I recently made a trip down to Yosemite with my friend from Boston, John Dubois, trying for the 3rd time to catch the famed “Firefall” from Horsetail Fall (more on that later). In years past, a winter trip to Yosemite always meant snow, great skies, color, maybe some skiing, and water from the 21 falls in and around the park. Sadly though, this time the now 4-year, unrelenting, drought in California left only small traces of snow that had lingered from what little had fallen weeks before in a very light snowfall. Unfortunately, that has become the latter-day trend which doesn’t look to change much in the near future.
So, with more limited water runoff, and without snow, fall color or any hardwood foliage, we found ourselves having to search harder than usual, especially if we hoped to capture something beyond Yosemite’s much-photographed iconics. Yes, it’s impossible to pass up those postcard vistas that have come to be so uniquely Yosemite.
We found ourselves quickly searching out times and locations, and hoping for some varied weather conditions for something different and maybe a bit more creative. I quickly started focusing (no pun) on abstracts, details, isolated parts, and in short, “pictures within the picture.”
Here are several I thought might be worth sharing. If you’re interested, you can see more of “Yosemite’s Faces”, plus two of my first, experimental, sunset time-lapses via the link-buttons at the bottom of the post.
As for “Firefall”, well, most photographers have made multiple (sometimes many) trips to get that shot, but have never caught the right conditions. In short, the phenomenon from the Horsetail Fall can only occur during about 2 weeks in late February when the Sun is at a perfect angle. And then only for about 10 minutes, if the sky is clear to the sunset, and only if enough snow has fallen to cover the little 2-acre watershed above the fall, and only if it’s warm enough to have runoff over the fall. The Horesetail Fall is really small and could easily escape notice if not for the gaggle of photographers at every vantage trying to get their one shot at his image. Thanks to the late Galen Rowell’s early iconic shots, this is like a gold rush once each year. Tripods everywhere, and everyone staring at the Horsetail, whether dry or not.
This year, there was absolutely no runoff – not even a trickle. We didn’t even try to scramble for a space since it was obvious that this year wasn’t in the cards (even though crowds of photographers and tourists still huddled around the valley like awaiting the “Second Coming”).
The actual Firefall really isn’t fire, of course. It is caused by the back-lighting of the water from the Sun during the narrow day’s-end slit of time and space when everything else is getting darker. Pretty dramatic I’d say.
Note: These two at the right are NOT my images. They were captured by the late, great, Galen Rowell (c). I’ve included them here to show what a real photographer can do with a scene like this. But, for better or worse, everything else here is mine.
Hopefully, these will give an idea of why we try and try to catch it. So far though, no joy.
My closest came in 2011 when everything lined up perfectly, that is until 5 minutes before the strike of sunlight, when a small bank of clouds stepped in the path, and this is all I captured. El Cap’s face was clear for a moment of light, but no cigar this time either. The shot of the clouds moving in was the only thing to take away.
If you’d like to check out a few others and two time-lapses from this trip (with a few thrown in from 2011), click on the bottons below. Thanks for taking the time to let me share these.