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Light Lava

Horsetail Fall in Yosemite is a highly coveted scene by nature photographers from all over the world.  It is difficult to capture, and only happens when Nature decides to combine a handful of conditions.  First photographed by Ansel Adams in black and white, and then popularized by Galen Rowell’s color image in 1973, this phenomenon draws thousands of spectators to Yosemite each year who try to catch a glimpse of light in rare form.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, each photographer puts their own stamp on this phenomenon.  It becomes almost like a workshop, with established photographers and hobbyists alike crowding around visual hot spots, trying to capture the emotion of the scene in their own way.  After four days of shooting from various locations around the Yosemite Valley, I finally found my own sweet spot to make this image when the light was peaking at its best.

Preparation was the key in making this image.  The photograph was made in 1/10 of a second, but I had been planning this shot for a few years now.  Unfortunately, the California drought has made this “natural firefall” more rare.  I heard other photographers talking about spending 6-10 years waiting for the right conditions to capture it, but this was our year.  With more snow-pack melting than in recent history, a clear sky, and the sun setting at the right angle, the fall finally lit up.

I have been visualizing what my own take on Rowell’s image might look like for a few years, but still wasn’t sure what the final photograph would look like until I started shooting.  Switching from a 300 to 200 mm lens allowed me to capture the top of the mountain peak, also lit by the sun.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this more, and for me it adds to the composition as a vertical panoramic.  The final composition is also divided into diagonal thirds with the sky and forward sweeping ridge line forming 45 degree angles, which would rarely work for a nature scene.  In this one however, I find it pleasing, yet as visually stimulating as the “Light Lava” itself.

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