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Horsetail Fall Reflection, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 17 December 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Horsetail Fall is a Yosemite winter phenomenon that draws photographers from all over the world. A show like this is only possible in February (the light is also right in October, but the fall is usually bone dry then), when sunset light strikes El Capitan at just the right angle, backlighting Horsetail (barely a trickle even in the wettest years) with warmth.

Most Horsetail Fall images are taken beneath the fall, from the picnic area on Northside Drive. I like this perspective from a little upstream and across the river. In my February 2 post I shared a tight (more conventional) composition of Horsetail Fall from this location. But on this visit I wanted something a little different and went wide and vertical to include the river.

This composition gives a little more perspective than the standard (albeit more dramatic) telephoto composition. Here you can get a sense for the shadow that sweeps across the face of El Capitan as the sun drops toward the horizon. The shadow starts near El Capitan's nose and moves toward the fall; as the shadow expands, the remaining light warms to amber, then pink, and finally (if you're lucky), crimson. At its peak, just before the light disappears entirely, Horsetail Fall resembles molten lava streaming down El Capitan.

The problem with photographing Horsetail Fall is that there are no guarantees. The sun needs an unobstructed horizon at sunset and I've been there many times when everything appeared to be setting up perfectly, only to watch the light extinguished by some unseen cloud in the distance. I've also been there when it didn't look like anything was going to happen at all, then been awed by a last minute show when the sun peeked beneath the unseen obstructing cloud.

Some Februarys Horsetail Fall puts on its show many times; other years it doesn't happen at all. In 2008 it happened more than half of the evenings I was there; in 2009 it happened only once the entire month. (Fortunately, when it doesn't happen it usually means there are lots of clouds and all the other photography is great.)

To say Horsetail Fall has become a photographers' phenomenon would be an understatement. Each year thousands of photographers from around the world flock to Yosemite hoping to capture it. My Horsetail Fall workshop has become one of my most popular (even without Horsetail it's a great time to photograph Yosemite), and I usually have to add a second one when the first fills. (2010 is no exception, as my first workshop filled several months ago and I did indeed add a second.) But workshop or not, do yourself a favor and add Horsetail Fall to your list of things to do before you die.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

What a beautiful landscape , beautiful light and refflections

17 Dec 2009 5:55am

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

Incredibly serene and soothing.

17 Dec 2009 6:50am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Another fantastic blend between warm and cold colors. The composition is fantatsic, and I love the mirror in the water.

17 Dec 2009 9:31am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow... these reflections are great !!! What a magnificent composition !

17 Dec 2009 11:18am

Joan Felix from Jakarta, Indonesia

Great reflection .. love it.. Nice Shot

17 Dec 2009 1:02pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Awesome Gary! I absolutely love this perspective! It gives Horestail more of a sense of place than we are used to seeing. This really proves that no matter how many times you see or photograph a place, there is always something new to find! I am awestruck by this!

17 Dec 2009 1:13pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. That's an important lesson that I was originally going to make the point of this post, but then I got on a tangent (as I often do), so I'll have to save it for another day.

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

This is beautiful and although your "tight shot" is dramatic, I do really like this broader view with a greater perspective of what's going on around El Capitan.

17 Dec 2009 3:33pm

@Judy: I haven't decided which I like better, and experience has told me to give each image a little time before making any rash decisions (like printing and framing it large). But I'm always interested in hearing what others think, so thanks.

Mike from California, United States

Hey Gary...Another unique capture ! Shot from a different location, great color and a very nice reflection in the river.

17 Dec 2009 7:34pm

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

I love this composition, Gary. The placement of the tree on the right adds visual interest. Great capture on the light!

17 Dec 2009 9:07pm

Barbara from Oakland, United States

Yes, it is definitely on my bucket list! Gary, I love the warm tones in this photo. It feels almost like a painting, and the reflection, which nicely divides your photo in half, works so well.

17 Dec 2009 9:07pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

superb composition and light! that golden glow is wonderful and catches the eye instantly... what an amazing place!

18 Dec 2009 2:47am

Levi Cusio from West Vancouver, Canada

postcard perfect photo! so majestic and serene. would love to be there right now and just meditate. love it!

18 Dec 2009 5:12am

zahra from shiraz, Iran

wow,very nice.

18 Dec 2009 5:49am

Babzy from Besançon, France

Always enchanted by your shots!

18 Dec 2009 7:01am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

I think my preference for this shot is that reminds me of our one visit there, where the tight shot is more of a dramatic image rather than a memory, if that makes any sense. :D

18 Dec 2009 1:12pm

kate from lincolnshire, United Kingdom

hi, this stunning of course~~ I also love the golden light in the rock face georgous!!
and the reflected light on the water:)

18 Dec 2009 6:04pm

Don Smith from California, United States

I like that you found a new twist on presenting Horsetail Falls Gary. As you and I have both seen over the past 5 years, Horsetail has become a quest for photographers from around the world. I think everyone (myself included) gets so fixated on the falls when/if that elusive light shows, that they forget about varying the compositions. You had obviously pre-visualized this image and were prepared when the beautiful light arrived. Well done.

19 Dec 2009 2:37pm

fabrizio from Rome, Italy

absolutely fantastic very very nice

19 Dec 2009 4:06pm

Lambspun from Madison, Maine, United States

El Capitan looks painted up with a red sun shining on it and the snow trimming the pool of water below.....beautiful shot!

20 Dec 2009 6:03am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Beautiful photo, love it!

23 Dec 2009 10:52pm

Marie from FRESNES, France

c'est magique, ici, superbe !!!

4 Jan 2010 9:55pm