People & Dramatic Landscapes Photo Gallery

Shots of people against waterfalls, the Tuolumne River, and giant trees that give scale to these monster backdrops in Yosemite Park.
By Grant Ordelheide ,

Photos by Grant Ordelheide

Mariposa Grove


Shot location: Bachelor and Three Graces group in lower Mariposa Grove

Grant Ordelheide

Get there: These giants are located near Wawona at the southern end of Yosemite and the park's South Entrance off CA 41. A paved, 1.6-mile path leads through the lower grove.

When to go: May through October. The 2-mile Mariposa Road is closed in winter.

The roots of the giant sequoias called the Bachelor and the Three Graces are so closely intertwined that if one tree falls, the others will likely go with it. Nearby is the largest tree in the grove, the Grizzly Giant, which is 1,800 years old and 210 feet tall.

Pro tip: For an evenly flat light among the trees, photograph during early morning, late afternoon, or on an overcast day. Include a person in your image to give a sense of scale.

Shot details: Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm lens at 70mm, ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/50 second

Vernal Falls

Grant Ordelheide

Shot location: Mist Trail

Get there: Happy Isles trailhead in the Valley, shuttle stop 16

When to go: Peak flow is usually in late May through early summer. The trail is closed in winter due to the hazards of slipping on ice.

See Yosemite's "Giant Staircase" waterfalls (Vernal Fall, which drops 317 feet and Nevada Fall, which drops 594 feet) by hiking the Mist Trail. From Happy Isles, the path climbs 1,000 feet to the top of Vernal Fall (1.5 miles one way), and continues up another 900 feet to the top of Nevada Fall (3.5 miles one way). Or hike just .75 mile to Vernal Fall Footbridge and an excellent view of the fall. Step with caution: The trail is often wet from the fall's spray.

Pro tip: Create an optical illusion (as shown here) by using a long focal length lens to compress the scene. This will bring the foreground closer to the background and make it appear as if your subject is right under the falls. Tight framing also helps the illusion by creating a false horizon.

Shot details: 70-200mm lens at 165mm, ISO 100, f/9.0, 1/800 second

Cathedral Peak


Shot location: Upper Cathedral Lake

Grant Ordelheide

Get there: Cathedral Lakes Trailhead is located on Tioga Road one-half mile west of Tuolumne Meadows Visitors Center. Hike 3.5 miles to reach Upper Cathedral Lake and this majestic view of Cathedral Peak. Trailhead parking fills quickly in summer. Avoid parking hassles by taking the free park shuttle (see page 6); get off at stop 7.

When to go: Late summer is best, when Tioga Road is open and the trail is snow-free.

The jagged granite summit of Cathedral Peak was sculpted 3 million years ago by glaciers. Its surface is spotted with white rocks that are potassium feldspar crystals.

Pro tip: Plan to camp overnight at this location (permit required) so that you can photograph the peak at sunset. Then, at dusk, illuminate the inside of your tent (as shown here) with a headlamp or flash for dramatic photos of your beautiful campsite.

Shot details*: 17-40mm lens at 24mm, ISO 400, f/13, 30 seconds

Tuolumne River

Grant Ordelheide

Shot location: Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp

Get there: The 5.5-mile trail to Glen Aulin begins at Lembert Dome trailhead and follows the meandering Tuolumne River.

When to go: Late summer is ideal: Wildflowers are blooming and trails are free of snow. High Sierra Camps are generally open from mid-June through mid-September, but you must act early and reserve through a lottery (see page 16).

The Glen Aulin Trail features a series of Tuolumne River swimming holes and waterfalls, including the 100-foot cascade of Tuolumne Falls located 4.5 miles from the trailhead.

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to shoot into the sun. If you block most of the sun with a landscape feature (as shown here) and close down the aperture, you can turn the blinding glare into a sun star and make your composition more interesting.

Shot details: 17-40mm lens at 26mm, ISO 500, f/16,

1/50 second