El Capitan and the Merced River during a clearing storm, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River during a clearing storm, Friday morning, Yosemite

A clearing storm in Yosemite Valley can be a memorable event, but not all clearing storms are equally photogenic. Some clear gradually, while others finish abruptly and spectacularly. Some storms clear at night, some in the middle of the day, but for photography you’d like the storm to clear just before sunrise or sunset.

Last Thursday, Yosemite Valley got two inches of rain, the first real precipitation in almost two months. Higher elevations got snow, and the temperature dropped enough to give the Valley a slight dusting at the tail end of the storm. The main part of the storm cleared around midday on Thursday – not the best time for photography, though still beautiful. But then showers resumed Thursday night, with the last of them moving through just before sunrise. Perfect timing.

My two brothers were visiting from Washington State, and the three of us rose early, drove up to Yosemite Valley, and headed for one of my favorite spots along the Merced River. The sun broke through the clouds and illuminated El Capitan briefly before the fog thickened and all the cliffs disappeared. But after about ten minutes El Cap re-emerged, the sun broke through, and we were treated to a classic Yosemite clearing storm. The first photograph here is probably my favorite from the morning, but I’ve posted a couple more images below, including a later image from Tunnel View – still a photogenic spot at 10:00 a.m.

We’ve seen a few showers since then, and the forecast calls for more precipitation this week – nothing major, but we’ll take it. There’s probably a foot of snow on top of El Capitan now, so prospects for Horsetail Fall later this month look better, though another foot or two of snow would be very helpful. The window for the best light on Horsetail Fall is around February 16-23, so there’s still some time. (For more about the light and conditions for photographing Horsetail Fall, go here and here.)

Did any of you photograph the clearing storm Friday morning in Yosemite? Or the midday break last Thursday? If so, I’d love to see some photos, so please post a link in the comments!

— Michael Frye

Midsection of El Capitan, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Midsection of El Capitan, Friday morning

El Capitan and Half Dome from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and Half Dome from Tunnel View, Friday morning, 10:03 a.m.

Related Posts: Could We Finally Get Some Rain?; The Best Time to Photograph Horsetail Fall, Revised; Horsetail Fall Questions

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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.