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Archive 2023 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes

  
 
Tim Hallam
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Congratulations to Tim Hallam for winning Feature Thread of the Week with 6 votes - View Previous Winners


Hi everyone,
I hope you are all well and enjoying your winter!

I recently returned home from spending a week in Yosemite National Park. I hadn't visited the valley floor in approximately 15 years and it was great to be reacquainted with this beautiful location. Myself and photographer friend Matthew Newman shared the expenses of the trip and headed to Yosemite together. Matt had made tent-cabin reservations months prior (reservations are required to enter the park this time of year) to correspond with the annual Firefall phenomenon. For anyone unfamiliar with the Firefall, what happens is the setting sun perfectly aligns with Horsetail Falls on the eastern edge of El Capitan and casts a narrow sliver of light through the delicate falls causing it to illuminate in vivid color for just a few minutes before the sun drops below the horizon. Finding an optimal viewpoint to capture this event can be tricky as some elevation gain is ideal compared to being on the valley floor and having as much of a side view as possible helps amplify the perceived glow through the falls. Having arrived around noon we had plenty of time to study Google Earth, trail maps, and make a plan before sunset. While making lunch near the car I made my first image of the trip. A 600mm black and white telephoto shot of Upper Yosemite Falls.

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857418508-VLIMFPBIUW7DJDJO59OT/_TJH8889-A-EXsml.jpg
Upper Yosemite Falls B&W Telephoto - February 2023

I love the almost abstract look of this scene and the contrasting textures between the falling water and the granite stone. Black and white just felt right for this image. Later I would find out we arrived on Ansel Adams 121st birthday by sheer coincidence.

After lunch we prepped our equipment and began hiking west towards the trailhead. Most of the valley, especially on the south side where we were, is in shadow this time of year. Fresh snow hadn't yet fallen on this trip and the snow that was on the trail had been packed down, thawed, and refrozen into slick ice. Each of our camera packs loaded with equipment, water, and a few snacks weighed in at nearly 40 pounds. Matt even had 3 tripods along for the trek. With the use of ice crampons on our boots we were able to begin our upward ascent. After hiking uphill for about a mile we broke away from the trail and began sidehilling westward through the forest over snow and rock on a steep slope trying to reach a large boulder wash we had found using Google Earth. This would give us the best chance for a view as everywhere else was blocked by trees. After about 30 minutes of navigating the steep rocky snow covered terrain we reached the wash and climbed up on some rocks where we got our first view of Horsetail Falls. This spot would work.

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857424607-04Z7WBJ7JSCF9QH8SR4Q/20230220_170439EXsml.jpg
Cellphone picture of our shooting location in the boulder wash as we waited and hoped for the Firefall. To the right of Matt's tripods is a vertical drop of about 30 feet. In the distance you can see El Capitan and Horsetail Falls beginning to catch light.

Now it was just a waiting game and high hopes that the right conditions would fall into place and produce the Firefall. After about another hour and a couple hand warmers later that narrow sliver of light we had hoped for began to shine on the falls and intensify in color. The conditions were perfect and this image was made in the last 60 seconds of sunlight as it skimmed across and through the falls:

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857419610-YZVOKBIXR6XTP84ANJ1T/_TJH9059AEXsml.jpg
Yosemite Firefall - February 2023

The tighter framing on this shot was something I had envisioned prior to leaving on the trip. Although the wider scene was certainly beautiful as well I chose to make the image more about the Firefall and the contrast between the warm sunlight in the water and the cooler tones of the cliff in shadow. Again, an almost abstract like quality. For a sense of scale, the falls is 8,000ft (1.52 miles) away from our shooting location.

