Home Features Yosemite from the comfort of ground level

Yosemite from the comfort of ground level


Yosemite National Park in California offers some of the world’s most photogenic vistas. For landscape photographers, this is just about as good as it gets. I’ve been a frequent visitor over the years and in November I wrote about aerial photography and illustrated the article with some shots of Yosemite taken from the air.

We have just returned from a more down-to-earth tramp around Yosemite and I decided to share some of the images with readers of Macfilos.

We flew into San Francisco late on a Monday afternoon and first thing Tuesday (well, first-thing by our standards, meaning about eight-thirty) we headed east on the 258-mile trip. Before leaving the hotel, we had watched the Weather Channel which talked about big snowstorms coming in from the North. We found this difficult to believe as it was bright and sunny, although a little on the chilly side.

Snow chains, Sir?

On arrival at the entrance to the park, in the early afternoon, the attendant asked if we were carrying snow chains, as they were expecting heavy snow after three. I thought he was taking the proverbial, as it was bright, with a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I did agree to buy some. I thought a close relative might have owned the snow chain store and decided to be charitable.

The Yosemite Valley was as beautiful as ever and I quickly snapped the following three images.

Three o’clock came and I made the comment to my wife that my watch must be wrong as there wasn’t a hint of snow. Must learn to take the locals seriously, though, since, by four — only an hour late — the white stuff started to fall heavily, as can be seen in the following image.

I’ve just checked my Lightroom catalogue and the last “clear image” was taken at 3.51 pm and this was taken three minutes later.

Since I’ve never fitted snow chains before, I didn’t want to start so late in the day. It was getting dark, so we headed for our hotel in El Portal. However, I was really looking forward to the following day. That night in El Portal it rained cats and dogs but, of course, eleven miles away, higher in the Sierras, that rain was falling as snow.

When we got to the park on Wednesday morning there was a police roadblock diverting everyone into a parking area where snow chains had to be fitted. Having bought them the previous afternoon, we were lucky in that we didn’t have to wait for the thirty-odd people, who would have been before us, buying and having them fitted.

There can’t be much to this, I thought, and proceeded to fit them. Feeling proud of myself, we started to drive on, but after about half a mile I decided to pull in and check everything was okay.

I was horrified to find the nearside chain missing and so we had to turn around and look for it. When we pulled into the original parking area an infuriatingly knowing teenager was dangling the offending chain and said, “I suppose this is yours”. After a refit the darn things stayed on, but I would still stop often to make sure I hadn’t lost one.

All the above images, with the exception of the lead one of El Capitan (Monochrom Mark I), were taken with the Leica SL and the 24-90mm or 16-35mm lenses. Thankfully, both camera and lenses are weatherproof. Otherwise, I’m sure they would have died.

Because of the unfavourable conditions (in one way), I hope you’ll excuse me if I include a trio of images from previous visits:

Yosemite is one of my favourite photographic locations in the world (well it’s really a toss-up between Yosemite and Yellowstone) and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to visit it so many times over the last forty years or so.

Read more from Tom Lane


  1. Hi Tom,
    This has been a real treat to read. The photos are lovely and do justice to the valley which is somewhere I hope to visit. That of Half Dome from Glacier Point is particularly beautiful with the juxtaposition of clear light on the rock and dark moodiness in the sky. Thank you very much.

  2. Lovely Photos, Tom. For most photographers the name Ansel Adams jumps into the mind when Yosemite is mentioned. To that we must now add the name Tom Lane. Another name worth mentioning is that of Carleton Watkins who took photos in Yosemite in the 1860s which led to Abraham Lincoln declaring Yosemite to be the world’s first preserved area, or national park as we call it today. Watkins used a Grubb lens made a few miles away from where I live. I have four such lenses myself, including the C variety used by Watkins.

    The exposure in your photos is lovely. I am sure that you are using something more modern than the famous zone system pioneered by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer. I look forward to seeing you at the TLS AGM in Cheltenham in April.


