Blog - Aaron Meyers

Aaron Meyers

Aaron Meyers is a landscape and wedding photographer living in Silicon Valley, CA. Though trained as an electrical engineer at the University of Michigan, Aaron is never happier than when in possession of a good camera and a great view. His love of the outdoors makes for frequent forays into the Californian wilds, where he delights in the stunning vistas of Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, and the Pacific Coast - but it was in Vancouver, British Columbia that (with the help of a pod of orcas and his dad's old Canon AE-1) he first learned to combine his love of nature with a talent for snapping pictures ... He's been hooked ever since.

Though it was the enticing beauty of the natural world that first drew Aaron into photography, he has come to appreciate some of life's other treasures as well, and has since widened his aperture to include a passion for photographing events and weddings. No longer content to merely capture the beauty of a breaking wave or piercing sky, he strives also to capture the moment when lives are joined and joys bestowed; moments that can be cherished and remembered in their fullest and most perfect light. As a photographer of reunions, wedding rehearsals, ceremonies, and receptions, Aaron has earned the high esteem of his clients and is always eager for his next assignment.

Thanks again for visiting the site! Aaron hopes you enjoy his photos and encourages you to visit again soon to catch the shots from his latest travels. If you see a photo you particularly love, please know that all photos posted on this site are available for sale. Also, Aaron always takes many more pictures than are actually posted here, so if you're looking for something in particular please feel free to ask. You can also find him on Facebook, and Flickr.
  • 2020-01-24T15:06:59Z

    Horsetail Falls 2020 Date & Time Predictions (Yosemite National Park)

    For 2020 Yosemite instituted some new rules, especially pertaining to viewing locations and parking. See more information below.

    Last year I posted the times for the Horsetail Fire Falls event and discovered hundreds of people had found my blog and printed out the times! Thank you all for finding my post and taking advantage! I’ll continue to post them for each year.

    Scroll down for the 2020 times…

    Each year thousands of photographers visit Yosemite National Park in hopes of seeing the famous ”Fire Falls” event at Horsetail Falls. Horsetail Falls is a seasonal waterfall that only flows after rain or as the snow melts above El Capitan. It’s located on the west side of El Capitan and can be viewed from a number of locations. This event occurs when the sun is in just the right spot to reflect off the granite behind the waterfall and cause it to light up. The sun also needs to be close to the horizon to give off its orange light and thus turn the waterfall orange. It’s amazing how much like fire and lava the water becomes! The event starts around Valentines Day each year and continues for about 2 weeks.

    Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016
    Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016

    Everyone always asks me when the best time to view the Horsetail Fire Falls will be, and more importantly, when to photograph it. Each year I calculate when this will happen and here’s the breakdown for 2020.

    As a reminder:

    • There needs to be water in the waterfall.
    • There needs to be a clear night where the clouds to the west won’t block the sun from hitting the waterfall.
    • Arrive early as there will be many people in the park and parking spots are limited.

    Sunset for 2020:

    Predicted date and times for Sunset Horsetail Falls, 2020

    Where to See/Photograph Horsetail Falls:

    Horsetail width =

    There are 3 popular locations (click the link for Google Maps and GPS coordinates) that can be easily accessed to view and photograph Horsetail Falls on fire.

    However, f0r 2020 they have closed all Southside Drive locations. Photographers are not allowed between the river and the road due to negative impacts to the environment. As a result, I will only talk about the 1 location.

    Also note: The park service no longer allows parking near the photograph locations. You will need to park at Yosemite Falls parking area, or on Northside Drive along El Capitan Straight.

    1. El Capitan picnic area (on Northside Drive). This is the most popular (click to see Michael Chang’s photo) and most crowded view of Horsetail Falls. This is where Galen Rowell took his famous ”Natural Firefall” photo. This location provides the closest view, but it’s further east and a harsher angle and is better in late February (perhaps the last week of the Fire Falls as the sunset moves east). You can get some great photos from here but it is recommended to go further east during the early week of the Fire Falls and to hit this spot at a later week.

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 41.82”, -119° 37’ 13.62”

    Rules for 2020:

    In 2018 there was a lottery system for parking spots close to the viewing spots. In 2019 these rules were not reinforced. New rules were installed for 2020, particularly:

    • The only location to witness Horsetail Falls will be along Northside drive, near the El Capitan Picnic Grounds
    • You cannot park, stop, or unload passengers on Southside Drive
    • Viewers cannot stand near the river on Southside Drive. You must view from Northside drive.

    From the NPS:

    Due to the popularity of the event, restrictions will be in effect from February 14 through 27, 2020 daily from noon to 7 pm. To view Horsetail Fall, park at Yosemite Falls parking (just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge) and walk 1.5 miles (each way) to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. Northside Drive will have one lane closed to vehicles so pedestrians can walk on the road between the viewing area and Yosemite Falls parking. Bring warm clothes and a headlamp or flashlight. Parking, stopping, or unloading passengers will be prohibited between Camp 4 and El Capitan Crossover. Vehicles displaying a disability placard will be allowed to drive to El Capitan Picnic Area and park in turnouts on the north side of Northside Drive.

