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

Yosemite Special Edition Photographs | February 2020

Purchase and learn more about this series of Yosemite Special Edition Photographs

Upcoming Event in Yosemite National Park: Rebecca Senf Discusses Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams

Friday, April 17th | 7:30-8:30 PM
Yosemite Lodge Outdoor Amphitheater*
Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

Please join us for a Yosemite evening celebrating Rebecca Senf’s new book, “Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams.” In her talk, Rebecca Senf, chief curator of the Center for Creative Photography, brings you behind-the-scenes stories of the artist’s early career, unknown pictures by Adams, rare archival objects, and some of his most iconic photographs. We’ll continue the conversation with a book signing the following day at The Ansel Adams Gallery. We hope you’ll join us!

Ansel AdamsThe Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming1943© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Ansel Adams Archive

Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams first arrived in California’s Yosemite Valley as a shy, home-schooled fourteen-year-old boy in 1916. How did this young tourist, with a Box Brownie camera in hand, become an accomplished mountaineer and one of the most recognizable photographers of the twentieth century? In this intimate first look at her new book, Making A Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams, the chief curator of the Center for Creative Photography, Rebecca Senf, charts Adams’s progression from novice to mature artist. The Yosemite debut for Making a Photographer will include a short reading, followed by a behind-the-scenes exploration of how Senf leveraged primary source materials to build a new narrative about the photographer. Drawing on more than fifteen years of research, Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams will deepen your understanding of one of photography’s central figures, enriching your appreciation of his formative years.

*If we experience poor weather conditions on the day of the event, we will move the presentation indoors to the Yosemite Lodge Auditorium.

Peaks and Cliffs Catalog | February 2020

For questions or inquiries on artwork in this catalog, please email the gallery at info@anseladams.com or call 888.238.9244. Keep exploring Ansel Adams artwork with Yosemite Special Edition Photographs or archival print Modern Replicas.

Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake

Ansel Adams’ “Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake” is one of the defining images of the Alaskan Wilderness. Ansel made this image when he, accompanied by his son Michael, set out in 1947 on a Guggenheim Fellowship to document the majestic landscapes of Alaska.

Story Behind the Image: Monolith, The Face of Half Dome

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, 1927

On the chilly spring morning of April 10th, 1927, Ansel Adams set out along Yosemite’s LeConte Gully to capture an image of the striking sheer face of Half Dome, one of Yosemite National Park’s most iconic natural features. Though Ansel knew the route well, having spent four teenage summers as the keeper of the Sierra Club’s nearby lodge in Yosemite Valley, his companions—his fiancée Virginia Best and three close friends, including his lifetime friend and fellow wilderness photographer Cedric Wright—picked carefully along the steep gully in the icy shadow of nearby Grizzly Peak.

This was not Ansel’s first journey to photograph Half Dome. In fact, nearly a decade earlier, a 14-year-old Ansel had visited this very spot on a family trip to Yosemite. Eager to experiment with his brand-new Kodak Brownie camera, young Ansel snapped several pictures of Half Dome, including one upside-down image, his favorite, taken accidentally as he fell off a stump.

As the 25 year-old Ansel hiked, he was in the midst of personal and professional upheaval. An accomplished pianist with a passion for photography, Ansel had only recently realized that his photographic skills dwarfed his musical ones, forcing him to abandon his dream of professional musicianship. His life’s work lay ahead of him, farther up the trail.

When the group reached the Diving Board, a steep outcropping more than 3,500 feet above Yosemite Valley, Ansel knew this was the perfect vista from which to capture Half Dome’s sheer face. The photograph he made, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” shows the mountain rising from an ink-black sky, its face illuminated by a dazzling midday sun just out of frame. Though Ansel initially made an exposure using a yellow filter, he immediately swapped that for a dark red filter, which darkened the sky and produced the deep shadows and bright light we recognize in the final image. It was a startling expression of emotion and drama from the young photographer, and its technical excellence and artistic mastery would soon launch Adams’ career as one of the finest commercial and fine-art photographers of the 20th century.

Today, the image stands as not only one of Adams’ finest works, but as a lasting and iconic depiction of one of the most unique spots in the American wilderness.

Ansel Adams Climbing to the Diving Board, Half Dome, Yosemite National Park from The Ansel Adams Gallery on Vimeo.

The Quiet Beauty of Photographing Yosemite Valley in Winter

(The Ansel Insider)

There is an elegance to walking onto a Yosemite meadow after a fresh snowfall. The sun takes a low path across the southern sky, creating dramatic lighting this time of year.

