First Time Photographing Horsetail Falls

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NikonMan09 Regular Member • Posts: 494
First Time Photographing Horsetail Falls

On Feb. 22 my wife and I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time since we moved to the San Diego area in June 2019. I was fortunate enough to secure a reservation for this date and we went for the main purpose of photographing the fire fall effect of Horsetail Falls on the southeast face of El Capitan. Because of crowd problems in past years, the viewing area was restricted to the El Capitan picnic area and points east. We happened upon a good view on the south side of Northside Drive quite a bit east of the picnic area. They had one lane of Northside Drive blocked off for pedestrians to walk to and from the viewing sites.

I was conservative in my photographic approach since we never experienced this phenomenon before. I used a Nikon D7500 with my oldest lens, the Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VR, mounting the lens tripod foot to the tripod. Once I had the camera leveled for horizontal composition (I used a hot shoe level), I could easily and precisely rotate the camera and lens for vertical composition and back by loosening the lens tripod collar. Also to avoid adjusting the ballhead, I stuck with composition centering the main subject. I shot RAW, manual exposure, ASA 100, Landscape Picture Control with +5 sharpening and +1 saturation. For most of the pictures I set the WB manually to 5600. I used Live View to frame, expose, focus, and shoot, and also set up the exposure delay mode. I used a Nikon wired remote to fire the camera. My wife also took handheld shots with a Nikon D7200 and a Nikon 16-85 F3.5-5.6VR similarly set up. We even did some cell phone shots.

I used the Nikon Capture NX-D (CNX-D) program to process my RAWss and convert them to JPEG. I used Lightroom to add a watermark to the JPEGS.

This vertical shot I consider my best of the shoot. In CNX-D I changed the WB to 7500.

My favorite horizontal shot was this one, shot earlier than the one above (-1/3 EC in CNX-D). Because the sun was higher, the color of the falls is brighter.

Or, maybe this one:

Here is a hand-held horizontal my wife shot with the D7200 showing more a rule of thirds composition in placing the falls (-2/3 EC and WB 7500 adjustment in CNX-D):

The remaining photos I am showing to provide some more context pertaining to this phenomenon.

First, is a crude, wide shot with my Samsung Galaxy S10 showing our viewing area, the falls, and the sun.

The first shot I took around 5:00 p.m. We arrived at our viewing area approximately 10 minutes before. This shows what the falls looks like a bit too early.

A few minutes later, I got a shot where a gust of wind blew a great mist over the falls. I felt this was a good one to convert to B&W with a red filter adjustment. (Ansel Adam's best shot of the falls was a vertical composition emphasizing the mist. It was Galen Rowell's color photography in the 1970's that really launched this phenomenon as a tourist attraction.)

Here is a vertical shot taken approximately at sunset, showing what the fall looked like as the show was ending.

Finally, I end with a polished shot my wife took with my cellphone, which I processed in-phone to give an approximate -1/3 EC. It is amazing how cell phone cameras have improved over the years, but they are no substitute for a real camera!

Most photos I have seen of this phenomenon did not show well the position of the fall on El Capitan. A desire to clearly show the position of the fall on the rock greatly influenced my photographic approach. I was really excited to be able to finally photograph this phenomenon!

Feel free to comment and post your own shots of Horsetail Falls.

Enjoy and go shoot!

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Shot Minolta SLR/DSLR and Sony DSLR 1978-2008. Switched to Nikon in 2009.

 NikonMan09's gear list:NikonMan09's gear list
Nikon D7200 Nikon D7500 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm F1.8G +11 more
Nikon D7200 Nikon D7500
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