    Southside Drive will be open to vehicles, but parking, stopping, and unloading passengers will be prohibited between El Capitan Crossover to Swinging Bridge Picnic Area. Pedestrians will also be prohibited from traveling on or adjacent to the road in this area. From Cathedral Beach Picnic Area to Sentinel Beach Picnic Area, the area between the road and the Merced River will also be closed to all entry.

    El Capitan Crossover (the road connecting Northside and Southside Drives near El Capitan) will be open to vehicles, but parking, stopping, and unloading passengers will be prohibited.

    No permit or reservation is required to view Horsetail Fall.

    https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/horsetailfall.htm

    What to Bring:

    • Your camera (obviously), preferably an SLR, but a point-and-shoot with a longer zoom will work too.
    • A telephoto lens (100-200mm lens is enough. Full Frame cameras may want a 300mm lens).
    • A sturdy tripod (I used a crappy tripod and had some small shake from the heavy lens).
    • Cable release/remote control shutter (to avoid camera shake).
    • Warm clothes (layers, gloves, hat, sweatshirt, jacket, etc).
    • Flashlight (for after sunset).
    • Lawn chair (to sit on while you wait for sunset).
    • Snacks/Food/Water.

    Recommended Settings:

    • Mode: Aperture Priority (you have a tripod to allow for slow shutter speeds and you want to make sure you have a good depth of field).
    • Aperture: Use the sharpest aperture for your lens (typically around f/8). Once you have a couple good shots you can start to play around with other apertures.
    • Focal Length: A focal length of about 100-150 should be enough (150-225mm on a full frame dSLR).
    • ISO: Lowest ”standard” ISO, to ensure the least amount of noise.
    • White Balance: Auto White-Balance. You’ll probably warm it up in post-processing.
    • Focus: Manual focus with Live-View (if available). Many photographers had trouble getting clear shots because autofocus couldn’t be obtained or it focused on the mist and not on the rocks. Turn on manual focus and image stabilization (vibration reduction on Nikon), zoom as far in as you can on live view, and manually adjust the focus until it is sharpest then turn-off image stabilization and LiveView.
    • Shutter: use a remote shutter release. It will decrease the chance of motion blur.
    • Mirror-Lockup: If you need to, use mirror-lockup to reduce motion blur. I had a crappy tripod and this was needed to get better shots.
    • Exposure Compensation: Under expose your photo. The falls are really bright and can cause a slightly overexposed photo if shooting in Matrix Metering. I found a darker image with dark granite looked best and you’ll also get a faster shutter speed and thus sharper photo.
    • Use 14-bit RAW images if you have the option. Don’t shoot in JPEG.

    Tips for Shooting Horsetail Falls:

    • Scope out the locations before hand and choose your favorite spot.
    • The sunset starts out on the west side of the rocks during early February and progressively moves east (from left to right in the photos). If you want to see the falls all lit up in the early ”Fire Falls” season, go further east. As the sunset moves east you can move east (towards picnic grounds) to get good shots. See Steve Thuman’s shot for an example of going too early in February.
    • You need to shoot this at an angle to get the falls on fire. The “Fire Falls” effect is created because the granite rocks face east/west and happens to reflect the February sunset. This reflection then backlights the waterfalls. Too much water and it blocks the sunset from hitting the falls. Too far west and you aren’t at an angle to see the sunset reflecting off the rocks onto the water.
    • Get there early! People started showing up at the picnic grounds by 2pm and at the Southside Dr location by 2:30. Parking is limited and you can get a $300 ticket for parking on the street!
    • Don’t get stressed if you do not see much water on the falls. The mist will light up beautifully. In fact, from the picnic grounds we couldn’t see any water but they still got a great Fire Falls!
    • Re-adjust your focus a couple minutes before sunset is supposed to start. The dropping temperatures will change your focus.
    • A really sturdy tripod is recommended. Add some weight under the center column if you can. Shutter speeds will be less than a 10th of a second and even the slightest movement can ruin your shots.
    • An L bracket on your tripod can be handy for stabilization when shooting in portrait orientation. Some lenses have a slip ring that can rotate 90º to allow you to do this without an L bracket (for example both Canon/Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses do this).
    • You do not need a polarizer. The light is soft and the polarizer didn’t do anything to enhance the photo.
    • Take a couple practice shots before hand so you can figure out your settings and make sure everything is super sharp.
    • The snow/ice that you’re standing on can be really slippery when the sun sets. There are lot of dried pine-needles on the ground so take a bunch and put it on the ground below you to provide some extra traction.
    • Be patient! You’ll be sitting outside for a while so make friends with the other photographers, ask em for tips, and just have fun!

    View my Photos from Here:

  • 2019-12-19T13:25:46Z

    Little Red Walking Hood
    Little Red Walking Hood - photo of the Redwood trees

    Willie and I have always wanted to visit the big Redwood trees, and although we have a few near us in Santa Cruz, there’s nothing like the big old original growth forests up in Northern California. David decided to fly in and join us, so we picked him up at the airport and off we drove.

