Yosemite Photography: Best Locations, Iconic Landmarks and Epic Vistas

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Yosemite Photography Stunning National Park photographs Valley View at sunset view over El Capitan and Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park photography has a bit of everything: Awe-inspiring sunrises, viewpoints from folklore, iconic granite domes, giant Sequoia trees, golden meadows and powerful waterfalls.

Arriving into the valley as a photographer is like opening a treasure chest filled with gold bars and diamond rings.

Californian gold may have dried up in the 1800’s but nature and landscape photographers descend upon the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain landscape to take home priceless images and memories instead.

We spent 3 amazing days in Yosemite during Fall, so we have stunning Autumnal colors and excellent reflection shots but little to no water from the famous waterfalls. A Spring visit next time will remedy our lust for Yosemite’s waterfalls.

In this Yosemite photography guide you will find our favorite pictures from the most scenic areas of the National Park.

We want to inspire you to visit Yosemite, so let’s get to it!

Important 2021 Update: Reservations are required to enter Yosemite between May 21 and September 30 this year. Please make sure you reserve an entry slot for your dates of travel before you visit. More information can be found on the NPS website.

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of them, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! We recommend only products we use and as always, all ideas or opinions expressed in this post are entirely ours. Thank you for the support and happy travels!*

We’ve ordered the most popular Yosemite photography locations from North to South as you look at a map of the area.

In order to reach each of the places listed below you will need a minimum of 2 days in Yosemite but 3 days would make life much easier.

Read our comprehensive 3 day Yosemite itinerary covering everything you need to plan your visit.

There are many many parts of Yosemite we did not manage to see on our first visit, but we will be back to explore further and off the beaten path.

Here are the most famous of Yosemite’s landmarks and viewpoints:

Tioga Road Yosemite Photography

Tioga road is North of Yosemite Valley and serves as the picturesque Northeast entrance into Yosemite. The road closes in Winter due to treacherous conditions at 9,943 ft altitude in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

We visited Yosemite just a week before it closed for Winter and had clear blue skies but bitterly cold days. On a typical 3 day Yosemite itinerary, spending a half day (ideally as you enter or leave the park) exploring along Tioga road is recommended.

Best stops include Lembert Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, Olmsted Point and Tuolumne Grove. If you have more time, there are plenty of longer hikes beginning on Tioga road. The most popular is Cathedral Lakes.

Lembert Dome

Lembert Dome from trailhead near parking lot

Lembert Dome smooth side face from below

Kristen half way up Lembert Dome steep side face in yosemite national park california on a bright day mark taking photograph

Kristen half way up Lembert Dome before it gets seriously steep!

Lembert Dome summit view yosemite national park photography

Sweeping view of the High Sierras from Lembert Dome Summit

Rock landing in frozen lake surrounded by trees and granite domes in california

Rock landing in frozen lake on the hike to Lembert Dome summit

Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point

Tenaya Lake along Tioga Road in California

Tenaya Lake picnic area looks through a gorgeous granite rock valley

Olmsted Point smooth flat granite rock surface with giant cracks

Super-smooth granite rock with wide and deep cracks cutting through the surface, Olmsted Point

Tuolumne Grove Giant Sequoia Trees and Big Oak Flat Road

Mark and Kristen stood next to a fallen giant sequoia tree to show perspective of its girth

Mark and Kristen stood in front of a fallen Giant Sequoia Tree showcasing its enormous girth

Yosemite Photography Giant Sequoia Tree in Tuolumne Grove

Giant Sequoia reaching for the sky

Kristen holding a pine cone up to the sun in a sequoia tree grove in california

Gigantic Pine Cone highlighted by the sun

Big oak Flat road driving down a winding road into Yosemite Valley from Tioga Road huge wide open valley covered in trees and shadows

Big Oak Flat road hugs the cliff side and descends into Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley Photography

Yosemite Valley is a staggeringly beautiful playground for beginners and professionals to get lost in photography.

No hiking is required to reach a viewpoint inside the valley, you can simply drive your car around the loop road and pull in at any of the roadside lots.

Each of the picnic / beach areas is worth a visit. Walk to the Merced River for stunning reflection photographs (mainly in Fall when the water levels are low) of granite domes and colorful trees.

Even just wandering out into the meadows along Cook’s Meadow Loop reveals stunning views in both directions.

Season and time of day are important for photography in Yosemite. Each season and time of day will yield its own results and each will mean you miss out on something.

