24 Hours in Yosemite Photo Story

Every minute in the park brings new perspectives and surprises. Go around the clock at Yosemite with our dawn 'til dusk photo collection.

Here are stunning photos and advice by Montana-based photographer Grant Ordelheide who takes photos for National Park Journal, along with other travel websites and companies. 

7:14 a.m., October 27
All Aglow at Cook’s Meadow with a View of Half Dome

Cooks Meadow with a view of Half Dome in autumn. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

With fewer crowds and vibrant fall colors, autumn is an excellent time to visit the Valley. Foliage, including yellow cottonwood and bigleaf maple, red dogwood, and orange oak, is usually best from late October through November.

See it: Walk the bike path west from Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
Pro tips: Try shooting fall foliage with the sun behind the tree. Backlit leaves will not only glow, but they also add saturation to your image and give shape to the tree’s branches.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 70-200mm lens at 70mm, ISO 200, f/16, 1/5 sec

9:43 a.m., April 1
Mountains in the Mist at Tunnel View

Misty Tunnel View in Yosemite. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

Get up early for your best chance to see the Valley shrouded in mist—it often dissipates as the day warms up.

See it: Pull over just east of the tunnel on Wawona Road.
Pro tips: Use your camera’s histogram to nail a high-contrast exposure like this. The histogram is a graphic representation of how bright and dark the pixels in the image are. If you see a spike on the right side of the graph, you might have overexposed highlights; on the left, and your shadows could be too dark. Adjust exposure for a more even histogram.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-205mm lens at 45mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/125 sec

2:58 p.m., August 29
Top of the World at Taft Point

Taft Point in Yosemite. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

Taft Point offers sweeping views over Yosemite Valley, especially El Capitan—and it’s a less-crowded alternative to Glacier Point just down the road. On the way, you’ll pass The Fissures, a series of narrow vertical chasms extending as far as 2,000 feet down. Combine the trip with the Sentinel Dome Trail for a 4.9-mile loop that includes an easy scramble to the top of the 8,122-foot dome.

See it: Hike 1.1 miles (one-way) from the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead on Glacier Point Road.
Pro tips: Include people in some of your landscape photos. It helps to add scale and emphasizes Yosemite’s incredibly grand scope.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 17-40mm lens at 24mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/125 sec

5:26 p.m., May 6
Two-Wheeling It at Sentinel Meadow

Biking in Sentinel Meadow looking towards Yosemite Falls.
Grant Ordelheide

More than 12 miles of off-road, paved bike paths circle Yosemite Valley and are the best way to see the sights without battling summer car traffic. Bring your own ride or rent a bike at Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village.

See it: Take the bike path just west of the chapel in the Valley.
Pro tips: Experiment with different angles and lenses for more interesting compositions. For this shot, I held a wide-angle lens near my knee as I rode my bike through the meadow for a unique, unexpected perspective.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 15mm fisheye lens, ISO 640,
f/14, 1/800 sec

7:21 p.m., July 18
Twilight Zone at Glacier Point

Glacier Point at sunset. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

Glacier Point is a must-see vista for any Yosemite visitor. Not only is it an excellent spot to watch the sun set over Half Dome, Glacier Point is also an outstanding base for stargazing.

See it: Take Wawona Road to Glacier Point Road (about an hour’s drive from the Valley).
Pro tips: A graduated neutral density filter is an essential tool for shooting sunsets and sunrises. The filter, which is dark on the top and clear on the bottom, will help you capture both dark shadows in the landscape and bright highlights in the sky.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 17-40mm lens at 28mm, ISO 50, f/13, 1.3 sec

Keep it Fresh

Yosemite’s classic views have been extensively shot, often by giants in landscape photography (Ansel Adams, anyone?). “It’s okay to shoot at these iconic viewpoints, especially if conditions are amazing, but I try to avoid the classics,” Ordelheide says. “My favorite images from Yosemite are the ones that aren’t on postcards in the gift shop.”

8:40 p.m., January 5
The Moon’s Silver Spur Over Yosemite Valley

A crescent moon over Yosemite Valley. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

Night hiking can be a thrilling way to see the park. Pack a headlamp with a red-light mode to preserve your night vision.

See it: From the Valley, head south on Wawona Road, passing Tunnel View.
Pro tips: Look behind you! Right before I took this photo, I was facing the other way at what I thought was the best photo available. Luckily, I glanced behind me and noticed this crescent moon setting behind the trees. Often, the best image is not what you think it will be at first, so always look up, down, and around to find the best angles.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 500mm lens + 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/50 sec

9:21 p.m., May 10
Night Camping at North Dome

NIght camping at North Dome in Yosemite. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

This perch along the ridge leading up 7,546-foot North Dome is surely one of Yosemite’s most scenically stunning backcountry campsites.

See it: Hike 4.4 miles (one-way) from the Porcupine Creek trailhead.
Pro tips: Photographing your campsite and/or tent completes the story of your camping trip. Have a friend shine a headlamp inside the tent and use a long exposure to capture a warm glow.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 33mm, ISO 100, f/14, 30 sec

10:22 p.m., May 4
Moonrise at El Capitan Meadow

The stars over El Capitan in Yosemite while the moon rises. Photo by Grant Ordelheide
Grant Ordelheide

The sheer walls of 7,569-foot El Capitan rise more than 3,000 feet above the Valley, making the “El Cap” summit a prized goal for the world’s top rock climbers.

See it: Pull over in the lot on Northside Drive in the Valley.
Pro tips: The moon lights the landscape just like the sun does, only dimmer. Time your shots the same way: Photos taken at midday when the sun is high aren’t as appealing as photos featuring low-angle light, and the same goes for moonlight. When the moon is full, shoot the moonrise or moonset for the best light.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 34mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 25 sec

Go it Alone

Yosemite’s magnificent scenery attracts visitors (many of them photographers) the world over, but a surprising number of them never leave Yosemite Valley’s floor. To shake the crowds, explore the park’s extensive trail network instead: More than 750 miles of trail offer gorgeous, unique, and uncrowded photo ops.