The moon will be full this weekend—on May 5th, at 8:36 p.m. to be precise. So that means I’ve been getting lots of questions about photographing lunar rainbows. First, the best way to find out where and when to photograph Yosemite’s lunar rainbows is astronomer Don Olson’s web site. Don and his team have figured out precise viewing times for lunar rainbows from the Lower Yosemite Fall bridge, and from Cook’s Meadow for Upper Yosemite Fall.
Temperatures are forecast to be relatively cool this weekend, which means that snow won’t be melting at a high rate, and water flow and spray will probably be below average for early May. The moonbow should be visible on the upper fall from Cook’s Meadow, but it won’t spread as wide as it did last year, nor will it be visible as long. For the lower fall, less spray is good (up to a point), because it’s easier to keep water drops off the lens from this often-damp location. I’m sure there will still be spray at the bridge below the lower fall, but it might be manageable. Whether you go to Cook’s Meadow or the Lower Yosemite Fall bridge you’ll have to share the spot with many other photographers—but there’s less room at the bridge.
Once you’ve figured out the right time and place, then what? How do you focus? What equipment do you need, what aperture should you use, and how long should you keep the shutter open? Here’s a link to a previous post with answers to all these questions.
As for the dogwoods, they all seemed to bloom at once last week. Last Friday perhaps 30 percent of the valley dogwoods were still in that stage where the blossoms are green, but I’d bet even those specimens are all white by now. You should still be able to see dogwoods in bloom for another couple of weeks, but they are rapidly leafing out, and the window when they’re at their most photogenic will close soon—at least in Yosemite Valley. But the dogwoods at higher elevations bloom later. If you find that the dogwoods in the valley are too leafy, or the blossoms look old and tattered, try hiking to the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias, or looking for patches of dogwoods along highways 41 and 120.
But right now Yosemite Valley is just gorgeous. The deciduous trees have those new, bright green leaves, the waterfalls are booming, and the dogwoods are blooming. For our workshop last week we also had mist, interesting clouds, and a clearing rainstorm on Thursday afternoon. We had a great time photographing all this stuff; I’ve included one photograph of Upper Yosemite Fall from last Thursday afternoon.
Related Posts: Floods, Moonbows, and the Opening of Tioga Pass; Tips for Photographing Lunar Rainbows
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBooks Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, and Exposure for Outdoor Photography. He has 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.
Hi Michael, great info..I’m planning on being out there on Saturday! My question is the lower fall shot with Half Dome in it is not from the lower bridge trail is it? I have been researching and I believe it to be from the more difficult and longer trail that actually goes up to it, am I correct or can you get to this angle from the Bridge trail, just that you need to go a little “off roading hiking”? Thanks so much for your dedication and efforts for the benefit of all of us!!!
Thanks Sean. I assume you’re referring to the image in the “Tips For Photographing Lunar Rainbows” post that I linked to here. That’s Upper Yosemite Fall, and was taken from near the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. It’s a long, steep hike to that spot.
Thanks for the updates Michael. Do you have an article written, or could you say a few words about focusing for night photography? Im certainly not a beginner photographer, but I am unable to get sharp photos when I am making star trail photos, or moonbow photos. I try to focus to infinity, sometimes trying to infinity and backing off a little, but I am always disappointed when I get home to review my work.
Any tips for star trails or night photography when the camera cannot focus?
Thanks Ben. I discuss focusing for night photos in the article I link to here, “Tips For Photographing Lunar Rainbows.”
I like your writing style Michael.
Question: What aperture and ISO settings would you recommend for shooting waterfalls and their mist?
Thanks Harry. That’s a very general question. If you’re talking about photographing waterfalls at night for the lunar rainbow, then follow the link above to my article “Tips For Photographing Lunar Rainbows.” If you’re talking about photographing waterfalls during the day, then I usually prefer a relatively fast shutter speed for big waterfalls in order to show the texture of the water and the spray. Usually 1/125 sec or faster. For smaller cascades I usually prefer to blur the water and use a slow shutter speed, 1/4 sec, 1/2 sec, 1 sec, depending on the situation. Aperture really is not an issue unless you have a lot of depth of field.
