on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers


An Annual Pilgrimage

Paul Gallagher

Paul Gallagher is recognised as one of the most accomplished landscape photographers and workshop leaders in the UK today. He has been a writer and lecturer in photography for over thirty years and runs both field and printing workshop nationally and internationally.


The moment the opportunity arose where I was able to visit Yosemite, I grabbed it with both hands and seized the chance. There was something about the place that had enticed me for decades, namely the work of Ansel Adams that had me transfixed to his books in a college library at the age of sixteen whilst working as a photography student. Every photograph Adams made in this National Park seemed to ooze the true essence of what an American wilderness should look like. Vast areas of forest, towering spires of granite, huge waterfalls cascading thousands of feet over cliffs into the valley below, in which wildlife ran free and drank from the crystal clear waters of the rivers. This, of course, was the vision Adams intended in the first place to ensure that the landscape was protected for future generations of Americans.

The other consideration for visiting Yosemite was being aware that my mind was saturated with mental images that had accumulated over many years of seeing photographs of the area. Many of these, and the most revered ones, were photographs made by Adams himself, but also many of the contemporary photographers that have worked in Yosemite National Park. In short, the place had a lot to live up to.

I arrived in San Francisco and began the four-hour drive to the valley and the initial journey took me through some areas that I would describe as huge urban sprawls straddling the constantly throbbing interstate highway. After about three hours of peering toward the horizon and not really seeing any rising mountain ranges, you begin to feel like you are never going to arrive. Because Yosemite is in the High Sierra you are unaware that you’re gradually climbing and slowly you begin to leave the conurbations behind, and slowly the road steepens and the forests begin.

By chance, my first arrival into Yosemite Valley was via Highway 120 and Big Oak Flat Road. This route hugs the steep granite walls of the western end of the valley and on one particular turn a view opens up looking the entire length of the valley towards Half Dome.

I did what I suspect every photographer would do during my first days in the valley which was to be out and photographing as many iconic locations as I could
I pulled up in the busy layby and just stood there with all the photographs and images I had seen over the years fizzing in my mind in amazement at what was in front of me.

This is a premium article and requires a paid subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information on prices.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL. Midge Specs, midge net glasses from the Highlands.