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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beyond The Usual Yosemite


Ansel Adams’ famous images of Yosemite helped make it a photographer’s mecca. Today, finding your own vision of one of our most well-known national parks requires getting off the beaten trail.

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Half Dome, from about one mile from the end of Glacier Point Road


Yosemite Valley at night from Tunnel View
When you’ve been photographing Yosemite National Park for as long as I have, there comes a point at which you just can’t shoot another one from Tunnel View. I mean, how many different ways can I shoot the same location. Day, night, late afternoon—yawn. So when conditions are right, I start looking for something different. Sometimes I walk along the Merced River on the valley floor and see what I see. Occasionally, there’s nothing inspiring, but often there is. And the great thing is, sometimes you only have to move a few hundred feet to completely change a view, or get different framing, or get a different angle to, say, create a rainbow in a waterfall. Varying the time of year offers differing shots, as well.

Just Take A Short Walk
Yosemite is a photographer’s Disneyland; there’s no shortage of opportunities. When you’re new to the park, it’s understandable that you would jump out of the car at Tunnel View, gasp in amazement and start shooting away because, truly, it’s a breathtaking sight. But force yourself to walk a quarter-mile above Tunnel View, up the Inspiration Point trail and shoot the same view from a slightly higher elevation through beautiful oak trees. Or go all the way up the one-mile trail to Inspiration Point itself and shoot Yosemite Valley with greater emphasis on the flat valley and greater views of Half Dome than from the parking lot, or simply frame your shot through foliage that doesn’t exist in the parking lot. Or, from the parking lot, walk down the road and find that spot that frames Bridalveil Fall through foliage that gives it a whole new look.


Upper Yosemite Fall photographed from just off the Yosemite Falls Trail
The same thing at Valley View on Northside Drive near Highway 41 and the Highway 120-140 fork. The view here is on thousands of trinkets in the gift shop, but walk just 200 feet east of the concrete and asphalt, along the trail that parallels the river, and you’ll find a spot that gives you an almost uninterrupted view of Bridalveil Falls through the trees and across the meadow. And when the light is right in April or March, late in the afternoon you can see a rainbow in the mist from the waterfall.

Off of Highway 41, just past The Wall turnout, you’ll find the service road to the Turtleback communications array. The repeaters for the Yosemite communications system for law enforcement, emergency vehicles, etc., are located here. Park at the bottom, near the gate, and hike up the road; in eight-tenths of a mile you’ll find a spot at the top for a tremendous view to the west for a great sunset shot.

The key is to think outside the box—or, more accurately, think outside the fence. There are places all over the valley that are plainly marked as protected; these need to be respected. But there are many other places that aren’t specifically designated off-limits to foot traffic. Look for those places, take the short hikes off the beaten path, and find your own special angle on things. Also, don’t forget that Yosemite is a west-facing park, and the time of day that presents more opportunities is late afternoon.

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