El Capitan and the Merced River at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River at sunset, Yosemite. One of my last photos of the day, as the sun broke through clouds and lit El Capitan. 26mm, three bracketed exposures blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge, each at f/11, ISO 100.



It’s been a strange year, to say the least. Yesterday, Claudia and I went up to Yosemite Valley, and we had to think about the last time we’d been there. It was probably in early June, just after the park reopened. Over the rest of the summer we went to Glacier Point a few times, and up to the Yosemite high country on several occasions to photograph thunderstorms and Comet NEOWISE, but not to Yosemite Valley. In September and early October we traveled to Utah and Colorado. We spent most of November in Oregon and Washington. In between we stayed home while I finished launching my new Lightroom course.


During the spring the whole state was in lockdown, and the park was closed. And even in January and February there wasn’t a lot of weather, and therefore not much enticement to drive up to the valley to photograph a clearing storm. So I had hardly photographed Yosemite Valley the entire year.

But after a very dry autumn, a moderately-sized storm finally reached us on Friday evening. We had encountered lots of rain in Oregon and Washington, but it was nice to hear the sound of rain on our own roof. California desperately needs precipitation.

I didn’t expect snow in Yosemite Valley, but that didn’t matter; I’d be happy to see some clouds and mist. The storm looked like it would clear sometime yesterday morning, so Claudia and I planned to go up to the valley early.

But we couldn’t go too early. The ICU beds are full in our region of California, so the area is under semi-lockdown again. Hotels and campgrounds are closed, and Yosemite is open only for day use between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

We got to the park gate right at 8:00, and luckily the storm didn’t really start to clear until after we arrived at Tunnel View at about 8:15. We met up with our friends Charlotte and Gary Gibb, and we photographed some beautiful, misty scenes at Tunnel View. Later we photographed trees in fog on the valley floor, and we even found a light dusting of snow in places.

Half Dome and misty Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and misty Yosemite Valley, Yosemite. One of my first photographs of the day, as sunlight first struck Half Dome, with mist below. 94mm, 1/125 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

After a late breakfast and a short walk, Claudia and I debated whether to stay for sunset or head home. The Valley was pretty socked in by then with the typical afternoon evaporation clouds that form in the wake of a storm, so we were leaning toward heading home.

Mist, clouds, and Cathedral Spires, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Mist, clouds, and Cathedral Spires, Yosemite. We were thinking about heading home in the afternoon when I spotted this irresistible scene. 160mm, 1/350 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.



But on our way out I spotted a moody scene of Cathedral Spires in the mist, which compelled me to stop and get out my camera. And then there were signs that the clouds were breaking up a bit, so we decided to stay. I’m glad we did, because I captured probably my favorite images of the day as the sun broke through the clouds and lit El Capitan just before sunset.

It was so nice to be back in Yosemite Valley. After being away for so long, the Valley sure put on a show for us yesterday – as if to remind us of what we’d been missing.

— Michael Frye

Granite and mist at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Granite and mist at sunset, Yosemite. A few minutes after capturing the image at the top of this post I put on a long lens and photographed this section of El Capitan. 288mm, 1/8 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Sunlight hitting the base of El Capitan, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunlight hitting the base of El Capitan, Yosemite. 171mm, 1/90 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Morning clouds and mist from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Morning clouds and mist from Tunnel View, Yosemite. A wider view of Yosemite Valley as the sun first struck El Capitan in the morning. Three bracketed exposures blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge, each at f/11, ISO 100.

Tree and fog with the Royal Arches,  Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Tree and fog with the Royal Arches, Yosemite. This juxtaposition of a tree with the distant cliffs caught my eye. 177mm, 1/45 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.



Related Posts: Just Another Summer in the Yosemite High Country; Comet Over an Alpine Lake

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.