A significant snowstorm was expected to arrive mid morning the following day but studying the forecast there was a chance for clear skies to our east just prior to sunrise before clouds were expected to roll in. This time of year the Galactic Center of the Milky Way is just beginning to make its appearance in the night sky for the season. The way Yosemite Valley is oriented you aren't able to see the main core of the Milky Way from the valley floor as it is just out view to the south blocked by the high cliffs, however a good portion of the Galactic Center region is still visible. With the chance of an astrophotography opportunity we decided to set an alarm for 4:00AM and peak out of the canvas cabin we were staying in. If we saw stars, we would go. If not, we'd sleep for another couple hours waking for sunrise instead. The alarm went off, I stuck my head outside and looked upward to a dark sky full of stars. With that we turned on our headlamps and began suiting up for the 19 degree morning.
We arrived at the Yosemite Valley View viewpoint along the Merced River around 4:40AM and quickly began setting up our compositions as the window of time to capture the Milky Way before the light of dawn fades the stars and night sky to blue is very short in February. I use several special techniques to capture as much available light and image quality as possible in the darkness. Each technique requires more time than a simple single exposure. Thankfully I was able to capture my sky images in complete darkness but as I began my nearly 6 minute long single exposure for shadow detail a car drove by on Southside Drive effectively ruining that exposure. I started a second exposure and about halfway through another car pulled up and parked a short distance from us leaving their headlights on. Again, another wrecked imaged. Once they turned off their lights I started a third long exposure. This time the person who parked the car nearby came walking right up to us with a bright headlamp. Despite us asking him to turn off his light he didn't. After a brief conversation with him we learned that he assumed we were getting ready for sunrise and he was completely ignorant to the concept of night photography. Now we were rapidly running out of night but with our new friend now enlightened to our need for darkness I was able to squeeze in one last and successful long exposure necessary for the shadow detail and this image is the final result:

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857420401-8LQDRZ75N0N74OVF6UHK/_TJH9138-B-SML-II+ExSML.jpg
Yosemite Valley Milky Way - February 2023

With a successful night shoot in the bag we headed towards Tunnel View. Once there we put on our crampons and began climbing the icy trail in twilight towards Artist Point. While hiking the trail we noticed clouds blowing in and obstructing the brighter planets, the only sources of light now left in the dawn sky. We couldn't believe our luck. We had just been shooting stars in a clear sky less than an hour earlier and now it looked like we might get a colorful sunrise too. We pressed on, hiking as quickly as possible trying to reach a vantage point clear of the trees. After about a mile of steep ascent loaded down with gear we finally reached a break in the trees in time for sunrise. I leveled my tripod and setup for a panorama. 10 minutes later this image was made:

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857420971-0O7IHOX0VOYXVEGNO8XC/_TJH9229-Pano-A-EXSML.jpg
Yosemite Valley Sunrise Panorama - February 2023

If you compare the rock features from this shot to the night sky image above you'll see this is looking the same direction. Taken just 90 minutes apart, I still can't believe the luck and difference in conditions.

After the sunrise shoot we headed back to our canvas tent/cabin at Curry Village for breakfast, showers, and a mid morning nap. Around 12pm we were awakened by park staff explaining that we were being evacuated from Curry Village immediately due to inbound heavy snow and high winds expected to arrive in the valley around 3pm. The tent campground had been evacuated as well. The concern was that the snow and winds could bring down trees and crush tent campers and folks in the canvas tent/cabins like us. After hauling our belongings back to the car we now had to find a place to stay outside of the park. Thankfully we found the Cedar Lodge in El Portal along Highway 140 just 30 minutes outside of the park. They offered us a discount due to the misfortune of being displaced from the park and the hotel room ended up being less expensive than the tent/cabin in Curry Village and a lot warmer I might add. Having electricity was also a nice treat for charging batteries, etc.

The next morning we arrived in the park after sunrise as we didn't expect any color due to the cloud cover. We were greeted with a fresh coat of snow and small breaks in the clouds allowing for dappled light to drift across the cliffs. Yosemite Valley View was one of the closest viewpoints so naturally we went there first. Standing on a snow covered log to gain a little elevation and carefully balancing my tripod I was able to capture this panorama:

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857421853-S1KWK0VYYN3ZV7ENV7R4/_TJH9444-Pano-E-EXSML.jpg
Yosemite Valley View Winter Morning Panorama - February 2023

Shooting on an already high megapixel camera when these panorama images are stitched together the resolution and image quality is stunning. This particular panorama ended up being a 62X31 inch file at 300PPI before any resizing.

