Canyon Live Oak Above the Merced

Water, rock, now guess what? Trees! This is what I classify as a “drive by” image. You know the ones, you’re driving along and keep seeing something, but you either can’t stop, there’s no where to park or you simply have other destinations you’re heading for. Well, there’s a series of oak trees on the rugged slopes of the Merced River canyon as you make your way towards the valley. For years I’ve driven by, wanting to stop, but just never did. But this day I intended to NOT go to Yosemite Valley and dedicate my time to the canyon. This time, went up and down this stretch, driving by… was it worth stopping? The nearest pullout was at least 1/4 of a mile up the road. Brutal, could I handle the long hike? :roll_eyes: :sunglasses: Well, a different kind of danger anyway, walking along a busy road with very little shoulder room… any time a tour bus wizzed by I felt like I would be blown off in to the canyon… (ok, embellishing the drama… NOT.)

Question is, was it worth it?

You may only download this image to demonstrate post-processing techniques.

What technical feedback would you like if any?

Processing of course. Colors look ok? Granite rock a little greenish? I think fairly accurate though throughout this area. kind of a blue-ish green.

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

When I first viewed the series of images from this spot I was a little disappointed the tree was leaning so much. Did I really not level the camera? I’m curious if this is a case where if you weren’t there to see this in person, are you more likely to think this isn’t level? Vs. what I saw and know about the deep canyon and how things are growing and laid out? Still unsure, but liked enough to post.

Wish the dead branch/leaves weren’t there. Oh well.

Pertinent technical details or techniques:

Nikon D800E, 28-300mm @62mm, 3-image focus blend at f/11 iso200. The focus stack included on for the rock, another for the main tree and the third for the bg forest.

I cloned out a little bush-top in the LLC as well as an errant, intruding little branch US, otherwise this is pretty straight forward.

(If this is a composite, etc. please be honest with your techniques to help others learn)

I like this quite a bit. You walked a whole 1/4 mile? I hope you brought your emergency hiking beacon with you (and some oxygen). I think the lean of the rock and tree work together to present a very natural and level look, if you know what I mean. The dead branches are not ideal but are so minor as to not bother me a bit. This turned out really well. No suggestions from me.

I think this looks real nice, Lon. Yes, the granite has a tinge of blue/cyan, but looks fine and balances with the foliage. It doesn’t matter to me that the tree is leaning, given the terrain.

My only suggestion would be is to do some selective burning of the background foliage. Some parts of the main tree get a little lost.

The framing looks great, and the processing looks spot-on.

Good job, here.


I like this image filled with trees and branches. I like the overall colors but I miss a bit of contrast.
Now I have been so bold to proces your image a little. I gave it a bit more color and contrast.

Hope you like it

I think that a lot of what people like is often what they’re familiar with. I can totally relate to this scene. The oaks often hang over the eastern Sierra rivers from granite ledges. Anyone who has fished these steep canyons has a soft spot for them. I’ve cast many a fly below them and even lost a few in it’s branches. They’re also a great place to stop for lunch, sit in their shade, and watch the clear pools below.

Are they as photogenic as the trees in the valley? Probably not. But there’s the emotional attachment of prior experiences. The composition and the overall shape of the tree is excellent. This looks like it was shot under fairly bright light. I would raise the shadows a bit.

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Lon, a really neat find. Even if a challenge to get there. As long as it is ALWAYS safe. Photogs don’t make good daredevils…:clown_face:

I really like this one as presented in composition. I could see a very tiny bit more contrast to bring out a bit darker tone maybe…:thinking:
I think the odd angle is what makes this one appealing. We all have level trees in our folios, this one gets immediate attention with the tilt. Not only that but as big as it is on the edge here it gets credit for being a survivor too…:+1:

Was it worth it? For me a resounding YES. Fantastic photo, of a fantastic subject. I think Oaks do not get their fair shakes in photographs. Colors look spot on to me. I love the soft muted colors, especially that it appears that it was made in overcast light. What I did wish for with this one was a little more separation between the tree and background. Possibly a little more contrast might help, but I don’t think as much as Ben suggests. Or maybe if the background was a little less in focus it might help to separate the two. Oh, and I never once thought the image was not level. It appears like the tree is just growing on a sloped slab of granite. I think it is a fantastic photo, very rich and full of emotion, life, stories of its travails, and I could sit with this tree and just ponder. The sad part is that most people would have no idea why you just took a picture of a bunch of green stuff.

Someone just commented today at my exhibit about a photograph of a seascape and that they had been to that very beach and it never looked like what I showed in the photo. Their companion said its because they were not a photographer. I then replied and its because it took me more than dozens of trips to that beach and stood there for hours at a time until all the elements of what I envisioned finally came together. Its like this image Lon, you’ve passed it by so many times seeing something in the corner of your eye as you pass, knowing that there is something there worthy of photographing and the only thing missing in all the other times was just the right moment for that tree to be photographed.

Looking forward to more from this series.


Lon, this one was absolutely worth the 1/4 mile hike, it’s a quite lovely image. The understated green and yellow colors here look wonderful, and tell a great story about spring. Your restrained processing of saturation lets all those spring colors stand out nicely. This tree has so much character that it was well worth risking the traffic. I know others have said they like the leaning tree, but I think it is slightly too much and would rotate it a bit. The rocks do have a slight greenish cast, but I don’t find that objectionable, in fact it’s a realistic looking cast from the foliage.

Thank you so much for the kind words and suggestions. I do agree that any/all of the suggested adjustments to help separate the tree from the far bg trees would help. Either via a softer, less sharp bg, contrast and/or burning/dodging.

I took a look at the RAWs and thought rather than using 3 images for the focus stack at f/11, I could just use the first 2 and not the frame for the bg. That would help soften the bg without doing much more than redoing the stack.

@Ben_van_der_Sande, thank you for your suggested edit. I like the punch and do think the changes helped separate the tree a bit more. The edit looks good, but perhaps a bit stronger than the experience - which is not to say there’s any other reason why the image couldn’t be processed this way.

As to the brightness and light, it was diffused in the sense that there is no direct sunlight. However, the sun was creeping over the canyon wall to the east and even though it was around 10am, the sun had not reached the lower parts of the canyon yet.

Igor, wonderful comment (all of it,) thank you! You painted poetic description attaching so much life to the scene.

Thank you so much @Youssef_Ismail for your comments and kind words. So much of it rings true

This is so true - at least it is for me. There is always something worthy to photograph and rarely a moment goes by that I’m not thinking that. And it’s also true that most folks don’t understand what or why you would be photograph something. Had many a looks and questions especially in Yosemite Valley of folks stopping and looking around for the bear that I’m photographing… when it turns out I’m capturing a picture of tree bark…:roll_eyes: :wink:

Thanks again!