Rainbow Weather

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.

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44 Responses to “Rainbow Weather”

  1. Bill Connell says:

    Michael — So, does that last one count as getting “photobombed” by Half Dome? :-)

    Thanks very much for your earlier post regarding Hite’s Cove and the Meced poppies. I was going to forego my annual day trip down from Menlo Park this year due to the drought, but when you gave it a “thumbs up,” I made the trek on 03/24… and I’m VERY glad I did. Perfect weather and stunning hillsides! Wouldn’t have had the experience without your [as always] spot-on info [and wonderful photos, of course]!!

  2. S Redfern says:

    2014 is an exceptional year!!

  3. Lin Teichman says:

    Remarkable image. Truly an embodiment of “good things come to those who wait”! Congrats on the exquisite shot.

  4. Ann says:

    Hi Michael,
    It amazes me how photographers continue to capture new views of the most photographed Tunnel View! You did it again with your rainbow framed photo! I appreciate all the scampering around you went through in order to snap the perfect moment in time. Congratulations on a winner! I’m also looking forward to our next 2 days of interesting storms. You never know what interesting, natural phenomena, might appear. Hope lightning is one of them!

  5. Dave W. says:

    Wonderful image you created here Michael! Glad your patience had a reward at the end.

  6. Chuck Cagara says:

    Wonderful, Michael! That photo surely is the “pot-o’-gold!”

  7. Vance B. says:

    Michael, I read this and the first thing that came to mind was “good things come to those who wait” you persevered and the end result was wonderful images that really inspire me to be more patient. So thank you for that

  8. Simply Fabulous. This photo absolutely captures the title of your blog “In the Moment” and what a moment.
    No matter how many times you go to a location there is always another photo to take.

  9. Elisabeth Guevara says:

    Will you be seek selling this shot soon. I have a very special person I would like to purchase it for.

  10. Such a gorgeous image! So great with patience pays off!

  11. Doug says:

    Just gorgeous.

    We caught this unusual “skybow” earlier in the day:


    Not sure I am crazy about the processing yet, but it gets the idea across pretty well.


  12. Lol nice selfie! Great rainbow photograph! Man, that’s a great one! Patience and observations pay off

  13. DaleG says:


    I’m so jealous, jealous, jealous ! Your images continue to inspire and amaze. I have to plan another visit and outing!

    Dale Grosbach

  14. Karl Chiang says:

    Not sure why my comment did not post earlier, so I am resubmitting and hope it is not a duplicate.

    This could be the “Picture of the Year”. Not too often is there a double rainbow perfectly positioned in Yosemite Valley. Color makes this work better than B&W. Ansel would be so jealous and proud!

  15. Richard Wong says:

    Incredible Michael! Great patience. I was there Sunday too but left around noon. It would have been an honor to have run into you.

  16. KathiD says:

    Hi Michael,
    The rainbow pic is positively surreal – verrry nice get!!
    We can’t get to the Merced River canyon until April 8/9 – would appreciate any poppy & flower updates. And are the butterflies migrating yet? We encountered 9 different species in the Briceburg area about a year ago. Amazing!

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Kathi! The poppies seem to be doing well as of yesterday. But I haven’t seen them when they’re open recently, partly because there haven’t been many sunny days, and partly because I just haven’t had a chance to get out there at the right time of day. I haven’t been looking for the butterflies.

  17. Michael Callahan says:

    Michael, Absolutely beautiful photograph from my favorite spot- Tunnel View. My family and I will be in Yosemite on May 29. We are looking forward to a full week of getting up early and photographing Yosemite. Thank you for all your inspiration

  18. Meg says:

    Just gorgeous! I’m a rainbow (and waterfall) chaser myself, but I never seem to be in the right place at the right time. Bravo!

    I’ll be making my second trip to Yosemite with my husband and parents at the end of May, and my mom just shared your blog and book with me. Awesome! I was there for only a few hours (crazy, I know) in 2012, and I can’t wait to have the chance to wander around with my camera and no time crunch. Thanks for the inspiration, fantastic advice and images!

  19. Vivienne says:

    Oh my goodness…that rainbow is breathtaking! It and the dark trees at the bottom of the shot frame the scene so well. I also love seeing all that rain falling…just enough for the rainbow, but not too much to obscure the valley. And great selfie, Michael!

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thank you Vivienne! It was necessary to include the dark trees in order to show the ends of the rainbow (especially the left end), but I knew I needed a bit more of them so that there wouldn’t be just a thin strip of dark along the bottom.

  20. Kentucky Jim says:

    Hi Michael. I love your work.

    I’m looking for a cheap tip (’cause I don’t have any money) about where I can go in the park to get a good Milky Shot (Sagittarius) with a lake in the foreground. I’ve shot the Milky Way before, but am looking for a dark sky site. Anxious to try out my new Rokinon 14mm prime.

    I’m a bit old for any long hikes, but a couple of miles each way for an overnight are doable. No, or very short, hiking sites are preferable. Suggestions?

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Jim. So you’re looking for a lake with a view to the south? With little or no hiking? The only place that comes to mind is May Lake, which is about a mile hike. But looking south from the north end of the lake you might have lights from the High Sierra Camp or backpackers campsites.

  21. Kentucky Jim says:

    “Milky Way”

  22. Kentucky Jim says:

    Thanks, Michael. I think Sagittarius is to the east/southeast. Milky Way shot. May Lake is one I’ve considered, and yeah, I can handle the hike from the parking lot. I’ve been up there before. I’m trying to get some terrestrial drama, in addition to the drama of the milky way itself. Lake reflection, or something equally captivating.

    If any other ideas strike you, please let me know. :-)

    • Michael Frye says:

      Where Sagittarius is depends on the time of year and time of night. Right now it’s in the southeast, but doesn’t appear until close to midnight. As the summer progresses it rises earlier, and further to the right – toward the south and then even southwest. Currently the road to the May Lake trailhead is closed, which adds another mile. That road should open soon I would think.

  23. Kentucky Jim says:

    Thank you.

    May Lake sounds like the way to go. I suppose I could wait for another month, but hopefully the road to the trail head will open very soon. I’ll try to contact the park HQ for info before heading up there.

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