from a new perspective.  There are a million ways to “see” Half Dome, and I intend to capture them all!

This past weekend Steve, Mila, and I went “glamping” (i.e. tent camping, but with enough kitchenware and bedding to stock a Macy’s Home Store) in the shadow of the world’s most famous monolith.  What ensued were several days of peace and rejuvenation in this idyllic park.  Although I said I’d go easy on the photography  this trip (really, how many pictures of Yosemite Falls do I need??), I scrapped that idea once I immersed myself in the splendid beauty of Yosemite.

A recent rain storm had erased the memory of summer, wetting the soil and refilling the High Sierra watershed, bringing the famed waterfalls to life again.  The fall colors were peaking, the light was amazing, and I just couldn’t help myself!!  Scroll down to see more of my photos from our Yosemite Fall “Glamping” Trip.

Have you been to Yosemite?  If so, when is your favorite time of year to visit?  Litter my my blog with comments, I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers,

Jessica

P.S. – One of these days I’ll post on the finer points of “glamping.”  Mila still doesn’t understand it – like why would you take all the comforts of home to someplace that’s NOT home – but believe me, it’s kind of a thing these days!

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There is a certain moment at dusk when the warmth of sunset blends into the coolness of twilight.  It only lasts a minute, but it’s worth every second!
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Three of the best things in life: My two favorite traveling buddies and a hot thermos of coffee.
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You’re my best friend.
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I was taking a picture of the berries on the dogwood tree when this little robin hopped in front of my lens – a much more interesting subject!

 

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Curious things happen at the intersection of darkness and light.
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Sooooo refreshing to see Yosemite Falls flowing again.  It always breaks my heart when the water runs dry.
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When your humans take you camping, and you’re like “meh”.
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The secret forest.
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Camping is fun, no?
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You know how hard it is to take a handheld macro shot of a patch of mushrooms in the shade?  Next time, I’m bringing a tripod. :-p
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Mirror Lake…aptly named.
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Serenity at Valley View.  It’s easy to miss this gorgeous vista on your drive out of the park – but trust me, it’s well worth the stop.

 

 

 

Beel Family Portrait Session

There’s nothing like photographing people in one of their favorite places.  Last week’s family session in Yosemite Valley with the Beels was certainly a prime example of that.  Brett and Lindsay Beel share a love for Yosemite, born of their passion for rock climbing, so it was only natural that they introduce their new little man to the mountains as soon as possible!

Nolan made his first national park visit at the tender age of 1 month and 1 day.  Yes!!!  You heard that right.  For a newborn, he weathered the outdoors unbelievably well and was quite content to be held by Mom and Dad as we played around in Cook’s Meadow.   Judging by how comfortable and relaxed he was, I’m thinking this is just the first trip of many!  Babies everywhere: the bar has been set, and it is HIGH.  🙂

Congratulations Brett and Lindsay on the new addition to your family.  I know you’ll miss Yosemite when you move to Pennsylvania, but here’s hoping that these photos remind you of your special time in California.  Thank you for inviting me to share in these memories with you.

Cheers!

Jessica

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Real Estate Photography: It’s Not Just Pictures of Pretty Houses

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Spoiler alert!  There are many genres of photography out there that don’t fit the stereotypical mold of glitz and glamour.  Not all professional photography involves smiling happy families in matching sweaters, five-star weddings, sunsets over Santorini, or following around beautiful people in designer jeans as they strike funny poses in exotic places (if only…). One of these lesser-known, but increasingly lucrative, genres is real estate photography.

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Know this: Real estate photography isn’t just pictures of kitchen islands and master bathrooms!  As millennials enter the home-buying market, real estate is taking a surprisingly “real-life” turn, and one of the ways it is doing this is by depicting neighborhoods and cities as locals see it.  In fact, the Sacramento Bee just published an article about the changing landscape in real estate marketing, highlighting a trend that is focused on advertising the homeowner lifestyle and experience vs. farmhouse sinks and travertine floors.

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My love for travel and street photography has given me the opportunity to work for several real estate and relocation firms, most recently Jane Gray of Jane Gray Real Estate.  Jane is an experienced businesswoman with her finger on the pulse of the Sacramento housing market.  To give her clients a real feel for the area and differentiate her brand from the competition, she knew she needed unique, fresh, and authentic imagery.  When she reached out to me to develop the visual content for her website and blog, I jumped at the chance!  I love this kind of work because I get to explore a city from the inside-out and fully indulge my passion for architecture, landscape, and candid street photography.  I also get to tap into my storytelling skills as I weave a visual narrative of a city.

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The goal in this type of real estate photography, which I’ve started calling “environmental photography”, is to show people so much more than the four walls of a house.  We all know that it’s not the 800 square foot media room, but the surrounding community that really turns a house into your “home.”  Want to see what it’s like to call Roseville and Sacramento home?  Keep scrolling…

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Thank you Jane for the opportunity to create exclusive content for you!  I can’t wait to see how you use your images for Jane Gray Real Estate.