El Capitan & His Fiery Horesetail

Location: Yosemite National Park, California
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 56mm | f/8 | 1/8s | ISO 100

What a spectactular natural phtenomenon! It was truly mesmerizing. Until a few years back, I didn’t even know such a natural phenomenon happened year after year. When I heard about it, I wanted to do it. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it last year. This year, I definitely wanted to try.

The ‘Natural Firefall’ is one of Yosemite National Park’s most amazing spectacles. Around the second week of February, the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall at just the right angle to illuminate the upper reaches of the waterfall. And when conditions are perfect, Horsetail Fall glows orange and red at sunset.

We planned a trip to Yosemite National Park specifically to catch the Firefall. However, when we actually started our journey, we had very little hope that we’d see this spectacular event as the conditions didn’t seem promising. Throughout the day, we didn’t even think about the Firefall as 1) the water flow on the Horsetail Falls seemed too low and 2) conditions didn’t seem right for the falls to light up. Until the very last minute (literally), we were debating if we should try our luck or just go to the famous Tunnel View for Sunset.

We decided to stick around to see if the magic happens. Now the question was where do we setup our tripods to watch the firefall. We stopped our car a bit far from one of the well known locations – El Capitan Picnic area. There was a small opening close to where we parked our car. Even though there were trees all around, there was enough of an opening to get some good shots and catch the firefall.

We decided to walk close to the El Capitan Picnic area to see if that would offer a better view. When we went there, a couple of us felt that the water flow seemed to appear higher from the location close to where we parked. So, we decided to walk back to that spot.

When we initially came to this spot, there weren’t anyone ‘occupying’ this spot. When we returned, the place was pretty packed. We still got spot to setup our tripods. Then the waiting game began. No one knew whether or not it would light up. Sunset was around 5:25 and around 5:15 there was no hint of it lighting up. But all of a sudden, we saw the lower part of the falls light up. We immediately knew it was happening.

I dialed in my setting, focused on Waterfall and started shooting. I paused to enjoy the show and not just see it through my viewfinder. I also took a few photos and videos on my Phone and sent it to Sowmya. She was so happy that I got to experience the Firefall. Looking at the camera, I knew I got some good shots that were sharp and in focus.

In terms of processing, I didn’t add any color. The falls naturally lights up and even with just the naked eye you can see that colors. I only enhanced the Vibrance and Saturation a bit.

I am so glad we decided to stick around. It was a great show! It happened at the last minute and it only lasted for a few minutes but the memory will last a lifetime.


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