    There aren’t really any hotels around Humboldt County State Park, so we brought our camping gear and setup for a few days of photography in the park. We knew of a few groves of trees we wanted to visit, especially because of the beautiful sorrel growth underneath them. Sorrel is similar to clovers except different — so when we found a “4-leaf clover” it turns out it wasn’t lucky (sad)!

    For sunrise we woke up and visited this particular grove. As the sun came up it hit this particular patch of sorrel perfectly to cause the little path to glow. We all crowded around and enjoyed the sunrise view.

    D800 w/Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8:
    24mm, f/11, 0.4 sec, ISO 100

    Available for purchase at Aaron M Photography

  • 2019-12-09T11:51:09Z

    Arctic Swallow

    I always had said that Iceland was the most beautiful place I had been … until I visited Norway. Andy, Rebecca and I made our first trip in 2017 and were blown away how every turn in the road led to some more amazing view. The fjords with their mountain peaks, snow, and waves are just breathtaking. We ended our first visit by spending 2 days backcountry skiing in the Lofoton mountains, which proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. Since then we’ve trained ourselves to avoid Avalanches (as best we can), purchased backcountry ski touring equipment, and planned return trips. We returned in 2019 to do the reverse: ski 5 days and then sightsee for 2.

    Our 5 days of skiing were wonderful. Andy, Amanda, Eric, our guides and I climbed some amazing mountains and had days of great skiing. The views continue to blow my mind. Unlike last trip (which had great weather), this trip had rainy/snowy weather every day. I barely took the camera out because it was so gray. Our sightseeing days were no different, with rain consuming most of the day.

    I had previously seen a photo from Mike Mezuel from a beach near here that I thought was just superb. On our way to our cabin we passed by the beach and I knew I had to stop. The storm seemed as if it was breaking up and I grabbed my tripod so I could capture the wave movements with the ominous clouds. Rather than shooting ultra-wide like I normally do, I wanted to zoom in a little to make sure I didn’t make these beautiful mountain-peaks feel so teeny.

    D850 w/Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8:
    21mm, f/22, 1/5 sec, ISO 31

  • 2019-05-14T10:49:43Z

    The Fire is Burning Bright

    “Now that the light is fading
    Silver and purple at twilight
    Scenes of the day remain with us
    Bright as the fire is burning bright
    Blue as the sky above the lake
    And blue the water flowing” -Maggie Rogers

    Just as I was trying to figure out what to title this photo, this song came on and it seemed like perfect inspiration as it captures this morning pretty perfectly! It’s been a quiet year for me, photographically, as I haven’t been out taking photos as much. The skies towards the end of the year started to explode and thanks to Escaype, I was able to get out on a number of occasions, this morning included.

    Willie and I arrived in Santa Cruz pretty early. The sky to the east was burning well before the sun even came up (we call this the “pre-burn”). It was purple for almost a full hour before sunrise. We walked out to the bluffs and spent the next hour shooting pre-burn, the first burn, and then a second burn. In between the light faded, the clouds turned grey, and then blew up in color again. This photo here was taken during the 3rd and final burn (the “2nd burn”).

    I loved how the water crashed around these cliffs, the rock out in the ocean, and the sky lit with color above.

    Nikon D850 w/Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8:
    14mm, f/20, 0.6 sec, ISO 64

  • 2020-01-15T23:36:01Z

    Horsetail Falls 2019 Date & Time Predictions (Yosemite National Park)

    UPDATE: I’ve posted the predictions for 2020 here.

    In 2018 Yosemite instituted some new rules, especially pertaining to parking and to getting to the viewing locations. See more information below.

    Last year I posted the times for the Horsetail Fire Falls event and discovered hundreds of people had found my blog and printed out the times! Thank you all for finding my post and taking advantage! I’ll continue to post them for each year.

    Scroll down for the 2019 times…

    Each year thousands of photographers visit Yosemite National Park in hopes of seeing the famous ”Fire Falls” event at Horsetail Falls. Horsetail Falls is a seasonal waterfall that only flows after rain or as the snow melts above El Capitan. It’s located on the west side of El Capitan and can be viewed from a number of locations. This event occurs when the sun is in just the right spot to reflect off the granite behind the waterfall and cause it to light up. The sun also needs to be close to the horizon to give off its orange light and thus turn the waterfall orange. It’s amazing how much like fire and lava the water becomes! The event starts around Valentines Day each year and continues for about 2 weeks.

    Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016
    Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016

    Everyone always asks me when the best time to view the Horsetail Fire Falls will be, and more importantly, when to photograph it. Each year I calculate when this will happen and here’s the breakdown for 2019. For those of that are savvy and know that this also occurs from the moon, I’ve included the moonlit times as well.

    As a reminder:

    • There needs to be water in the waterfall. Last year we finally had a good year. Let’s pray the rain/snow continues and we get another good Fire Falls year!
    • There needs to be a clear night where the clouds to the west won’t block the sun from hitting the waterfall.
    • Arrive early as there will be many people in the park and parking spots are limited.

