May is my favorite month to shoot in Yosemite. The waterfalls are stunning with their highest flow for the year. Rainbows form in the mist of the waterfalls during the day, and for a few days around the full moon date, the moon delivers lunar rainbows, or “moonbows” that can be photographed at specific times when the moon elevation and compass direction is right. Dogwood trees bloom, and other other flowers such as California poppies and lupine may be blooming as well.
Periodic spring storms are often still passing through in May, to deliver stunning sunrises and sunsets, and snow may briefly reach the Valley floor, even through the end of the month.
Vernal pools reflect the grand vistas that Yosemite is famous for. The abundance of water vapor can generate fog and mist swirling in the Valley. Bears are very hungry as they come out of hibernation, and they grazing on the lush growth of spring grasses.
For my workshop in May 2017, we have a massive snowpack that will maximize the waterfall flow and mist, and all of these opportunities line up in the same week! The full moon, moonbows and dogwoods blooming may not be this likely to occur in the same week again until 2020, and that may not be a strong runoff year.
But it’s better than just good timing. The high runoff make it a “superwaterfall” year, and ample waterfall mist makes stronger lunar rainbows, so it’s a “supermoonbow” year. If wildflowers and dogwood trees are having a healthy superbloom as well, it’s a possible “superflowmoonbowdogbloom” year. Say that five times fast!
This year’s convergence of photographic opportunities, and their magnitude, may not be this favorable again for another decade or more. I plan all of my workshops for the optimal time in each region that I cover, but given cyclical El Nino weather patterns and the rarity of high runoff years, this could well be the most productive, opportunity-rich May week for photography in Yosemite Valley for a very long time to come.
I’ve updated this old blog post to contain more information on pursuing moonbows in case you’d like to try anyway: http://activesole.blogspot.com/2008/05/chasing-moonbow-in-yosemite-valley-at.html
If you’d rather join me to move more efficiently around the park and to arrive for the unique opportunities this month, given the likely crowds I have a cap of four participants who can join me Sunday night through Tuesday night two days, three nights for $695, or Wednesday night through Friday night for $695. The full five day, six night workshop from Sunday night through Friday night is discounted to $1195. I have several campsites reserved, and lodging was available as well when I last checked. Mostly midweek and outside of the busy summer season, Yosemite will be a spectacular place to spend a few days practicing photography this spring!
The weather forecast for the first half of the week favors the possibility of rainbows spanning the width of the valley!
Lori Hibbett. We first worked out the conditions required to pursue this shot in 2012, and the astronomical alignment will occur during our May workshop in 2017. I can’t wait to lead photographers to unique opportunities like this!
To see more of my work from Yosemtie, my Spring in Yosemite album on Flickr shows a lot of photographs relevant to the season, and my Yosemite album there has a broader collection of the types of shots that I pursue in the park.