The Fine Art History of Yosemite
Ansel Adams first photographed Half-Dome in Yosemite in 1927. It has been a destination for the creation of Fine Art photographs ever since. Mother Nature provides us with different seasons and skies, which result in new images and Fine Art Prints at a familiar place. I’ll keep going back as conditions will always change and the next image could be better than the last. El Capitan, the Merced River, Yosemite Falls, and Half-Dome never disappoint.
Visiting and Photographing Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park has always had a reputation for being one of the best, if not the best, National Parks for photography. Like anywhere, it takes hard work to get good results. Allow me to share some of my experiences at this beautiful Park.
It's hard to imagine any landscape photographer who has not been inspired by the work of Ansel Adams. He made some of the first of his stunning images of Half Dome in 1927. We have all seen the images of him standing with his tripod and camera on the platform on top of his car.
These are the main areas within the Park. Yosemite Valley is centrally located with Mariposa Grove to the south and to the north there is Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road. The iconic photographs that you have probably seen many times are from Yosemite Valley.
I’ll always remember my first time photographing in the Park. As I always do, I went everywhere in the Valley to learn as much as I could. I wasn’t having much success and was beginning to question what I was doing. I slowed myself down and spent more time getting a feel for the Park. I then began to see and feel.
As you enter the Park, it's hard not to make Tunnel View your first stop. Even if it's not the right time of day for photography, you just want to soak in the view of this very special place you are at. The view gets my photography blood pumping every time.
Bridalveil Falls is a fun place to take some close-up photos of the lower part of the falls. In the afternoon, the sun hits the spray resulting in some nice rainbow colors.
Along the Southside Drive, there are a number of places where you can walk down to the Merced River and photograph El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and the Three Brothers. My preferred time at these locations was always early morning with a goal of capturing good reflections.
The area known as Swinging Bridge is good for reflections of Yosemite Falls in the Merced River. The charming Yosemite Chapel is good any time of year. I like to photograph it early or late, so the light on the chapel stands out.
Sentinel Bridge offers nice late afternoon opportunities with the warm setting sun lighting up Half Dome. There are also great late afternoon views of Half Dome from Sandy Beach east of the Visitor Center. Access to this area is now best from Northside Drive just east of the traffic circle.
Further east in the Valley is Stoneman Bridge, Ahwahnee Bridge, Mirror Lake, Emerald Pool, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls. They are all great locations for photography. Spring is a great time to search for Dogwoods in bloom, which can be found along Northside Drive and behind the Ahwahnee Hotel.
The trail to Yosemite Falls offers a view of the Falls through the pine trees that frame the Falls beautifully. You can walk all the way to the base of the falls for a totally different view.
Yosemite Valley View is at the west end of Northside Drive. For whatever reason, I have not had the success at this location that I think it calls for. It’s a view of the Valley over the Merced River that has all the elements. I believe I just haven’t had the right sky and conditions there yet, but I will be back.
One of my favorite locations in the Park is Glacier Point. The best sunset photographs I have ever taken in Yosemite were from Glacier Point. It’s a long way around on Wawona Road and Glacier Point Road, but if the magic happens, you’ll leave knowing you just photographed something special.
The Tuolumne Meadows area along Tioga Road has a totally different look and feel from Yosemite Valley. There is Tenaya Lake and Cathedral Lakes and a view of Half Dome from the other side. The road generally isn’t open until June, so check with the Park Service website before making the drive.
South of the Valley is Mariposa Grove with its Giant Sequoia trees. The area was completely renovated in recent years. As of this writing, it is accessible only by a 4-5 mile hike with about a 500-foot elevation gain. Hopefully, in coming years there will be a shuttle service to transport people through the grove.
There is more than enough in the way of trails, campgrounds, photography and other activities for anyone who likes the outdoors to keep them busy for multiple days and visits. If you have not been to Yosemite National Park, it needs to be on your list.
Fun Facts About Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of 63 National Parks in the United States and is well known throughout the world for its granite monoliths, ancient giant sequoias, deep valleys, and waterfalls. Huge numbers of photographers come for landscape photography every year.
Perhaps some of the most iconic photographs of this magnificent park are those taken by Ansel Adams. His most famous photograph is “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” (1927) which was his first photograph that gathered the attention of the public. Using a Korona camera, he took this photo after a particularly difficult hike.
Ansel Adams was a member of The Sierra Club and this factored into his love of Yosemite and his career as a photographer. Every summer the club conducted a month-long High Trip in the Sierra Nevadas where they hiked and camped each day. Adams became the official photographer of these outings and began to realize he could earn a living doing so while at the same time promoting his love of the Yosemite area.
Ansel Adams’ photograph, “Moon and Half Dome”, was taken many years after “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome”, but captures the rock formation as well as the moonrise. He also photographed the Tunnel View of Yosemite Valley at different times of the year. In these photographs, you see El Capitan on the left and Bridal Veil Falls on the right with Half Dome visible in the distance.
A different photography experience awaits you at the various waterfalls as Yosemite is famous for its waterfalls and the rainbows that can appear in them at night. If the sky is clear and the moon is full, then enough light can be produced so you can see a rainbow over the waterfall’s mist. These night-time rainbows appear in the spring and early summer. They are called lunar rainbows or moonbows.
Yosemite National Park is also known for its Giant Sequoias which are the biggest living things on the planet—they are bigger than blue whales or dinosaurs. The most famous Sequoia is Grizzly Giant—the oldest Sequoia in Yosemite Park. It is 209 feet tall and is one of the most photographed Sequoias. The Grizzly Giant, when measured in 1990, was roughly 2 million pounds in weight.
There is also an abundance of nature in Yosemite including black bears. The Yosemite black bears weigh between 150 and 500 pounds when fully grown, but when they are born, they weigh 7 to 11 ounces. The cubs are born blind, fully furred, and toothless and remain with the mother for 16 months. About 300-500 black bears live in Yosemite’s 750,000 acres.
Although Yosemite is famous for its hiking and summer activities, it is also a beautiful place to visit in the winter months. It is the first and only National Park that bid for the Olympics—which it did in 1932 but lost out to Lake Placid, New York. An 800-foot snow slide, a large ice-skating rink, toboggan runs, and a small ski jump were constructed in an attempt to make Yosemite a winter destination. Today, Yosemite still offers winter sports, including downhill and cross-country skiing at Badger Pass, California’s oldest ski resort.
And last but not least, I must mention the naturalist John Muir, who urged the U. S. Congress to set aside land which would eventually become Yosemite National Park. In 1903, Muir invited President Theodore Roosevelt to visit him at Yosemite. In 1906, the state park land was merged with the Yosemite land to form the national park and there were 5,414 park visitors that year. The Park record for visitors was in 2016 with 5,028,868 visitors.
I am certain those who have visited Yosemite would agree with John Muir….. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” The Yosemite by John Muir - 1912