Yosemite National Park - Behind the Scenes

September 3, 2014

There probably are only few photography enthusiasts who do not admire Ansel Adams' photographs of Yosemite National Park, which have become cornerstones of fine-art landscape photography. Inspired by these works, it has been my dream to visit and photograph Yosemite National Park ever since I first held a camera. Having missed a first chance on a short visit to San Francisco in 2007, a recent trip to Berkeley gave me a second opportunity to visit Yosemite which I did not want to miss out. I thus reserved four days to hike in and around Yosemite valley, visiting many of the beautiful places I had admired in Ansel Adams' works. I returned from this trip not only with unforgettable memories of a grand nature, but also with a large collection of photographic impressions.

I was happy and honored to learn that Microsoft decided to publish some of my impressions from Yosemite as themepack in the Window Personalization Gallery. And just like for my previous two themepacks Scenic Europe and Scenic Europe 2, in this article I would like to provide some background information on locations, motifs and shooting conditions of the 15 images covered in the themepack. You like the photographs and you would like to obtain a gallery-quality canvas print for your home or office? Well, here is good news: For each of the photographs I provide a direct link to the fineartinternational.com store, so getting a gallery-like canvas print is now only one mouse-click away! If you want to use one or more of the photographs commercially, e.g. for book projects, advertisement campaigns or commercial websites, please do not hesitate to contact me.

  1. Scene 1: Panorama Cliff



    After staying in Yosemite valley for two days, we decided to explore the mountain areas surrounding the valley on a hiking trip. Following personal recommendations, we decided for the Panorama Trail, which is easily one of Yosemite's most spectacular dayhikes. The trail starts at an elevation of 2200m at Glacier Point and follows the fringe of the mountain area surrounding Yosemite valley, frequently providing spectacular views of the valley floor, the surrounding water falls as well as the mountainscapes of the Sierra Nevada. A particularly scenic view can be enjoyed from the so-called Panorama Cliff, or Panorama Point, a wide and flat rocky plateau which can be used to shortcut one portion of the Panorama trail. With a steep drop several hundred meters deep, walking close to the edge is certainly not for the light-hearted, especially since there have been several rockfalls over the last decades which left the plateau without any comforting handrails. Luckily I was not aware of the risk of rockfalls, when I took this picture of a young conifer, which is standing close to the edge of Panorama Cliff, fiercly braving the elements. In the background, you can spot the eastern face of Half Dome, while on the left you can see the floor of Yosemite valley.

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  2. Scene 2: Valley View



    Seeing the calm, meandering Merced river in this image, it is hard to imagine how wild and roaring it presents itself just a few kilometers upstream. In many ways, it is reasonable to view Merced river as one of the major creative forces behind many of the beauties of Yosemite valley. Not only did it - by continuous erosion over a period of tens of millions of years - contribute to the formation of the canyon which forms the floor of Yosemite valley. It also feeds some of the most beautiful waterfalls and waters the beautiful meadows the valley is so famous for. Exploring the banks of Yosemite valley, I came across this beautiful spot which, for obvious reasons, is called "Valley View". For my taste it offers one of the most scenic panoramas of Yosemite, which comprises Merced river, El Capitan as well as the typical mixed forest and meadow vegetation of Yosemite valley. Given the beauty of this place and the spectacular view it provides, I was actually surprised that it is seemingly seeked out only by few of the valley's visitors. As such, it was great to enjoy the silence and solitude of this place, while searching for the best spot to take a wide-angle picture close to the river bank. I took this image on my first visit of Valley View Point, when I found it in bright sunshine on an early afternoon. Naturally, knowing about the power of changing light conditions in Yoysemite, I came back at other times of the day but never quite experienced the beauty of the scene as strong as on my first visit.

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  3. Scene 3: Dead tree trunk



    Trees, whether living or dead, are an essential part of Yosemite's ecosystem. Living trees of various kinds, including fir, pine trees, cedars and sequoias, form the typical mixed Sierra Nevada conifer forests which cover Yosemite valley and the surrounding alpine woods. Hiking through these woods, enjoying the ethereal smell of bark, needles and sap as well as the mesmerising outlooks offered by an occasional clearance, is a memorable experience. But even when age, storm or fire have ended the life of a tree, it continues to be important for the ecosystem. Its remains, whether simple dead wood or charcoal, are crucial not only for the next generation of vegetation, but also as hideouts for small mamals and insects. Sometimes, dead wood is not only ecologically important, but also - as in this image - quite pittoresque. This twisted, and beautifully textured tree trunk nicely decorated the view towards Half Dome. I took this image while hiking on Panorama Trail, one of the most beautiful dayhikes around Yosemite valley. Making use of an extreme wide-angle lens and a low perspective allowed me to capture the organic, rolling line of the trunk, as it points towards the mountains in the background.