Yosemite Valley Meadows

Sunset over looming granite dome with meadow in shadow foreground stunning yellows

Golden yellow light at sunset illuminating the Western facing side of a huge granite formation in the valley

Stunning photography in Yosemite Valley of meadows with trees and granite domes blue sky background

Golden meadows, green trees and bright granite rocks in Fall

Kristen nailing a perfect handstand on a wooden boardwalk in Yosemite national park cooks meadow loop trail fantastic photography

Kristen reliving her gymnastics days on a bright day along Cook’s Meadow Loop in the valley

Yellow glow at sunset in yosemite national park with meadows and granite domes amazing photography location

Sunset on a hazy October evening in Yosemite Valley meadow

Merced River and Reflections

Sandy beach along river with trees and blue sky in stunning valley

Sentinel Beach picnic area on the valley loop road looking East

Merced River at dawn before sunrise with trees reflecting symetrically

Stunning X-shaped river reflection at civil twilight along El Portal road

Yellow flowers in front of a river and granite dome before sunrise in california

Attractive yellow flowers alongside the Merced River entering Yosemite Valley

Perfect reflection photograph of granite dome in deep blue river yosemite national park photography

Water so still the reflection is as clear and pristine as the granite rock itself

Starburst of the sun reflecting in deep and shallow water in california

Cool starburst with the Sun and light penetrating different depths creating greens and blues

Sunrise on granite domes reflecting in river at dawn on still water

River reflection at sunset with lovely glow on granite tops contrasting against dark foreground

Amazing granite dome reflection picture in merced river in yosemite national park one of the best places to learn photography techniques

Perfect reflection of flat granite wall (this is where we needed our A7R IV and 16-35mm lens!!)

Stunning colorful fall foliage trees reflecting in Merced river in Yosemite National Park gorgeous photography opportunity

Spectacular reflection with Fall colors turning and a perfectly still river

Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls

Bridalveil Falls in Fall with very little water running over the granite rock

Our Fall visit resulted in low volumes of water flowing over Bridalveil Falls …

Yosemite Falls completely dry in October no water running at all Fall is not the time to visit for waterfalls in yosemite!

… and absolutely no water flowing over Yosemite Falls! Sigh.

Valley View Photography Yosemite National Park

Valley View is one of the most popular overlook viewpoints in all of Yosemite and an especially spectacular photography location.

We think sunset is the best time to be here to catch the last rays of day seemingly set El Capitan’s West facing wall on fire with a stunning red glow. Purple and blue colors of dusk begin to combine with a light haze to create a serene sunset.

You can find Valley View by driving as though you are leaving Yosemite Valley toward the end of the one-way loop road and stopping at the very last pullover before the loop begins again.

Don’t forget your tripod if you do visit at sunset and wrap up if visiting outside of Summer – you can trust us on that one!

El Capitan and yosemite valley from valley view during bright daylight

Which do you prefer? Valley View during the brightest part of the day, or …

Serene sunrise at valley view in yosemite valley el capitan glowing red and reflecting in merced river with rocks

… Valley View at sunset with El Cap glowing red? We vote sunset!

Valley view of Yosemite valley and el capitan bright sun reflecting off granite walls

Glorious late October weather from Valley View making photography at Yosemite incredibly enjoyable

Yosemite photography Valley view el capitan at sunrise behind reeds in shadow

Burning red rocks of El Capitan at sunset from behind some vegetation along the banks of the Merced

El Capitan Yosemite Photography

El Capitan is one of the two most famous granite formations in Yosemite National Park. Partly down to how awesome it appears in the valley and partly because of rock climbers accomplishing free climbs up its Dawn Wall.

El Cap commands your attention as you explore Yosemite valley. It is best photographed at sunrise when it’s front facing wall illuminates a bright yellow at dawn, or sunset as mentioned in the Valley View section above.

Here are some closer up photographs from El Capitan Meadow and at the base of the adventurous climb.

Kristen pointing at El Capitan from a meadow in yosemite national park at sunrise

Kristen in shadow pointing at the majestic El Capitan shimmering just after sunrise

Dawn Wall El Capitan glowing yellow at sunrise in yosemite valley with trees and log on its side foreground in shadow

El Capitan meadow around 20 minutes before sunset – one of the best places to see the grand size of the popular formation

El Capitan climbing wall from directly at the bottom with a rope and climber in the top left of the picture

The base of El Capitan with a rope dangling enticingly … an ant sized climber is on the very top left of the rock face

Stunning Yellows as El Capitan illuminates at sunrise wonderful yosemite national park photography

We got a little closer to El Capitan around 30 minutes before sunset to see it illuminating a deep Yellow

Yosemite Mist Trail / John Muir Trail Photography

Half Dome is the undisputed king of Yosemite but it’s difficult to get a permit to hike the chained section to its summit. For most visitors to Yosemite, the Mist and John Muir Loop trail is the most popular hike.

