Up Close: Cheyne Walls' 'Gates of the Valley'

The first in an occasional series in which the Coastline Pilot spotlights artworks on display around Laguna Beach.

It's a safe bet that most vacationers would postpone a Yosemite trip if they heard that a storm was coming.

Cheyne Walls isn't most vacationers, though. When the manager of Laguna Beach's Forest & Ocean Gallery heard that the national park was about to receive a blanket of white, he packed his camping gear — and Nikon D700 camera — and headed up to brave the elements. His resulting work, "Gates of the Valley," consists of eight different images photoshopped seamlessly into a panoramic shot.

With the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, which President Lincoln signed on June 30, 1864, coming later this year, "Gates of the Valley" resides at Forest & Ocean and will stay up through the anniversary date. Here are a few key points of the image, which is for sale in a limited-edition print run:


1. The reflection

Except for the pockets of blue sky, most of "Gates of the Valley" features a muted color scheme — which makes the yellow-orange glow on the side of the El Capitan rock formation a natural focal point for the eye. Walls, who had been to Yosemite nearly two dozen times before, spent hours March 25 hoping for the sun to hit the rocks just that way. He hit the shutter just in time; in a moment, storm clouds engulfed the valley again.

2. The mist

Despite the photo's high resolution, it appears both sharp and vague because of the hovering strands of cloud throughout. For Walls, that made it a perfect representation of Yosemite's different sides: tranquility, detail, brightness and mystery.

"I've been to this place at least 15, 20 times and haven't gotten a shot because it just didn't quite come together," he said. "And that's why I was so excited about this one, because I was just sitting there and everything came together. You have the hard lines of the cliffs and just the fog coming through the recently dropped snow. It's absolutely beautiful."

3. The borders

The vegetation on each side forms a curtain-like boundary for the picture. As Walls put it, "These are the borders. This is the beautiful valley, the trees on either side, and it leads you right through the canyon into the light."

4. The fallen tree

For Walls, the tree stretching out near the center of the frame "gives it a nice little pause" and offers both a centerpiece and a contrast to the motion of the water. It also shows how much snowfall Yosemite got in the hours before the photo was taken. The day before, the park had experienced pouring rain.

5. Any other campers?

The photo shows no human subjects, and indeed, Walls didn't have to ask anyone to get out of the way of his lens: He camped alone in the 26-degree cold and rarely heard a car go by.

'Gates of the Valley'

Location: Forest & Ocean Gallery, 480 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and by appointment

Price: $ 2,950 (25 by 66 inches), $2,350 (20 by 53 inches), $1,850 (15 by 40 inches)

Information: (949) 371-3313 or forestoceangallery.wordpress.com

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