Matt Payne Photography Blog: Yosemite National Park In The Winter - February 29, 2020

I recently returned from teaching at the Out of Yosemite conference through the great group Out of Chicago. This was the very first time I have had the opportunity to photography in Yosemite National Park and it was a really great experience. It was also a good test for my ability to teach photography to a diverse group of photographers ranging from beginning to advanced. 

Having never been to Yosemite as a photographer before, I was pretty excited to see if my approach to landscape photography would be successful. In the last few years, my approach has been to show up to new places without doing a ton of research or looking at other people's images so that I am not influenced one way or another and so that my expectations are kept quite low. Given the weather while I was in Yosemite was blue skies and no clouds for the entire trip, I was happy for my approach. I was also taken surprise by my desire to edit some of my photographs in black and white as this is something I don't do often; however, the stark granite walls and lack of color in many scenes in the winter begged for this approach. Without further ado, here are some of my favorite images from my trip to Yosemite.

First up are a set of images I made while on a hike to Mariposa Grove with my friend Michael Rung, who was a student at the conference and is a supporter of my podcast

Moss, Winter, Yosemite National Park, photo

Mossy Boulder (2020)

On a long hike through the woods, I found a large mossy boulder which really drew my attention. I decided to photograph it for a long time. In the past, I would walk right by scenes like this but I am finding my photography shift over time to appreciate more of the smaller details. I found this in Yosemite National Park - what a place!

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Michael and I found a really awesome stream that was still in the grips of winter. We spent some time there photographing various scenes that we thought were pleasing. 

Frozen, Moss, Stream, Winter, Yosemite National Park, photo

Frozen Sticks (2020)

A small frozen stream cascades down a hillside in Yosemite National Park. 

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Frozen, Stream, Yosemite National Park, photo

Frozen Stream in Yosemite (2020)

A frozen stream in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

On the following day, I needed to scout one of my locations that I would be teaching at for the conference - the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. I decided to haul my whole camera kit up the steep trail and really enjoyed some of the views afforded by this hike, which is quite steep. 

Evergreen Trees, Smoke, Yosemite National Park, prescribed burn, photo

Preventative Medicine (2020)

Smoke from prescribed burns fills the valley floor in  Yosemite National park. I actually like the inclusion of the dead evergreen trees at bottom right as it’s a reminder as to why these sorts of burns are done. Man’s encroachment on wilderness creates a dynamic where we decide to manage public land in a way that was probably never naturally intended, but is seen as necessary to protect property and life. Things to ponder.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

While I'm not usually a huge fan of smoke, I was happy to have the lingering effects of the prescribed burn in the valley below. 

Black and White, Half Dome, Smoke, Yosemite National Park, prescribed burn, photo

Half Dome Black and White (2020)

Half Dome Towers above the Yosemite Valley in this black and white rendition featuring smoke from a prescribed burn.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Black and White, Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, photo

Striations (2020)

Striations in the granite face behind Upper Yosemite Falls creates an interesting pattern behind the cascading waterfalls from above.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Black and White, Smoke, Yosemite National Park, granite, photo

Granite Z (2020)

Light shaped by smoke and granite creates a "Z" in this black and white composition from Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Later the next day, I met up with my friend and co-teacher, Michael Shainblum. We decided to do some scouting of our own and we found a nice view of the rising moon on our way back to the conference headquarters after scouting El Capitan Meadow. 

Black and White, Moon, Yosemite National Park, tree, photo

Moon & Tree (2020)

This black and white image features a cropped telephoto scene of the moon and a tree in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

While teaching in the meadow, I wanted to show students that there were things to photograph right at our feet and that we shouldn't always rely on the epic and iconic scenes before us, especially when the weather does not deliver what we would normally expect for landscape photography. As such, I found these wonderful decaying ferns on the forest floor that really captivated me. 

Black and White, Ferns, Foliage, Winter, Yosemite National Park, photo

Winter Foliage (2020)

Decaying ferns rest on the forest floor of Yosemite National Park in this black and white image created in winter.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Coyote, Yosemite National Park, photo

Curious Coyote (2020)

We had a surprise visitor while photographing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park - this very pretty coyote walked by us looking for food.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Perhaps my favorite photograph from the trip, I led a group of students into the meadow to get a better view of some of the changing light on the face of El Capitan and used my telephoto lens to obtain a really tight view on the face of granite as the sun's last light crept across it beautifully. 