Mist trail passes by Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, summiting beside Liberty Cap. The trail to Half Dome continues from this summit but due to permit limitations, very few hikers will continue to Half Dome. Almost all hikers will loop around and descend back into Yosemite valley via John Muir trail.

The Mist / John Muir loop is still a fantastic hike and Liberty Cap is still an impressive granite dome!

Here are some of our photographs from the trail.

Vernal Fall

Vernal Falls in yosemite national park running dry and in shadow blue sky

Vernal Fall lightly flowing on a mid morning hike up Mist Trail

Vernal falls running dry into a plunge pool surrounded by rocks yosemite national park photography

And Vernal Fall from a side profile with plunge pool surrounded by rocks

Mist Trail

Starburst with the sun appearing over a granite wall with dense green trees in a valley and hazy sky Mist trail photography in yosemite national park california

Starburst with the Sun on an appropriately misty morning climbing the Mist Trail

Mist Trail summit path leading to John Muir trail

Sandy path connecting Mist Trail to John Muir Trail over the summit of Nevada Fall

Liberty Cap

Liberty Cap from right underneath it at the top of Mist trail

Close up of Liberty Cap from the summit of Mist Trail – Half Dome Trail continues here

Mark and Kristen sat on a boulder with towering Liberty Cap behind in Yosemite National Park photography from Mist trail

Mark and Kristen perspective shot on a big boulder backed by enormous Liberty Cap

John Muir Trail

Liberty Cap and Half Dome in the background with Nevada Falls to the right

Sweeping view of Nevada Fall to the bottom right, Liberty Cap prominent front left and the back of Half Dome to the left

Kristen stood next to icicles formed on the John Muir trail in October frozen water

Late October icicles hidden from sunlight mean slippery paths along John Muir Trail

Liberty Cap granite dome behind green trees a wooden bridge and granite boulders hiking trail yosemite national park photography

Impressive looking Liberty Cap and wooden footbridge from the John Muir Trail

Read our complete guide to the amazing Yosemite Mist Trail featuring maps, hike walkthrough, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall to help with your hiking plans.

Yosemite Tunnel View Photography

Tunnel View is Yosemite’s quintessential viewpoint with some of the most famous photographs taken from this overlook.

The view is from the same side of Yosemite valley as Valley View, but Tunnel View is from a much higher elevation which gives uninterrupted views across the entire valley. That’s a lot of uses of the words valley and view!

As you enter Yosemite from the North and join the loop road, take the very first right toward Wawona road and Bridalveil Falls. Continue past the falls parking lot and climb until you reach a tunnel. Park up before the tunnel and walk over to the very obvious viewpoint.

It’s a tough call to say which is the ‘better’ scene between Valley View and Tunnel View because both are awe-inspiring. However, if pushed, we would probably go for Tunnel View due to the symmetry of the valley from here.

El Capitan to the middle-left, Bridalveil Falls to the middle-right and even Half Dome just about appears in the background.

If you have a telephoto lens you can compress the three major formations to appear much large and closer in the image but we only had our entry level (crop sensor) camera with 16mm prime lens at the time.

During the day you can expect dramatic shadows but try to arrive for sunset and stay until the sun completely disappears for amazing purple / blue hazy hues in the sky.

We also managed to capture the Milky Way rising right above the tunnel with a cool orange glow.

Stunning view of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View epic photography location

Tunnel View during early afternoon on a clear day – Half Dome just about visible center back, Bridalveil Falls middle right and El Capitan middle left

Yosemite photography amazing view from tunnel view overlook purple blue sky

Dusk brings hazy but serene purples and pinks to the sky

Tunnel view yosemite national park astrophotography star photograph with orange glow from tunnel milky way

Milky Way over the entrance to Wawona Tunnel around 8pm

Yosemite Photography Tunnel View at dusk just after sunset with purple and blue in the sky stunning photographs of Yosemite National park

Spectacular symmetry of Yosemite Valley – one of the best photography locations in the National Park

Half Dome / Glacier Point Yosemite Photography

Everywhere you go in Yosemite, the first thing you think is ‘can I see Half Dome from here?’ – but the best place to see Half Dome is from Glacier Point right at the end of Glacier Point road.

Glacier Point road is a pain in the backside to drive with extremely narrow and constantly winding roads. No surprise to hear it closes in Winter. Your reward is breathtaking views over Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from an elevated vantage point.

