Yosemite Photo Conditions

Moon Setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, spring of 2017

Every year, around the third week of February, the sun sets at just the right angle for Horsetail Fall. With clear skies and enough water, the backlit waterfall glows with a brilliant orange color, lit by the setting sun.

Some years ago it occurred to me that the setting moon could create the same effect. In the spring of 2010 I had a chance to try this, and it worked beautifully. As I wrote back then, I walked up to one of my favorite Horsetail Fall viewing locations early in the morning, and saw an amazing sight: that beautiful, low-angle backlight on the waterfall, with the cliff behind it in the shade. It looked like sunset in February, only with stars in the sky above it. And the camera captured what my eyes couldn’t see – the orange glow created by the setting moon:


High Water in Yosemite

Half Dome and oaks in flooded Leidig Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and oaks in flooded Leidig Meadow. My chest waders came in handy on a couple of occasions. Here I waded into Leidig Meadow to capture these flooded oaks framing Half Dome. (Focal length: 21mm; five bracketed exposures blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.)

This past winter brought near-record amounts of snow to the higher elevations of Yosemite, and now all that snow is melting and filling the rivers, creeks, and waterfalls. About a week-and-a-half ago, warm temperatures were predicted to create minor flooding in the Yosemite Valley, so Claudia and I drove up early and found a beautiful, water-filled park. The meadows were partially flooded, and the waterfalls roaring. We hadn’t seen such high water since June of 2011, but this time the deciduous trees still had that fresh, bright-green color, and the dogwoods were still blooming.

We spent a couple of nights in the valley, staying at a friend’s house, and had a great time photographing and just enjoying the park. Here are some images showing the high water, with extended captions.


Spring in Yosemite

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I haven’t posted here in awhile because I just finished back-to-back workshops in Death Valley and Yosemite. But I wanted to give a quick update on conditions in Yosemite Valley. In short, it’s beautiful. At the start of our workshop last week most of the dogwoods were still in that greenish stage, but by the end of the week most of the blossoms had turned white, and were in great shape. It looks like an above-average year for dogwoods, as many trees have plentiful blossoms. They will continue to bloom for a couple more weeks, but they’re most photogenic early, while the blossoms are still fresh, and before the leaves get too large (which tends to hide the flowers).


A Surreal Sunset

Sunset over Yosemite Valley with Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset over Yosemite Valley with Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite

The best photography tales always seem to start with something like this: “It wasn’t looking good. The skies were completely overcast, but I decided to stick it out and see what might happen. And then…” The teller of the tale goes on to describe the amazing light show that ensued.

Of course you never hear stories about the times when the skies remained overcast and nothing interesting happened. There’s no story there. But the best light often does seem to occur when the odds are low. There might only be a ten percent chance of the sun breaking through, but if it does the results could be spectacular.


Snowy Sunrise

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite

A couple of months ago California was dealing with severe drought; now we’re coping with flooding and landslides. Yosemite has received over 60 inches of rain since October 1st (the beginning of the water year in this state). The annual average is only 37 inches. At this rate we could double that annual average by the time the rainy season ends this spring.

So far Yosemite has escaped any major disasters, but the same can’t be said for San Jose, where two days ago Coyote Creek overflowed and flooded several neighborhoods. Hundreds of people had to be rescued by boat, many homes were inundated with water, and some 14,000 people were evacuated.



Confluence of Cascade and Tamarack creeks, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Confluence of two swollen creeks, Yosemite, last Thursday afternoon. 1/2 second at f/11, 50 ISO.

California got doused by another series of storms last week. From Sunday (February 5th) through Friday (February 10th) Yosemite Valley received over ten inches of rain, pushing water levels near flood stage again.

My brother Peter came down to visit us from Washington state, and early on Thursday morning we drove up to Yosemite Valley, hoping for the sun to break through. We never saw the sun, but we found innumerable small waterfalls, including many I don’t remember seeing before in over 30 years here. And the big waterfalls were ripping. The overcast light was actually the perfect complement to many of these scenes, and I didn’t know when I’d get another opportunity to photograph the waterfalls like this, so we ended up staying in the valley for most of the day photographing the surging cascades.