A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Yosemite National Park

Tips on some of the most accessible and beautiful spots for photography in Yosemite Valley, especially for newer visitors to the park.

Yosemite National Park is a treasure for adventurers and photographers of all skill levels. If you are a newer photographer or visitor to the park however, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin with so many wonderful sites to take in. While Yosemite National Park is very expansive, I'm sharing some great beginning spots for photography in Yosemite Valley. I'm focusing on this area because it's the most popular for visitors and holds many of Yosemite's iconic views. You'll likely recognize many of these spots from photos you've seen of Yosemite Valley, but they absolutely are worth experiencing with your own eyes. 

These locations are all accessible off the main road through Yosemite Valley. Please be sure to respect all traffic and park regulations, as to leave a positive impact on other visitors and the land itself. 

1: Tunnel View 

Tunnel View is easily one of the most breathtaking and popular views in Yosemite Valley and for good reason. The cover image of this story is from Tunnel View. You get a sweeping view of the valley here, including El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall. Though this is one of the most popular and photographed views of the Valley, everyone should experience it themselves at least once. For your camera, a wide angle lens will help you capture the totality of the vista. If you want to get some more detailed shots of El Cap or Bridalveil, a telephoto lens will let you zoom in to focus on those formations. My personal favorite time to shoot here is during sunset, as the fading light can illuminate the rock formations beautifully. You may be taking in the experience with more visitors during sunset, but I've always found people to be friendly and respectful of other photographers. 

2: Cathedral Rocks and Three Brothers 


Heading west on Northside drive, there are many locations to pull off and explore the valley floor near El Cap. This will give you an excellent view of El Cap, Cathedral Rocks (pictured above) or Three Brothers. I love this area because it lets you capture the scale of the rock formations in Yosemite Valley, with them towering above. From this vantage, a mid range zoom on your camera will give you a range of focal lengths to use to capture the image you are looking for. This is also a great space to have a friend or family member be the subject in your photo, as this will really show just how grandiose the valley is. I like this area in the winter, as the Merced river isn't quite as full and it's a bit easier to explore the areas around it. 

3: Sentinel Bridge 


Sentinel Bridge is small bridge near the parking area for the main Visitors Center, but this has one of the best views of Half Dome. Looking northeast from the bridge, you can't miss Half Dome ahead. The reason this is such a great perspective to photograph Half Dome is because of the Merced river. If you are here when the river is relatively calm and winds are light, you can get a wonderful reflection of Half Dome. I've found that conditions are usually best in the morning, but this can vary by day. You'll also likely want a tripod for this shot, as it'll keep your camera stable and it's easier to lock in your focus. Given its location near the Visitors Center, you can take some photos here and then head to the center to learn more about the history of Yosemite or grab a bite to eat.

4: Yosemite Falls 


Yosemite Falls is accessible on Northside drive. The trail head is clearly marked but this is a popular spot, so it can be difficult to find parking depending on when you are visiting. There are two parts of Yosemite Falls; Lower Yosemite Falls and Upper Yosemite Falls. While it is tempting to follow the trails to get a closer view, I would recommend actually shooting the lower falls from near the main road. By taking images from further back you can get some really nice natural framing, such as in the image above. You will need a telephoto or decent zoom lens to do this though, as the falls are somewhat far away from this view. Many people will follow the path all the way to the lower falls, so taking images here is a bit more unique as well. 

5: Valley View

Valley View is another iconic Yosemite viewpoint. It holds some similarities to Tunnel View, giving you a great perspective on El Cap and Bridalveil Fall, but brings you closer to the Merced River. I really like taking photos here because of how you can incorporate foreground elements. The textures of the river are an excellent compliment to colossal rocks above. Bring a tripod here so you can slow your shutter speed down, which will give a calming blur to the flowing river. You can't go wrong shooting this location at sunrise or sunset, though you'll likely have less crowds in the morning. 

These are just a few starting points to capture some great images in Yosemite Valley. The park itself is so massive outside the valley floor, and there is a ton to see and explore. As Yosemite is such a popular park, it's important to practice Leave No Trace principles and be cognizant of how you are treating the land and other visitors. I hope this was helpful for new visitors, and happy shooting! 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Kyle Reader

A life spent in awe of the outdoors. I am a runner, climate activist and healthcare consultant based outside the San Francisco Bay Area. Photography is my adventure.