In our 3 day Yosemite itinerary, we suggest visiting Glacier Point on the last day on your way out of Yosemite. The drive from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point takes around 1 hour and sunset is the best time to see Half Dome from this epic viewpoint. 

As you can see in the photographs below, it was late afternoon when we were at Glacier Point but we had a long drive to SF and unfortunately couldn’t wait for sunset.

If you’re in Yosemite just for photography, make the effort to be at Glacier Point for sunset and stay for amazing astrophotography opportunities. On our next visit to Yosemite, we will do a sunset here.

Mark and Kristen Glacier Point with Half Dome in background close to sunset

Mark and Kristen enjoying the incredible viewpoint stretching as far as the eye can see with Half Dome the star of the show

Kristen silhouetted in shadow with Half Dome in the background epic yosemite photography

Kristen silhouetted in shadow with Half Dome dominating the landscape (used our entry level kit zoom lens here!)

Half Dome photography Yosemite National Park California taken from Glacier Point Zoomed in to show severity of cut in rocks

Close up of Half Dome showcasing the severity of its drop – like a knife through warm butter

Bird perched on a ledge towering over impressive yosemite valley below

Huge bird perched on the edge enjoying its view over Yosemite Valley

Read More About Yosemite National Park

Find your US travel inspiration through images with our favorite pictures of America, photographs we’ve taken from cities to national parks and from sunrise to sunset.

You May Also Like
We hope this photography guide inspires you to visit Yosemite National Park!

Have you been to Yosemite? Where are your favorite photography locations in the park? 

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit.

-Happy Snapping-

Was This Post Helpful? Pin It For Your Visit!

Stunning Photography Yosemite National Park California
Yosemite Photography Locations and Tips California USA
Recommended Travel Planning Resources
  • Booking Flights: Skyscanner is our preferred flights booking search engine, finding the best and cheapest flights has never been easier | Skyscanner
  • Booking Hotels: Booking consistently offers best prices around the world, along with a genius program and mobile discount | Booking
  • Rental Cars: When we hire a car at an airport or in the city, we always use Rental Cars for best value and most options | Rental Cars
  • Travel Insurance: Never leave home without insurance, it’s not worth the risk. World Nomads is our preferred travel insurance provider | World Nomads
  • Photography Gear: Peak Design is one of our favorite brands, we love their innovative camera accessories and travel photography equipment | Peak Design

Leave a Comment

6 comments

Jim Mazalewski June 6, 2021 - 9:33 am

Went to Yosemite the 80’s. Hiked up the mist trail and the stet were icy,and slippery , Ended crawling on hands and knees or die! Took longer trail and safer trail back. Never made it to Nevada Falls, So close, yet So…..

Reply
Mark and Kristen Morgan June 7, 2021 - 8:11 pm

Sounds like you had a close call, Jim. Glad you made it back down in one piece, Mist Trail can be hazardous in bad weather!

Reply
Andrea Pretorious Johnson May 16, 2021 - 9:35 am

After arriving in California as a young bride, my native born Californian husband took me to Yosemite. We are began our visit – and my discovery of Yosemite – in Mariposa Grove. I was enchanted!

Fast forward a few years, I was alone raising a young son. A subsequent long term relationship took me again to Yosemite, to discover more, while seeing the beauty of this rarest of places through new eyes.

Years later, my fiancé and I went to Yosemite. Among other memories, I carry a vivid memory of a fall late afternoon, sipping hot buttered rum on the rear flagstone patio of the Ahwanee. The experience was magical! We later traveled from Washington, D.C. for our honeymoon in Yosemite.

Through 32 years of living in California, we returned many times to Yosemite, introducing a new generation of admirers to it’s magnificence. Forty years later, it remains my favorite place on earth.

Reply
Mark and Kristen Morgan May 19, 2021 - 9:30 am

Thank you for sharing such a lovely story with us, Andrea. We hope you are able to enjoy the park for many more years to come. Yosemite is a place we intend to visit again as soon as possible but next time we will spend a full week.

Reply
Sally April 3, 2021 - 9:56 pm

I’m so glad I found your blog! These info are incredibly helpful. I planned most of my itinerary based on the tips you give here. Very grateful for everything you shared!

Reply
Mark and Kristen Morgan April 5, 2021 - 10:06 am

That’s great to hear Sally and thanks for letting us know! If you have any more questions about your Yosemite itinerary please let us know, we’d be happy to help. Have a great trip!

Reply

Our Recent Posts