Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, 5:59 p.m. yesterday

Yesterday was a wonderful day for photography in Yosemite Valley. When I arrived before sunrise I found two inches of unpredicted fresh snow, and lots of mist. I met my two workshop students and we spent the next couple of hours photographing beautiful, misty, clearing-storm scenes from several spots: Tunnel View, along the Merced River looking at El Capitan and Three Brothers, and from Swinging Bridge toward Yosemite Falls.

The snow melted quickly, and in the afternoon some small (also unpredicted) showers moved through the valley. Driving through rain I noticed the sun starting to break through, and realized that a rainbow might become visible from Tunnel View. Sure enough, when we arrived at Tunnel View we found a rainbow arching over the valley. We grabbed a couple of quick, handheld photos, but the rainbow faded quickly.

It was frustrating, especially since this was the second time I’d arrived at Tunnel View just a little too late to catch a rainbow. But I reasoned that the conditions were right, and the same thing could happen again, so we waited. Eventually another shower moved through, and a patch of blue sky teased us into thinking that a rainbow might appear, but that hole in the clouds closed up and it started sprinkling again. We finally decided to give up and go elsewhere. As we were packing our gear, I noticed that the sky looked a little lighter to the west, so we drove through the tunnel to see what things looked like on the other side. Promising, as the sun was breaking through and hitting the canyon near Cascade Fall.

So we went back to Tunnel View, got our equipment ready, and waited a bit more. The hole in the clouds to the west seemed to close up as it neared us, but then a few minutes later a patch of sunlight struck the Leaning Tower to the right of Bridalveil Fall. Then the patch of sunlight got bigger, and part of a rainbow appeared to the right of Bridalveil. Soon a full rainbow appeared, arching over the entire valley. Even part of a double rainbow was visible at times. This was easily one of the most vivid rainbows I’ve seen.

Again the rainbow disappeared quickly, but we were set up and ready this time, not scrambling to get in position or change lenses. Despite the awkwardness of keeping our cameras covered (since it was raining the whole time), we managed to get some beautiful images. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes patience is rewarded.

More Storms?

Forecasters have backtracked on their predictions for this week’s weather. They’re still expecting snow tonight for Yosemite Valley, but the second pulse of this storm, originally forecast to pass over us tomorrow, is now expected to slide further south. And they’ve scaled back chances of precipitation later this week. Unfortunately, this has become an all-too-familiar pattern during the drought: long-range forecasts predicting storms turn out to be overly optimistic, and when we get closer to the event little or nothing happens. But tomorrow morning still looks promising photographically, with the possibility of fresh snow and clearing skies.

— Michael Frye

Related Post: Divided No More

Self-portrait while cleaning my lens, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Self-portrait while cleaning my lens at Tunnel View

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.