Gone are the back to back crowds of the summer months, leaving you and your creative eye with the freedom to explore, often uninterrupted. We interviewed Ansel Adams Gallery Staff photographer Mike Reeves on some of his favorite spots to capture the wonders of winter in Yosemite, as well as insider tips that will keep you dry, your equipment safe, and the way back to a warm fire and meal at the end of the day.

Yosemite Winter Photography Events

Photography Photo Classes and Guiding: Photography classes are offered five days a week. Additionally, you can schedule individual guiding sessions for a tailored experience. Classes range from “In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams”, “Using Your Digital Camera”, and “In the Field: Creative Smartphone Photography” for $95. per class. Private Guided Tours are available as well.

Multi-day Workshops in the heart of Yosemite Valley: Courses offered in field photography, using digital photography tools, Photoshop, printing techniques and traditional darkroom printing methods. These workshops sell out quickly. There are still spots available for “A Winter Light” with Keith Walklet – February 11-15.

Free Camera Walks: Led by staff photographers, camera walks are offered Tuesday (from the Ahwahnee Hotel), Thursday, and Saturday. These depart from the Gallery porch at 9 AM and are limited to 15 people. Topics are basic information about using cameras, composition, exposure, and whatever questions come up. Both digital and traditional formats are welcome. Registration opens seven days in advance of the scheduled walk. Reserve on Eventbrite or by calling 209-372-4413.

VAlley View by Mike Reeves

“Valley View” Photograph by Staff Photographer Mike Reeves

Winter Photography Locations

The privilege of living in Yosemite National Park affords gallery employees a front row seat for winter adventures. As well as guiding many of the classes and walks, Mike Reeves shares some of his favorite spots when he’s just heading out on his own with his camera.*

  1. Tunnel View

Tunnel View shouldn’t be skipped no matter how many times you’ve ventured there. There is a reason it’s a popular spot. Most anytime of day you can be sure you’ll catch dramatic vistas of Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome centered in the view” Reeves says.

Winter Sunset, Tunnel View by Mike Reeves

“Winter Sunset, Tunnel View” by Mike Reeves. Featured in The Ansel Adams Gallery Exhibit, 32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers

2. El Capitan

Very early in the day or pre-dawn is his favorite time to capture El Capitan in the winter, side-lit by the rising sun. The advantages are that the cracks in the face are more prominent, which aren’t always as visible when the sun is overhead.

“El Capitan, Reflection” by Mike Reeves

“El Capitan, Reflection” by Mike Reeves

3. El Cap Meadow

El Cap Meadow when the sun is just hitting the tree tops can’t be missed either (if you’re under a tree you may be hit by “snow bombs”). With El Cap back-lit again, the patient can be rewarded with showy scenes and sometimes a reflection of the cliffs.

4. Bridalveil Fall

It may not be Tunnel View, but Bridalveil Fall  is no slouch when it comes to inspiration. It is a subject that is in constant flux.  Mornings are a great time to photograph ice patterns and moving water, while late afternoons glow with brilliant sunset light on the leaning tower and the waterfall.

“Bridalveil Fall, Ice Patterns” by Mike Reeves

“Bridalveil Fall, Ice Patterns” by Mike Reeves. Featured in The Ansel Adams Gallery Exhibit, 32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers

5. Cooks Meadow

Cooks Meadow can’t be beat for expansive views. Yosemite Falls, North Dome, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock are all easily seen from this location. The elm tree in the meadow is a great foreground element that is fun to work with. Late afternoon and early evening are best when the sun starts to hit the face of Half Dome, creating increased depth and contrast in the image. It is a favorite spot among locals to end the day.

Fresh Snow, Cooks Meadow by Mike Reeves

“Fresh Snow, Cooks Meadow ” by Mike Reeves. Featured in The Ansel Adams Gallery Exhibit, 32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers

Winter in the Valley: What to Wear

Flexibility is key as you’ll want to dress in layers to accommodate varying temperatures through your days in the field. Most important is a good pair of waterproof boots and insulated pants. Beyond that, and depending on weather, consider a raincoat, lightweight down vests or jackets and such to add some warmth and a good hat.

Winter Gear

Because of low light conditions you’ll want to include a tripod in your gear as your exposures will be longer and the camera must remain still. A waterproof camera sleeve is a good idea too (remember the snow bombs?), but Reeves notes that a garbage bag can do the trick.

He also recommends keeping your gear in the car (and safely stored away) until you’re ready to shoot. Your cameras stay warm and there are fewer possible slips in the snow.

