Yosemite in Winter

By Kate Riley January 8, 2013

My Christmas gift was a 35mm f/2 Nikkor lens – I’ve wanted this lens for a long time. The family spent a few days in the Yosemite National Park area over the Christmas break, so I couldn’t wait to try it out.

We stayed at the Tenaya Lodge at the southern entrance which was all decked out for the holidays, and one day that was filled with blue skies we drove into the National Park where we walked all around in our snow boots through the woods.

winter branches in yosemite park


The 35mm Nikkor f/2 lens is another fixed focal length lens like the 50mm I’ve mentioned and it has a low aperture setting for shallow depth of field for getting that cool “bokeh” or blurry effect in the background or foreground.  The aperture on this lens dials all the way up to f/22 for getting some really deep focus too!

I took this lens with me for the day to see what it could do – here are a few images that I shot on that beautiful winter day.  Anyone who’s ever visited Yosemite Valley knows of the famous Ahwahnee Hotel at the base of a granite cliff – visually stunning anytime of year, but breathtaking in winter.  I love this image, I feel like I could crawl right into it just like you can in their giant walk-in fireplace inside the hotel.

ahwahnee hotel yosemite winter



canopy of branches

mini trees in planter

red check sled


matt pulling sled

awning view ahwahnee


pine branch in snow

winter at ahwahnee hotel

ahwahnee lights

I loved capturing all this beauty with a very cool lens on a perfect winter day… Walking around Yosemite Valley you see all sorts of magical things in nature – huge granite cliffs, a cool icy river, and several gorgeous waterfalls too (like the Bridalveil).

merced river


bridal veil falls yosemite


I have yet to try out the lens on interiors but I’ll be doing so later this week, just as soon as I finish my bookshelf project, but so far for outdoor shots it gets a big thumbs up!

Have you ever had the chance to visit Yosemite National Park? Stunning, right?




  1. This place seems magical! Yosemite is definitely on my list of places to see. Beautiful pictures.

  2. My husband and I honeymooned in Yosemite 36 years ago this month. Gorgeous place to start a new life. Your pictures make me want to drop what I am doing and race up there again. Yosemite is a very special place indeed.

  3. How luckyyou are to get to spend time in winter in a place as beautiful as Yosemite. I’ve only seen it in the autumn and am desperate to get back in either winter or late spring. While Scotland is also very beautiful, I hanker after Yosemite.

  4. Amazing pictures Kate. It looks like a magical place to relax an spend time with loved ones! I actually got a 50mm f/1.8 for Christmas, but I’m struggling with it. It’s a nikon and is a manual focus, so pictures always seem to come out blurry. I was hoping to also capture better pictures of my kids, but since it’s a manual focus (and they obviously don’t stay still), they are always fuzzy. Anyway, I guess it’ll take some practice and time. I’m excited about using it, but frustrated too. Good luck with your new lens! xo Jenna

    • Hi Jenna, are you sure it’s a manual focus? All the f/1.8 lenses I’ve seen are auto and manual (you get the option) – check the side of the lens, there should be a M and A switch. Hope this helps!

  5. There you go spending my money again! The last time you praised a lens, I ended up not only buying one for myself, but also one for each of our daughters. You are keeping me in the poor house. (~_~) Lovely photos though….thanks posting.

    • Ha Ann, so sorry about the “poorhouse”! I just had to share about the lens, I love it! I try to do research to pick up a new one each year, the fancier the lens, the higher the price of course, and yep sadly they’re all definitely something you need to budget for. Enjoy your new 50 mm!

  6. Beautiful pictures – especially the one of the “falls”. I would love to visit Yosemite again. I haven’t been there since my early 20’s, but remember how beautiful it was.

  7. That lodge is amazing! And the surroundings…breathtaking. Props to your hubs for getting you the lens you could capture all the beauty!