As the day went on we drove lap after lap around the park in ever changing conditions, periodically making short hikes at various viewpoints and many more images were made. Around 2pm we happened upon a coyote hunting gofers in the El Capitan Meadow. I switched to my 200-600mm lens and began watching and photographing the coyote. It wandered closer as it zigzagged back and forth, eventually after a short pause and some careful listening it made it's pounce on an unsuspecting gofer. I was fortunate enough to capture these images:

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857422448-K0640FRP84ANNAGI2BI9/_TJH9835-EXsml.jpg

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857423000-LFF516CDWPS29U764S3Y/_TJH9837-EXsml.jpg

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857423588-9VY3E6ZOES4CDVTXE7PC/_TJH9839-EXsml.jpg

After the midday coyote shoot the snow began falling again and we revisited Yosemite Valley View again. I put on some hip waders and ventured out into the Merced River to get a little closer to some foreground elements and came away with this image:

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857417939-278NJTC77X0VZBRSSBKJ/_TJH0446-EXSML.jpg
As I stood thigh deep in the water moderate sized pieces of slush drifted downstream and through my tripod legs. It was a great experience.

Later that day the snowfall began to intensify and on our final lap around the valley we stumbled upon another coyote (or maybe the same one) and although the light had mostly gone and the snowfall was now nearing blizzard conditions I attempted to make some images. Most were blurry due to the slow shutter speed in low light while handholding the camera but the few that turned out were pure magic in the wet heavy snow.

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857626184-9AFMEMK4CTAPWZMVMCYX/_TJH0032-EXSML.jpg

https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bcf5d15d86cc90a48a75fc6/1677857625762-HAK4B095U6893UI52B0S/_TJH0129-EXsml.jpg

Image critique on these captures is always welcome.

Thanks!

Tim

Edited on Mar 03, 2023 at 02:50 PM · View previous versions



Mar 03, 2023 at 10:57 AM
cambyses
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Very nice... Both the pictures and the commentary...TFS...


Mar 03, 2023 at 11:35 AM
The Rat
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


These are fantastic shots! Solid work all around.


Mar 03, 2023 at 01:04 PM
Jim Dockery
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Nice work. You certainly had a productive trip. Thanks for sharing.


Mar 03, 2023 at 02:00 PM
mike reid
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Nicely done and nice commentary


Mar 03, 2023 at 02:47 PM
psharvic
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Excellent work and very enjoyable commentary.


Mar 03, 2023 at 03:05 PM
jr200
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Great set of images!


Mar 03, 2023 at 03:47 PM
Sunny Sra
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Tim,
Excellent work and the stories behind it. Really liking the valley view shot with the foreground element. Thanks for sharing these.



Mar 03, 2023 at 04:20 PM
blueshadows
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


The photographs are a delicious cake, the stories behind them the perfect icing…any luck you had was earned. Wonderful variety, just-right compositions, weather, wildlife…an easy vote for me.


Mar 03, 2023 at 07:05 PM
LovePG
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Incredible images, and commentary ads still another dimension.


Mar 03, 2023 at 07:58 PM
J. Pow
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Great set!

Joel



Mar 04, 2023 at 08:35 AM
DubB20
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Gorgeous photos! Had a trip planned for May that fell through, but hoping to make it sometime soon!


Mar 04, 2023 at 09:20 AM
newyork
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Absolutely phenomenal set!


Mar 04, 2023 at 09:53 AM
KarmaKramer
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Great photos. I particularly like the fox minimized in the foreground with the background trees. Thats buenos.


Mar 04, 2023 at 09:57 AM
keepclicking
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Tim, what an incredible trip! I always love reading the backstory as it connects me as a viewer to your images. Fantastic photography and hats off to braving the cold weather to get the fire fall image. Fantastic set and it definitely earns my vote 👍🏻


Mar 04, 2023 at 12:18 PM
bmike-vt
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Lovely images. And good stories.

I’m curious what your ‘special technique’ for the Milky Way image is…



Mar 04, 2023 at 02:43 PM
Chuck Eklund
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Great set. I really like your Valley View shot.

Chuck



Mar 04, 2023 at 05:45 PM
RZ350
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Great shots. Awesome story. Spelling correction gophers. Actually the coyote was capturing voles. Still, right place, right time.


Mar 04, 2023 at 08:19 PM
Craig Gillette
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


Beautiful. And a matter of days later, so much snow has fallen, the park is closed!



Mar 04, 2023 at 11:01 PM
Tim Hallam
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Yosemite Firefall and Winter Scenes


cambyses wrote:
Very nice... Both the pictures and the commentary...TFS...


Thank you!



Mar 06, 2023 at 09:55 AM
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