Re: May 5 Lunar Moonbow Observations.
1. Don Olson’s team didn’t consider the height of the mountains and the azmith of the moon when publishing the timing for the moon light on Yosemite Falls. After a few minutes of full light at the moonrise it disappeared completely until about 11:30pm.
2. Shooting from about 50 yards south of North Side drive in Cook’s Meadow I got some nicely exposed images of the falls between 11:45 and 12:30am, but there wasn’t even a hint of color. Either my location was poorly chosen or the moon was too high in the sky.
3. The Valley was jammed with cars and moon watchers clear up until midnight.
I’d be interested to hear what some other folks experienced. Thanks and keep up the good work, your exposure suggestions were spot on.
Thanks for your comments Jack, and I’m glad my exposure suggestions worked for you. Don Olson’s team did indeed consider the height of the mountains and the azimuth of the moon when making their calculations, and I’ve found their predictions to be highly accurate in the past. Their predictions for Cook’s Meadow are from the parking area near Sentinel Bridge. The moonbow was late in arriving last night because the amount of spray was below average, but I photographed the moonbow, along with a couple hundred other people, between about 10:30 and 11:00. I was a little west of the Sentinel Bridge parking area along the path. Sorry it didn’t work out for you.
I initially photographed the upper falls from the boardwalk bridge west of the Sentinel parking lot, but after too much vibration I moved back toward the parking lot where I photographed it until around 10:30 p.m. The color seemed better from the second spot (probably just a little ways from Michael) but only one or two images had a decent amount of color. I had much better luck at the lower falls (despite the party crowd) and even captured what appears to be a faint secondary moonbow around 11:30 p.m. or so. The spray wasn’t too bad unless the wind picked up. And thanks Michael for the exposure tips, as they worked quite well for me too.
I shot the upper falls from the south side of the river just west of the Sentinel bridge from 10-11. There were a few other people in the same clearing and I managed some color along the bottom of the falls. I moved from there to the big party at the lower falls from 11-12. My best luck was with a high ISO and shorter exposures so I could time my shots to coincide with the visibility of the main rainbow. I did get a good double moonbow in a few shots. My biggest issue was with the misguided soul that decided to climb onto the rocks in front of the falls and the hundreds of people with cameras…
Overall that was just about as crowded as I can imaging a national park getting for 11pm outside of the summer! Cars and tripods were everywhere near the falls.
Don Olson prediction for Lower Yosemite Fall on night of May 6-7 (Sun-Mon) called for a starting time of 11:50pm. However I arrived there at 11:15 and saw the moonbow well in progress. This was disappointing since I had planned to capture a time-lapse which would have included the arrival of the moonbow.
Interesting. I remember Olson mentioning somewhere that he welcomed input from actual observations to help refine his estimates, so you might want to let him know.
Love your photos of the Lunar Rainbow over Yosemite Falls. They’re definitely worth the time, effort and coldness to get them. Anxious to see some of your dogwood pics. Hope to find some good conditions May 23rd, 24th, and 25th when I’m in Yosemite.
Thanks Carol! I don’t think I got any great dogwood photos, but if I change my mind about that I’ll post some. 🙂
Very fascinating write-up. Lots of specifics for the super newbi at all like me.
Thanks Tory — glad you liked the post!
Love your work and have been using The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite for years. Was planning to go to Yosemite to hopefully capture lunar rainbow photos the week of May 20th but see there is a penumbral lunar eclipse taking place on May 25, 2013, right in the middle of our trip. Do you believe this will interfere with our photography that night? From what I’ve read, it’s supposed to be visually imperceptible but thought I’d check in to see if you think it will be a photographic problem. Thanks!
I just realized that the full moon isn’t until 5/27. Won’t that be the best viewing night? If so, my question about the eclipse is moot.
Thanks April. In Yosemite the full moon is at 9:24 p.m. on May 24th. That will be the time of the eclipse too; a lunar eclipse always occurs when the moon is at its fullest. It doesn’t sound like this will have an effect on the lunar rainbow; Don Olson predicts a “bright moonbow” that evening for Lower Yosemite Fall.