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Last Light, Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 29 July 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

On the last evening of my Eastern Sierra workshops I take the group up into Yosemite via Tioga pass and through Tuolumne Meadows. We make one or two stops as conditions dictate, but the ultimate goal is Olmsted Point, one of my favorite places in Yosemite. The view from the parking area is great, but a five minute walk takes you out to the point itself (actually more of a dome), with views of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Mt. Watkins, Tenaya Lake, and a whole host of high Sierra peaks.

The prime feature here is a fresh perspective of Half Dome, visible at the end of Tenaya Canyon. Half Dome's face is still visible, but we're viewing it from the opposite direction we're accustomed to seeing in Yosemite Valley. While the view of Half Dome from Yosemite Valley is away from the setting sun, from Olmsted Point you're looking toward the sunset. The other great thing about Olmsted Point is the wealth of foreground features, which range from glacial erratics (large boulders deposited by retreating glaciers), glacial polish (granite scoured smooth by glaciers), and patterned joints splitting the exposed granite.

On this evening we arrived shortly after a heavy downpour that had filled the potholes dotting the granite. I positioned myself to include a couple of these pools in my foreground, and used a couple of erratics to balance the right side of the frame. The storm cleared rapidly, leaving just a few vestiges of clouds to hold some of the sunset color. By the time I snapped this frame, Half Dome, at 8800 feet above sea level, was the only feature still receiving direct light.

In my second fall workshop a week later, Olmsted Point was completely shrouded in fog, obscuring all but the closest elements. The group learned an important lesson that evening: Never be disappointed when conditions don't match your expectations. Of course I always hope for something like this at Olmsted Point, but even though the view was gone that evening, we all had a fantastic time photographing the wonderful foreground elements as looming shapes behind the opaque shroud, with everyone (myself included) coming home with something we'd never photographed.

Next post: August 1 (please view my previous posts by clicking the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

Perfect lighting on Half Dome. I know you waited for that!

29 Jul 2009 5:08am

@Barbara Kile: :) You know me too well.

Michael from TX, United States

This is a very beautiful image!

29 Jul 2009 5:17am

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

Love the sky!

29 Jul 2009 6:53am

LM from France

very nice . The Yosemite park is splendid and you reveal Its beauty with your shot. Thanks

29 Jul 2009 7:31am

Scott Schilling from San Martin, United States

Gary, this has some wonderful warm light on the clouds and I like how it is also reflecting off the face of Half Dome! Beautiful skies in this image! I hope all is going well for you - I am hoping to make it back to Yosemite in the month of August. Take Care!

29 Jul 2009 12:45pm

@Scott Schilling: Thanks, Scott. As you probably know, August is a great time for Yosemite's high country (Sentinel Dome, Washburn Point, and Glacier Point on the Glacier Point Road; Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake, and Tuolumne Meadows on 120). Great wildflower opportunities up there in August too. I try to avoid the valley as much as possible in summer as the crowds can be overwhelming.

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Absolutely exquisite light. Marvelous the way that it lights up Half Dome.

29 Jul 2009 6:13pm

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack. Yeah, I love the way Half Dome gets the light all the way up to sunset. What makes Yosemite Valley such a great sunset location (and not a particularly great sunrise spot) is that the photographable sides of Half Dome and El Capitan face west, and the terrain to the west of Yosemite is much lower, allowing the sunlight a clear path all the way up to sunset. Conversely, everything east of Yosemite Valley towers above the valley, which means at sunrise you're shooting toward the brightest part of the sky at subjects that aren't getting direct light. Of course magic is still possible if you get clouds at sunrise. It's all about the light....

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

This makes me want to see the scene in real life. Such a beautiful time of day to capture the contrast of the sky colours against the almost black and white mountain area.

29 Jul 2009 7:44pm

@dobbino: That can certainly be arranged, Rob. :) I'm probably biased, but I can't imagine a location with more special photo opportunities than Yosemite. And each season it becomes a totally different park--as many times as I visit (probably 25 times per year) I don't think I'll ever run out of things to photograph.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Wonderful! I love to see half dome from this side- and the color of that sky is amazing! I love the way it is in contrast to the almost monochrome landscape. I have never been here, but now I better add this to my growing list of places to see!

29 Jul 2009 7:51pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. FYI, since Olmsted Point is on the Tioga Pass road (120), it's only accessible from (roughly) late May through October (depending on conditions). I try to make a point of getting there in my fall Yosemite and Eastern Sierra workshops.

Vanilla Wine from United States

very good framing and nice color composition. I enjoyed it

29 Jul 2009 8:21pm

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Amazing place! The light is just perfect.

31 Jul 2009 11:14pm

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Beautiful light beautiful sky

3 Aug 2009 5:15am