Redbud, Merced River Canyon, 2012

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III__EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM__1.5 sec at f / 22__ISO 100


As with my previous post, this photograph was made last Sunday on my Earth Day return to nearby Merced River Canyon, my home for 20 years.  I love the change of seasons there, but the spring season is my favorite.  Many seasons, the flowers start blooming in February, and finally all turns brown in May.  Besides the flowers, the river is exhilarating in its moods, especially during the high waters of spring.  In my El Portal home, I could see the river from my living room only in the height of the spring runoff.  Its rumbling sound was very loud, and soothing, at night.

I had never photographed this tree before, but noticed these branches on Sunday while zooming past on the road.  The sun was too harsh at the time to stop, but I made note of it for later.  A few hours later, we returned as the sun was about to go down.  I worked with this composition for about one hour, taking many variations.  There was about 10-15 minutes when the light became warm as it passed behind a cloud on the horizon.  I positioned myself for good spacing of the branches, and so the glow in the sky reflected off the water.  I tried several shutter speeds in order to ge the best sharpness in the branches and sense of motion in the river.

I’ve made many images in the Merced River Canyon over the years, and one of my favs was of a special tree overhanging the river.  Below is my favorite redbud image from the MRC.  This tree is now gone, damaged by the 1997 flood and subsequent road repair.

I love my new Redbud image.  Which do you prefer?


Redbud and Merced River, Merced River Canyon, California 1989

Published by William Neill

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, and The Polaroid Collection. 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. Neill's assignment and published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. Also, he writes a monthly column, On Landscape, for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Feature articles about his work have appeared in Life, Camera and Darkroom, Outdoor Photographer and Communication Arts, from whom he has also received five Awards of Excellence. His corporate clients have included Sony Japan, Bayer Corporation, Canon USA, Nike, Nikon, The Nature Company, Hewlett Packard, 3M, Freidrick Grohe, Neutrogena, Sony Music/Classical, University of Cincinnati, UBS Global Asset Management. His work was chosen to illustrate two special edition books published by The Nature Company, Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder and John Fowles's The Tree. His photographs were also published in a three book series on the art and science of natural process in collaboration with the Exploratorium Museum of San Francisco: By Nature's Design (Exploratorium / Chronicle Books, 1993), The Color of Nature (Exploratorium / Chronicle Books, 1996) and Traces of Time (Chronicle Books / Exploratorium, Fall 2000). A portfolio of his Yosemite photographs has been published entitled Yosemite: The Promise of Wildness (Yosemite Association, 1994) which received The Director's Award from the National Park Service. A retrospective monograph of his landscape photography entitled Landscapes Of The Spirit (Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown, 1997) relates his beliefs in the healing power of nature. William has taught photography since 1980 for such prestigious organizations as The Ansel Adams Gallery, the Friends of Photography, Palm Beach Photographic Workshops, The Maine Workshops and Anderson Ranch Workshops. He specializes in landscape and nature photography and is concerned with conveying the beauty seen in Nature. Currently, he teaches online courses for and One-on-One Workshops in his home studio near Yosemite National Park.

36 replies on “Redbud, Merced River Canyon, 2012”

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  5. Both photos are lovely and I prefer the newer one but I don’t find either photo to be truly satisfactory because they are not in the same league as your body of work, which is Magnificent. I imagine a stunning Redbud photo is in your future and I look forward to seeing it.

  6. I’ve been a huge fan of your work for many years. Of these 2 images, I prefer the first. I like the texture of the water in the background, which is more prominent in this image. I also contrast between the purple buds and the yellow leaves. With fewer branches, the first image does not appear as “busy” as the second.

    Keep up the great work, it is very inspiring!

  7. I much prefer the new one. The background is reminiscent of an impressionist painting while the foreground is presented in crystal clarity. You have demonstrated superb control of the imagery.

    I’m just starting to appreciate the digital quality levels we can now enjoy. I hope to produce some similar images now that I have retired my medium format gear.

  8. As a former 4×5 shooter myself I understand the attachment we get to our slides that cost us $4 every time we hit the cable release but the new one is much better because of our gift of RAW processing I have come to refer to as “Post Processing Hell.”

    The composition is better, the rushing water has detail which was impossible to pull out with your slide. The hue of the buds are better on the slide but the could be fixed on the new image with the pink luminance slider.

    Both are great, your portfolio is stunning 😀

  9. Both photos are excellent, but I prefere the latest one. I like the contrast between the bush and the dreamy effect of the flowing water.

  10. Though I enjoy both the tried and true photo taken so many years ago my preference is definately the new one.
    The new one continues to show the beauty of the Redbud but the colors and sense of motion of the Merced you have captured gives more of a sense of location.
    I vote for the new one. Beautiful!

