Forty-eight years as a photojournalist with forty-seven of those covering Yosemite National Park, and I had never photographed the Bracebridge Dinner. Â Not because the event hasn’t been around – it’s over 80 years old. Â More because when I think about Yosemite the images in my mind’s eye are Half Dome and El Capitan erupting from the earth, icy streams cutting across sharp-grassed meadows, sugar pines, white fir, and giant sequoias soaring into pristine skies. Â I don’t think about the already magnificent Ahwahnee decked out as a 17th century English manor, a seven-course feast of crab, duck, angus beef with-all-the-trimmings-and-then-some, lute players and ladies-in-waiting, jugglers and jesters, and enough yuletide spirit to fill the place to its 34-foot-high beamed ceiling.
At least I didn’t before December 18, 2009. Â But I do now. Â On that memorable evening, I covered The Bracebridge Dinner for the first time. Â While the diners partook of music, merrymaking, and mountains of food, I photographed everything I could get my lens on. Â I immersed myself and my camera in the images of the celebration just as the diners immersed themselves in the spirit of a Renaissance Yule. Â The scents of the meats, pastries, and sauces, the sounds of the trumpets, trombones, and tubas, the textures of the velvets, satins, and furs-all had to be captured in my images. Â I worked intensely, not wanting to miss anything, not knowing what might happen next. Â I had to move around constantly, with hardly a place to pause because the dining tables consumed most of the room and the wait staff and performers filled the rest. Â I held my breath and did a bunch of slower shutter speeds at wide open.
Over 900 images later, the event was over.Â As the last wine was quaffed and the last mignardise were nibbled, I loaded my equipment into my four-wheel drive and headed for home through the deep snow. Â A long evening followed by a long night – the life of the freelance photographer.
Editing was challenging.Â The event is one richly colored, highly textured vignette after another, but the technical difficulty is at least a 9 (scale of 0-10). Â I set my Nikon D3 at 6400 ISO for the entire evening because the giant room was so dark.Â The shadow-to-highlight ratios were extreme because the high ceilings were lighted by candles and the performers by theatrical spots. Â I used my 300 mm f2.8 Nikkor, 70-200 mm f2.8 Nikkor zoom, and 17-35 mm f2.8 Nikkor zoom.
Initially, I edited down to 200 images even though all turned out to be technically acceptable, most even excellent. Â The best of these, 51 images, can be seen on Photoshelter.Â Twelve of the final group are posted here. Â They are only a tiny representation of the images I photographed. Â But I think you’ll notice that the problem presented by the darkness of the room has been entirely eliminated. Â It was a terrific night!Â I had such a great time that I intend to do it again.