El Capitan, Light, Winter, Yosemite National Park, granite, photo

El Capitan Kiss of Light (2020)

The very last light of a winter day kisses the very tip of the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Can you see the section above in the below image? 

El Capitan, Sunset, Yosemite National Park, granite, photo

El Capitan at Sunset (2020)

El Capitan is one of the most impressive faces of granite in the world. The face of the rock glows red at sunset, making for a spectacular way to end the day in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

The following day, I was lucky enough to be paired with my good friend and perhaps who I consider the best landscape photographer in the USA right now, Alex Noriega. We had the honor of teaching students in another meadow with tons of opportunities to photograph trees in changing light. It was quite a blast to show people how to find more intimate scenes. 

Oak, Sunset, Winter, Yosemite National Park, branches, photo

Creeping Oak (2020)

Oak branches creep across the frame in late sunset light as seen from Yosemite National Park in winter.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Pine Needles, Yosemite National Park, photo

Pine Needles (2020)

The last light of the day illuminates a branch filled with pine needs in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Black and White, Light, Yosemite National Park, trees, photo

Beacon (2020)

Light rays cascade through a cluster of trees in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Sunset, Yosemite National Park, trees, panorama, photo

Light Rake (2020)

The last light of the day rakes through the tips of some evergreen trees in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Autumn, Leaves, Oak, Winter, Yosemite National Park, backlit, branches, tree, photo

Autumn's Embrace of Winter in Yosemite (2020)

Upon my very first visit to Yosemite National Park, I was able to spend a great deal of time photographing trees. The sky was blue and there was not a cloud in the sky for days at a time; however, these conditions forced me to look for more interesting scenes including these oak tree branches and leaves in late afternoon light. Traces of autumn were still left even though this image was made in February. Credit to my friend Alex Noriega for inspiring me on this edit and composition. 

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Black and White, Dramatic, Low Key, Winter, Yosemite National Park, tree, photo

Evening Trees in a Winter Yosemite (2020)

Upon my very first visit to Yosemite National Park, I was able to spend a great deal of time photographing trees. The sky was blue and there was not a cloud in the sky for days at a time; however, these conditions forced me to look for more interesting scenes n the shadows. This pair of trees caught the last light of day at the end of a meadow and absolutely blew me away.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Yosemite National Park, trees, photo

Hello Darkness - Meet Light (2020)

The last light of the day crashes through the tips of some trees in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Yosemite National Park, Trees, photo

Halloween Vibes (2020)

Have I mentioned how much I hate the use of the word "vibes?" Unfortunately, that word came to mind when I thought of what this image does to me.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Smoke, Sunset, Winter, Yosemite National Park, tree, photo

Split Trees (2020)

A strand of trees is split by late sunset light and rising smoke from the forest floor in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

We also had a nice view of Half Dome from our location and enjoyed photographing it as well. What an impressive face of granite!

Half Dome, Sunset, Winter, Yosemite National Park, granite, photo

Half Dome at Sunset (2020)

The magnificent Half Dome at sunset - one of the treasures of Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Half Dome, Light, Sunset, Winter, Yosemite National Park, granite, trees, photo

Half Dome Last Light (2020)

Half Dome towers above the Yosemite Valley at Sunset.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Half Dome, Sentinel Bridge, Yosemite National Park, twilight, photo

Twilight Half Dome (2020)

Half Dome at twilight as seen from Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

After teaching at the conference, I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend David Hunter to go make some photographs in a local nature preserve that was filled with a variety of migrating birds. It was a powerful experience and one that I will never forget. I was taken by the power of the huge number of birds silhouetted by the light of the setting sun. 

Birds, California, Sunset, photo

Incoming! (2020)

Hundreds of birds descend at sunset upon a farmland in California in winter.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

I hope you enjoyed some of my images from Yosemite. If you are interested in joining me on any upcoming photography conferences, there are three opportunities coming up in 2020. I will be at the Nightscaper Conference May 20-22, 2020. You can use the code "PAYNE100" for $100 off. I will also be teaching at Out of Moab and Out of Acadia

Which images from my trip to Yosemite do you like the most? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Posted in Trip Reports and tagged National Park, Winter.