Images by John 'K'

Life as seen through my lens…

Tag Archives: Yosemite

Firefall 2019

It’s sad that it’s taken me almost a month to find the time to write this, but late is better than not at all! Winking smile

2019 promised to be a good year for photographing the Horsetail Fall “Firefall” effect in Yosemite. There had been a LOT of snow and rain that should have fed Horsetail Fall strongly. What we didn’t anticipate though was a cold snap in the 2nd half of February. The supposed optimal day for “Firefall” this year was February 22, but I had an opportunity to visit a few days beforehand on February 18 also. Thankfully the weather cooperated on both days, with mostly clear skies, especially (and all importantly) to the west where the sun would be setting. All the elements seemed to be aligning to give us a spectacular display, apart from one thing… The cold snap had turned what should have been a gushing seasonal waterfall into a frigid trickle.

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The cold and snowy conditions in the park had resulted in 2-3 feet deep snow on the uncleared ground. The cleared roads and trails were icy and slick, and as such the park rangers were directing all who wanted to see and photograph the event to the area surrounding the El Capitan picnic  area. They made walking back down Northside Drive to get to the viewing spot on the banks of the Merced River an offence accompanied by fines (not that it stopped some people), and for safety’s sake, they didn’t want people trudging through the 2-3ft-deep snow near the edge of the river back. So… most of us kept to the prescribed area near the El Capitan picnic area…

Some had already staked out their preferred viewing spot in the morning. By lunchtime (when I got there) there were already between 50 to 100 people distributed around the area, but the nature of the forest in that area made it feel like there were less. On both days I was there, a camaraderie developed between the people there – from different walks of life, with different reasons for being there, but all drawn by the perhaps over-hyped expectations set thanks to social media to see this magical display that nature puts on each year. Some had seen it on prior years. Some were staying in the park for multiple days and were watching for the spectacle each evening they were there. Others were there for the first time just to see the magic happen. Some were just curious as to what was drawing so many other people there… We all chatted, laughed, shared stories, shared food and drink, and waited in the cold and snow for the sun to set.

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As the afternoon progressed, more and more people arrived and set up their gear. Lots of expensive and unusual pieces of equipment were set up on tripods, all pointing up at the side of El Capitan where we were expecting to see fantastic things happen. As we drew close to sunset there had to have been thousands of people around us in the forest. All were looking up at the cliff-face and seeing a distinct lack of water flowing from Horsetail Fall. But still we all waited and watched.

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On the 18th, many of us were standing at the side of the road, and as the afternoon progressed the park rangers were having a tough time keeping things flowing along Southside Drive as more and more people arrived to see this spectacle of mother nature. Seeing what was happening around me I wondered how busy it was getting in other areas.

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On the 22nd I found out how busy the other areas got, as I chose to watch from the forest floor rather than the side of the road. It was less chaotic, but just as busy.

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As the afternoon progressed we could see the light on the cliff-face change as the sun moved closer to the horizon…

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The light drew closer and closer to where Horsetail Fall falls, and we watched and hoped.

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Just as the color of the light started to change, we saw some water flow over the top of the fall. Not much, but enough!

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Behind us, the light from the setting sun made the snow and ice covered rockfaces glow orange…

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Meanwhile, we continued to see a small stream of water light up.

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… and then the light faded as the sun dipped below the horizon.

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There were days where the Firefall experience was much more spectacular than the days I chose to be there. The Tuesday and Thursday of that week saw more flow, some spray, and a much more vivid experience. Prior years where I had been there my luck was a little different. I went in on 2 days in 2017, and got these shots…

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… and from 2016 this is what happens when there’s good flow, but the cloud blocks the light from the sunset…

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As with many things in nature, there’s no guarantees that what you will get on a given day will match the experience of those that camp out day after day, year after year, in the hope of getting that perfect shot. Unless you have the time to dedicate to copying those few hardcore photographers, you have to be happy with what you get, and be content in the knowledge that you have been able to see this demonstration of mother nature’s fickle beauty in the flesh when so many can only look at the photographs of others in wonder and awe.

Still – I hope one year to be able to get one of those truly spectacular shots  that a few other lucky people have been able to get!

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Wake up (early) and feel the sunshine

This time last week I’d just about got home from an impromptu visit to Yosemite to catch photos of a spray moonbow (rainbow in the spray of a waterfall caused by the light of the full moon). There are apparently only 4 waterfalls in the world where this can happen when the conditions are right, and we have one a bit over 3 hours drive away. The conditions were right last week, so pretty much on a whim I decided to take a chunk of time out of my week to go see this for myself.

