Locations

7 best locations to photograph Yosemite | tips, techniques and videos

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Yosemite National Park is probably what kick started my interest in photography.  It was the location of the photographs by the amazing Ansel Adams that I admired when I was 14 and why I first started experimenting with photography.  I first travelled there around 15 years ago and like anybody that has been there will know I was amazed by the magic of the shear cliffs of El Capitan and Cathedral.  The view as you come through the tunnel is straight from lord of the rings. I returned there once more and then got the opportunity to return more often as I moved to San Francisco, California in 2016.  I was also lucky enough to visit in the winter of 2016/17 which was incredible.

Following this winter trip I produced a 2 part vlog entitled "Landscape Photography - Yosemite in the Winter". This 2 part video has some great information about photographing Yosemite and follows me on location with a D800. Part 1 is below and part 2 is further down in this article.

 

I wanted to share in this blog some of the gear I used to take the photographs and talk about the locations I went to in a bit more detail.  When I first went to the area and search the web for information for landscape photographers and wanted to provide more useful information.

Yosemite has so many areas to shoot that are accessible from the valley road - and this blog aims to list my top 7.  Obviously there are other locations to the ones listed below but I feel that this is a fairly good summary of the places I found to be best.

I have pinpointed on the map below these 7 best locations to photograph Yosemite (descriptions and photos below...)

Best locations to photograph Yosemite
Best locations to photograph Yosemite

The 7 Yosemite photo spots you must Visit

1) Tunnel View

The obvious one is tunnel view – this is the classic Ansel Adams image and is best photographed at sunset to catch the light on El Capitan (although you can get some great light at sunrise).  It is difficult to get a unique shot from this location though and you really need clouds to get a great image.

Tunnel view, yosemite, sunset
Tunnel view, yosemite, sunset

Yosemite Valley Sunset, Tunnel View D800 - 0.5s - f/9 - 34mm ISO 50 (0.9 soft grad, polarizing filter)

Tunnel view gets very busy at sunset so make sure you arrive early.  It is a great place to watch the sunset and the mist form in the valley.  Also - why not be creative and take a timelapse (as you can see in the start of part 1 of my Yosemite vlog I did just that with my Yi 4K+ on a tripod).  Remember to stay after the sun has gone down though as the purple glow afterwards is sometimes incredible!  Take the image below - I was just packing up and ready to leave - luckily I had my Fuji X-T2 and took this image handheld!

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Purple glow - Moments after sunset, Yosemite Valley Fujifilm X-T2 1/40s f/3.2 35mm ISO 320

2) El Capitan Meadow

The granite shear faces of El Capitan, Cathedral and the surrounding rocks makes a great backdrop to any photograph.   El Capitan meadow is situated just west of El Capitan bridge and it is best to park North of the river.  From there you can get amazing views of El Capitan and Cathedral.  It is also a great place to wonder around and just take in the majestic Yosemite Valley

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Golden Oaks against Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan Meadow Nikon D800 - 1/125s f6.3 50mm ISO 64

It is an amazing place to photograph in the morning and evening ( as can be seen in part 2 of my vlog on Yosemite in the winter >> https://youtu.be/hATu3TMrhuw )

 

3) The Merced River at (secret location - see map)

The Merced river meanders through the valley and it is well worth hiking along it to find something different.  If you are at the east part of the valley you can get El Capitan in the background with the wonderful Merced river as a leading line.  I have marked on the map the exact location of this shot as it is a bit hidden away and not an obvious location.  You need to park south of the river and hike down to this location.

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Morning Glow on Merced River and El Capitan Nikon D800 - 1/100s f/8 24mm ISO 100 (Lee 0.9 soft grad)

4) Hike up to Vernal falls

The hike up to Vernal falls is amazing and the falls themselves are worth photographing.  However, it is the vistas that you get whilst you are walking up that are really stunning.  And in fall the you get splashes of color from the aspens and other deciduous trees.

