This incredible view of Yosemite Valley is from Tunnel View, which is about 30-45 minutes from one of the park entrances, depending on how snowy the road conditions are. It's an iconic Yosemite view, and arguably, one of the best views in the park. In this blog post, I'll share 5 tips for photographing Yosemite in the winter.  

Tunnel View, The Best View in Yosemite?

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In December of 2021, I was fortunate enough to be in Yosemite during an epic snow storm. It was one of the most beautiful  and peaceful things I've ever seen. This image was created with several vertical shots from the Fuji 56 mm, stitched together in post.



1) PREPARE YOUR CAR FOR BAD WEATHER AND BRING SUPPLIES

My first tip is actually not photography specific. It's about being prepared on the way in and out of the park. Our trip from So. Cal. to Yosemite took six hours, we spent another nearly six hours from the gates of the park to our destination inside the park, the Ahwahnee hotel. We had to stop repeatedly for an hour or more due to accidents and blocked roads. Tip #1, bring chains (or have four wheel drive) and bring lots of food/water and blankets in your vehicle. You might get stuck for long periods of time without cell service. We did. We were well prepared and my crew was good natured, so we had snowball fights and had a pretty good time along the way. 


2) STAY INSIDE THE PARK 

See #1 above. During winter the roads can be treacherous. If you stay inside the park you can walk out of your door and start hiking, it's much more relaxing and more fun than fighting the roads in the dark and trying to get there before first light or riding home in the dark after sunset.  I actually think staying in the park is the way to go at National Parks all the time, but I realize it is not always possible for budget/reservation reasons. If you can, I recommend it. We stayed at The Ahwahnee, which was wonderful. I've always wanted to stay there, it's historic, gorgeous, and built in 1927. The fireplaces inside are grand, as is the price. Waking up and hiking out the door was fantastic. 


3)  PACK LIGHT, CONSIDER LIGHT PRIME LENSES

I come from a family of mostly heavy packers. When hiking in the mountains, though, you don't want a heavy pack. I prefer to pack lightly, a good zoom or two primes, first aid kits, snacks, a whistle, a light, and  some extra dry clothes are all great. I am a recent convert from a DSLR and multiple zooms, on this trip I took a Fuji XT-4, Manfrotto befree tripod and two primes, a 16 f/1.4 Fuji and the Fuji 56 f/1.2. These are terrific and very light prime lenses. I also brought Nisi Optics circular ND polarizers. The sun gets very bright reflecting off the snow. An ND polarizer with a 1-5 stop filter is very useful. This was a very light pack for me. I skipped the 15-30, 24-70, or 70-200 and took a bit of adjusting. The 16 was great. When I wanted a closer detail I used the 56, and a few times took several vertical shots and stitched them together in post. This was also a dry run for this summer when I'll be hiking in the Dolomites on an expedition preparing to teach destination workshops. My back appreciated the lighter pack! 


4) BRING LOTS OF WATER ON YOUR HIKE, USE A REAL HIKING BACKPACK

Mountain air is dry, winter mountain air is even drier. I like to bring extra water. I use a true hiking backpack with a hip harness. Many camera backpacks lack a hip harness which makes your back handle all the weight. The hip harness distributes the weight on your hips and makes weight easier to carry. I put my camera gear in an insert inside the waterproof hiking backpack. I use a camel pack type bladder and keep the hose on my shoulder strap. Don't forget to take frequent sips to Remember, the water can freeze in your hose, mine became icy and I had to chomp on it to break it down just in time before it froze solid. That would have been bad. 


5) MEANDER - If a family trip, try to go on one hike alone

Take the time to meander and explore, it's one of life's great joys. This is not to be rushed. One of the most gorgeous times to hike is the morning after a fresh snowfall. The quiet in a forest after snowfall is unlike any other. Stop, and listen to the quiet. If you are on a family vacation, try to negotiate a hike or two for photography on your own where you can meander and take your time without regard to the schedule of others. It'll be better for your photos and your family relationships. Trust me. It's very hard to do real photography with a tripod and ND filters and winning composition while hurrying so you don't annoy your hiking mates. On this trip I was able to meander to and around Mirror Lake, recomposing, taking my time in a way I would not have done on a family hike. Finally, as in all hikes, take the requisite precautions, bring a radio, advise your family/mates where you are going and what time you will be home. Bring first aid supplies. ENJOY!

Mirror Lake

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Mirror Lake

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Lower Yosemite Falls

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The Ahwahnee Hotel, Opened 1927

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