Yosemite is paradise on earth. The 3,000-foot granite walls, myriad waterfalls, and giant sequoias create a sense of humility, providing unparalleled beauty for hikers, climbers, and photographers alike. Regardless of your outdoor palate, Yosemite National Park has something for you. It will undoubtedly impress those hiking rugged and rewarding terrain, catching a reflection of rainbows off the mist of Yosemite Falls, relaxing and waiting for the natural phenomenon of Firefall, or seeking the best light as a photographer.
“The great rocks of Yosemite, expressing qualities of timeless yet intimate grandeur, are the most compelling formations of their kind. We should not casually pass them by, for they are the very heart of the earth speaking to us.” ― Ansel Adams
During this year’s BCJ Yosemite in Winter trips, we paid homage to these iconic landscape locations: Tunnel View, Swinging Bridge, Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge, El Capitan Meadows, Lower Yosemite Falls, and of course the ever famous Firefall. One would be amiss to not photograph these locations. They conjure up the spirit of Ansel Adams, John Muir, and Theodore Roosevelt. Tunnel View often provides the first and most wide-angle view of Yosemite Valley and is our first shoot. One could cast their gaze down into Yosemite Valley for hours. Half Dome harkens back to the power of glaciers, which carved the valley some 1,000,000 to 250,000 years ago. Firefall is a naturally occurring phenomenon appearing during the last two weeks of February as the setting sun reflects off of Horsetail Falls.
Additionally, and as is tradition here at Backcountry Journeys, Ben and I take our guests to some lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path spots. It is at these uncommon locations where the creativity of composition comes forward. Unique shots are captured. We walk away with many potential keeper images.
A highlight of both trips for me personally is to revisit Yosemite National Park, where I had spent several memorable experiences in my formative years. I was born and raised in Tracy, California, a mere three hours from Yosemite National Park. It is somewhat of a shame I did not spend more time here as a kid. Although, the withholding of yesteryear built up the momentum of today. To revisit these memories and create new ones with Ben Blankenship and our guests enrich my love and respect for this beautiful landscape.
Highlights from the first week include some iconic shots of the sun setting on Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge, a rainbow reflecting in the mist created by Yosemite Falls, acorn woodpeckers, and a sunstar from Fat Bear Bend.
Soft pinkish-orange light bounces off of Half Dome and reflects in the placid Merced River.
We are treated to a rainbow in the mist created by Yosemite Falls, framed nicely by frazil ice on each side. Frazil ice is often accompanied by another phenomenon called a snow cone, which occurs when falling water freezes before it hits the ground and piles into a large cone of ice or snow cone. These snow cones can reach hundreds of feet tall. The rainbow effect occurred around 8:30 am on the morning we were fortunate to catch it.
Behind the Yosemite Valley Lodge Ben and I located a granary where a few acorn woodpeckers were working tirelessly at making holes and stashing acorns. During both weeks we had an enjoyable session and got some fantastic images of woodpeckers. Some were even while they were in flight.
One of our last morning shots is from a little-known location we call Fat Bear Bend. There is something exciting about capturing a sunstar, especially with the Merced River curving nicely back towards Half Dome.
Even with next to no atmosphere the entire first week, we are able to capture memorable and rewarding images at both the iconic and uncommon locations. Highlights from the second week include two astrophotography shoots, a partially frozen Merced River, and Firefall. With El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls to play within the midground, we are all excited about the potential of some amazing night skies shots.
With the temperatures dropping significantly, the Merced River is partially frozen. Intriguing ice patterns along the shore create some nice foreground and give us many compositions to work with.
And of course, there is Firefall. We are fortunate to have seen the natural effect both weeks.
Such an amazing set of trips! I am still awestruck by the experience, by the majesty that is Yosemite. A huge thanks to all the Backcountry Journeys staff, to each of the guests on these two trips, and to Ben Blankenship, for leading yet another amazing BCJ trip! We hope to see y’all again soon. Happy shooting!
Michael Wichman is a photography and wilderness guide based out of Flagstaff, AZ. His first trip below the rim in Grand Canyon was in October 2004 and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s passionate about all wild and scenic places, with a love of capturing images, hiking, and climbing. With nearly 10 years of professional guiding and trip leading, Michael continues to be dedicated to lifelong learning, and an avid reader of all things associated with the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Katmai, and many wilderness areas in the Western US. In addition to wildlife and landscape photography, his favorite topics are geology, Native American culture, and Pioneer-era history. Michael also loves meeting new people — of all backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities. He finds shared group experiences extremely enriching, especially when that experience is in nature. Michael earned a B.A. in psychology from UCLA, where he worked with children with autism. He also studied at Northern Arizona University, focusing on Environmental Science & Policy in the Southwest. Michael looks forward to the opportunity to provide quality photography instruction while sharing adventures with you.