Horsetail Falls Firefall at Yosemite National Park

Every mid-February, Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park becomes a “firefall” as the setting sun creates an amazing natural phenomenon. This occurs due to the angle of the sunset, and would also occur in October, but there’s only water in this fall due to snow melt-off, which doesn’t happen in October. I visited Yosemite National Park in February 2013, and while the waterfall was virtually invisible during the day, there was just enough to make the effect work once the sun began to set.

In the last couple of years, the Firefall has been popularized by coverage on NPR, the Today Show, CNN, the New York Times, and various corners of the internet. Because of that, Yosemite closed one lane of the road in 2013 and allowed cars to park alongside the road leading up to the popular viewing area for the Firefall. This is definitely a good thing for those of you planning to go here in future years (assuming they keep up the road closure practice); in previous years, the small parking lot for the viewing area would fill up early in the day, meaning that shooting the Firefall required an all-day camp-out. Now, you should be able to stroll in an hour or so before sunset and be fine.

The Horsetail Falls Firefall was the reason for the trip, and it was a fun “Bucket List” item to cross off, but it wasn’t even close to the highlight of the trip. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful sight, but it paled in comparison to the rest of the trip. Funny how the things we highly anticipate often end up being minor blips on the radar, while other things come out of nowhere and offer incredible, unanticipated experiences.

It seems this is the first post (on what was intended to be a daily photoblog) in nearly 4 months. I wish I had a good excuse for that, but I don’t. Having a couple of blogs plus a real-world job and other responsibilities turned out to be a bit too much to handle. Obviously, since you’re seeing this post, this blog isn’t dead. I’m hopeful that I can cut some time wasters out of my day to devote the attention necessary to keep regular updates going here. I might also try out different styles of posts (perhaps mini trip reports focusing on single sites we visit?) and see how those work. If you have any suggestions for types of posts you’d like to see, I’m all ears!

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Photographed with a Nikon D600 and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens. The lens choice here is a slightly interesting one, as most photos you see of the Firefall are taken with telephoto lenses. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that 95% of the DSLR photos of the Firefall are taken with a 70mm+ lens. I also grabbed plenty of telephoto shots, but I wanted to capture the entire scene and give it a little perspective, so I went wide, too.

Not really any exciting editing to share here. All of the processing was done in Adobe Camera Raw. Since the sky for this sunset was nothing special, I tried to minimize the color here with the exception of the Firefall, in order to make it stand out. I went very warm with the white balance and desaturated all colors except reds and oranges. I substantially increasing the fill light to bring out the snow on the ground and some of the detail in the river. A bit of contrast and adjust to the blacks…nothing too interesting!

Your Thoughts…

What is on your photography “Bucket List”? Have any suggestions for topics or categories of topics on this site? Share any thoughts you have in the comments!

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3 replies
  1. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    Tom, so glad to see you back! The firefall is absolutely gorgeous. I always love your nature shots, but sorta hope for some from Japan, too. Thanks for sharing!


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