Immersion Course: Essay and Photographs by William Neill

Black Oak Leaves, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California  1983

Camera: Wista 45  Lens: Rodenstock Sironar-N 210mm f/5.6

One important goal for landscape photographers, or any photographer, is to develop a body of images that shows both depth and creativity.  Making images that are innovative is hard enough, but it is very difficult to sustain it.  Especially if you aspire to market your images, then showing a sustained level of excellence in your portfolio will draw attention to your work.  There is so much generic imagery and so much competition that uniqueness is at a premium.


Manzanita braches after forest fire, Yosemite National Park, California  1984

Camera: Wista 45  Lens: Fujinon SW 90mm f/8

One of the keys to develop depth in your work is to observe, and photograph, a chosen landscape for an extended period. The best opportunity is to explore a local nature preserve that you can return to often, during different seasons and times of day.  Your sense of the place will grow.  The choices you make when photographing will be educated by your knowledge of the local weather, light and topography.


Shrouded cliffs and trees on Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California 1994

Camera: Wista 45  Lens: Rodenstock Sironar-N 210mm f/5.6

Less photographed landscapes, with little published imagery to be influenced by, perhaps offer greater opportunity for creative development than far-flung and famous ones. Ideally, you can observe your local landscape daily, or at least weekly in order to watch for those subtle changes such as the first trees budding out in spring, or freshly fallen autumn leaves on the forest floor. I have heard world-class photographers hesitate to photograph Yosemite when visiting due to its history of remarkable imagery, and it certainly is difficult to rise above the ordinary when photographing famous landscapes.

It took me three or four years of living in and photographing the park to take just a few unique images.  I drove through Yosemite Valley on my way to and from work at The Ansel Adams Gallery, and had the great opportunity to observe a remarkable landscape closely and continually.  There are certain compositions in the Valley that have intrigued me over the years, and so I checked them out often.  One view was of Glacier Point seen above,Shrouded cliffs and trees on Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California 1994, taken in morning light after a fresh snowfall. 


Black oaks and Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California  1984

Camera: Wista 45  Lens: Rodenstock Sironar-N 210mm f/5.6

The image here, Black oaks and Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1984was made after about 5 years of observation, and a few previous less successful exposures.  One evening on the way home, the conditions came together: the fog; the clouds illuminated by the evening glow: The interplay between the tree branches and the outline of the cliffs added strong graphic interest.  The long exposure of about one minute and the blue sky shifted the colors to bluish purple, adding to the mysterious mood.  Looking back, I feel like I had studied hard to finally pass the final exam!


Forest Fog, Sierra Nevada Foothills, California  2006

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II__70.0-200.0 mm__3.2 sec at f / 9.0__ISO 100

I don’t live quite as close to Yosemite Valley as I used to, but still live in the Sierra Nevada foothills just south of the park.  In an effort to give myself more local options, I have been landscaping my own property with photographic potential in mind.  I have spread native wildflower and grass seed, planted dogwood and cottonwood trees, in part to restore the area where my house was built, but also to compliment the rest of my relatively wild acre of mazanita, ponderosa pine and oak woodland.  I  also added a waterfall feature on my patio, and designed it with photography in mind.  With ten years of time at this locale, my efforts and observations have been paying off.  The photographForest Fog, Sierra Nevada Foothills, California  2006was taken from inside my office through my back window in foggy dawn light!  This photograph of the oak and pine forest behind my home became part of myImpressions of Lightportfolio.

Concentrating on your own special landscape is like taking an “immersion” language course.  You focus your attention on one subject so intensely that your skills improve quickly.  You begin to see nuances of a landscape’s appearance not apparent before to you, nor apparent to the casual observer. The knowledge developed in such immersion should help define your vision, to yourself and to others, and it should carry over when you travel to other locales. So take the plunge!

January, 2011


To see and learn about Neill’s Yosemite eBook, click on the book image below.

I am offering a special discount to the readers of Luminous Landscape for my latest ebook, good through  January 20, 2011 .

Simply enter this discount code “LumLandscape” in the shopping cart to receive $2.00 off the ebook, which is normally $10.00



William Neill's YOSEMITE: VOLUME ONE Pg Spread

In the eBook, Neill has written commentary on the aesthetics and technical aspects of creating each photograph.  This includes location information which will be helpful to photographers who visit the park.  The PDF book shows each photograph in high resolution and offers interaction between each image and the Photo Notes section at the back of the book.  He conductsOne-on-One Workshops at his studio in Oakhurst, CA, which is only a few miles from Yosemite. On his website store, you will find his other eBooks available for download: William Neill eBooks

Previous articles by William Neill on Luminous Landscpe

Landscapes of the Spirit

Thoughts on Ansel

Impressions of Light

Meditations in Monochrome

Thinking in Themes

William Neill, a resident of the Yosemite National Park area since 1977, is a landscape photographer concerned with conveying the deep, spiritual beauty he sees and feels in Nature. Neill’s award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars, posters, and his limited edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection, The Polaroid Collection and The Ansel Adams Gallery. Neill received a BA degree in Environmental Conservation at the University of Colorado. In 1995, Neill received the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography.