Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Low water, but ideal light on Horsetail Fall, February 20th, 2012

It’s almost February, so naturally I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Horsetail Fall. My thoughts about the best time to photograph Horsetail haven’t changed since I wrote this post last year: basically it’s February 16th to 23rd, or maybe a little beyond that.

This window was confirmed by my observations in 2012. There wasn’t much water in the fall last year, but we had a string of clear days, which allowed me to closely watch the light, and I think that February 16th to 23rd window is about right. You can, of course, take good photographs before or after that window; I’m talking about ideal light.

That ideal light requires clear skies to the west at sunset, something no one can predict at this point. And for good photographs the waterfall has to be flowing. Overall we’ve had a lot more rain and snow than last year, and Horsetail is flowing now. January, however, has been pretty dry, and there’s no precipitation in the forecast until at least next Wednesday. I think Horsetail will have more water this year than last, regardless of what happens over the next couple of weeks, but it would be nice to get some more snow on top of El Capitan soon to help feed Horsetail.

There are two main viewpoints for Horsetail Fall: east of the El Capitan picnic area along Northside Drive, and along Southside Drive about nine-tenths of a mile past the Cathedral Beach picnic area. I describe both locations in The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite book and iPhone app.

If you try to photograph Horsetail Fall be prepared for large crowds. There was a lot of publicity about Horsetail last year, so there are bound to be even more people this year. Plan on getting to your chosen location at least two or three hours before sunset to find a parking space and a viewpoint. Carpooling might be a good idea. You won’t be alone, so think of it as a social event where you can meet other people who share the same passion for photography.

Good luck!

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: The Best Time to Photograph Horsetail Fall, RevisedQuick Horsetail UpdateFalling Fire

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite 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.