Yosemite Falls Moonbow

Behind the scenes of this photo


Taken from halfway up the 4 Mile trail in Yosemite Valley on April 13th, 2014

The Yosemite Falls Moonbow is one of those rare visual phenomena that attracts visitors and photographers from around the world. Each spring the waterfalls in the park gush with snow melt and release vast plumes of spray into the air. Which means that when the moon is full (or nearly so) during the months of April, May, and June, it sits at the perfect geometry and shines with a bright enough light to cause a rainbow to appear in the mist of the falls. Now, moonbows can actually be seen on any waterfall where there’s enough spray and you can get the alignment right. But because the Yosemite Falls Moonbow is so grandiose and only happens a handful of days a year it has become one of the most famous moonbows worldwide.

In April of 2014 I wanted to capture the Yosemite Falls Moonbow from a unique vantage point, rather than from the typical viewing area up near the base of the lower falls. Any rainbow appears directly opposite from its light source, in an arc 42 degrees out from the direction of the light. Because the full moon was so high in the sky on the night I shot this the moonbow was going to appear fairly low. Meaning that if I wanted any chance of seeing the moonbow on the upper section of Yosemite Falls, it meant that I had to get high up along the south rim of Yosemite Valley.

So at 9 pm I packed up my camera gear and hiked up the 4 Mile trail, a steep path that leads from the Valley floor to Glacier Point, some 3,000 feet higher. About halfway up the trail I found a clearing in the brush with an outstanding view of the entirety of Yosemite Falls. The moonbow is often faint, or even invisible to the human eye, only appearing in the camera after a long exposure. So I took a quick test shot from my vantage point and lo and behold: there was the Yosemite Falls Moonbow, shining out brilliantly. I spent the next few minutes tweaking my composition and dialing in my camera’s settings, then watched and shot for the next hour as the falls danced and swayed in the wind and the moonbow shimmered in the mist below.

View more beautiful Yosemite photos.

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