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Ribbon Falls - Yosemite National Park, California | by PatrickSmithPhotography
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Ribbon Falls - Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite's 1612 ft. Ribbon Falls flows mainly in the spring and early summer. This may seem like a peaceful scene, but it was one of my most dangerous photo attempts to date. No HDR!


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Settings etc.:



Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @ 24

0.4-second exposure @F18

2 hours before sunset when the light is still on the cliff face.

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm) 0.9 + 0.75

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer. I wanted reflections in the water

ISO 50

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop


At 1612ft, Ribbon Falls is the tallest unobstructed free-falling waterfall in the United States and one of the tallest falls overall in Yosemite Valley. But people usually miss it. Angel Falls in Venezuela has a taller single fall of 2600 ft. (97 waterfalls are taller in total drop, but it is the 13th tallest single unobstructed fall in the world according to this world waterfall database:


Yes, this was a hazardous place to be. But I always look for alternative views where I can. This is not the Valley View lookout, but rather upstream from there. First, there had been a recent spring rain and the ground was muddy and the grass would sink in unexpected places as you walk. Once I got to the river, I realized that the place with the best view (right here) was a pile of logs that were swept downstream and had accumulated into a rather unstable pile in an eddy formed by the river. The only problem was that in order to get to this pile of logs, I had to walk across a few narrow logs marginally caught in about 8ft. of cold rapidly running water to the left of where I put my tripod for this shot.


So, with my camera in my backpack, I got two long straight branches about 12 feet long and managed to cross the logs supporting myself with my two branches. Once I was on the log pile, I had to wait for quite a while for good light to fall across El Capitan. It was nervewracking because every so often, the pile of logs would shift a bit, but it was worth it!


The only extra bit of composing I had to do besides getting close to the river foreground to dramatize the roaring river, was to center Ribbon Falls in between two trees for a more open view of it!


The map shows exactly where this is. It is a 1-mile hike from the nearest road.


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Taken on June 5, 2009