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Splash of color, Yosemite Nikon D200 1/160s f/7 45mm ISO 100 (handheld)

5) Yosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge

A great place to photograph Yosemite falls is from is just off the swinging bridge carpark.  You can either shoot from the bridge itself or wonder down the river and get some unique shots.  This image was taken with my 70-200mm lens (a lens that is really useful to have in Yosemite!).  The trees in this shot still have a hoar frost from the cold clear night.

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Yosemite Falls in the Winter Nikon D800 - 1/100s f/6 98mm ISO 64 (tripod)

6) Sentinel Dome at Sunset

Most people that head up the Glacier Point road go to Glacier Point at sunset.  But if you park 1 mile before you get to Glacier Point you can hike up to Sentinel Dome.  It is an amazing hike and the views when you get there are equally breathtaking.  There are compositions in many directions from here but I like shooting back towards the sun and getting El Capitan from above.  Remember to take a head torch as when you come down it will be dusk and it goes dark very quickly.

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El Capitan from Sentinel Dome - Sunset Nikon D800 - 1/13s f/9 200mm ISO 80 Lee 0.9 hard grad (tripod)

7) Valley View at Sunrise (or sunset!)

The list wouldn't be complete without adding in the sunrise / sunset shoot at valley view.  This is another famous location and probably at its best after a snowfall in winter.  I have never managed to capture it as well as I have wanted but here is my best shot!  Ideally you need mist, snow and breaking sunlight (not too much to ask!)

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Sunrise at Valley View - Yosemite Nikon D800 0.5s f/13 16mm ISO 64 (2 images blended in photoshop) (tripod)

Best times to photograph Yosemite - sunrise and sunset

The mornings are often the best time to take photos in the winter as the hoar frost lingers on the branches of the trees and creates a crystal coating on the ground fauna.  However, closer to sunset you often get fog setting in and this can lead to great images throughout the valley but mostly in the meadow areas at the east and west end of the valley.  I try to avoid shooting in the middle of the day as the harsh light is difficult to control.  However you can use El Capitan or other large granite faces to reflect the light and that reflected light is great for brining out detail in images.

If you are lucky you will get rays of sun through the evening mist like the shot I took below.  Good luck!

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Pastel Winter Sun, Yosemite Fuji X-T2 1/550s f/4 35mm ISO 200 (handheld)

D800 Diary - 2 Months

I have now used my D800 for 2 months.  Well actually that isn't quite correct.  I have owned my D800 for 2 months, 1 week of which Nikon had it.  It all started after I had shot some portraits of my kids and noticed that when using the edge focus points they weren't  as pin sharp as the central point.  I had read about this online and didn"t think my camera had the same problem.  After some ad-hoch tests (see below) I emailed Nikon NPS in the UK and they asked me to send it in. My focus tests were performed on a Sigma F1.4 50mm lens (This exhibited the strongest focus problem)

Left edge - Was around 10cm out Right edge - Was around 6cm out

Nikon NPS UK were brilliant and 1 week later I got it back and the problem has been improved but not solved but does seem to be exaggerated on the Sigma 50mm F1.4 lens.

I have decided to work around the problem until Nikon has admitted the issue and rolled out a permanent fix.  It doesn't impact on most of my photography and actually can be avoided most of the time.  The only instance that I find it problematic is if I am shooting fast moving action that I want to be in the LHS of the frame.  I will have to make sure that all my footballers are running from right to left!

The Great Ridge
The Great Ridge

The Great Ridge, Mam Tor - Nikon D800 and a Nikon 16-35mm F4 and Lee 0.9ND

This wasn"t the only problem I has with my D800.  I had one of the explosive batteries and my camera locks up!  That is what happens if you get one of the first D800 cameras I suppose and Nikon have acted extremely well in helping me solve these issues.

On a more positive note I have taken some stunning landscape shots on the D800 over the last month and the results don"t fail to amaze me.  For me it is 3 areas of the D800 that really stand out as a landscape photographer

The resolution - The images printed big are simply breathtaking.  The resolution also allows you a lot of room for creating images from images.

