Here at The REI Blog we are long-time fans of Yosemite Nature Notes, a series of interpretive videos whose steadily evolving sense of nuance and artistry we find particularly appealing.
Credit for these high-grade productions—short films, really—goes to park videographer Steve Bumgardner (aka Yosemite Steve), whose technical and creative refinements seem to have deepened with each new project.
Bumgardner recently rolled out the 20th installment in the series—this one focused on Yosemite National Park’s granite, the park’s bedrock—and the 43-year-old videographer kindly discussed it with us.
The REI Blog: Why choose granite as a topic for an interpretive video?
Bumgardner: I've always had a fondness for the physical sciences such as weather and geology, but they're also topics that many find boring. I was intrigued to make geology sexy by finding simple, interesting stories about this ubiquitous Yosemite rock, and by including the exciting aspect of rock climbing to help spice things up.
REI: Did you learn anything about granite you did not know previously?
Bumgardner: I've been an amateur geologist most of my adult life, and I'm really good friends with Yosemite geologist Greg Stock, so most of the factoids in this episode were things I've known for quite a while. I've also spent many days in the field with Greg and the other featured geologist Allen Glazner, and we've waxed geologic quite a bit. To make an interesting video, it was actually necessary for me to forget lots of the things I've learned over the years and focus on simple, powerful concepts.
REI: How challenging was it to artfully depict an inanimate object (rock) in a nearly 8-minute video?
Bumgardner: One way I've made this static subject more visually interesting was by moving my camera. This episode probably has the highest ratio of dynamic to static shots. Camera sliders, dolly moves and several different crane set-ups allowed my camera to fly over the granite landscape in large and small scales, revealing details and structures in a compelling way.
Steve Bumgardner pauses to rest atop a large granite slab near Yosemite's Cathedral Peak while toting camera gear. (Steve Bumgardner photo)
REI: Was it tough to capture the climbing scenes?
Bumgardner: I've been a climber and caver for over 20 years, and although I have a healthy respect for heights that only occasionally turns into fear. As long as I'm connected to a rope, I'm usually pretty comfortable dangling hundreds of feet in the air. Of course, the logistics of shooting in these locations is complicated, and I'm glad that my good friend and assistant Josh Helling, who is also a climbing guide and a fantastic rigger in the vertical world, was able to join me for these climbing shoots, and his skills were invaluable. Shooting climbing footage is often a lot work for only a few seconds of usable footage, but it sure makes for compelling, attention-getting action.
REI: How much of what we see is new footage?
Bumgardner: The interviews for this episode were actually all shot last summer, while most of the climbing footage was shot this fall. Like most episodes of Yosemite Nature Notes, I'd been acquiring content off and on for over a year. Even the bear and tree in fall color [new additions to the introductory scenes] are over a year old.
REI: This is installment No. 20 in your series. Does the number hold any significance to you?
Bumgardner: Twenty does seem like a milestone, but I don't assign much value to it. It is interesting to note that there is now nearly 3 hours of YNN content on YouTube. Who knows when it will end?
REI: What’s next?
Bumgardner: I'm in Berkeley, Calif., this week, shooting for an upcoming episode about the California grizzly. Many folks don't realize that grizzlies once roamed this great state, and that there are some interesting Yosemite stories about these magnificent animals. The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley is the final resting place of several California grizzlies, including skulls and hides from this extinct sub-species, and the Bancroft Library holds a vast repository of grizzly history and media. I've always wanted to produce a feature length documentary about California grizzlies so I'm excited to start down that path.