How to Photograph “Gates of the Valley”

Gates of the Valley (Valley View), Yosemite

Gates of the Valley (Valley View). El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Merced River. Yosemite Natioal Parks. California.

Gates of the Valley, also known as Valley View, is one of the classic photo locations in Yosemite National Park. It is best photographed late in the afternoon and at sunset.

Map, Gates of the Valley location.

Map, Gates of the Valley (Valley View) location.

Gates of the Valley is located at the west end of Yosemite Valley along Northside Drive. There is a parking area on the left just before the Pohono Bridge.

It is a popular spot so you should arrive early if you want a place to park and a good photo location along the river to take your photograph. If you want to be there at sunset, arrive at least an hour early in the fall and two hours early in the summer.

As the day progresses shadows will start in the meadow across the river, climb up the Cathedral Rocks to the left, and then climb the face of El Capitan. Capture a lo0t of different views. Photograph the whole scene with reflections in the river, just El Capitan, and reflections in the river.

The contrast range can fool your camera meter. In manual exposure mode, meter just the face of El Capitan and add from plus 1 to plus 1 2/3 stops of exposure compensation (+1 to +1 2/3) to insure the granite wall is light in tone. How light you make the face of El Capitan is a matter of personal taste. I prefer to make El Capitan lighter in bright sunlight. At sunset as the light turns warm, I don’t add as much exposure compensation in order to saturate the warm color on the granite wall.

The reflection in the river will be much darker than El Capitan. You can use a graduated neutral density filter to equalize the exposure difference, or take different exposures and blend them together with HDR software like Photomatix, or shoot RAW files (which is highly recommended anyway) and lighten the river reflections using the Shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw.

Experiment a lot. This is an iconic view and you don’t want to end up at home looking at your images and regretting you didn’t try more composition and exposure options while you were on the spot.

Photo Data: Canon 5D Mark III. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 lens at 24mm. 1/160 second, f/11, ISO 100.


POTD: El Capitan Reflection

Using Reflected Light Meters, Part Two. This article has information on using exposure compensation.

Yosemite National Park – the official NPS site.

Lodging Inside Yosemite