    • Thanks for your kind comment William which really is appreciated. I am greatly inspired by Ansel Adams but must admit to not having heard of Carleton Watkins until you mentioned him above. I’ll certainly be sure to look him up. Yes, I’ve just booked the hotel and the TLS AGM in Cheltenham and look forward to catching up with you then.

      Best regards, Tom

  3. Given the long-running debate on mono vs colour – recently sparked also on Macfilos by the arrival of the Leica M10M – I find it fascinating to compare your mono images (very much in the Anselm Adams tradition, and none the worse for that!) with the colour ones, particularly those where the colour is muted. It’s almost as if you had invented “monochrome colour” (!) and there is a quite magical beauty about them. I’m going to have try. Otherwise I love the little church and caption.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • I do love Monochrome images John and over 90% of what I print are black and white. However, when I go further afield I usually take a colour camera just to have that option, although if practical, I’ll also take along the M9M. I don’t think I’ll be going down the M10M route as the original Monochrom does everything I want and need. I did have the 246 Monochrom but found it didn’t render the tones as well as the CCD sensor in the original.

      Best regards, Tom

      • Thank you, Tom for that interesting point about the M9M. I wonder if it might be possible to get a corrosion-free example. Would make entry into this field so much more possible for my bank account!

        • They are available on ebay and other places. Just make sure you are getting the Leica proof that the sensor was replaced. I am considering one as they are about 6000 US less expensive for one in superb condition.

    • Thanks for your comment Hank. Yes, Yosemite is beautiful in any weather but I find it to be really special when there is snow on the ground. We usually go between late September and early April to avoid the crowds.
      Best regards, Tom

  4. Yosemite, Grand Canyon , Yellowstone etc are magnificent wonderous places to go. Your photos are brilliant. Locally where I live in upstate NY we have another preserved area called the Adirondacks, they dwarf the National Parks in size, as an example all three of the above will fit in the boundary of ADK park. You have confused me like Jono, should I go with used Sl or Monochrome? Thank you for the time you took in making this article.

    • Thanks for your kind comment John. The SL (I don’t intend going for the SL2) and Monochrom are both great cameras. However, if I had to select one it would have to be the SL. That way you have the option of colour, but it is also possible to make great black and conversions using some of the specialised software; I use Silver Efex Pro 2.
      Best regards, Tom

  5. Our family visit to Yosemite some years ago coincided with a summer holiday weekend. People, people, people, cars, cars, cars, and we couldn’t help ourselves being in there contributing to the masses.
    Your photographs really convey the alternative of a wonderful quiet isolation.
    I found your subtle use of colour in “The last colour image” to be particularly engaging. Ethereal. Well done.

    • Thanks for your positive comments Wayne. Unfortunately the National Parks tend to get very crowded in summer and that’s the main reason we usually visit between late September and early April. However, that can have its disadvantages with the roads being closed. On our last trip, in December, we had intended to go from Yosemite to Mono Lake and Reno, but the Tioga Pass was closed and so we had to abandon that idea.

      Best regards, Tom

  6. Beautiful pictures, Tom, particularly the before and after snowfall pair. Thank you. How rare to see an abandoned landscape in a place so universally popular.

  7. What a treat! Wonderful images and text. Amazing black and white of Yosemite. I think you must be the reincarnation of Ansel Adams as it was the first thought that crossed to my mind when I saw your images. Thanks for sharing Tom

      • I was thinking; did you try a copy of the images with square or 4×5 ratio? I like shooting B&W square format in the mountains. Guess it might be a further article on macfilos
        Enjoy the Weekend

        • Hi Jean, no I didn’t but it’s certainly a good suggestion and one I’ll definitely consider. I’ve never tried 4×5 but have used the square format for some of my safari pictures where I’ve managed to get portrait shots of some of the animals.
          Thanks for the idea.

