This will be the first year we get to take our Roadtrek Agile, Charley, to Yosemite in the Winter and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about driving those icy winter roads in my multi-ton Class B. However, I think if we stick to moderately dry weather days we’ll be okay. There is certainly a lot of motivation for going, because Winter is the very best time to photograph the park.
Most of the year, the great photographs of Yosemite can only happen in the very early morning and in the late afternoon. Those are the times of day when the sunlight is soft enough to avoid overly harsh contrast. But the light in the winter is low all day long, and many days are filled with clouds and fog, both of which even out the available light. There are some days in the Winter when you can shoot all day long while you enjoy the ever-changing light on Yosemite’s huge granite cliffs.
If you are lucky enough to be in the park during a clearing storm, especially if it’s clearing in the morning, you should probably head directly for Tunnel View. It’s the most iconic view in the park and it’s probably been shot five billion times already, but during a clearing storm you’ll have the opportunity to shoot it at its best. It’s not to be missed.
If the storm is clearing in the afternoon, however, I might bypass Tunnel View and head to Valley View. While Tunnel View gives you the “Eagle’s Eye” view of the park, Valley View provides a more “Human’s Eye” perspective. You’ll be looking up at El Capitan as the sunlight plays across its huge granite chest. Often, clouds will form along the upper part of the monolith, with its top only peeking out long enough for you to click your shutter.
If the morning is foggy and misty, you could decide to head over to Cook’s meadow. Cook’s is the big meadow between the Yosemite Lodge and the Yosemite Village and it offers a wonderful view of Yosemite Falls and Sentinel Rock. And at its East end, on the Sentinel Bridge, you’ll also have one of the Valley’s best views of Half Dome. If the mist is low, you can capture some intimate scenes of the valley floor. But if the fog is higher, you might be treated to the giant falls playing you a game of peek-a-boo. Hint – let the falls win.
During the day, the big oak groves in El Capitan meadow provide some interesting photography compositions. Or if you feel like trudging through a bit of snow, you might enjoy the solitude at Cathedral Beach.
If you have low clouds, make sure you keep an eye out on Half Dome. If you see the clouds playing across its massive face, make a beeline for a good viewing point. The Ahwahnee Meadows between the Village and the Ahwahnee hotel is a great site, as is Stoneman Meadow, across the street from Camp Curry.
Always be on the lookout for animals, and have a long lens handy. That’s because those dark-furred critters really stand out great against the snow. In the summer, you might not even notice the deer, the coyotes and the bobcats, even though they’re all around you. But in the winter, they’re perfectly isolated against the white. The meadows around Camp Curry and the Yosemite Chapel are both good locations for critter scouting.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Horsetail Falls. During the latter part of February, if the conditions are just right, you could be treated to a light show as the late sun of the day hits a small waterfall off of El Capitan. Be prepared, however, for some crazy crowds and possible disappointment as the perfect alignment of weather and water volume doesn’t happen very often.
I know I’ve only covered a few of the many photographic possibilities in the park, but if you miss these, you’ve really missed the best of the best. If you’re in the park and you want more information about where the best shots are during your particular visit, just go by the Ansel Adams Gallery in the Village and ask one of the employees. They’re all photographers and they’re all willing to help you get your own masterpieces. And be sure to pick up a map. All of the places I’ve mentioned are included in most Valley maps.
Next time, I’ll discuss camera settings and some other tricks that will help you get the best winter photographs.