Yosemite Chapel Heavy Snow

“Yosemite Chapel, Heavy Snow ” by Mike Reeves. Featured in The Ansel Adams Gallery Exhibit, 32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers

After Your Photography Adventure: Food & Comfort in Yosemite Valley

If you’ve enjoyed a long day capturing some of the best photos you’ll ever take, it’s time to relax and enjoy another side of the park. The loveliest place to drop your gear and slide into an overstuffed chair is the Great Hall in the Ahwahnee Hotel. There is normally a good fire going and you can choose a warm beverage or snacks to enjoy while you unwind.

The Yosemite Lodge is the most comfortable, most affordable hotel room you can get. In the winter with rooms for approximately $145. You can certainly upgrade to the Ahwahnee at roughly $350, too.

If you haven’t ever been, don’t hesitate to come to Yosemite in the winter. You’ll dazzle the friends and family at home with your stunning new photographs. They’ll wonder how you ever did it!

Yosemite winter photography tips from Mike Reeves, Staff Photographer at The Ansel Adams Gallery. Thank you, Mike!

Mike Reeves, Ansel Adams Gallery Staff Photographer
*Please be safe and cautious while hiking in Yosemite National Park.  Take plenty of water, food and appropriate clothing and footwear for everyone in your party.  Trails can be hazardous.  Always seek advice from authorized National Park Service rangers before venturing out on the trail in Yosemite.  In winter, trails can be icy, even long after a storm has passed through the Sierra.  Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

Making of Yosemite Valley, Winter

The Art of Winter in Yosemite National Park

Featuring the artists of “32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers”

Nestled in Yosemite Valley at The Ansel Adams Gallery is a new exhibition of Yosemite photography: an exploration of the park’s striking beauty in winter as captured by our current group of full-time instructors and staff members. This exhibition is now open to the public, and will run through February 22, 2020. It is a special occasion to share this collection of work, as it offers us a lens into the park’s wonders from those who call Yosemite their home. We invite you to explore their perspectives on photography, teaching in the park, and their unique take on communicating the power and majesty of Yosemite through the arts.

Learn more about our staff photographers and the Yosemite classes and private guided tours they lead throughout the year.

El Capitan, photograph by staff photographer Michael Wise

Meet the Artists:

Brittany Colt, Staff Photographer

Brittany began teaching photography at The Ansel Adams Gallery in 2018. In her work, she focuses on small details in nature. Abstract photography has become her favorite because it challenges Brittany to capture elements in a unique way. She finds these abstractions just as beautiful as the icons that engulf Yosemite. Paying attention to lines, shapes, white space and patterns, helps her to focus on the design of the image. These details drive and push her to create worlds that may be complicated, but elementally beautiful. When teaching, Brittany loves to challenge her students and expand their minds not only technically, but creatively as well. She pushes her students to pay attention to the overall design of the composition all the while giving them the tools to “see” the light. Learn more about her story.

Photograph by Brittany Colt | Yosemite National Park, California

Dillon Engstrom, Staff Photographer

Dillon and his family moved to Yosemite in 2018 when he began working as a staff photographer at the gallery. Here, Dillon describes his artistic process: “I love the way that light interacts with the world around us; creating color, shape, texture, depth. I try to find opportunities that really enhance these qualities. The play of light and dark fascinates me the most. This is what makes me stop to look. Making a composition is then me responding to the moment in front of me and creating a frame that encapsulates what the scene is trying to tell me. Then when I bring the images back to the computer, I try to remember the scene and use the editing programs to bring out the beauty locked within the image file. The end result is my interpretation of the world that I see! Learn more about Dillon’s story.

Bridalveil Fall by Dillon Engstrom | Yosemite National Park, California

Blake Johnston, Staff Videographer

Blake is a cinematographer and photographer from San Diego, CA. He started filming skateboarding videos with his friends in High School, always looking up to professional skateboard films and enjoying the positive experiences the skateboarders had with each other portrayed through video. He began pursuing video more seriously with the Cinema Conservatory at Canyon Crest Academy. Moving to Yosemite was a change of pace and subject matter for Blake. Seeking new inspiration, he made Yosemite his home in October 2018 as a dishwasher. He didn’t know how long he’d be there—all he knew was that dishwashing was his excuse to film and photograph such a magnificent place for a good portion of the year. Eventually he landed a seasonal job with The Ansel Adams Gallery, where he is using his creative vision to make videos that offer an intimate view of our photography education experiences.

