Photographer, scientist Robb Hirsch discusses awe-inspiring new book ‘The Nature of Yosemite: A Visual Journey’

Robb Hirsch/Courtesy

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Through the blissful intertwining of biological facts and landscape photography, “The Nature of Yosemite: A Visual Journey” shines light on Yosemite National Park’s charm and inspires readers to act on behalf of the natural environment.

“The Nature of Yosemite: A Visual Journey” was published Sept. 10 by photographer and biologist Robb Hirsch. Hirsch hopes that by providing people a greater understanding of the natural world, the book will serve as a powerful bridge between humans and the wilderness — and ultimately spark curiosity. 

“On the surface, it should hopefully convey information and people should hopefully learn something about Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, and ecology in general,” Hirsch said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “But even beyond that, I hope it sparks some interesting curiosity so that people, when out in the wilderness, will ask a question they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise, will open the eyes a little bit more (and) maybe … look at things with a different perspective.”

Hirsch’s collection of photos gifts readers with front-row seats to Yosemite’s finest waterfalls, animals, rock formations, lakes, meadows and plant species. One cannot help but be absorbed by the diverse color palettes of Yosemite, captured by Robb Hirsch in all seasons.

Robb Hirsch/Courtesy

The secret to the book’s charming landscape photos is Hirsch’s patience. Hirsch is able to capture the stillness of the natural world through his investment in each moment. He spends hours on end sitting still in one place, watching the light change and clouds move across the landscape. Hirsch describes his images as “little moments of time when all the moments just come together.”

Hirsch captured the radiant oranges and purples comprising the 2014 Meadow Fire and mere outline of Half Dome that could be seen despite the heavy smoke. He captured the tranquility surrounding Yosemite’s snow-covered Cathedral Spires basking in its own reflection in the adjacent lake.

“I’m not out there in the natural world to take pictures — I’m out there because I really enjoy it, and photography is just a natural extension of that,” Hirsch stated. “I think it comes through in being able to capture those unique moments, because I am spending extra time when I’m out there.”

Hirsch integrated comments about the photographic process — including light and timing — which provides the reader with many opportunities to learn about natural photography. The book’s format allows Hirsch to reach a new generation of visual storytellers, who are embracing the prominent digital age and art of environmental activism, according to Hirsch.

Robb Hirsch/Courtesy

Hirsch’s photos also serve a humbling reminder of humanity’s size and significance in history, compared to the natural world. Time among the rock formations of Yosemite National Park is expressed not in hundreds of years, but in hundreds of millions of years. In his book, Hirsch includes a fitting quote from an essay by Adonia Ripple to emphasize this idea: “Yosemite seems almost uniquely made to create a sense of comfortable humility.”

“It readily offers us the knowledge that our lives are so brief in comparison to the acts of granite making and glacier moving and big tree growing,” he writes. 

In a world where environmentalism is becoming more academic and politicized, Hirsch’s book is also a refreshing reminder of our power and duty to preserve our planet. Hirsch’s blend of beautiful images and simple captions makes climate change dialogue more absorbable and attainable for people of various socioeconomic demographics. 

The 13 articles placed throughout the book — concerning everything from the geology of Yosemite and Sierra wildflowers, to the influence of art in preserving Yosemite Valley — also serves to open up the world of environmental education and conservation. The various authors of these intertwined articles offered curious, fresh perspectives.

“We become better stewards of the land when we care about it, and know more about it, and engage in it more and love it more,” Hirsch said. “That’s the overarching goal of the book: giving people the tools and the drive to care more about our wilderness areas with the goal of becoming better stewards of the land.”

Contact Skylar Schoemig at [email protected].

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Robb Hirsch. In fact, the quote was from an essay written by Adonia Ripple.