For a fine art landscape photographer, the Yosemite Valley is Mecca. John Muir is probably the person most responsible for making Yosemite known to the wider public, but it’s the work of Ansel Adams that has immortalized the valley and its features. The first time you make the journey into the valley is indescribable. The vision you are met with as the valley begins to open up, while nice in pictures, can’t be captured. For me, the response is visceral, purely emotional. I should add that this response isn’t limited to the first time you go. For me it is every time. Standing there, looking up at the granite cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, wildlife and sky is awesome in the truest sense of the word.
The only national park that I’ve been to more times is Rocky Mountain National Park, and that is only because it used to be 45 minutes from my front door. Now, Yosemite is only 3 hours from my current front door. It feels like I can go whenever I want. I can put down my pen at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening and be in the park for sunset on a summer evening if I drive fast enough (unfortunately I don’t drive that fast anymore). Today I want to share some of the images that I’ve made from the park over the last couple years. I hope it inspires some of you to pay homage to this great valley at least once or to come back to visit again. Just writing this has inspired me. Let’s begin with an image of the only major feature to take its namesake from the valley, the tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite falls is undoubtedly spectacular. But its sheer scale and location in the valley make it challenging to capture in a photograph. This is absolutely a challenge I am willing to take on and one that I will probably be trying to master for the next 30-75 years.
Unlike Yosemite Falls, which gets its name from the valley, the most visually iconic feature in the park, and maybe the country, got its name in a simpler way. There is no other way to describe this feature other than Half Dome. Also unlike Yosemite Falls, Half Dome is visible from so many vantage points that it poses a different problem when it comes to capturing its image. Where do I shoot from? In my experience, it doesn’t matter where you’re shooting from, or what time of day or night, Half Dome makes a willing and able centerpiece. Whether you want to shoot from the valley floor:
Or from Glacier Point:
Or maybe Olmstead Point:
Shooting Half Dome at sunrise poses a challenge because the sun is typically rising right behind the dome. But with the right conditions and from the right angle I’m confident that anything is possible. There is also always the option of shooting in the middle of the night. You might even get lucky and catch the lights of climbers on the face of the cliff to give your shot some extra interest.
I have about a million other vantage points on my list of places to shoot from (Sentinel Dome, Diving Board, on top, the list goes on).
When it comes to pure grandeur, nothing tops El Capitan. When you’re standing there looking at it the proportions don’t seem to make any sense. There is no way that a solid granite wall could rise 3000 feet above your head. Yet it does. Honestly, the only thing that I’ve ever seen that rivals El Cap is the Giant Buddha of Leshan. Maybe it's that I just finished reading "Yosemite in the 50s" by Dean Fidelman, John Long, and Tom Adler but something about this rock makes me want to go climb mountains!
The challenge of El Cap is how do you go about capturing something so immense and give it the due it deserves? If any of you have the secret I wouldn’t mind if you let me in on it. Here are some of my attempts (the first person to spot the climbers wins a cookie!).