Yosemite Valley, Winter by Blake Johnston | Yosemite National Park, CA

Kirk Keeler, Previous Staff Photographer

Kirk moved to Yosemite in 2010 to immerse himself in the landscape of the famous Sierra Nevada destination with the goal to photograph it as much as possible. Kirk acquired the job as staff photographer at The Ansel Adams Gallery in 2011, where he worked until November 2019. Working at the gallery not only helped Kirk hone his photographic skills, but helped foster a new talent – that of a photography teacher! “I had no idea how much I loved to teach”, explains Kirk. “It made my day when I saw the participants of my classes or one-on-one sessions have that ‘A-ha moment’ when they grasped a new camera skill or learned something new or contrary about Ansel Adams.” For Kirk, the best part about working at the Gallery was access to Yosemite for his photographic pursuits. Kirk’s photography has been featured at The Ansel Adams Gallery, in addition to Yosemite Renaissance, Stellar Gallery in Oakhurst, CA and The Wild & Scenic Festival in Nevada City, CA.

Oak Tree, Blizzard by Kirk Keeler | Yosemite National Park, California

Christine Loberg, Staff Photographer

Tremendously passionate about photography and nature, Christine has made it her mission and life-long goal to inspire and teach the next generation of nature photographers. Christine, a native Californian, has worked in photography stores, photo studios and photo labs to increase her photography knowledge. Developing a love for nature, she became involved with The Sierra Club, making frequent visits to Yosemite. It was during one of these visits that she met Ansel Adams, and then in 1985 decided to accept a job working as a lab technician in Yosemite Valley. Christine is our most senior staff photographer having worked for The Ansel Adams Gallery for many years while also working as a seasonal Ranger for the interpretive division in Yosemite National Park. Learn more about her story.

Half Dome in Snow by Christine Loberg | Yosemite National Park, CA

Mike Reeves, Staff Photographer

Mike is an outdoor educator in Yosemite, reaching thousands of photographers in classes and workshops where his passion for the park is evident. Describing Yosemite, he says “Yosemite has always been an escape for me. The powerful waterfalls and swirling winds were always able to cleanse me of whatever troubles me. Now I try to go deeper and deeper into the wilderness when I am able. The backcountry has always had a wonderful, unspoiled quality to it. I hope my photographs can communicate how large and powerful this place is. I hope they are a call for others to come enjoy and help preserve it as well.” His first serious photo workshop was in 2009 and has enjoyed the company of many of the best Yosemite photographers who have helped him hone his craft ever since. Learn more about Mike’s story.

Winter Sunset, Tunnel View by Mike Reeves | Yosemite National Park, CA

Evan Russel, Gallery Curator

Evan began working at The Ansel Adams Gallery as a Staff Photographer, where he helped to develop the photography workshop and guiding programs within the park. He now works as the Gallery Curator, operating exhibitions in Yosemite Valley such as this. In his artist statement, Evan describes his approach to creating: “Since I was young, photography has acted as the purveyor of voice and revolution. As a child, it was the first tool I can remember at my disposal that existed outside of the rigid world of ‘Correct vs. Incorrect;’ there were no boundaries in that photogenic world and — the notions of aperture, shutter and film speeds aside — could be operated at creative will to any end. And as a result, it has evolved into a language and enunciation of curiosity. And this curiosity has not abated as I have grown older. As such, I have never limited myself in style or content. Rather, I photograph what I see, when I see and how I see it, waffling between modes of presentation along the way, continuing to resist an urge to codify or set up boundaries within or outside of my work.”

Rolling Fog, Bridalveil by Evan Russel | Yosemite National Park, CA

Michael Wise, Staff Photographer & Curatorial Assistant

Michael Wise is a staff photographer and the curatorial assistant at The Ansel Adams Gallery. He describes his creative journey: “I never thought that I would call myself an artist. Certainly my conservative Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing discouraged a creative nature as a means for living. The unpredictable path that led me to fill the position of Staff Photographer and curatorial assistant at The Ansel Adams Gallery eight years ago was full of unusual directions. In short, my prior history involved paying the bills with commercial photography and university teaching. This unfamiliar gallery and national park lifestyle represented a dedicated, non monetized purpose in photographing simply as self expression and emotion….Over the years I have been successfully progressing in the embracement of my uneasy creative process. I am becoming aware of how the light affects me in ways that can not be described with words. I no longer try to control what is presented to me. There is no analysis of the lines, shapes, and tones that command the image design. And occasionally I am rewarded with a day that allows me to communicate my feelings and imagination through visual art.” Learn more about Michael’s story.

Bridalveil Fall by Michael Wise | Yosemite National Park, CA