A Winter Lightshow in Yosemite Valley

For the intrepid visitor willing to brave the cold and possibility of snow in the park in winter, Yosemite provides unique rewards. Far from the crowds of campers, hikers, and picnickers who flock to its vistas in the summer months, visitors in winter can experience rare moments of solitude and tranquility amongst the slumbering valleys and often snow-capped peaks. But for photographers in search of the perfect shot, February provides an unmissable opportunity to capture alpenglow.

“Band of Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park,” Chromogenic Pigment Photograph by Michael Frye

Alpenglow, the ethereal reflection of the setting or rising sun against a mountain, is a sought-after prize for any photographer. Plan a private photography guiding session to capture your masterpiece.

There’s perhaps no greater illustration of the scale and grandeur of a peak than to see it glowing in the dazzling first light of morning. Capturing this effect in an image requires the perfect confluence of factors—the clearness of the day, and the quality and direction of the light. Perhaps most maddeningly, even if conditions are perfect, it can all disappear in a matter of minutes. But despite the possibility of snowy hikes and colder temperatures, the winter months offer photographers ideal conditions for shooting this elusive natural phenomenon.

In Yosemite Valley, “at the end of the day, when the sun sits down, the light will penetrate many of the cliffs—like El Capitan and Half-Dome—and turn them a beautiful color,” says staff photographer Christine Loberg. “The last peak of the evening to light up is Half-Dome. It’s like the grand finale.”

For the best chance of capturing a glowing El Capitan or Half Dome, arrive well before sunrise or sunset, giving yourself at least an hour to set up your camera and tripod and plan your shot. Thankfully, the shorter days and later sunrises of winter offer adventurers a few more moments of sleep before rising to beat the dawn. You’ll have only a few minutes at the very beginning of sunrise or very end of sunset when the golden light appears to “glow” behind the mountain’s peak. So choose your filters carefully and have everything laid out within reach to ensure you can make your exposures before the effect disappears.

“El Capitan, Sunset, Winter,” Archival Pigment Print by Keith Walklet

Ansel Adams’ respect for the splendor of the mountains infused every image of them he ever made. As we celebrate his legacy, there can be no better way to understand the grandeur of the valley he loved than to devote a winter morning to capturing it in its best light.

Planning a trip to Yosemite? Let us help you make the most of your experience with a photography class or private guide. Join us in learning to capture Yosemite in all its glory.

Written by Ethan Simon, Creative Writer for The Ansel Adams Gallery