Thursday 23 April 2015

Photo Tips: Yosemite National Park

I'm by no means an expert on Yosemite, we spent a grand total of two days in Yosemite Valley but here are a few tips I can offer you.  If you want to read about what we actually did when we were there you can check out the blog here with lots more photos.

Early mornings and late evenings

Plan to get there (your photo location) at least 30 min before sunrise and to leave at least 30 min after as the light begins long before sunrise and finishes long after sunset.  It is also the time when the contrast between the sky and the land is lower so it fits within the cameras dynamic range better and when you get the best light on the clouds.  It is also worth noting that the gate western entrance gate is a long way from the Yosemite Valley and the road is quite slow and windy which adds to your drive time (probably in the dark).

El Capitan and Half Dome from Tunnel View Lookout well after the sun had set

 Scope your sunrise and sunset locations

If you get the chance it is worth keeping sunrise and sunset locations in the back of your head as you explore the park.  There are some famous spots that tend to attract lots of people but some common sense and a compass (or a fancy sun tracking phone app) can help you find some quieter and (potentially) more unique locations.

Our own private sunset location, sorry it doesn't have
a particular name or anything.

 Take a tripod

Obviously for when things get dark but also because there is lots of water and wildlife and contrasting shadows and a tripod can help all of these things.

Water, because long exposure on water looks cool, but also because you are often aiming to get reflections off the water and a longer exposure can smooth the surface a little.  You still won't get a perfect reflection but it will smooth the ripples.  This is why it can often be helpful to have an ND filter in the bag.

Love moving water!

Wildlife, because the shaded areas in the valley can be quite dark and you can buy some precious shutter speed by using a tripod (or monopod) when shooting wildlife.  I've found that I would usually need the shutter speed up around 1/600 for the shot below at 273 mm however I was able to bring it down to 1/320th (and lower in some shots).  Even at that speed I'm at ISO 5000 (plus lightening 1/2 a stop in lightroom) so without the tripod I wouldn't have been able to get the shot.

Coyote with camera on a tripod

Contrast, because HDR works better with a tripod.  Sure software is pretty good at aligning photos these days but it's still better to get them aligned when you capture them whenever possible.  But this is important because the valley can be very well shaded at times and the rocks in the sun are a very light colour.  This was a +/-2 stops HDR and even then the foreground is pretty dark.

HDR to bring out the peak in the background


I have to thank my wife for the rainbow photos at Yosemite Falls.  I had wandered off to find a place where there was a gap in the trees that allowed you to see the lower falls from a distance so I could shoot both at once.  So I was doing those photos as the sun came up and getting some ok shots when Jackie came over and asked if I was getting good rainbow photos.  As it turns out there was no rainbow where I was due to the angle of the sun and that the Sentinel Bridge carpark was the best location for those shots.  It is also worth noting that you can more or less cut out a rainbow with a polarising filter so make sure it is rotated to the position that allow you to see it the best (or remove it).

Yosemite falls with rainbow vs without above.  The different 100 m can make


Go for a walk and get away from the crowds (if possible).  There are lots of walking trails to explore and it might help you find some wildlife or just get some photos without people in them!

Also don't feel constrained to just shooting landscapes, there are plenty of detail or macro shots around if you have your eyes open.


Check out the Ansell Adams Gallery while you are there for some inspiration and see if you can pick up some tips from looking at his amazing work.

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