Landscape Photography guide to Yosemite Valley
Yosemite national park is probably one of the most famous national parks in the US and in world. Yosemite national park is located in California 300km from San Fransisco and 500km from LA and can be entered from several locations, but be aware that the eastern entrance closes down during winter. The main part of the park is definitely the valley and that’s the part I visited, but with it’s 3000 square km Yosemite is way more than that.
Yosemite is known for its incredible mountain shapes, valleys, forests, meadows and clashing waterfalls. It’s a paradise for landscape photographers. Although extremely touristy – especially in the summer season – you should not cheat yourself from visiting this diamond on Earth.
Yosemite contains arguably the most famous landscape location in the entire world – the tunnel view. And you understand why. With a perfect overlook over the valley with El Capitan on the left, the cathedral rocks on the right with the water from the Bridal veil waterfall to break the balance, trees from the foreground leading all the way down through the valley and into half dome in the far background the tunnel view is the perfect “overlook” picture. Elements like sunbeams, low hanging clouds, rain, snow or fog just adds to this spectacular view. If there’s a paradise on Earth I don’t think we’ll get any closer than this – the perfect romantic Disney location no matter season.
The picture is almost a no-brainer when you’re there. The only thing to take into account is how far you zoom in. If you’re using a rather broad focal length you can add a foreground tree on the left to the composition, but be aware the elements in the valley becomes rather small and if you’re using a more narrow focal length you can focus on the different details and elements. The viewpoint is located next to the road, so the light from the cars might hit the foreground trees, which can be a bit annoying, so you’ll have to plan your shots during night and morning.
We arrived at Yosemite Valley when it was dark, but I still remember the awe, wonder, and goosebumps I had from being at this famous location. Luckily the moon was bright enough to light up the valley, so the cameras didn’t have any problems catching the details. I can’t really recommend a “best time” of the year to shoot at the tunnel view, but during summer you’ll shoot into the sun during sunrise and you’ll often get a huge sunbeam from behind El Capitan lighting up the valley.My main problem, while we were in Yosemite was actually that the weather was “too good”. As a landscape
My main problem, while we were in Yosemite was actually that the weather was “too good”. As a landscape photographer, the worst conditions is actually clear blue sky, which we had almost all the time we were there. For that reason, I decided to return two weeks later. Luckily I got what I came for that afternoon! Clouds and fog in the valley to make a moody and dramatic picture. The picture is a seamless composite of several pictures I took during a period of a couple of hours to expose the different elements of the valley.
We were in Yosemite Valley during the super moon in November 2016 and I decided to shoot the moon from a location a bit further up the road on the other side of the tunnel at tunnel view, where I calculated the moon would rise above Half Dome. What I completely missed was how fast it becomes dark after sunset. In Denmark and especially in Iceland you get very long sunsets and sunrises because you’re further north, but in California, the show is over within a very short time span. It was all dark when the moon was in position, so I had to blend a sunset picture with a picture I caught of the moon when it was in position. Both at 200mm so the size of the elements stayed true.
Just before the moon came into sight from behind El Capitan it threw this huge moonbeam into the valley, which I also caught. A spectacular yet minimalistic abstract landscape picture.
The Valley View
Another spectacular location in Yosemite is known as “The Valley View”. It’s basically the same view as the Tunnel View but from a lower perspective. You still have El Capitan to the left and the cathedral rocks and Bridalveil waterfall to the right. The foreground has changed dramatically though. You have a few different choices of composition, but the main element is the Yosemite River.There’s both a huge fallen tree, small mounds which pops out of the water and other smaller logs and branches. You can also choose the simple reflection of the mountains in the water. At the time of
There are both a huge fallen tree, small mounds which pops out of the water and other smaller logs and branches. You can also choose the simple reflection of the mountains in the water. At the time of year, we were there, it wasn’t possible to get light on the foreground trees and the Bridalveil waterfall at once. So I’d recommend this location during the summer half of the year. Luckily, I could get a beautiful reflective image during the very early morning, where the moon lit up the scene instead.
To find Glacier point you’ll have to drive out of the valley passing the Tunnel View and turn left towards Glacier Point. The road is rather long and I’d highly recommend you to follow the speed limits. There are wild bears in the park and speed does kill bears. Actually, there’s a sign “speed kills bears” each place a bear was killed in the traffic. Another thing to notice is Glacier Point closes down because of snow around start November and opens up during the spring.
At glacier point, there are several viewpoints with an amazing view to Half Dome Rock overlooking the valley. There’s a lot of different compositions to have and there’s even a small plateau for the daredevil. We didn’t go to the plateau since the signs were clear on that matter and my recommendation is to not go out onto it. The fall down will not end well for you.
Just before you reach Glacier Point there’s a bend in the road where The Half Dome Rock is perfectly framed between the trees. That particular shot has become increasingly popular during the past years so I decided to make my own night version including some light trails from the cars.
One of the tourist highlights are the Yosemite Falls. The falls are divided into two sections, the upper and lower falls. We didn’t spend much time at these waterfalls, but when you’re there they’re definitely worth a visit. You can catch some beautiful pictures of the upper section from the meadows in the valley using the wooden paths as leading lines.
Vernal Fall is a 96m tall waterfall located 2km from the trailhead. The trail is one of the most popular in Yosemite, but it’s actually quite steep at some places. There’s a lot of compositions to be had along the river while you approach Vernal Fall and when you’re up there it’s quite easy to get a shot with a person in front of the waterfall. We didn’t go further than Vernal Fall since we wanted to catch the sunset at another location, but if you continue up the trail for another few kilometers you’ll get to Nevada Fall.
Ansel Adams museum
The small Ansel Adams Museum is also a must see and If you’re not an Ansel Adams fan there’s a lot of other photographers exhibiting their work at the small museum. It’s a perfect place to get more inspiration.
There was so many other well-known and less known locations we didn’t have time to visit, but I’d have loved to experience. The top of Half Dome, the hike to the top of Yosemite Falls and all the points along that ridge overlooking the valley, Tuolumne meadows, Olmstead Point and Washburn Point just to name a few. And then there’s of cause probably the most spectacular and special phenomenon in all of Yosemite; the firefalls. The firefalls is the sunsets illumination of Horsetail falls, which only occur in a two week period in February, which makes the falls glow with a neon orange glow, which makes it look like lava. I could easily spend years in Yosemite Valley alone to capture all the beautiful location in all sorts of weather.