  11. I also prefer the newer one. To me the older one is too ‘busy’. The newer one shows the delicate flowers in contrast to the power of the river. It has a more calming effect on my senses. Keep up the great work!

  12. Neither one. In my opinion, a photograph of a small portion of a tree is like a photo of a twenty-foot section of the face of Half Dome. You have a redbud image in one of your books “Yosemite The Promise of Wildness” (pages 34-35) that I absolutely love. The picture draws me into the scene and captivates my attention, unlike either of the two that you are comparing in Outdoor Photographer. By the way, your book that I have referenced is one of the nicest (and best print quality) books that I’ve ever seen in a National Park visitor center… gorgeous detail! It provides much inspiration for my own photography.

  13. Frank, thanks for your thoughts here.

    The warm colors on the water are from late afternoon sun reflections. The redbud was backlit, which helped the flowers and leaves pop out. The yellow color is the early yellow/green leaves of the redbud.

    It was a magical evening!

  14. First of all, the photos printed on the OP do not really do them any favor. I like both photos BUT I really prefer the digital one because the composition, physical and colors.
    You have a brownish tint on tp and bottom of the frame, and even though I suspect that the river flows from left to right, the flowing lines keep me going back to the redbuds. In addition, The redbuds and the yellow flowers really stand out over the bluish river section. “I wish I had been there”

  15. I really appreciate the feedback. I am so pleased to have made this new image, because it shows me that I can still create strong images, improve upon past efforts with which I was very satisfied. I’ve always tried to keep moving forward, push myself creatively, and not rest on my past successes. At age 58, that is not so easy…



  16. It’s no contest as far as I’m concerned. The new image is much more interesting.
    I’m sorry, but the first image pales in comparison to the second. That said, I think my hero, Eliot Porter, would have loved it. The new image mixes drama with beauty combining the water that contains subtle variations in color yet shows the impending danger of falling into a rushing stream. The viewer feels you were right at the edge of the water when making the photograph. The redbuds add the extra element and contrast of colors that make this image a truly memorable photograph. Your restraint in the use of saturation and other digital effects resulted in a very natural feeling.

  17. Although both images are great, I prefer the newest image. I like the graceful curve of the branches and the feeling of movement that the water behind conveys.

  18. Jerry,

    I am a four gen Californian, so I appreciate the distinction your cousin makes. However, when it is 100+ here where I live, brown works for me! I will concede to “all turns golden brown in May!”

  19. It’s a draw for me but generally I like your branches-over-the-water images.

    Your description of spring ending with “all turns brown in May” reminded me of the stern correction given by my California-native cousin. At my mention of the brown hills around Pleasanton, she sternly said, “They’re golden!” Now we have a pastel painting of Pleasanton’s golden hills to remind us of the enjoyable years we spent there.

  20. The sky in the newer pictures looks intoxicating. For this reason alone I favor the newer image. I do like the look of the branches, it’s as if I’m seeing the tree in a bikini – almost naked. Weird metaphor perhaps, but I’m a weird fella.

  21. Both lovely, but I absolutely prefer the newest because of the water texture. I must add that I love your exquisite work and it’s difficult to pick the best shots in your portfolio, anyway the pictures in this style (branches with flowers in focus and some flowing water in the background) are definitely in my favourite ones. In particular one with dogwood flowers in your Yosemite book.

  22. Both are excellent images. The first one appeals to the viewer’s eyes due to the pastel colors of the redbud and the fact that the tree takes up the entire space in the frame. From a photographic perspective however, the newer one appeals to the senses due to the mood of the water and speaks of the artist in you Bill.

  23. Thanks for your thoughts. Like my children, I love them both!

    The 1989 photograph has endured the test of time for me. The new image is new and exciting, but unproven in the the long run. I agree that the new image succeeds because of the space around the rebud, and the qualities of the water textures. Most of the images I made on the new composition were more tightly framed but the water action and lighting were not as well conveyed.

  24. The newer one. I agree with another poster that the green of the new leaves add an extra element and a nice contrast. The fact that the branch doesn’t fill the frame as it does in the other image is compensated for by the interesting color and pattern variations in the water.

    And your pick?

  25. Both are fantastic. However, the older photo gets my attention. It fills the frame and looks more alive.

  26. I prefer the new one. The redbud have more space to stand out from the rest of the image, the new leaves provide some nice contrast to the buds. While the patterns of light and shadows and textures of the river draw my eyes through the image to examine these details, but I always end up back it the redbuds. Very nice.

  27. Both beautiful but I like the first one best…softer more pastel..the contrast of the delicate branches with the power of the river..

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