The dynamic range - Something that isn"t spoken about too much is the dynamic range the D800 has.  The level of detail is amazing - especially out of the shadows.

The usability - I am going to write my next blog on 10 things you must do with your D800.  The tools that are available are great and the ergonomics of the design really helps access them quickly.  The view finder is bright and the live view with horizon is an invaluable tool.  It really does all add to an all round package.

Evening at Mam Tor
Evening at Mam Tor

Evening light at Mam Tor - Nikon D800 and Nikkor 16-35mm F4 VR.  F/16 1/20s ISO 200 16mm

One of the big decisions I had to make was around a ultra-wide angle lens.  It came down to 3 choices

Options for a sub 20mm ultra-wide lens for D800 FX format camera

Obviously the Nikon 12-24 is an amazing class leading lens.  But you can't fit a Lee filter system to it without a seriously expensive add-on from Lee.  The Tokina really appealed to me as I loved the 11-16mm DX Tokina I used on my D200.  Again though you can"t fit filters on the front.  I really don"t understand why these 2 lenses haven"t been designed with this in mind.  They will be used by landscape photographers and they always use ND Grads.

View more of my images taken with the D800 and Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR lens on Flickr >>

So I went for a Nikon 16-35mm Lens and love it.  The 2 images above are taken with this lens and the prints of these look stunning.  I really can"t see why you need to pay more and go for the Nikon 12-24mm.  Obviously you get 4mm more at the wide end which is a lot and if you think you need that then go for it.  For me, 16mm is wide enough and any wider would result in difficult to correct distortion.

Rapeseed
Rapeseed

Rapeseed at Tidnock - Nikon D800 and Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8.  F/8 1/640s ISO 200 24mm

D800 Diary - Week 2

I have had the D800 for 2 weeks now and it is a week since my last post.  I have managed to do some landscape photography - but not managed to get the light necessary for any amazing shots.  You can click on most of the images for a high res photo in Flickr (you need to go to the size view in Flickr though)

Twisted Tree
Twisted Tree

Twisted Tree - Nikkor 24-70 @ 24mm - ISO 125 F/8 1/500s (Handheld)

I still love the D800 - after 1 week here are some of the things I have found.

It is ok to handhold and shoot.  The twisted tree is handheld (albeit 1/500s @ 24mm).  The are a lot of people saying you get blurred shots and it is unforgiving.  Basically - it is the same as any other camera - but you may not get the absolute best resolution and may struggle if you print to A2 and look at the photo from 6" away!  You do need to be careful though when shooting at around 1/60s and slower on a tripod and always used mirror lock up and a remote shutter release.  The mirror does create a lot of vibration that does lead to a lose of high resolution detail.

The battery life is really really good.  I used the camera for 3 days and shot over 1000 images and about 10 movies continuously using the screen and still had 15% left.

So far I haven"t got any dirt on the sensor (a massive problem with the onlinecasinocanada1 D200).  I have been counting the number of times I have changed lenses - it now stands at 159 (sad I know!).

The auto image rotation doesn"t seem to work correctly - I have noticed when taking in portrait mode on a tripod it is fine when first comes up on view finder - then shows in landscape rather than portrait.

Editing the photos isn"t too bad - I have used a ipad (see my blog from a few weeks ago on the iPad apps I use >>) and Aperture and not had any issues at all.  Yes, it takes a while to transfer them to the iPad and they take a lot of room - but I have mostly shot RAW and never had a problem.  For reference , I have an iPad 3.

Morning light on Derwent
Morning light on Derwent

Morning light in Borrowdale - Nikkor 24-70mm f/8 1/20s ISO 50 (Heavy crop from original - edited on iPad)

I don"t care what anybody says - having the resolution (as long as you have good lenses) means you can crop more and compose different shots.  The shot below is a heavy crop of an original I took.  The sky wasn"t great and the image that was interesting was this crop.  You could still print this at a push at A3.

