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Tips and techniques

NATIONAL PARKS: Yosemite National Park

By July 19, 2017No Comments

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

Without a doubt, one of the crowning jewels of both the national park system and the entire world is Yosemite. Over the eons, millions (billions?) of tons of metamorphic granite have been shaped and sculpted, largely by glaciers, into countless harmonious and visually riveting forms.

After decades of being photographed by the renowned Ansel Adams and the many who came after him, creating original images here is a real challenge — but it is not impossible. There is an absolutely endless variety of compositions in Yosemite even though so many natural features are pretty much a monochromatic gray. John Muir called the Sierra Nevada — home to Yosemite — “the range of light.”

Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.” John Muir from The Yosemite (1912)

To enjoy a productive photo trip to Yosemite, we should first get organized by breaking the park into four distinct regions. These include Yosemite Valley, the High Country, the Glacier Point Road and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoia trees. There are many other subjects in-between, but these are the primary areas of this thousand square mile wonder.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Falls and reflection, © Jerry Ginsberg

Most visitors to Yosemite never get past this small valley. To be sure, there is enough here to keep any photographer busy for several months. The names are legendary: Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Tunnel View and Clouds Rest. They roll off the tongue and out of the annals of American scenic icons. As the light moves from sunrise through sunset, the places to be with your tripod will be constantly changing. Starting with El Capitan and ending the day at Tunnel View can be a good start.

Besides the usual peak summer visitation, the valley is usually overcrowded in late May and early June when the many waterfalls are flowing at their heaviest. Of course, this depends on the volume of the previous winter’s snowpack (See from the December 2014 issue of NANPA eNews for the inside story on a winter visit to Yosemite.)

The High Country

Take Route 120 up the hill from the valley and head east toward Tioga Pass. Be warned, a good part of this road can be closed until Memorial Day. Major stops along the way include Olmstead Point, Tenaya Lake, Unicorn Peak, and the lakes and tarns just west of the Tioga Pass entrance. These are all best throughout the afternoon and into sunset. Take your time. Go slowly and enjoy the beauty all around you. For the fun of it, take a stroll along the Tuolumne River.

Glacier Point Road

  • El Capitan reflection, © Jerry Ginsberg

    Glacier Point–Yet another breathtaking viewpoint. The possible compositions are endless. Best in late afternoon when the shadow line moves across the scene before you as the sun starts to drop.

  • Sentinel Dome, the home of Ansel Adams’ famed Jeffrey pine, is an easy hike of a little over a mile each way capped off by a short trudge up the face of the dome. Best very late afternoon through sunset. Try to be down well before full dark.
  • Taft Point–Another easy stroll of not much more than a mile. A good early morning spot most of the year. Possible sunset location in winter. Note: This entire spur road is closed to vehicles from approximately December through very late May. Snowshoeing is permitted.

Mariposa Grove

Giant sequoia trees have lived here peacefully for thousands of years. Take some time and walk quietly among them. Even without the power of locomotion, these living beings possess a certain individuality and charisma. Take it all in. Logistics for the grove have changed a bit. You must now park your car near the park’s south entrance and board the free shuttle for the short ride to the trees.

Vernal Falls, © Jerry Ginsberg

Gateway airports to Yosemite include San Francisco and Fresno. Since all roads in Yosemite are well-paved, renting any standard passenger vehicle will work.

Lodging choices are plentiful. In the valley, the best choices are the Yosemite Lodge at The Falls and Camp Curry. If planning a romantic getaway, opt for the ambiance of the famed Awahnee Lodge. Between the Glacier Point Road and the south entrance you will find the venerable and charming Wawona Hotel. Just outside the park, the tiny village of El Portal offers some excellent accommodations. However, you may have a bit of a wait to re-enter the park at peak times.

Writer’s note: NANPA eNews is changing. As we go to press, we are not yet sure what form those changes may take. Thank you for your time and attention over the past few years. It has been a pleasure and privilege to share my national park experiences with you. I hope my articles have helped you to enjoy our federal lands and make great images just as your many emails with questions and comments have encouraged and inspired me. Thank you!


Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He has photographed every one of North America’s national parks with medium-format cameras and has been a national park artist-in-residence. His photographic archive spans virtually all of North and South America. More of Jerry’s images can be seen at Email him at