The Yosemite National Park Virtual Challenge takes you on a 44mi (70km) route from Nevada Falls to Liberty Cap through the famous steep granite valley walls, giant sequoia groves, gushing waterfalls, and hiking trails. I have to admit, moving the pegman around on the app is awful pretty for this challenge.

This medal features a camera lens and a famous image by Ansel Easton Adams. He was an American landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating “pure” photography which favored sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. Adams was a life-long advocate for environmental conservation, and his photographic practice was deeply entwined with this advocacy. At age 12, he was given his first camera during his first visit to Yosemite National Park.┬áHe developed his early photographic work as a member of the Sierra Club. For his work and his persistent advocacy, which helped expand the National Park system, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

I’ve been pairing my walks with watching training videos on YouTube to make sure I’m ready to take advantage of the fancy new cameras on my new iPhone arriving later this month. I want to be able to get the full use out of it while I am on vacation in New Zealand. Things I definitely need to learn:

  1. People. Seriously, this is my number one challenge with a camera. I hate having my picture taken, and it manifests itself as me being afraid to take pictures of other human beings. I wait until they are out of frame to take pictures of landscapes or objects. If I work up lots of courage, I can take candid pictures of people where they aren’t necessarily aware of the camera. I’ve a friend with the perfect long arms for selfies, and she makes this stuff look effortless. I have to get over this hangup. I need some people in my pictures, and I need to be visible now and again, if only to prove I was in this world, too;
  2. Video. If you think my hangups about people are funny, video is people-next-level. Most of the things you want to film have people in them. Moving people? Beyond impossible to contemplate. This means Michael always has more captivating content than I do, simply because he has no problem capturing video;
  3. Darkness. Hello Darkness, my old friend. There are some great images at night, stars and twinkling lights, and for the life of me, I have under-exposed, over-exposed, and shouldn’t-you-have-used-a-tripod in my collections. It would be incredible if I could finally learn to take pictures in the dark;
  4. Patience. I know I’m supposed to wait a bit, tinker with the settings, try again different ways, in an attempt to get the right shot. So what is my default mode? Swing the camera around, click, and move on. I don’t even wait to focus half the time. Surely I can do better than this;
  5. Manual mode. For someone who excelled at math and physics as a child, I have an inexplicable aversion to learning how to pick the right aperture, ISO, or shutter speed. I treat it like some kids treat long division (which I actually enjoy, so what the hell?). It probably won’t kill me to finally learn how to do this correctly;
  6. 3D. I want to capture one or two images with some real depth to them. No, I haven’t a clue how to go about this, but isn’t that rather the point? There’s no real point to this desire other than to pretend I could do something technical; and
  7. Tripod. I need one. I’ve been avoiding it ever since I bought one that was too weak to support my DSLR, leaving me feeling foolish.

If I’m finally going to New Zealand, and I’m seeing both the North and South Islands, I really want to come back with some great images. I’m going to see Hobbiton, and I can’t express how much I long for some pictures that capture the magic.