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

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite, May 14, 7:13 p.m. 29mm, 1/45 sec. at f/8, ISO 100, polarizer.

It’s the classic dilemma of landscape photographers: whether to stay and wait, hoping for better light, or go elsewhere.

My friend Evan Russel from The Ansel Adams Gallery and I were standing at the stone wall at Tunnel View last Monday, hoping for a rainbow to appear. Evan told me he was thinking about going to Glacier Point. I was thinking the same thing. He told me that at times like this he thought of The Clash song Should I Stay or Should I Go:

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double

Long before The Clash recorded that song, Ansel Adams said, “I have always been mindful of Edward Weston’s remark, ‘If I wait for something here I may lose something better over there.’ I have found that keeping on the move is generally more rewarding.” I’m with Ansel on that, as I have also found that keeping on the move is generally more rewarding. But every situation is different. I try to gather as much information as possible, then listen to my intuition, and hope for the best.

I had actually seen a rainbow just after I arrived at Tunnel View on Monday, but the standard spot along the rock wall was a sea of humanity, so I wasn’t able to get a good spot. When the rainbow faded and the crowds dispersed I was able to get a better spot, right next to Evan. While we were waiting I periodically checked the radar and satellite images. There were showers to our north, and they were moving south, yet they all seemed to fizzle when they got close. But all it would take was a light sprinkle and some sunshine to create another rainbow.

In the end, I decided to stay, and Evan decided to go. Most of the showers were east of Tunnel View, but west of Glacier Point, so I thought the odds of seeing a rainbow were higher at the tunnel. But you never know. There was a good chance that neither spot would work.

After Evan left I chatted with some other neighboring photographers, and kept looking at the weather. Finally, around 7:00 p.m., conditions started to look more promising. I could see a light shower to our east over the valley, and sunlight streaming in behind us. I couldn’t understand why were weren’t seeing a rainbow already. Then a slice of rainbow appeared next to El Capitan, and quickly grew to be quite vivid.

Luckily the rainbow lasted awhile – almost 20 minutes. I kept my 70-200mm lens on most of the time, making fairly tight compositions with El Capitan, Half Dome, and the rainbow. But at one point some cloud shadows created beautiful light on the valley floor, so I switched lenses and composed a wider view (shown at the top of this post).

I always use a polarizing filter for rainbows. Rotated the standard way, where it darkens the blue sky and cuts reflections, a polarizer will make a rainbow disappear. But rotated 90 degrees from that it will actually enhance the rainbow slightly.

It was a beautiful rainbow, and figured I had made the right decision to stay at Tunnel View. Then Evan texted me his photo of a double rainbow from Washburn Point:

Half Dome at Sunset and Double Rainbow from Washburn Point, by Evan Russel

Half Dome at Sunset and Double Rainbow from Washburn Point, by Evan Russel

So I guess this was one of those rare occasions when staying and going both worked. As Dewitt Jones likes to say, there’s more than one right answer.

— Michael Frye

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

El Capitan, Half Dome, and rainbow from Tunnel View, Yosemite, May 14th, 7:16 p.m. 70mm, 1/30th sec. at f/8, ISO 100, polarizer.

Related Posts: Double Rainbow; Rainbow Weather

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, 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: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael 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.