Thursday, February 28, 2008

Horsetail Falls Backlit at Sunset

Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley is backlit by the setting sun for roughly two weeks each year. As the sun falls behind the vertical face of El Capitan, it selectively lights this waterfall with its orange sunset glow.

This was an amazing spectacle to witness. Lasting only from 30 to 15 minutes before the sun goes down, the lighting gradually grows in intensity and color for the last 5 minutes or so. On the nights I watched, it was like seeing a narrow strip of lava flowing down the face of El Capitan.

The weather and the water flows often don't cooperate, I was shut out by back to back blizzards last year, so I was fortunate to see this on two consecutive evenings in 2008.


There are two good shooting locations:

1) Along the bank of the Merced River near the turnout just East of the Cathedral Beach picnic area (which is closed for Winter). This location is described on page 24 of my 320-page guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

2) In the vicinity of the Cathedral picnic area on Northside Road in the valley, 1/2 mile East of the El Capitan bridge. That North road is closed for maintenance, so it's a 1 mile walk each way from where the El Captan bridge road hits Southside Road. This location is also described in "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

#1 is a 75 foot walk on top of the snow from where you park, while #2 is a 2 mile round trip on closed roads (including a couple of hundred yards over snow at the closed picnic area), with the return half after dark. Make sure you're at one of them 45 minutes before sunset, because the best show is roughly from 30 to 15 minutes before sundown, but that could change as the sun moves each day. To get a good selection of where to place your tripod for the "easy" spot #1, consider arriving 1.5 hours ahead of sunset.