    Sunset for 2019:

    Predicted date and times for Sunset Horsetail Falls, 2019

    Moonlit for 2019:

    Moonlit is a bit more complicated because there’s a number of factors at play: the moon needs to be large (mostly full), there needs to be no clouds, and the sun has to be far enough below the horizon that it doesn’t wash out the stars.

    Predicted date and times for Moonset Horsetail Falls, 2019

    There’s a slight chance that you’ll get to see a moonlit falls this year, if the conditions turn out OK.

    • May 16th: Probably not likely. Ideally the moon would be at an Azimuth (position in the sky) between 252° and 258°, however, on May 16th it’ll be at 260°. The elevation of the moon is also a little too high in the sky, though it should still cast the orange/red glow.
    • June 13-15th: These have more ideal conditions but I do not expect Horsetail Falls to have any water.

    Where to See/Photograph Horsetail Falls:

    Horsetail width =

    There are 3 popular locations (click the link for Google Maps and GPS coordinates) that can be easily accessed to view and photograph Horsetail Falls on fire.

    1. El Capitan picnic area (on Northside Drive). This is the most popular (click to see Michael Chang’s photo) and most crowded view of Horsetail Falls. This is where Galen Rowell took his famous ”Natural Firefall” photo. This location provides the closest view, but it’s further east and a harsher angle and is better in late February (perhaps the last week of the Fire Falls as the sunset moves east). You can get some great photos from here but it is recommended to go further east during the early week of the Fire Falls and to hit this spot at a later week. Parking for 2019 is by permit only, so get your reservation ahead-of-time, or be one of the lucky day-of permit winners!

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 41.82”, -119° 37’ 13.62”

    2) Southside Drive, West. This provides the best angle to see the actual waterfalls but from this angle the falls won’t appear to be on fire (see Eloine Chapman’s photo here). The granite rock lights up with a glorious orange glow but it may be disappointing if you’re expecting Fire Falls. I prefer the other 2 shooting locations to this one. There is a parking lot here and then a small hill to walk down.

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 23.30”, -119° 37’ 17.56” (Park at: 37° 43’ 22.11”, -119° 37’ 12.73”) (As of 2018, you can no longer park on Southside Drive)

    3) Southside Drive, East. This is the location where my photo above was taken. This angle is a bit further south east than the Picnic Grounds so you’ll need a slightly longer lens (as you can see, 200mm was enough) but allows you to capture El Capitan and the falls at the same time. This viewing spot also gives you an angle to see the trees and snow above the falls. There’s a small turn-out on both sides of the road just before this spot that can handle about 10 cars. Plan on arriving by 2:30pm if you want a spot. The rangers have been known to swing by this location about 5 minutes before the falls turn on fire and give anyone parked on the road a $300 ticket (so get here early and claim your spot in the pull-out area)!

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 39.84”, -119° 36’ 33.06” (Park at: 37° 43’ 36.74”, -119° 36’ 33.06”)
    (As of 2018, you can no longer park on Southside Drive)

    New Rules starting 2018:

    • In order to control traffic and the massive crowds, Yosemite National park is instituting new rules. Please see their website for the most current information: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/horsetailfall.htm
    • Parking Permits: Parking is no longer allowed on the roads near the viewing locations unless you have one of ~200 permits. See the above link for obtaining a permit.
      • Otherwise you’ll need to park at Day Use Parking, or another one of the approved parking locations and either walk, or take the shuttle to Yosemite Lodge, and walk from there
      • There is no parking on South Side Drive anymore, so your only way to photograph there, is to walk
    • The small parking lots by Swinging Bridge, Sentinal Beach, etc will be closed
    Horsetail Falls Event MapHorsetail Falls Event Map Horsetail Falls Event Map

    What to Bring:

    • Your camera (obviously), preferably an SLR, but a point-and-shoot with a longer zoom will work too.
    • A telephoto lens (100-200mm lens is enough. Full Frame cameras may want a 300mm lens).
    • A sturdy tripod (I used a crappy tripod and had some small shake from the heavy lens).
    • Cable release/remote control shutter (to avoid camera shake).
    • Warm clothes (layers, gloves, hat, sweatshirt, jacket, etc).
    • Flashlight (for after sunset).
    • Lawn chair (to sit on while you wait for sunset).
    • Snacks/Food/Water.

    Recommended Settings:

    • Mode: Aperture Priority (you have a tripod to allow for slow shutter speeds and you want to make sure you have a good depth of field).
    • Aperture: Use the sharpest aperture for your lens (typically around f/8). Once you have a couple good shots you can start to play around with other apertures.
    • Focal Length: A focal length of about 100-150 should be enough (150-225mm on a full frame dSLR).
    • ISO: Lowest ”standard” ISO, to ensure the least amount of noise.
    • White Balance: Auto White-Balance. You’ll probably warm it up in post-processing.
    • Focus: Manual focus with Live-View (if available). Many photographers had trouble getting clear shots because autofocus couldn’t be obtained or it focused on the mist and not on the rocks. Turn on manual focus and image stabilization (vibration reduction on Nikon), zoom as far in as you can on live view, and manually adjust the focus until it is sharpest then turn-off image stabilization and LiveView.
    • Shutter: use a remote shutter release. It will decrease the chance of motion blur.
    • Mirror-Lockup: If you need to, use mirror-lockup to reduce motion blur. I had a crappy tripod and this was needed to get better shots.
    • Exposure Compensation: Under expose your photo. The falls are really bright and can cause a slightly overexposed photo if shooting in Matrix Metering. I found a darker image with dark granite looked best and you’ll also get a faster shutter speed and thus sharper photo.
    • Use 14-bit RAW images if you have the option. Don’t shoot in JPEG.

