The Sweet Light Of Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Photography by Mark Jansen

Light in the late afternoon and morning often provides the sweetest glow in Yosemite, as it bounces off the towering granite spires at every turn.

My wife and I have been traveling to Yosemite all of our lives from Southern California. It has become an essential pilgrimage for us, but only going during the “off” seasons. Being a native Californian, I’m always amazed how many natives have never taken the time to explore and photograph its breathtaking cliffs and majestic waterfalls.

Both Holly and I visited Yosemite Valley in our younger years and then into adulthood, with a higher creative vision as we developed our photographic craft. We were excited about returning, but each time we had a roadmap in our minds of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to achieve there through the lens.

Yosemite Valley is blessed with vibrant fall colors if you hit it right, with never disappointing displays from red to gold.  Each season gives us a unique show with winter’s ice formations and fluffy white snows reaching the valley floor. This soon melts away to white bright displays of dogwood flowering trees in spring, along with Columbine and coneflowers on the valley floor by summer.

Each Yosemite Valley season provides us with an abundance of creative options. With its steadfast towering white granite cliffs as majestic reflective light backdrops reach for the dark blue high Sierra skies.

Knowing where to be in the valley when building your photographic composition is highly critical in order to take advantage of its reflective light.

Valley View Yosemite Valley
Changing weather and clouds have so much to do with how it affects the light as it dances magically throughout the valley.

The light in the late afternoon and mornings often provides the nicest glow, as it bounces off  Yosemite Valley’s towering granite walls.

This is a location to spend at least three days or more to explore, especially with an experienced Yosemite photo guide. I often find that returning to the same location multiple times over a few day period can provide varied beautiful options for light capture.

Patience is the most important piece of camera gear in your bag when you visit Yosemite Valley.

Each time I come to Yosemite Valley for one of our photographic workshops, I’m always astonished by the Wawona Tunnel view. It is the perfect composition constructed for you, in all its glory. If you hit it right, you’ll always be rewarded with something special, if you are patient… This is our favorite gathering place when we first meet our clients on our workshops there. It’s sort of a backdrop on what’s to come. Then the excitement builds even more as we enter the valley floor, with the towering cliffs of El Capitan pushing to the heavens.

It’s always good not to get overwhelmed with the photographic challenge once you enter Yosemite Valley. Give yourself some time to think about what you want to do. Always have a basic plan set up beforehand, if you’re not with a qualified photography guide, especially if you only have a few days. I good guide will get you on the shots quickly and effectively and provide you with focused opportunity. Qualified guides with boots on the ground knowledge are valuable and will spare you many lost opportunities!

Yosemite Valley Photographers

If you’re on your own, setting up at least 1 or 2 photographic goals is always a plan, along with the many unexpected opportunities that will arise naturally. This way, you’ll have a goal set, and you won’t be leaving the valley thinking you should’ve gotten that shot. Do your research, don’t get stuck in the Yosemite Valley turnouts where everybody is pointing their cameras at the same thing. Be creative and get out there early before the crowds!

Use your time wisely in Yosemite Valley. Spend your mid-day relaxing and enjoying the scouting. Seek your photo opportunities where you can return in the late evening or early morning hours. I can guarantee you from 20 years of experience, you’ll gather your best images on the edges of the day.

I hope you’ll join us on our next photographic expedition into wonderful Yosemite Valley. We’ll teach you how to see and to get the most out your visit at every turn.

By Mark Jansen

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Mark’s interest in photography and love for landscape photography draws him into some amazing places and he freely shares this knowledge on his photography workshops. He researches his subjects extensively, making many trips to selected areas waiting for the perfect light, an interesting approach to the subject, and just the right moment. His goal of "freezing time for others to enjoy" is what drives him to create his visions and teach workshops.

Mark offers photographic workshops in numerous U.S. and International locations with his business, Jansen Photo Expeditions. He is an expert and personable instructor, expedition leader and award winning, visionary photographer. 

Mark has over 25 years of professional fine art and photographic experience. He has a passion for landscape and classic aviation photography and provides large scale commercial installations of his fine art photographic murals and print works throughout California. He works with both small and large corporate businesses in helping them project a powerful impact through his images.


About Mark and Holly
Mark and Holly Jansen
Jansen Photo Expeditions
(805) 701-8807 or


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