Finding new ways to photograph Yosemite or any popular place to photograph is hard but not impossible. I understand the apprehension that can come from visiting incredible but well documented places. I felt it growing inside me this summer as I set out to visit Yosemite National Park. There are so many iconic photos of Yosemite from Ansel Adams to contemporary photographers. Every visitor to Yosemite is practically obligated to take a photo of a few key sites - Tunnel View, at least one of if not more of the many waterfalls, and Half Dome from some point in the valley.
With millions of visitors yearly it can seem impossible to find new ways to photograph Yosemite but it's not. I promise.
Yosemite's details are often overlooked. The grand vistas draw everyone's attention and it's understandable why. That said, the details within those larger landscapes are often just as stunning if not more so. Take the two photos below. The same scene recorded in the second photo is a part of the first photo as well. This is Half Dome as seen from the dry bed of Mirror Lake at the eastern end of the Yosemite Valley.
The wide shot is great and I love it. It's also an unusual angle at which to photograph Half Dome but given that I was there in the mid-day with an intense sun beating down it's also not the best photo you'll ever see of Half Dome. In fact I myself have many that are better. That said by focusing in on the details in the lower photo I've created a more compelling composition and one that is seen less often even as it still is a very wide shot of this iconic landmark.
Find Uncommon Ways To Capture Yosemite
You can find uncommon ways to capture Yosemite. Many serious photographers get up and visit places like Yosemite before the sun comes up or just before the sun goes down. They also visit when the weather is interesting. Feeling that you must do these things means setting yourself up for disappointment when the stars don't align. You can find new ways to photograph places like Yosemite even in the mid-day with a cloudless sky if you're clever and think differently.
How to Photograph Yosemite Differently
The first step to photographing Yosemite differently is to relax. Stress narrows our thinking and our vision. Stress prevents us from seeing what is right in front of us. Follow my pointers here to find new ways to photograph Yosemite or any well photographed place.
Before we can find new compositions of places such as Yosemite we need to relax. The fastest way to relax quickly is to mind our breath. Take deep slow breaths in and especially out and pause after exhaling. The increased oxygen from breathing in will help us boost our awareness while the exhale and pause will lower our heart rate and allow us to relax ourselves.
Once we're relaxed we need to look around. Take in the grand vistas. Photograph them and get an idea of how your camera is seeing them. Begin to pay attention to the light, to the forms and shapes in front of you. Once you've got an idea of the grand views you can begin to see the details and can focus in on them.
Find Your Place
You've got to find your place and I often do this after taking those larger often seen photos. In them you can begin to see the places where others are ignoring. The vantage points that don't draw everyone's attention. Will they always pay off? No, not always. That said, if you can find them and find the right composition you'll have something nobody else will - a unique and new way to see Yosemite or whatever other place you're photographing.
Find The Essence
Even well known photographers can forget to crop in camera but you can find the essence of the place if you are willing to eliminate the stuff that doesn't add to your photo. What is Yosemite? It is a wild place full of granite giants and Sequoia that have survived millennia. Do you need to see El Capitan or Bridal Veil Falls to capture that in a photo? No. In fact most of the pine trees in the Yosemite Valley are Ponderosas, not Sequoias so if you want a photo that features both you need to visit areas beyond the valley.
More Tips For Unique Ways To Photograph Yosemite
Here are some more tips for unique ways to photograph Yosemite. Take a wider variety of lenses than you think you'll need. I took everything from dedicated 20 and 35 mm lenses to my 150 to 600mm lens and I used them all. I also took neutral density filters and a variety of other filters including a Black Pro Mist filter. I used the Pro Mist filter mostly on my Nikon 20mm which already produces dreamy photos if there is even a hint of direct light anywhere within 180 degrees of the lens. That is to say, all the time.
Many photographers would never use the Nikon 20mm I was using or the other vintage lenses that I brought with me but I love photographing with them and I have learned how to embrace their qualities. Modern lenses are very sharp and that's wonderful but if you want to create something different and new then sometimes it makes sense to use something old to do it.
Bring a tripod with you. Make it a lightweight one if you're taking it on long hikes or hikes that cover a lot of elevation. A tripod will help you slow down and take your time setting up your shot.
What are your tips for finding new ways to photograph Yosemite or similar places? Send them to me via my contact form and I'll share them on social media. Eventually I'll turn comments on in the blog but the amount of spam that is sent to me via comments is often a bit much so I'm trying to figure out how to deal with that.