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  4. Scene 4: Sunset in Yosemite Valley



    Quite understandably, most visitors of Yosemite Valley are mainly attracted to its roaring waterfalls as well as its humbling monoliths. However, walking through Yosemite Valley, I found its rich and open meadows, alive with birds and butterflies, just as spectacular. Luckily, a network of trails and boardwalks pervade these meadows, allowing to walk through this ecosystem without damaging it too much. Indeed, the meadows of Yosemite valley are among those spots that offer the largest diversity of plants and animals. Some of the valley's most beautiful are Cook's Meadow, Sentinel Meadow, Leidig Meadow and Stoneman Meadow. We were passing Cook's Meadow shortly before sunset when we saw the last rays of sun highlighting just the top part of Half Dome. I set up my tripod, attached my polarizing filter and - together with a small number of fellow photographers - took a series of photographs. The photograph shown above was one of the nicest outcome of these shots. I particularly like how the clouds are nicely placed to support the dramatic view of the glowing peak of Half Dome.

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  5. Scene 5: Upper Yosemite Fall



    Yosemite Valley is home to numerous waterfalls. With a height of 739 meters, Yosemite Falls is not only the tallest of those in the valley, it is actually one of the tallest in the United States and ranks 20th in the world. In fact, Yosemite Falls is a cascade of three waterfalls. With a plunge of 440 meters, Upper Yosemite Fall is the tallest of the three, followed by a more than 200 meter drop of the Middle Cascades, and a final 98 meter plunge of the Lower Yosemite Fall. What makes Yosemite Falls particularly pitturesque, is that they can nicely be seen over a long distance from numerous points within the valley as well as from the surrounding mountains. What's more, Upper Yosemite Falls is well-known for the so-called Pohono effect, which refers to the continuously changing shape of the water curtain that can be seen on windy days. I took the photograph above on a short hike across Cook's Meadow, which offers a particularly nice overview of Upper Yosemite Falls. Focusing on the the flowers of a western azalea growing along the path, I decided to push the waterfall into the background.

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  6. Scene 6: Golden Half Dome



    At a height of close to 2700 meters, the Half Dome is a pronounced peak located at the easter fringe of Yosemite Valley. Thanks to its characteristic, eponymous shape it is world-famous and tens of thousands of hikers climb it every year. The geologic history of Half Dome is actually quite interesting. It consists of Granodiorite, a particularly hard material able to withstand erosive forces. However, Half Dome is located just at the edge of Yosemite valley which, during the last Ice Age, was filled with glaciers moving down from the surrounding mountains. One of these glaciers abraded the base of Half Dome, causing one half of the mountain to collapse. In more recent times, Half Dome has become one of the key symbols of Yosemite National Park, and probably ranks amone the world's most frequently photographed mountains. I wanted to shoot Half Dome during sunset, and I drove up to Wawona Tunnel to which I knew would give me a nice overview over the valley. After the sun had already disappeared in the valley, for a few final moments of daylight Half Dome started to glow in an intense orange before the twilight befell it as well. In this very moment, I seized my chance to get a shot of the tree silhouettes in front of the glowing rock face.

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  7. Scene 7: Vernal Fall



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  8. Scene 8: View from Glacier Point



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  9. Scene 9: Nevada Fall



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  10. Scene 10: El Capitan



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  11. Scene 11: Nevada Fall



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  12. Scene 12: Yosemite Valley



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  13. Scene 13: Valley View



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  14. Scene 14: Half Dome



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  15. Scene 15: Moonrise over Yosemite Valley



    I took this picture on a truly memorable evening. We had driven up the road from Yosemite Valley to Wawona Tunnel shortly before sunset. This allowed me to shoot the sun setting over the classical Tunnel View vista, which is probably most famously known for Ansel Adam's classic shot Clearing Winter Storm. Furthermore, I planned to capture the full moon, which I knew would be rising over the valley later that evening. I thus set up my tripod and - together with a group of fellow photographers - waited for moonrise for close to three hours. Finally, some time after nightfall, I could spot a faint glow crawling down the face of El Capitan, which is visible on the left of the picture. During the next few minutes, the moon rising over the mountains to the right increasingly illuminated the face of the monolith, bathing the whole valley in a beautiful silver light. I took a long exposure to bring out the faint light and to produce an image that matches the visual impression. A particularly remarkable detail of this image are the bright spots of light, which can be seen at several points in the wall of El Capitan. These are actually headlights of climbers en route to the summit of El Capitan who spend the night in Portaledges, a particular type of hanging tents used on multi-day big wall climbs.

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