Buttermere Trees
Buttermere Trees

Buttermere Trees - Nikkor 24-70mm

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View_to_keswick_585

View towards Keswick - Nikkor 24-70 @ 50mm ISO 50 1/15s F/8

Finally - here is a fun shot I spotted whilst walking up Catbells - again handheld.  The full resolution shot is crisp and you can actually see a lot of detail in the people.  View more shots from my Lakes trip on Flickr >>

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ridge_walkers_585

Ridge walkers - Nikkor 24-70mm @70mm 1/800s 

Kinder walk and a sunrise

I have been planning a sunrise / sunset trip to the Peaks for some while now.  I don't get a lot of spare time so decided to have a Monday off work and set off early to Edale and take in Mam Tor on the way for Sunrise and then do a reasonable walk on Kinder - finishing with the sunset over the Cheshire plain and over Bosley Cloud. Mam Tor is a fantastic place to shoot the sunrise or sunset as it is easily reached from the road into Edale.  It is a short 10 min walk to the top.

I arrived at the top in almost complete darkness and found a good vantage point for what was to prove the best photo I took all day.  I now find that I use the Tokina 11 - 16mm lens more than any other and if you are careful you can get some stunning results with it.

Sunrise from Mam Tor

Sunrise from Mam Tor

I then parked in Upper Booth and set off up Kinder via Crowden Clough.  This is a steep route up Kinder and more of a scramble up a river bed than a well marked path.  The clouds were very low though - so no luck with any great photos.  I did take a few videos on my iPhone which I thought I would share

Kinder route map

Walked from Upper Booth over Kinder Scout and back down Jacob"s ladder (8 miles)

http://youtu.be/8jGhabP4R2o?hd=1

At the top you really need to be careful and try and follow the river bed - if you go off track (as you can see I did from following my track above in the map) if is easy to be knee deep in peat!

http://youtu.be/4fAWLx86-n0

At Kinder Low the views are impressive as are the rock formations - definitely one to come back to at sunrise!

http://youtu.be/yczAA6TJoWc

 

Edale Valley at sunrise Edale valley

 

Cornwall Coast

I have just returned from my family summer holiday to Cornwall.  This year I actually pushed myself to get out in the evening and explore the coast between Lands End and Cape Cornwall.  We were staying near Sennen Cove (a magnificent beach and great for Surfing). I decided to try out my new Tokina 10-17mm f3.5-f4.5 AT-X lens.  I also have a Nikon 17-55 f2.8 lens which is great but when shooting landscapes I often wanted the extra wide angle the Tokina gives.  So I left the Nikon at home so I would be forced to use the Tokina.

Lands End RSPB lookout (Nr Sennen Cove, Cornwall)

The image above shows the advantage of using the 11mm lens.  However, you do need to be careful with verticals - such as the ones on this lookout.

Heather at Lands End, Cornwall

I had walked over the path between Sennen Cove and Lands End the day before with my family and seen the potential in the vibrantly coloured heather.  It wasn"t an easy shoot to get though as I needed the golden light on the heather, background interest, control the dynamic range left to right on the Lee filters. The 11mm lens allowed me to get great foreground detail.

Crabbing at Sennen Cove, Cornwall

In Sennen Cove I had noticed that the sunset created a great opportunity for some silhouette images.  I didn"t manage to get the shot I was after but the above is the best of the bunch.  If the guy that is crabbing was the other way around that would have been perfect.  This images was taken with a 70-200mm F2.8 Nikon VR lens mounted on a tripod.

I did find the 11mm end of the Tokina lens very very good.  Care needs to be taken with verticals and the horizon as it does create convergence, however it is sharp and produces some crisp images.  One problem I did find was the Lee Polarising filter I have can be seen at the widest end of the lens.  I got round this by using a direct lens mounted filter to polarise the light.

The area between Cape Cornwall and Lands End is amazing - I only wish I could have spend more time there!