Bridalveil Falls

Spirit of the Puffing Wind

This was a tricky shot to take. In the late afternoon the breeze was blowing the mist from the falls so hard that approaching this shot was like walking through a monsoon. Keeping the lens dry was the secret and also looking for the angle to catch the rainbow. The optical properties of air and pure water (like rain) are well understood, and raindrops are nearly always spherical in shape. With a little math (okay, I won’t cover it here), it can be shown that the angle between incoming white sunlight and the outgoing rainbow colors is about 42 degrees. To be more precise, the red light comes out at 42 degrees and blue light comes out at 40 degrees. This is true anywhere the sunlight hits raindrops, not just where we see the colorful arc.

The Ahwahneechee tribe believed that Bridalveil Fall was home to a vengeful spirit named Pohono which guarded the entrance to the valley, and that those leaving the valley must not look directly into the waterfall lest they be cursed. They also believed that inhaling the mist of Bridalveil Fall would improve one’s chances of marriage.

Bridalveil Fall is 188 metres (617 ft) and flows year round. The glaciers that carved Yosemite Valley left many  hanging valleys which spawned the waterfalls that pour into the valley. All of the waterways that fed these falls carved the hanging valleys into steep cascades with the exception of Bridalveil Fall. Bridalveil still leaps into the valley from the edge of the precipice, although that edge has moved back into an alcove from the original edge of the valley.

When the wind blows briskly, the waterfall will appear to be falling sideways. During lesser water flow, the falls often don’t reach the ground. Because of this, the Ahwahneechee called this waterfall Pohono, which means Spirit of the Puffing Wind.


32 responses

  1. Wow! Stunning photo. Love your POV. Now, truth be told…did you capture the rainbow in-camera or was that a PS/OnOne addition?

    May 23, 2011 at 6:54 am

    • The rainbow is as shot – I have the soaked clothes as evidence. I really wouldnt know how to add a Rainbow even if I had the software you mentioned. 😉

      May 23, 2011 at 7:07 am

    • Magnificient! I really appreciate your giving us your settings. Do you frequently shoot in aperture priority? (Came from digital photography school). Thanks for sharing your beautiful work.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:22 am

      • Thanks for taking the time to visit the blog, we really appreciate your support! Shooting Aperture Prio is essential when bracketting for HDR. For Landscapes, if I want max DOF, then I push the Aperture to the maximum, check shutter speeds. Once again depends if I want motion blur, have a tripod, can stabilize, handheld etc. Point is, it all depends on the situation, relative movement and the effect I am looking for!

        June 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

  2. Great rainbow at the very bottom. I like how the falls lead you down the frame!

    May 23, 2011 at 6:56 am

  3. Wow! What a beautiful place to visit. Great photo.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:24 am

  4. That’s a beautiful shot, complete with a mini rainbow. I was watching a show where the guy was trying to capture a waterfall and couldn’t do it in the end because of the mist splash back.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

    • I planned the shot and the exposure along with the angle to catch the rainbow with my back and camera to the heavy mist, then spun around and took the shot. I got soaked anyway – what a beautiful place. Thanks for the comments Kristi.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:32 am

  5. Tom Barnett

    Absolutely fantastic. Great work, Erik!

    May 23, 2011 at 1:50 pm

  6. Andrew Macdonald

    Erik, this is one of the most beautiful shots of a waterfall I have ever seen. All your photography is truly amazing, I’m glad you linked me to your blog over at DPS (on the 5 Tips for Speeches post). You have a new subscriber.

    May 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    • Thank you so much for visiting our Photo Blog! We update every day with new images and stories. Of course, please share with your Facebook and Twitter Friends….we love to share!

      May 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm

  7. Magnificent!!!!

    May 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

  8. Really nice catch here. Nice job overcoming some difficult conditions!

    May 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm

  9. Wow, Erik, stunning shot and blog posting today! Love that color band there from the rainbow effect, and you really really get a sense of how powerful this waterfall truly is from your composition here. Stunning.

    May 26, 2011 at 10:47 am

  10. GeorgAnna Griffin

    I took a photographic tour of Yosemite the first week in May & we were at Bridalveil Falls to watch & shoot the Rainbow; what a sight! Watching it move up the Falls was amazing; people where cheering it on! Great capture! I do know what you mean about getting soaking wet; I climbed up into the Upper Falls. This is a great year for Yosemite & its waterfalls.

    May 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

  11. Excellent picture. Love the way the waterfall leads you to the end of the pic. The rainbow is the icing on the cake.

    May 29, 2011 at 6:54 pm

  12. Navdeep


    Very nice shot indeed.
    Is it possible to share the details of mode/settings you used?


    May 30, 2011 at 2:00 am

    • Sure…Nikon D90, Sigma 10-20mm, Circular Polarizer, f9.5, 1/1000th, ISO200. Aperture Priority, no tripod.

      May 30, 2011 at 6:52 am

  13. hobofoto

    wow – all the words that everyone else has used: stunning, magnificent, beautiful!

    this is breathtaking. your comment about planning exposure and angle is helpful, altho’ it’s something that i’ve too often forgotten. i’m glad that i found this (through

    June 2, 2011 at 10:26 am

  14. Excellent shot. A challenge where you prevailed! Bravo

    June 2, 2011 at 4:52 pm

  15. Manu

    1 word…stunning

    June 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm

  16. Easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls shotsIi’ve ever seen… very nice…

    June 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  17. glorious ^^

    June 8, 2011 at 5:52 pm

  18. Simply awesome! Your capture brought me right back to one of my favorite places.

    Your work so inspired me that I joined your blog. Thanks you!

    June 9, 2011 at 10:55 am

  19. Wow! Now that’s an amazing waterfall. Definitely can see how you might have gotten soaked waiting for the rainbow, but I’d totally be up for hanging out at the base of something like that for a few hours!


    November 16, 2011 at 7:54 am

    • Thanks, wet slippery, cold, soaked and well worth it!

      November 16, 2011 at 8:06 am

    • We were in and out in 10 minutes – it was Spring, kinda cold and very wet. Just knew what we wanted and got it done! Thank you again for the kind visit!

      November 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm

  20. Wonderful work!

    Visited the park in September but only ha a few hours – literally – to see it. Will be hitting the road again in the spring and had not actually put Yosemite back on the agenda. I think I will now. Thanks for the inspiration!


    December 12, 2011 at 7:31 pm

  21. Wow! spectacular photo

    December 29, 2011 at 6:47 am

    • Thanks Ashish! I was truly challenging to get the correct light, keep dry and get a rainbow. So much fun – we got soaked! It was our second attempt after a morning Hike to check it out.

      December 29, 2011 at 9:18 am

  22. Awesome shot!

    December 30, 2011 at 2:46 am

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