Yosemite Landscape Photos

Photography of iconic Yosemite landscapes and scenic views nearby the park. Descriptions include shot locations and exposures.
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Photos by Grant Ordelheide

Mono Lake

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Shot location:South Tufa, Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Get there: From CA 395 near Lee Vining, turn east on CA 120 and drive 5 miles to the signed turn-off for the Reserve. Hike the 1-mile South Tufa Trail to the shoreline.

When to go: The park is open year-round. Some 65,000 California gulls arrive in late spring to mate. Migratory birds arrive in mid-summer.

Calcium carbonate spires called tufa towers are created by the interaction of fresh water springs with the alkaline lake.

Pro tip:A long telephoto lens (at least 100mm) is essential for capturing birds that nest offshore on top of the tufa towers. Arrive early or late in the day, when large flocks are often moving between the water and the shore.

Shot details: 70-200mm lens at 200mm, ISO 800, f/18, 1/500 second

Yosemite Falls

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Shot location: Southside Drive pull-out near Swinging Bridge

Get there: Yosemite Falls' upper and lower cascades are visible from multiple roadside locations in the Valley, but an ideal spot is Lower Yosemite Fall picnic area, shuttle stop 6. A .5-mile path leads to the base of the fall.

When to go: Yosemite Falls is usually flowing from November through July and reaches its peak in May.

Fed by snowmelt, Yosemite Falls is a three-tiered spectacle with water that plunges a total of 2,700 feet. See it in real time at nps.gov/yose/photos multimedia/webcams.

Pro tip: Shoot this iconic location early in the morning to catch the back-lit trees on the Valley floor.

Shot details: 70-200mm lens at 81mm, ISO 50, f/9.0, 1/25 second

El Capitan

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Shot location: Cathedral Beach along the Merced River

Get there: El Capitan is most visible on the west end of the Valley. Primo vantage points are Cathedral Beach and El Capitan Meadow. Or follow the 13-mile Valley Loop Trail as it winds along the Merced River to Bridalveil Fall, offering excellent views of El Cap.

When to go: Year round

Towering 3,593 feet above the Valley,
El Capitan is the largest single piece of granite on Earth and a magnet for big wall climbers.

Pro tip: Scout along the Merced River to get interesting viewpoints of this famous big wall. Explore the smaller pullouts on Southside Drive, and walk along the river to get a unique perspective of the granite monolith reflected in the Merced.

Shot details: 17-40mm lens at 28mm, ISO 50, f/9.0, 5 seconds

Half Dome

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Shot location: Glacier Point

Get there: Reach Glacier Point via Glacier Point Road. The drive takes about an hour and climbs 3,200 feet. Glacier Point is 30 miles from the Valley or 27 miles from Wawona.

When to go: The road to the Point is open 24 hours a day from approximately late May through early November. It closes in winter due to snowfall.

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, Half Dome is the centerpiece of the awe-inspiring Valley view from Glacier Point. In 1870, the hulking granite dome was declared “perfectly inaccessible” by geologist and guidebook author Josiah Whitney. But Half Dome was first scaled just five years later by an intrepid blacksmith named George Anderson. Today, thousands of hikers each year follow Anderson's route to the top of the dome (permit required, see page 7). The arduous 16-mile (round trip) hike gains a total of 4,800 feet in elevation and usually takes about 12 hours if done in one day. Ascending the last 400 feet is possible without ropes due to cables that create stair steps to the top. Installed by the Park Service, the cables are in place from summer through early fall.

Pro tip: Keep an eye on storm cycles that come through the park. Clearing fronts can yield magnificent light at Glacier Point. The panoramic view is even more spectacular than usual when big clouds light up at sunset.

Shot details: 70-200mm lens at 70mm, ISO 50, f/10, 1.3 seconds

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Shot location: Picnic area on west end of Tenaya Lake

Get there: Tenaya Lake is 31 miles from Crane Flat on Tioga Road/CA 120. Parking is available at the picnic area.

When to go: Anytime from June through October when Tioga Road is open

This 150-acre snowmelt lake offers polar bear swimming in summer and a great place to nap and picnic on sunny, white-sand beaches. Follow the 1-mile path around the lake’s south side to shoreline away from the crowds.

Pro tip: The best light at Tenaya is late afternoon and dusk. Find a unique and aesthetic foreground (like these boulders) that compliments the peaks and domes in the background. Seeing up-close details, such as the texture of the rocks, helps the viewer connect with the landscape.

Shot details: 17-40mm lens at 19mm, ISO 50, f/16, .3 second