    Tips for Shooting Horsetail Falls:

    • Scope out the locations before hand and choose your favorite spot.
    • The sunset starts out on the west side of the rocks during early February and progressively moves east (from left to right in the photos). If you want to see the falls all lit up in the early ”Fire Falls” season, go further east. As the sunset moves east you can move east (towards picnic grounds) to get good shots. See Steve Thuman’s shot for an example of going too early in February.
    • You need to shoot this at an angle to get the falls on fire. The “Fire Falls” effect is created because the granite rocks face east/west and happens to reflect the February sunset. This reflection then backlights the waterfalls. Too much water and it blocks the sunset from hitting the falls. Too far west and you aren’t at an angle to see the sunset reflecting off the rocks onto the water.
    • Get there early! People started showing up at the picnic grounds by 2pm and at the Southside Dr location by 2:30. Parking is limited and you can get a $300 ticket for parking on the street!
    • Don’t get stressed if you do not see much water on the falls. The mist will light up beautifully. In fact, from the picnic grounds we couldn’t see any water but they still got a great Fire Falls!
    • Re-adjust your focus a couple minutes before sunset is supposed to start. The dropping temperatures will change your focus.
    • A really sturdy tripod is recommended. Add some weight under the center column if you can. Shutter speeds will be less than a 10th of a second and even the slightest movement can ruin your shots.
    • An L bracket on your tripod can be handy for stabilization when shooting in portrait orientation. Some lenses have a slip ring that can rotate 90º to allow you to do this without an L bracket (for example both Canon/Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses do this).
    • You do not need a polarizer. The light is soft and the polarizer didn’t do anything to enhance the photo.
    • Take a couple practice shots before hand so you can figure out your settings and make sure everything is super sharp.
    • The snow/ice that you’re standing on can be really slippery when the sun sets. There are lot of dried pine-needles on the ground so take a bunch and put it on the ground below you to provide some extra traction.
    • Be patient! You’ll be sitting outside for a while so make friends with the other photographers, ask em for tips, and just have fun!

    View my Photos from Here:

  • 2018-04-05T13:42:04Z

    Mt. Divine Birth

    Mount Divine Birth

    Willie and I had grand plans of exploring as much of the Banff National Park and surrounding area as we could. Kananaskis County and Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks are all nearby. Unfortunately, a giant snow storm hit and impeded our ability to travel beyond Banff. We spent more sunrises than we would have liked visiting Vermillion Lakes, trying to capture icy mountain reflections with a pink and red sky.

    There are actually 3 Vermillion Lakes and they’re all one right after another. I imagine during floods, they turn into one giant lake. The First Vermillion Lake was mostly frozen by the time we arrived and the Third Vermillion Lake, while pretty, didn’t have much exciting shoreline for us to explore. Second Vermillion Lake, however, became our go to sunrise location and we visited on 3 separate occassions.

    When we woke for this morning, we weren’t sure if the sky would be entirely clouded over, or entirely clear but we hopped out of bed and drove to the lake anyways. On the drive we noticed that they sky was already glowing purple, illuminated in pre-sunrise glory. This early burn, we knew meant that a beautiful sunrise was coming. Sure enough, once the sun began to approach the horizon, it lit the clouds in beautiful pinks, oranges, and reds. Light beams even managed to streak out from behind Mt. Rundle, giving off a divine appearance.

    Nikon D800 w/Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8:
    50mm, f/10, 1/25 sec, ISO 100

    Available for purchase at Aaron M Photography

  • 2018-03-15T16:30:36Z

    Fire at the Factory

    Fire at the Factory

    I love exploring the South West. There’s about the landscape down there that’s just so captivating. Perhaps it’s because the landscape changes so vastly: from giant red rock canyons, to grand vistas, to mesas, arches, slot canyons, rivers, desert, badlands … the list goes on. I always love exploring a new area and our trip to Factory Butte, in Southern Utah, was no different.

    Willie, David, and I spent a long weekend down near Hanksville Utah, exploring the badlands around. On our first night, before David arrived, we had been scouting around Factory Butte when we came upon this little wash. We loved how the S-curve of it drew the eye in towards the Butte. Luckily for us, a few clouds caught some color as the sun set.