  8. Kate, Thank you for sharing your gorgeous memories with us:)

    Yosemite is where my Parents-In-Love spent their honeymoon 52 years ago. They slept on the ground, no tent, and Mom got chased by a bear.
    I was there of a very dry summer, no falls. But running over with giant buses filled with Asian tourists. Hopefully they were able to return when it was indeed beautiful and filled with wonder and water.


  9. Those are beautiful shots! We were headed to Yosemite this past summer but didn’t quite make it. Wish I had!

    This post is so timely for me – I had asked my husband for a 50mm lens for Christmas, but the sales guy talked him into getting a 35mm. I returned it so I could do more research, as I hadn’t considered the 35 mm. What I’m after is bokeh. I have a D90 with a crop sensor, which will change the focal length. Which lens do you like best and which one gives better bokeh? Thanks for any help you can offer!

    • Hi Andrea, such a great question! I think both give great bokeh (the 50 mm and the 35 mm) – the 50 goes to f/1.8 which isn’t that different IMHO than f/2 I think the 35 may prove more versatile for everyday, but I still love my $125 50 mm! I’ve heard great things about the pricier f/1.4 lenses, maybe next year I’ll get one of those!!

  10. Your pictures are wonderful! Those who read about and see images will never know the true magnitude of how amazing Yosemite is in person! I truly believe it is one of the most beautiful places in the United States! I am blessed to live only 3 hours away and get to go all times of the year! I wish every person could experience it…just once!

  11. Beautiful pictures! I’ve traveled quite a bit, but I have yet to see snow like that (the kind that sticks to the ground). One day I’m going to talk my husband into somewhere cold and snowy!

  12. Yosemite looks amazing! Last year my family went to Mammoth, but there was barely any snow so we went to Yosemite instead and it was so lovely, what a great place to take your family!

  13. I am so jealous that you got to go to Yosemite this winter. I just got to visit Yosemite for the 1st time April 2012 and I fell in love immediately. I’ve been following YNP on FB and have been drooling over their images and webcam. But I’ve got to tell, you image of the hotel totally blows all their images out of the water. Its stunning!

    I came to your blog in search of a DIY project you did but now that I see these images, you just gained a new fan. :)

    • So kind Patricia, thank you! I love Yosemite in summer, that’s when we usually go every other year, but it was a treat to see it blanketed in snow!

  14. Wow! Gorgeous place and gorgeous photos. That is my next purchase
    It to get that lens for my camera. Pictures come out so crisp

  15. Never been to Yosemite and I am so glad you gave me this beautiful intro Kate! your pictures are stunning! Have you shown your pictures to the hotel management?! They might commission some of these! My most favorite is the #3 and #6!

  16. Thanks for sharing the pictures! Yosemite has been added to my bucket list. And after you posted about your trip this summer to Quebec, that’s on my bucket list as well!!

  17. Beautiful! I’ve had the fixed 50mm f/1.8 for almost a month now and I love it. It really takes some spectacular shots and satisfies almost all the needs I have for it (kids/family shots, food, etc). However, in working on some renovations in my little guest house (our “hytte” as the Norwegians call it), I realized the 50mm’s glaring limitation (for my purposes anyway): in small spaces such as the one I’m working in, there is no amount of backing up I can do to grab a picture of the overall job or space. It’s great for vignettes or close ups of individual aspects, but if I want the whole wall I building, or even most of it, I’m out of luck.

    Any idea what lens would be good for shots like that? Wide-angle? Pancake?

  18. WOW! I have that same camera and I wish I could get shots like that! You inspire me to try harder!


  19. Wow! How beautiful. What a contrast to todays predicted temperature of 42’degrees – thats 107.6 in Farenheit, here in country Australia! Thanks for the great escape.

  20. Yosemite is fabulous! My husband proposed to me on the bridge at the base of Yosemite Falls 7 years ago this past Christmas. We’re going back this summer, can’t wait. It is one of THE most beautiful places on earth.

