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.