Half Dome is so iconic I’m surprised that Delaware North Companies didn’t have it trade marked.[i] I can’t help it, but every time I’m there, I need to take another shot. Maybe it is because since my first serious visit, I was treated to this image; as if Half Dome was being embraced by Heaven (see the image to the left).
This was May 2000, I’ve never seen it since. Although there might have been something similar in January (2016) when I was there, but I only saw the remnants of it in my rear view mirror as I was leaving the park.
There are two things I look for when shooting Half Dome (Actually, when shooting almost anything). Framing and Lighting. I seldom get both. The thing is, though, you’d think that framing is pretty easy, especially if you frequently return to the park and already have a nice shot. But, it turns out that things change. This shot is framed through the trees at the shuttle stop for Yosemite Falls. It was taken October 2006, but in recent years, because of tree growth or tree trimming, it’s hard to get this exact framing anymore (bummer).
In September of 2000, I took this picture from the west end of Cook’s Meadow, almost directly across from the Yosemite Falls shuttle stop. As you can see it had a nice piece of deadwood in the foreground and the trees some framing. I thought it had the makings of a “four-season” shot. But, as it turned out, that winter the park service used this area for staging road repair and the log was removed (or trampled).
Glacier Point offers a view of Half Dome like no other. Here, framing isn’t easy to come by, but sometimes the thing to do is just go for the “majestic.” Leading Half Dome with Tenaya Canyon and the back country offers a panoramic view (see Half Dome Overlooking Tenaya Canyon).
Or the view that almost makes me drive off the road. Shortly after Washburn Point at one of the hairpin turns you come face to face with Half Dome just as you have to navigate another one!
Another option is to shoot Half Dome from Glacier point as more of a close up.
One thing is for certain, though. If there are no clouds, then you need to find something to fill the sky.
I guess views and portraits of Half Dome strike me the most from Cook’s Meadow. This snowy shot is one I took in January this year (2016). I like it because it has lots of elements; Snow, ground fog, the elm, the clouds. The foreground is what I was going for, but it doesn’t stand out as much as I hoped. Maybe if I got closer to the ground and shot up, it would have been more to my liking. Nevertheless, this’ll work for now (Half Dome with Elm in Winter).
Also, from Cook’s on a different visit (Half Dome With Elm Winter's Morn).
This is one of my first digital shots taken with a point and shoot in July 2003 (Half Dome From Under Tree).
This is another winter’s day close up from Cook’s Meadow. This was February 25, 2008 about 10 AM (Half Dome Close Up From Cook's Meadow).
One of the best “self framing” shots is available from the Sentinel Bridge (on the road that connects Southside Drive to Northside drive at the east end of the Valley). The challenge here is to get the lighting just right so that foreground (river and bank lining trees) are well lit yet the image of Half Dome and the sky aren’t washed out. This was taken February 25, 2008 at about 10 AM (Half Dome From Sentinel Bridge (2008)).
One of the things to remember about this spot is that if you want a picture at dusk or sunset, get there early. Every photographer on the planet will be there with tripod and camera bag waiting for the sweet light
This was also taken on my January, 2016 trip. This was taken January 16, 2016 close to 2 PM. I used editing software to lighten up the foreground (river, bank and trees). In the past I tried using graduated neutral density filters for these kinds of lighting issues. But I never had much luck with them. First of all, there is a horizontal line where the graduation from dark to light occurs, but not all shots have a distinctly horizontal spot. In this particular case, it isn’t horizontal at all, it’s kind of U-Shaped (the sky, Half Dome itself and the adjacent rocks to the right). See Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge (2016)
Of course, there is always the odd shot. This was taken from the Panorama Trail in August of 2006. This is the back of Half Dome, which struck me as having an uncanny resemblance to Hedwig, Harry Potter’s Owl (See Hedwig?).
There are all kinds of ways to capture the Chapel with Half Dome, but it is getting more difficult; especially if you want a close up. The image to the right (Chapel Against Half Dome (2006)) was taken February 26, 2005 (about 3:30 PM). The image to the left was taken 18 months later (Chapel Against Half Dome (Obscured)).
This picture was taken from the best vantage point I could find at the time May 19, 2013 (about 4:30 PM). As you can see, the tree growth has pretty much obscured the view.
Not included but worth exploring are various glimpses available on the 4-Mile Trail, Pohono Tail or Yosemite Falls Trail, or from the back county. There are probably countless other opportunities elsewhere around the valley. So if it’s not listed here, that doesn’t mean you should stop looking!
[i] Oooooo, Too soon?