Half Dome

Half Dome

Last weekend we went to Yosemite for a quick weekend trip. It had been six years since our family had been there, and our youngest had never been, so it was time. As expected, we had a great time and I got to take a lot of pictures. It’s hard not to take pictures because there are so many striking rock formations and Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Half Dome is probably the most photographed formation in the park, and for good reason. It dominates the landscape in much of Yosemite valley. It’s hard not to
take pictures of it because it is so incredible. This shot was taken near Curry Village, along the road. I’m sure millions of people have taken pictures from this location. I geotagged in on Zooomr so you can see about where I was when I took the picture.

I found the lighting to be a little tricky, probably because of the time of year and angle of the Sun. Because the mountains around the valley are so high and the Sun is so low in the southern sky, the south side of the valley is in shade most of the day. With a clear sky you can get a wide range of contrast between bright sunlight and dark shadows. You really have to make decisions about what you want to highlight – the trees and meadows or the rocks towering above. Of course, if you time things really well you can get both. As you can see, for this shot I opted to expose for the rocks, not the trees.

For anyone planning a Fall or early Winter trip, here are a few pointers:

  • El Capitan is best shot in the morning. The light from sunrise hits it perfectly. Ask a park ranger when sunrise actually happens and get there early. The sun doesn’t hit the valley floor until long after it hits the rocks.
  • The meadows near El Capitan have really cool ground fog in the morning.
  • Half Dome is best shot late in the day, when the sun hits its face. There’s a great spot along the river near the Ahwahnee Hotel.
  • There’s not a lot of water in the falls. None in Yosemite Falls, very little in Vernal, Nevada, and Bridal Veil.
  • Take some time to stake out locations the first day, then come back to shoot. There are dozens of photographers with tripods set up early for sunrise and sunset shots, so plan ahead for a good locations.
  • Bring lots of memory cards or a laptop to download photos. I shot with a 4 gig card and downloaded every night.
  • The sun hits the North side of the valley near Yosemite Village early, so you can get some good shots of trees, meadows, the river, and possibly bears before you start your day.
  • You can get great shots from the road, but if you walk a little you can get better shots. Please stay on the paths and respect the plants.
  • Don’t forget to look for the details. Sure, the rocks are spectacular, but so are the leaves and grasses and rivers and countless other little things.

If you look at the satellite or hybrid view of Yosemite on Google maps, you can see the shadows on the south side of the valley to get an idea of how the lighting will be. Take into account the time of year, shorter days, and angle of the sun as Winter Solstice approaches.

I have roughly 500 pictures to go through, so this will likely be the first of many from the trip. I uploaded 13 to Zooomr last night and created a set so you can view them all in one place. As I upload more, I’ll add them to the set.

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