Lessons Learned on My First Photoshoot at Glacier Point

What to expect when you get to one of the most iconic viewing spots in all of Yosemite.

By: Kevin Kaminski + Save to a List

When I went to Yosemite, I didn't reallyhave a plan of where I was going to go or what I was going to see butI did know one of my locations was going to be Glacier Point. I knewthat I wanted to photograph this iconic spot because of all thephotos that I've seen other people take, but my biggest challenge washow do I make my images unique and stand out from the crowd. 

Iquickly realized that this would be much more challenging than Iexpected based on my arrival and the long line of cars to the parkinglot. Not being the most patient of people, I ended up turning aroundand parking further up the road off to the side. In hindsight thiswas actually a pretty smart idea because it gave me a chance toexplore the area walking down to the actual Glacier Point viewpoint. By doing this I was able to take a read of the land and take mentalnotes of locations that I thought might be interesting to photograph. Being that this is one of the most photographed areas in YosemiteNational Park, I knew I was going to have a challenge accomplishingsomething different and unique. And I must say, I kind of got a badtaste in my mouth when I actually arrived to the Glacier Pointviewpoint...I don't know if it was the hundreds of people or the factthat one out of three people had a selfie stick. Either way, I knewit was going to be tough to come up with something different tophotograph, but it became my mission.

One nice thing about thegeneral public or what I like to call “weekend warriors” is thatmost people disappear as soon as the sun does go down. So forthe majority of the day I basically plotted all the areas that I knewI wanted to photograph later that night. I did manage to get prettyawesome sunset conditions so I must confess I did take a very typicalshot of Half Dome, but hey I'm only human haha. Later that night around midnight, I went back out to the viewpoint where I was greetedwith the whole place all to myself. I get excited when I have theseopportunities because now it's playtime for me with no distractionsand best of all nobody to walk in front of my pictures. Some willargue that the photos I took at night at glacier point are fairlycomparable to photos other people have done but I guess what makes mineslightly different is adding some human element to the photo. I loveadding human element to my photos because for me, it gives aperspective or sense of scale to the landscape; the sense of feelingtiny in such a grand landscape. Being that I was the only person outthat late at night I did have to come up with a way to basically addmyself into the photos. 

To achieve this I used a product calledCamranger, which is basically a portable Wi-Fi device that I connectto with an app on my phone that controls all the functions of mycamera. By doing this I can then place myself perfectly in positionto how I want to be presented in the photo. Now obviously myexposures are quite long, 30 seconds to be exact so make sure to havea solid footing and stay perfectly still. In the case of my pictures, don't do what I did if you have a fear of heights. My settings were30 Second exposure F3.5 at ISO 1600, with the Canon 5D MarkIII and16-35mm 2.8 lens. As a side note, I did go in May and at 7,200ftelevation it can get pretty cold at night, so make sure to dresswarm.

Day two was more me focusing on gettingan early sunrise photo at Glacier Point. One of the tough thingsabout being a photographer is your sacrifice of sleep, so by the timeI fell sleep the night before I was already up four hours later forthe sunrise. Another thing about Yosemite is that you're for suregoing to run into other photographers wanting to accomplish the samegoal as yourself so make sure you plan your spot ahead of time. Forme I got very lucky and found the area to be empty of any visitors,at least that's what I thought. Most photographers that I know willhave a somewhat plan or an idea in their head of what they want toaccomplish in their composition, I myself act in the same way. Butas a photographer you need to be able to adapt to any situation thatis given, if it's weather related or in my case another visitor inthe same location that I didn't see. When the clock is ticking andthe sun is coming up and you know you don't have enough time to findanother location this is where your creativity needs to shine. Maybeit was the photography Gods working in my favor but to my surprisethis visitor 1. had no fear of heights and 2. loved the idea ofhaving their picture taken on the diving board of Glacier Point. Forme, this is one of those “Yes, I did it!” feelings, one where youknow you just captured something special for that day. 

I think mostphotographers can agree that this is what makes all the sacrificesworth it, the planning, the lack of sleep, the unpredictability ofweather and all the waiting for the most perfect lighting. But atthe same time, I think it's all of those things that transform a goodphotograph into a great photograph. Yes a little luck helps sometimes, but in the end I'm a firm believer that you need to put in thetime to get the results you truly want.

Things to Consider

  1. Time of year: Depending of the time of year certain roads may be closed.

  2. Do your research: Know the times for sunrise and sunset, know the the moon phase cycle.

  3. Scout: It's easy to get tunnel vision as a photographer so make sure you fully cover the area you are photographing, you may be surprised with what you discover.

  4. Gear check: Always make sure to pack your gear ahead of time and then double check it before you head out. You'd be surprised how easy it is forgetting to put your memory card in the camera.

  5. Know your gear: Setting the camera to auto can only get you so far. Learn about Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO. Know which lens to use for each situation, or how different lens filters can alter a photo.

  6. Think outside of the box: You don't want to take the same photo every other tourist takes right? Always have in your head “how can I make this different” and then run wild with your ideas.

  7. Be spontaneous: Sometimes the most compelling images come from random moments in time, so always be ready.

  8. Have fun: One of the reasons I even became a photographer is because of how much fun I have exploring the wilderness with my camera. Not all days will produce your best work, but each day is a new learning experience that prepares you for those good days of photography.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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