Staff Photographer Mike Reeves grew up visiting Yosemite and has lived in the park since 2010. Mike leads photography classes and private photography guiding at The Ansel Adams Gallery. As an expert on Yosemite and Photography, he enjoys sharing unique geographical features of the Park that would be difficult for others to discover on their own. His urge to explore the striking landscapes and solitude of remote wilderness has recently led him on a number of backcountry expeditions to photograph the landscape. He has returned with photographs made of areas that most never get to see or experience, which we are lucky enough to share with you in this interview.
Join us while we uncover Mike’s story as a long-time resident in Yosemite National Park, and the inspiration that drives his photographic journey.
(AAG) What is your favorite part of Yosemite to photograph?
Mike: I enjoy our vast wilderness areas, especially those that require overnight travel to reach. Photographing remote areas that most never get to see or experience is special to me. To feel the cold wind at dawn or stand under a powerful thunderstorm and photograph the changes in color and light is both calming and exciting at the same time. There is also something rewarding about carrying all the gear you need for several days, photographing the landscape, and then returning to the world as if it was on pause while you were gone. If I had to narrow that down to a particular spot, I’d say the Young Lakes basin is a place I could visit over and over, but it’s a long hike. Glacier Point is my favorite place to photograph that is easily accessible by car.
(AAG) What is your favorite season to photograph in Yosemite?
Mike: I get this question a lot and I guess my answer is that I have a favorite subject each season. Winter brings dramatic light and mist to the cliffs during a snowstorm, and the quiet of meadows covered in fresh snow. Spring sees the park wake up from the depths of winter where rich greens emerge in the meadows and the sounds of snowmelt falling from the high country start to echo off the tall valley walls. Summer brings the ability to reach the high country and backpack to most of the park which is closed for so many months throughout the year. Fall has the water drop and seasonal colors reflecting in the river as the summer crowds dwindle. You could say the valley is typically best known for its waterfalls in spring, but every season brings the opportunity to photograph something unique.
(AAG) Since arriving in Yosemite, how do you feel your work has evolved?
Mike: It’s amazing to think I have lived in the park over ten years now. Over that time I can say my eye and style has certainly changed and evolved. I came to the park looking for our big icons, but eventually found there was more to offer in smaller scenes that were less dependent on dramatic storms or particular lighting situations. Keith Walklet really helped me with composing smaller scenes and working with quality light versus a postcard subject. I now chase light versus subject. Good light can often be its own subject. Over the years I can say my compositions have also tightened up. I rarely use my wider lenses and often find myself trying to get ever closer to something with a zoom lens. I also didn’t do much backpacking prior to moving here, so I have spent time on foot and horseback seeking out new scenes in new areas.
From a technical standpoint I have upgraded gear but I have never felt better gear makes you a better photographer, but I do feel that better gear can be used in conjunction with proper processing to make better prints. Since moving here my printing ability has greatly improved. I can thank Charles Cramer, who has been an excellent mentor, for helping me hone my abilities to make a better print that captures the true feeling of a scene. In such a digital world where most images are a quick upload to some website, it is rewarding to hold a print in your hands that you are truly proud of. I’ve also been lucky enough to assist Alan Ross on many workshops over the years which has been a great help to refine my teaching abilities.
(AAG) Do you plan your photographic process, or do you let chance take a role?
Mike: Ansel enjoyed a quote from Pasteur:, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” I am a fan of spending time researching the area I am headed to photograph. Checking sunrise, sunset and the moon phase never hurts. I also like to take a peek at the photographs of others to get inspired. Once I am actually there, it never hurts to be a little spontaneous. When I go backpacking I do want a good idea of what the area will look like when I arrive, but there are always small scenes that will surprise you. I always encourage people to take a good look around them.
(AAG) What was your first experience with a camera?
Mike: I can’t even remember anymore. I’ve had some sort of camera ever since I was a kid. Every trip to Yosemite usually had a roll or two of some basic Kodak Gold through it. Eventually I was old enough to use my mom’s nicer Canon and start taking better images, and that led to an early digital camera which grew into my current gear.
(AAG) What are some of your favorite things about teaching photography?
Mike: I really enjoy taking people to places that bring me joy. On the technical side, even some of the most basic features can be really great to use when you have not explored them. Simple things like exposure compensation can really mean the difference between getting that shot at sunset from Glacier Point and going home disappointed.