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Photographing Yosemite’s Firefalls with the SIGMA 60-600mm Sports Lens

Photojournalist Raul Roa captures Yosemite National Park’s renowned Firefalls with the SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens.

Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls firefalls are a rare, unique occurrence that require specific circumstances for the event to happen.

“Firefalls” are created when the waterfalls are lit up naturally by the setting sun during a few days in mid-February. However, this can only happen if there is enough snow on top of “El Capitan” where the falls originate, it’s warm enough for the snow to melt, and if there are no clouds blocking the setting sun.

Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls become a spectacular reddish color as the setting sun light hits the water and ice to create the illusion that the falls are on fire, seen here on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.
SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens at 413mm.

Facing these challenges, I decided to give it a go and try to capture the rare natural phenomenon in freezing temperatures. About one month before the trip (January 2019), I checked the calendar for the possible best date to go. Nature can’t be predicted, but I was hopeful I’d have a good chance since winter had been wet so far and there was plenty of snow in Yosemite.

SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens at 600mm.

My choice of lens for this unique trip was nothing less than the SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports because of the extremely useful 10x optical zoom and its reliability. I’d used the lens a few times before so I wanted it to be my go-to lens for this trip. Not having to lug around multiple lenses and changing lenses in freezing temperatures meant I could concentrate on my creativity.

SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens at 60mm.

After a more than 5-hour, 300-mile drive and a mile-and-a-half walk to the right spot in Yosemite Valley, I was settled in for the spectacle. I was now in near-freezing temperatures (about 39°F) and standing on a couple of feet of snow along with hundreds of other hard-core photographers and nature lovers.

The water was flowing down the falls but clouds kept passing above El Capitan. Luckily once sunset at 5:30 pm came around, clouds were not blocking the setting sun and for about 12 minutes, we had a surreal natural event at our sights. Twelve minutes may seem like a long time, but when this is the only chance you’ll have to capture a great image, you have no time to waste fumbling with lenses.

This is where it became clear that my choice of lens for this event, the SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports, was the only right choice.

I was able to capture the full-length falls in their spectacular fiery show zoomed at about 200mm as well as very close-up views of the lava-looking water at the 600mm end. No need to switch lenses or grab a second body with a different lens since this lens was all I needed!

SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens at 88mm.

Due to the popularity of the “firefalls” event, restrictions are in effect during mid- to late February each year (February 12-24 in 2021) daily from noon to 7 pm. Details for 2021 are subject to change.

Additionally, due to current public health guidelines, reservations are required to drive into Yosemite National Park starting February 8, 2021.

Plan your visit to Yosemite Horsetail Falls and learn more about access permissions.

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