Landscape, Winter, Yosemite

A Winter Snowstorm in Yosemite

Photo of me playing in the snow by Marek Matusz.

A stunning four million people visit Yosemite National Park each year. Most plan their visit for the summer months, and the majority of those only spend their time in the 5.9 square miles of Yosemite Valley. Consequently, the winter months are quiet there, but also very lovely.  Meadows are covered with morning frost. Mist weaves around the river and the meadows. Waterfalls begin to have some flow again as winter storms bring much needed precipitation to the Sierras. When snow is in the forecast, the hotels and campgrounds empty as people clear out of Yosemite Valley. And that’s just the kind of conditions that draw me to Yosemite.

Last week, one such storm was predicted. It had been a dry year for the most part, and little snow had actually fallen in Yosemite Valley, which sits at about 4,000 ft. elevation. I was already in the Valley to attend the opening of the Yosemite Renaissance Exhibit, which features two of my pieces this year. It had snowed lightly during my short visit, but the big storm was still yet to arrive later in the week. So, I drove back to our home in the Bay Area to drop off my husband, do my laundry, repack, then head right back up to the Valley.

At first, the storm seemed to be weaker than was predicted. The system only produced two days of light snow, but not much accumulation. Then, on my last night there, the sky seemed to open up. I awoke to over a foot of new snow, turning the colorful landscape to shades of soft white and grey.

“It’s Snowing!”, Feb. 26, 2018 — A light snow started to fall, but the best was yet to come. This little teaser gave me the opportunity to experiment with shutter speeds. It was pretty dark in this grove of Ponderosa Pine. I wanted to freeze the motion of the snowflakes. The slowest shutter speed I could use was about 1/160 sec., otherwise the flakes would be blurry at this focal length. Consequently, I had to boost the ISO quite a bit. No problem. The Sony is a champ in these lighting conditions. Sony A7rII camera body with Canon 70-200 f/2.8L lens. 93mm, ISO 6400, f/16, 1/160 sec.
“Black Yosemite”, Feb. 27, 2018 — A small group of photographers toughed it out at Tunnel View on this very cold morning, waiting for the first storm to clear. Half Dome stubbornly refused to show herself, then gave only a brief appearance, at which point the line of photographers stopped their chatter. All you could hear was the sound of camera shutters clicking away. Canon 5DsR camera body with Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, 67mm, IOS 100, f/16, 1/60 sec.
“The Heart of Yosemite”, Feb. 27 2018 — The light dusting of snow from the previous night had left the valley in a thin veil of white. This famous old elm tree in Cook’s Meadow is the last one remaining from a grove that was planted by James Mason Hutchings in the mid-1800s. She’s looking a little tired these days, and I worry about her health. Sony A7rII camera body with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. 93mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/80 sec.
“A Bonded Pair”, March 2, 2018 — These two kept me entertained with their antics for quite a while. They were emboldened by the fact that I was munching on my gorp and came quite close to me. They seemed to assume that if they posed nicely for me, I might share some of my snack with them.  Canon 5DsR camera body with Canon 100-400mm f/5-5.6L lens. 153mm, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/400 sec.
“Yosemite Snowstorm”, March 2, 2018, Yosemite Valley — Storm #2 didn’t pack much punch at first. Light snow and even a little rain fell on the first day. Sony A7rII camera body with Canon 24-105 f/4L lens. 84mm, ISO 100, f/18, 1/6 sec.
“A Walk In The Snow”, March 3, 2018 — I peered out my window when my alarm went off. Yes! A good foot of snow was on the ground and it was still snowing hard. First stop: Yosemite Falls. The sheer scale of Yosemite gives everything a surreal quality. And when it snows, it’s as if the world turns into a black and white landscape. Sony A7rII camera body with Canon 24-105 f/4L lens. 96mm, ISO 800, f/13, 1/125 sec.
“Half Dome Under A Blanket of White”, March 3, 2018 — This was my last day in Yosemite, and so I was delighted to have been finally rewarded for my patience. As the time neared for me to pack up and go, the 2nd storm started to clear. I was able to just slip this in before heading back down the hill. Sony A7rII camera body with Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens. 40mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/80 sec.
“After the Storm”, March 2, 2018 — It snowed heavily all night and all morning, but the snow didn’t stay on the trees for long. It was warming up. The valley looked like this just for an hour or so before the trees shed the snow and the valley returned to its usual hues. The show was over. Sony A7rII camera body with Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens. 32mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/40 sec.


Charlotte Gibb is a contemporary fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in landscapes of the Western United States. Her images are often taken in familiar places for the well-versed landscape photographer, but she prides herself on her keen eye toward the subtle and sometimes overlooked beauty of the natural world. Growing up among the beautiful mountains of Northern California, she considers herself a student of life, learning about people, nature, music, and photography along the way. But always, her life-long passion for the wilderness shines through it all. Charlotte earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has exhibited her work in several solo shows throughout California. Her darkroom, long gone now, has been replaced with digital darkroom tools, and her style has evolved from a somewhat journalistic approach, to one that pays tribute to the natural world.