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Shooting the moonbow meant I was up late into the night (and into the following morning), and as the Yosemite Valley is a magical place by the light of the full moon, I proceeded to journey around the valley to get moonlight shots of my “happy place”.

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Before I knew it, it was 4:30 in the morning and I was up on Glacier Point looking down on the valley, so I decided to stick around for the sunrise which was only a bit over an hour away.

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Cold and tired I sat in my car and napped for an hour before dragging myself from my dreams to go and watch the sun rise.

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I was not disappointed. The scene started to get lighter as the sun neared the horizon, and then as it emerged above the line of distant mountains just behind Half Dome the warming rays of the sun hit my face and warmed my body and soul.

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For a person who is spiritual (not religious) it was a very moving experience. I’m sure if I were a religious person I’d be putting a religious spin on this, but regardless, it was a wonderful way to start the day with a fresh appreciation of the beauty that is there if you only take the time to pull yourselves away from your daily distractions for a while to appreciate it.

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If you ever get a chance to witness a sunrise in a place of beauty such as Yosemite National Park, do yourself a favor… make the effort to get up early and experience it for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it… and you can always make up the lost hours of sleep later!

Moonbow at Lower Yosemite Fall

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On a last minute whim, I took a 3.5 hour drive yesterday afternoon to go to Yosemite National Park to try and catch a picture of a moonbow. A moonbow is a rainbow formed in the spray of a waterfall from the light of the full or nearly full moon. According to the internet, there are only 4 waterfalls in the world that have the right conditions for this to happen, and after finding out about these very recently I wasn’t going to miss the chance of capturing one.

It seems that half of the photographers in California (and beyond) had the same idea, because as it turned dark, the best vantage points for seeing this event were packed with photographers and their gear.

When conditions are good, a bow can be seen in the spray from both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, however yesterday the conditions for a moonbow in the spray from the Upper Yosemite Fall were clearly missing, as was the moonbow (there was a little splash of color in a small section of mist, but not a full moonbow by any stretch of the imagination, and nothing that could be seen with the naked eye).

The story at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall was totally different though. As I joined the 50 or so other photographers that had taken up position in the viewing area at the base of the fall, the moonbow was clearly visible as a silvery arc in the spray. There wasn’t quite enough light in it to have the human eye see color, but a long camera exposure can overcome this so you can see the moonbow in all its rainbow-colored glory!

This month’s full moon will likely be the last one this year that will lead to a decent moonbow in Yosemite Falls, as because of the low snowpack in the Sierras, it is expected that the volume of water will drop off enough before next month’s full moon that there won’t be enough spray to make this happen…

Third time’s a charm

About 6 months ago, a professional photographer and good friend of mine convinced me to enter some of my Yosemite Park photographs into a competition to chose the cover photo for the Yosemite / DNC Facebook page. For those that don’t know, DNC (Delaware North Companies) own and manage almost all of the commercially run lodging options in Yosemite National Park, and their page is fairly popular, with over 76,000 ‘likes’.

The page runs a quarterly contest to chose a seasonally themed photograph to be their cover photo for 3 months. The photographer who wins gets nothing other than bragging rights and a prominent name mention on their site, but it’s a hotly contested prize. The rules follow those of many such contests on Facebook, whereby you need to win the public vote to be in the top xx entries (in this case top 5) and then a panel of judges picks from the most popular.

My first attempt 6 months ago was for last year’s Fall banner. I ended up with 2 images in the top 5 (I entered 10), and had the popular vote, but another entrant won the judges vote. My second try was for their Winter banner. I entered 5 pieces, and again I got the popular vote, but again another entry was chosen. After two failed attempts to win over the judges with my work I almost stopped there, but something told me to have one last go for their Spring banner when they announced the contest a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t have a lot of Spring pictures of Yosemite, but I picked one that I thought would work nicely as a cover page image, and submitted that one piece. I shot out a couple of early requests to my ‘friends’ on Facebook to vote for me, but then largely left things alone (whereas before I was almost nagging folks to vote!). The last two days of open voting I wasn’t even able to see how things were going, as I was in the park with no real internet access, so it was a pleasant surprise to see my picture again had the popular vote when I got back home late on Sunday.

Then began the short wait to see what the judges would do, and this time I won, so for the next three months, if you visit the Yosemite page on Facebook, you’ll see my picture and my name up there on the top of the page.

Needless to say I have a huge smile on my face today, and I’ll be taking full advantage of the prize… namely bragging rights! Smile

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