  8. You were there and I wasn’t, but looking at these pictures it sure feels as though I was.You’ve really captured something of the ‘essence’ of the place Tom. Thanks for sharing. I’ve said it before but these are the quality of images Leica should be using to promote their cameras instead of the awful pictures by so called designer ‘professional’ photographers they usually feature in their brochures and on their website.
    Also, those of us that have been out there in the cold know that it takes a bit of dedication to get shots like these when the temps. are low. Congratulations, excellent results.

    • I will second those sentiments, Stephen. I’ve always admired Tom’s monochrome work, which first encountered on the Leica Society’s Circle D monthly submissions. I’m glad I have at last persuaded him to become a contributor to Macfilos. A frequent one, I hope.

  9. Thanks for your words of encouragement Stephen. I do tend to agree with what you say about some of Leica’s promotional images, some of which don’t impress me at all.
    Best regards, Tom

  10. I visited Yosemite in the late 1980’s and it was beautiful in the Summer. After seeing your images, Tom, I realise how badly I missed out!

    Your black and white and part coloured images are magnificent. The image of El Capitan, glowing white above the inky black river is gorgeous, a marvellous testimony to your skills and what can be achieved in mono as indeed are all the images.

    Following our recent debate on Macfilos about the merits of mono I am fascinated to compare and contrast your two views of the river from almost the same spot.In my opinion, the pure mono shot gives absolutely nothing away to the “last colour image” in fact I much prefer it. I love the images of Half Dome, like some gigantic owls head peering round. Once again your use of every bit of dynamic range open to you is fantastic. The detail in the skies is excellent.

    I have been thinking of black and whites strengths arising from it being one step away from reality and therefore dynamic contrasts can be accentuated and finer gradations of tone emphasised away from the distraction of colour. Well, you have given us a master class in the art. More please!

    Thank you Tom.

    • Firstly David many thanks for your kind comments which are really appreciated. I’ve always had a love for black and white images, probably started by my early days in the darkroom; when B&W was so much easier and cheaper to produce than colour. For me the rich tones which one can achieve in monochrome seem to have more detail in them than with colour images.
      I did used to paint in watercolour, but even in art I went over to pen and ink drawings and those are the ones that hang on our wall.
      If you’re interested in seeing more of my monochrome images I do have a Flickr account which is 100% black & white and can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/photographybytomlane.

      Best regards, Tom

  11. I had pondered what you would do after your aerial montage a few months back.

    This is a wonderful set of images, and I just love the contrast between the colour images, and the snowy monochrome ones. What a wonderful location, and another place I would love to visit and see with my camera in hand.

    Thank you for the enjoyable read. The SL has done you proud here.

    • Many thanks for your kind comment David which is really appreciated. The SL is a great camera and certainly worth tolerating its bulk and weight for the images it produces.
      Kind regards, Tom

  12. One of the places on my bucket list is the Yosemite and your wonderful pictures just spurs me on to get the plan in place and go.


  13. Gawwwd I love those monochrome’s! The church, the “same place as..” and the Half dome from Glacial point are just sensational! I had a SL, and now the SL2 ( different, but familiar, and I’m quite happy). Might I ask how you like the 16 to 35? I’ve been staring at my navel over that one; almost there. Were any of the above taken with that lens?

    • Thanks for your kind comment Bob which is really appreciated. To answer your question, the first two colour images, the one under the church photo and the one titled “taken at the same place as the lead photo” were all taken with the 16-35. The 24-90 is my most used lens, but on this trip I would have used the 16-35 more had it not been so darn cold. I would just leave the car with the camera and one mounted lens rather than take the bag of tricks and have to fiddled changing lenses. The 16-35 is a great lens and well worth having.
      Regards, Tom

  14. Hi Tom, I would have commented sooner but I wanted to first breathe in your images on my home computer monitor. Ansel Adams was my first inspiration in photography back in the 70s. I love monochromatic images when the subject suits and the photos are skillfully captured and then processed which you have masterfully done. Your colour images are lovely but for me personally the B&W images are far superior for this subject and create a breathtaking magical timeless experience. Your mono images express emotions! Please treat us to more soon!


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