  21. I think winter pictures are the best and your new lens proves that. It must have been nice to go to Yosemite National Park
    Thanks for sharing

  22. Thanks for posting these gorgeous pictures. I used to live about 45 min. from Yosemite and visited often. We now live about 3 hours away and I forget that it really isn’t that far to go. Thanks for the reminder, I need to put it on my “Must Do” list for this year. You are doing a great job with your new lens, can’t wait to see more pictures!

  23. Gorgeous photos of a gorgeous place! We usually “camp” at Camp Curry in the Village during the summertime when we visit, but always make a point to have brunch at the Ahwahnee each time (the only thing we can afford there!). Makes me want to go during the snow season… Glad you guys got to get away. :)

  24. Kate, I have followed your blog from the very early days and have watched your photography skills evolve and improve. You have studied and practiced and experimented and the results are amazing. You truly are a beautiful photographer- I so enjoy your images. You can thank your hubby for the new lens for us too since we get to see all the pretty pictures!

  25. Wow! I’d love to go there, I simply adore winter and snow and beautiful nature. I’m glad y’all had a great time!

  26. Your photos are lovely. I’ve only ever been to Yosemite at the end of summer (and that was years ago) and it is pretty then but winter does make it look amazing.

  27. I was there with my family this summer. It is so beautfiful in the winterr, Ive nevr been at that time of year. THANK YOU for sharing.

  28. Stunning indeed. I live just minutes from Tahoe-my favorite place on Earth-and images like these are so similar they touch my heart. (Our boys are in a ski/snowboard program so we go up every weekend.) After seeing these images, I think a visit to Yosemite in the winter has to go on my family bucket list!

  29. The photos are just beautiful. I must confess I too went out bought the 50mm lens you mentioned before christmas. I don’t know why but I seem to start to looking at lenses around the same time each year. My husband and I were married twenty years ago yesterday and for our honeymoon we travelled to the states and got to see Yosemite with its snow. It was extremely beautiful and the photos you have are just magnificent I love them. I hope one day to get back there again.

  30. We actually live close to Yosemite, so we know it is stunning at this time of year. The Ahwahnee Hotel is one of my favorite hotels in the world. Inside it is total woodsy chic and perfect for a hot chocolate in the winter. Hope your family had a good time ice skating near the hotel too! Thanks for sharing!


  31. Oh my gosh…such beautiful shots of such a beautiful places. These are GORGEOUS Kate! Just amazing. I’ve always wanted to visit Yosemite, so different then where I live. Love to take the family and settle in some lodge somewhere. Enjoy your new lens, looks like your getting the hang of using it pretty well! :)

  32. Fabulous shots Kate! Shooting in the snow can be tricky but you nailed it. I can’t believe I’ve never been to Yosemite. I always end up in Tahoe instead. It’s time to spend some time there.

  33. Yes, I have been there! It’s been a while and these photos make me want to go back. Such a beautiful spot and your photographs are lovely.


  34. Our family went to Yosemite 3 years ago this April and stayed at the Tenaya as well! We walked thru the Awanee one afternoon – it truly IS an amazing place. You took some amazing photos!!! Glad you are enjoying your new camera lens.

  35. These photos make me miss snow. We only had it once in December. :/ But the photos are really nice, and I soooo want to visit this place someday.


  36. Yosemite is amazing! No other place like it on earth, truly a glorious and almost heavenly place!

  37. Yosemite is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. On our visit, we had reservations at the southern entrance, but stopped at the Ahwahnee before check in, just for a drink and a look around. I casually said to an employee … “You’re all booked, right?” No, he said, and volunteered to switch us to the Ahwahnee, same price. Yosemite was the high point of our cross-country car trip. An inspiring, life-affirming place. Thanks for the great shots!

  38. Kate beautiful pictures! I’m about the take the plunge on the same lens (but for a canon camera) – just wondering if you could let me know if your camera is a full-frame camera? The main reason I’m thinking of the 35mm is so I can get more in the shot than with my 50mm. Thanks!

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