    It was quite a windy night: we had pitched the tent before sunset and I was surprised to find the tent still there when we got back from taking photos. Apparently the rocks I stuck inside the tent had saved us! I gave up on sleeping in the tent and slept in the car … that is until about 3am when I heard “Meyers! Help!” Willie was trapped in the tent, getting tossed in the wind! We quickly disassembled the tent and spent the rest of the night in the car. Lets just say we were glad to get out of the wind 🙂

    Nikon D800 w/Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8:
    26mm, f/13, 1/30 sec, ISO 100

    Available for purchase at Aaron M Photography

  • 2018-02-23T01:41:55Z

    RIP Whitney

    RIP Whitney

    Dedicated to Whitney Engler: Sept 9, 1987 – Mar 27, 2015 (see more below).

    In 2017, Willie and I drove to the Eastern Sierras and met up with David Thompson, Nolan Nitschke and Paul Rojas. I had known Paul and Nolan for years on flickr and facebook but had never met either of them in person, so it was super awesome to spend the weekend with them. We ran back and forth chasing the light and trying to find new scenes all weekend.

    On our last morning we stopped back in the Alabama Hills to see if the clouds would part and give us a glimpse of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in California (I suppose its also the highest peak in the contiguous US too). A thin layer of clouds gave us hope that we might catch a little color in the sky as the sun started to light up the peaks. We were in for a treat, as mother nature honored our last morning here (the sky behind us was going crazy).

    I dont think David, Willie, or Paul had any idea how emotional this scene was for me. I dont talk about it too much. Every time I think of Mt Whitney I think of a friend I dont get to see anymore. On March 27, 2015 one of my good friends, Whitney Joy Engler, was shot and killed by her roommate, in their home at UC Davis. To this day we have absolutely no idea what caused this tragedy to happen.

    I met Whitney during my grad school year at the University of Michigan. I was a 5th year graduate student and she was a freshman, who happened to live on the same floor of the dorm as one of my roommates sisters. They came over for an orientation-week party at our house and we bonded over living in California, a love of strawberries, and Jimmy Eat World (ugh, dont remind me). Over the course of the year we became close friends, a friendship which continued even after I graduated and moved to California. When she finally graduated, she moved back to California and eventually enrolled in Vet school at UC Davis. Being so close, wed meet in San Francisco for drinks or Id drive to Davis to whisk her away from the stress of vet school for the weekend. We had plans for her to come spend the weekend with me before she graduated but at the last minute I cancelled, asking to reschedule because I had a busy week at my new job and wasnt sure I had the energy to play host. We never got to pickup that raincheck. Before taking his own life, her roommate shot her in the head and chest. The only insight was a note he left on his computer, telling his family he was sorry for taking his own life. It mentions nothing of involving Whitney and we have no idea why he took her life along with his own.

    Her roommate had no signs of mental illness. He owned several guns for recreational purposes. Nothing anyone could have done would have prevented him from purchasing those guns (including any proposed regulations on screening for mental illness). Some could argue that someone who wants to kill will do it regardless of whether or not they have a gun, and while that might be true, had Whitneys roommate not had a gun she might have had a chance to survive. That chance was stolen by this person and the specific weapon that he owned. She might have found a way to fend him off. Her dog may have helped come to her rescue. She might have been able to dodge a knife, block an axe, stop a beating, or slipped out of being strangled. A weapon less brutal as a shot to the head could have given her a chance. As I sit here contemplating the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, I dont know what the solution for the future is. But I do know that the brutality of this weapon, of a gun, decreased the chance that my good friend could have been sitting next to me as I watched the sunrise on Mt. Whitney. As I sit here, remembering the warmth glowing off the peaks of this majestic mountain, I cant do anything but hope that our leaders will use the massive intelligence within this nation to come up with a solution to decrease the brutality in which were currently living in. If we can send a man to the moon, build rockets that can land themselves exactly where they took off from, and can build cars that can drive themselves, cant we do something to make this world safer

    Whitney, I miss you terribly. I wish we could be enjoying more adventures together. I wish you could have seen Mt. Whitney with your own two eyes. But thank you for shining down on us on this cold morning in February and letting me take a photo to help remember you by.

    Nikon D800 w/Sigma 150-600mm
    210mm, f/11, 1/30 sec, ISO 100

    Available for purchase at Aaron M Photography (proceeds will go to her family)

  • 2019-01-04T08:01:14Z

    Horsetail Falls 2018 Date & Time Predictions (Yosemite National Park)

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    [Update: I’ve added estimates for February 2019
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    Update (2018): Yosemite has instituted some new rules, especially pertaining to parking and to getting to the viewing locations. See more information below.

    Last year I posted the times for the Horsetail Fire Falls event and discovered hundreds of people had found my blog and printed out the times! Thank you all for finding my post and taking advantage! I’ll continue to post them for each year.

    Scroll down for the 2018 times…

    Each year thousands of photographers visit Yosemite National Park in hopes of seeing the famous ”Fire Falls” event at Horsetail Falls. Horsetail Falls is a seasonal waterfall that only flows after rain or as the snow melts above El Capitan. It’s located on the west side of El Capitan and can be viewed from a number of locations. This event occurs when the sun is in just the right spot to reflect off the granite behind the waterfall and cause it to light up. The sun also needs to be close to the horizon to give off its orange light and thus turn the waterfall orange. It’s amazing how much like fire and lava the water becomes! The event starts around Valentines Day each year and continues for about 2 weeks.

    Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016Horsetail Fire Falls from 2016

    Everyone always asks me when the best time to view the Horsetail Fire Falls will be, and more importantly, when to photograph it. Each year I calculate when this will happen and here’s the breakdown for 2018. For those of that are savvy and know that this also occurs from the moon, I’ve included the moonlit times as well.

    As a reminder:

    • There needs to be water in the waterfall. Last year we finally had a good year. Let’s pray the rain/snow continues and we get another good Fire Falls year!
    • There needs to be a clear night where the clouds to the west won’t block the sun from hitting the waterfall.
    • Arrive early as there will be many people in the park and parking spots are limited.

    Sunset for 2018:

    Predicted date and times for Sunset Horsetail Falls, 2018Predicted date and times for Sunset Horsetail Falls, 2018

    Moonlit for 2018:

    Moonlit is a bit more complicated because there’s a number of factors at play: the moon needs to be large (mostly full), there needs to be no clouds, and the sun has to be far enough below the horizon that it doesn’t wash out the stars.

    Predicted date and times for Moonlit Horsetail Falls, 2018Predicted date and times for Moonlit Horsetail Falls, 2018

    There’s a slight chance that you’ll get to see a moonlit falls this year, if the conditions turn out OK.

    • Ideally the moon would be at an Azimuth (position in the sky) between 252° and 258°, however, on May 26th it’ll be at 260°. The elevation of the moon is where we want it, so we should get some light hitting the falls. The biggest worry is whether there will be water at the end of may in the falls.
    • On May 27th, the moon has an Azimuth of 254°, right in the zone that we want, with an elevation of 2.27° (in the acceptable range), making May 27th the best night to see Horsetail light up by the moon. The one area of worry is that the sun is at -12.1° when this occurs, right around nautical dawn when only the brightest stars are visible. The sun may start to wash out those beautiful stars in your photos.
    • In June, I do not expect Horsetail Falls to have any water.

    Where to See/Photograph Horsetail Falls:

    There are 3 popular locations (click the link for Google Maps and GPS coordinates) that can be easily accessed to view and photograph Horsetail Falls on fire.
    Horsetail width =

    1) El Capitan picnic area (on Northside Drive). This is the most popular (click to see Michael Chang’s photo) and most crowded view of Horsetail Falls. This is where Galen Rowell took his famous ”Natural Firefall” photo. This location provides the closest view, but it’s further east and a harsher angle and is better in late February (perhaps the last week of the Fire Falls as the sunset moves east). You can get some great photos from here but it is recommended to go further east during the early week of the Fire Falls and to hit this spot at a later week. Parking for 2018 is by permit only, so get your reservation ahead-of-time, or be one of the lucky day-of permit winners!

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 41.82”, -119° 37’ 13.62”

    2) Southside Drive, West. This provides the best angle to see the actual waterfalls but from this angle the falls won’t appear to be on fire (see Eloine Chapman’s photo here). The granite rock lights up with a glorious orange glow but it may be disappointing if you’re expecting Fire Falls. I prefer the other 2 shooting locations to this one. There is a parking lot here and then a small hill to walk down.

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 23.30”, -119° 37’ 17.56” (Park at: 37° 43’ 22.11”, -119° 37’ 12.73”)
    (As of 2018, you can no longer park on Southside Drive)

    3) Southside Drive, East. This is the location where my photo above was taken. This angle is a bit further south east than the Picnic Grounds so you’ll need a slightly longer lens (as you can see, 200mm was enough) but allows you to capture El Capitan and the falls at the same time. This viewing spot also gives you an angle to see the trees and snow above the falls. There’s a small turn-out on both sides of the road just before this spot that can handle about 10 cars. Plan on arriving by 2:30pm if you want a spot. The rangers have been known to swing by this location about 5 minutes before the falls turn on fire and give anyone parked on the road a $300 ticket (so get here early and claim your spot in the pull-out area)!

    GPS Coordinates: 37° 43’ 39.84”, -119° 36’ 33.06” (Park at: 37° 43’ 36.74”, -119° 36’ 33.06”)
    (As of 2018, you can no longer park on Southside Drive)

    New Rules for 2018:

    • In order to control traffic and the massive crowds, Yosemite National park is instituting new rules. Please see their website for the most current information: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/horsetailfall.htm
    • Parking Permits: Parking is no longer allowed on the roads near the viewing locations unless you have one of ~200 permits. See the above link for obtaining a permit.
      • Otherwise you’ll need to park at Day Use Parking, or another one of the approved parking locations and either walk, or take the shuttle to Yosemite Lodge, and walk from there
      • There is no parking on South Side Drive anymore, so your only way to photograph there, is to walk
    • The small parking lots by Swinging Bridge, Sentinal Beach, etc will be closed

    Horsetail Falls Event MapHorsetail Falls Event Map

    What to Bring:

    • Your camera (obviously), preferably an SLR, but a point-and-shoot with a longer zoom will work too.
    • A telephoto lens (100-200mm lens is enough. Full Frame cameras may want a 300mm lens).
    • A sturdy tripod (I used a crappy tripod and had some small shake from the heavy lens).
    • Cable release/remote control shutter (to avoid camera shake).
    • Warm clothes (layers, gloves, hat, sweatshirt, jacket, etc).
    • Flashlight (for after sunset).
    • Lawn chair (to sit on while you wait for sunset).
    • Snacks/Food/Water.

