I just returned from my 2016 Yosemite Horsetail Fall photo workshop. I’ve the photographed the midday light shafts at Upper Antelope Canyon, Schwabacher Landing at sunrise, Mesa Arch at sunrise, winter sunset at Pfeiffer Arch, and Horsetail fall each February for over ten years. But nothing compares to the mayhem I witnessed this weekend at Horsetail Fall. Not even close. I’ll be writing more about the experience soon, but right now the only words I have are: Oh. My. God.
About an inch of snow fell the night before my workshop’s 1:30 p.m. Thursday start. Because the storm was clearing and the snow was melting fast, I postponed the orientation that always precedes each workshop’s first shoot and, following quick introductions, hustled the group straight out to photograph what would likely be the best conditions of the workshop.
Our first stop was Tunnel View, and it didn’t disappoint. I rarely get my camera out at Tunnel View unless I can get something truly special, and I had no plan to that afternoon. But the storm had rejuvenated Horsetail Fall enough to make it clearly visible, a rare treat from that distance, and I decided to click a couple of frames.
Extracting my a7RII, I attached my Tamron 150-600 lens and targeted the fall, clicking a few images of the fall amidst shifting clouds. When the clouds opened enough to illuminate El Capitan, I did a double-take when splashes of red, yellow, and violet appeared in Horsetail’s wind-whipped mist.
After alerting my group to the rainbow, I zoomed all the way to 600mm and snapped a few vertical images of my own. With the wind tossing the spray, each image was a little different from the one preceding it. As I clicked this frame, an ephemeral spiral of wind spread the mist, making it the most colorful of the group.
As the sun dropped behind us, the rainbow climbed the fall and finally disappeared. Soon another rainbow appeared, this one at the base of Bridalveil Fall across the valley. We stayed long enough to photograph that rainbow, then headed out for what turned out to be a very successful, more classic Horsetail sunset shoot. Our Horsetail success that night allowed us to concentrate on other Yosemite subjects the rest of the week, while thousands of Horsetail Fall aspirants jockeyed for parking and a clear view through the trees.
Stay tuned for more about the Horsetail Fall experience, which has now officially achieved ridiculous status.
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(Look closely at the horizontal, “Twilight Mist” image to see Horsetail’s location)
I was in Yosemite on Saturday for the Firefall and one thought that kept coming to my mind was how in the world is Gary Hart going to run a workshop in this mess.
Keep up the good work Gary !
Even getting the moonbow in the spring is getting that way! What you captured in this photo is awesome.
Yeah, you’re right, Pam. I totally get why people want to have these trophy shots, but sometimes I wonder whether it’s worth the trouble.
I always enjoy your images & blog. I have read all your blogs & follow it on regular basis for last one year. There is lot of information on technical as well as artistic view required for any aspiring photographer. I do live in Pune, India. I learned a lot by reading your blogs so very thankful to you for sharing the information, I wish I could attain a workshop of yours this will make very huge difference in my photography. Thanks again.
Thanks, Nitin. I was in India about 25 years ago, but was in New Delhi for business and didn’t get to photograph much. I did make it to Agra, and a few spots around Delhi, but that was about it. Someday I’d like to go back to photograph, especially around the Himalayas.
That’s very nice,just inform me when you would be in India, so that I can join you with your permission or you can arrange a workshop here in India
I just returned this evening from a day trip to Yosemite- main purpose, shoot Horsetail Fall. Imagine my surprise when I found about 30 photographers on the banks of the Merced River at 10:30 AM, set up to shoot the 5:30 PM event!!!
The scene became a social media circus as the day progressed, It seemed that 90% of the folks in the Valley were photographers, all seeking the proverbial Horsetail shot. I shot those key “Gary Hart” locations as the day progressed. I d coded that if a parking spot was available at El Capitan picnic area on Northside Drive, I would stay for the spectacular spectacle , otherwise I’d enjoy Valley View, and call it a day. I did squeeze into a parking space and joined over 100 photographers in one of at least 3 very large groups concentrated in that area. The miracle did occur on time, although without all the fire expected. It was an interesting shoot, to say the least and one of the oddest days I’ve experienced in Yosemite!!
I think what struck me most was the scale of the chaos. Most trophy-shot locations can only handle a handful of photographers, but this literally stretched for miles (I clocked it with my odometer). And the gridlock on the roads and in the restaurants afterward was just as bad (I know the cafeteria closed when there were still 100s outside waiting to get in). My group was extremely fortunate—we got beautiful water, clouds, and light from the picnic area on the first night and only had to contend with the traffic the rest of the workshop. We also managed to make it in for dinner before the crowds arrived each night.
It seems that Horsetail is getting a lot more mainstream media coverage this year, and I’ve seen it trending on Facebook for the past week. I’m not sure how much that has contributed to the crowds, but it certainly doesn’t help!
Yeah, it’s just crazy. I don’t usually go the third weekend in February, but I couldn’t resist the full moon. What surprised me most was the complete absence of rangers trying to control the mayhem. It was almost as if they’d just thrown up their hands in defeat.
Do you ever do any workshops? I live in San Diego and I’m new to photography. I have a Nikon D5100 and I’m learning how to use it.
Let me know if you want more info on a specific workshop.
Nice! I love the new/different perspective! I always like to try and get a different take on things, especially anything that has been shot to death.
I’ve never shot Horsetail Falls before, and I probably never will. Don’t want to add to the mayhem I’ve been reading about. I have never seen a story bout Horsetail Falls in the news until this year. Between that and the MANY mentions of it on social media it seems to be getting WAY outta hand. I always thought it was best to go to Yosemite during the winter, rather than the zoo-like summer. I guess not. Not anymore.
In general winter is much better. And even Horsetail Fall is manageable if you time it right and know what you’re doing. It’s definitely worth seeing once.