The Japanese have a label for this magic potion that reduces stress and promotes a sense of well-being, “Shinrin-Yoku,” which translates as “forest bathing.” Japanese-American landscape painter Chiura Obata described his experience in the High Sierra:
“In the evening, it gets very cold; the coyotes howl in the distance; in the mid sky, the moon is arching; all the trees are standing here and there, and it is very quiet. You can learn from the teachings within this quietness.”
I experienced this magnificent quietude in the Sierras exploring Mammoth Lakes and doing long night exposures of the tufa (porous rocks composed of calcium carbonate deposits) outcroppings of Mono Lake.
The image that best conveyed the experience was taken by combining a Schneider SoftEdge Graduated Neutral Density 0.9 filter for the sky with a Schneider Neutral Density 4-stop Circular Polarizer, which reduced the light for the overall image to smooth out the water.
The moonlight illuminated the tufas in my Nikon D850’s exposure of 30 seconds, f/22, at ISO 100.
Years before the pandemic seemed only the stuff of movies; I talked with filmmaker Ken Burns about his documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The six-episode series goes into detail about the role photographers played in establishing these custodians of the landscape. In fact, one could say that the development of photography and the national park movement grew and matured together in the 19th century. Mr. Burns gives some historical context: “The photographs that began to come back of the falls at Yosemite and the bare, polished granite peaks of El Capitan, the cathedral spires and Half Dome, along with the paintings of Albert Bierstadt, really galvanized interest in this area in the mid-19th century. It was possible to go back and make political inroads and convince people that this land should be preserved. Yosemite is the first time in human history where great natural land sections were set aside by the federal government. It was given to the state of California, so it doesn’t qualify as the world’s first national park. It was the first federal reserve. The only reason that eight years later, in 1872, the same didn’t happen to Yellowstone is that it was in a territory. There was no state entity to give it to. So it became the world’s first national park.” “Yellowstone had been a source of gossip and rumors for years. Nobody believed the reports are coming out by mountain men like John Colter, Joe Meek, and Jim Bridger.
It took a geological expedition in 1871 led by Ferdinand Hayden, who brought with him the painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson. People were able to see for the first time, especially in the photographs of Jackson, the wonderland of Yellowstone, as it quickly became called.”
These days many of America’s national parks, including Yosemite and Yellowstone, have a network of lodges ideally situated in areas that can yield great photo opportunities.
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