    Recommended Settings:

    • Mode: Aperture Priority (you have a tripod to allow for slow shutter speeds and you want to make sure you have a good depth of field).
    • Aperture: Use the sharpest aperture for your lens (typically around f/8). Once you have a couple good shots you can start to play around with other apertures.
    • Focal Length: A focal length of about 100-150 should be enough (150-225mm on a full frame dSLR).
    • ISO: Lowest ”standard” ISO, to ensure the least amount of noise.
    • White Balance: Auto White-Balance. You’ll probably warm it up in post-processing.
    • Focus: Manual focus with Live-View (if available). Many photographers had trouble getting clear shots because autofocus couldn’t be obtained or it focused on the mist and not on the rocks. Turn on manual focus and image stabilization (vibration reduction on Nikon), zoom as far in as you can on live view, and manually adjust the focus until it is sharpest then turn-off image stabilization and LiveView.
    • Shutter: use a remote shutter release. It will decrease the chance of motion blur.
    • Mirror-Lockup: If you need to, use mirror-lockup to reduce motion blur. I had a crappy tripod and this was needed to get better shots.
    • Exposure Compensation: Under expose your photo. The falls are really bright and can cause a slightly overexposed photo if shooting in Matrix Metering. I found a darker image with dark granite looked best and you’ll also get a faster shutter speed and thus sharper photo.
    • Use 14-bit RAW images if you have the option. Don’t shoot in JPEG.

    Tips for Shooting Horsetail Falls:

    • Scope out the locations before hand and choose your favorite spot.
    • The sunset starts out on the west side of the rocks during early February and progressively moves east (from left to right in the photos). If you want to see the falls all lit up in the early ”Fire Falls” season, go further east. As the sunset moves east you can move east (towards picnic grounds) to get good shots. See Steve Thuman’s shot for an example of going too early in February.
    • You need to shoot this at an angle to get the falls on fire. The “Fire Falls” effect is created because the granite rocks face east/west and happens to reflect the February sunset. This reflection then backlights the waterfalls. Too much water and it blocks the sunset from hitting the falls. Too far west and you aren’t at an angle to see the sunset reflecting off the rocks onto the water.
    • Get there early! People started showing up at the picnic grounds by 2pm and at the Southside Dr location by 2:30. Parking is limited and you can get a $300 ticket for parking on the street!
    • Don’t get stressed if you do not see much water on the falls. The mist will light up beautifully. In fact, from the picnic grounds we couldn’t see any water but they still got a great Fire Falls!
    • Re-adjust your focus a couple minutes before sunset is supposed to start. The dropping temperatures will change your focus.
    • A really sturdy tripod is recommended. Add some weight under the center column if you can. Shutter speeds will be less than a 10th of a second and even the slightest movement can ruin your shots.
    • An L bracket on your tripod can be handy for stabilization when shooting in portrait orientation. Some lenses have a slip ring that can rotate 90º to allow you to do this without an L bracket (for example both Canon/Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses do this).
    • You do not need a polarizer. The light is soft and the polarizer didn’t do anything to enhance the photo.
    • Take a couple practice shots before hand so you can figure out your settings and make sure everything is super sharp.
    • The snow/ice that you’re standing on can be really slippery when the sun sets. There are lot of dried pine-needles on the ground so take a bunch and put it on the ground below you to provide some extra traction.
    • Be patient! You’ll be sitting outside for a while so make friends with the other photographers, ask em for tips, and just have fun!

    View my Photos from Here:

  • 2017-11-02T08:19:30Z

    Peeping Rain

    Peeping Rain

    Ive always wanted to visit Mt. Rainier National Park to see its epic wildflower blooms, but every summer the wildflower blooms were predicted to be small or Willie and I had been too busy to make a trip. With the wet winter in 2016, we had hoped that the flowers would be booming and planned a trip.

    We arrived at Mt. Rainier at night, setup our tent and tried to get some sleep before having to wake up early for sunrise. When we did make it up the mountain we found 2 things: lots and lots and lots (and lots) of fog, and no carpets of flowers. Instead, the hills had patches of blooms, spread here and a little over there.

    While looking for the flowers we had come across this spot, which was the first area that had a good number of both Indian Paintbrush and Lupine, but we kept walking, hoping wed find better flowers. We had no idea where Mt. Rainier was since the fog was so thick but just after passing this patch, Mt. Rainier suddenly appeared through the fog We raced back to these flowers, falling flat on my butt in the process, and managed to snap a few photos before the fog covered Rainier again.

    I called this photo Peeping Rain because it reminded me of Peeping Tom, poking its head up to take a peak, then disappearing again as soon as you look.

    Nikon D800 w/Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8:
    15mm, f/11, 1/30 sec, ISO 100

    Available for purchase at Aaron M Photography

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