Rock and Water, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California 2011

Rock and Water, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California 2011 / Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III__EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM__1/2 sec at f / 27__ISO 320

On a recent trip to Yosemite Valley, I spent some time photographing waterfalls.  The water levels are still very high for this time of year, but they are down quite a bit from the highest levels earlier this spring.  I had been stuck in my office for far too long, working for about two weeks straight catching up with orders.  I desperately needed this water therapy!

I had the idea of finding some water details and abstracts here at Cascade Falls.  I wanted to see what variations I might come up with like the detail shown below using a fast shutter speed made in 2005.  I worked with bright sunlight again but doubted I had any worthwhile images, so I did my errands and came back in the evening.

These two image are of the same section of the falls, the smaller 2005 image being a detail within the area of the larger image along the center left edge.  One of the reasons for showing this is to show how vastly different two interpretations can be.  I also want to mention how much I photographed in both these sessions.  My long time friend of 27 years, Michael Frye, posted an excellent comment recently about how many frames he made to find the best combo of texture and pattern in his waterfall image: Why Am I Taking Forty Frames of the Same Thing? It happens that his photograph was of this section of waterfalls on Cascade Creek, but of Lower Cascades Falls just over the cliff from where I made these frames.  He made a critical point about why he makes many variations of one composition, with the same camera settings, to find one frame that stood out above the rest.  Even with the same shutter speed, each of 40 frames was different.  Doing the work paid off for Michael, and it will for you too.

I use the same approach, especially with photographs showing moving water.  Not only do I make many frames with the same settings, I also “bracket” my shutter speeds.  I have been photographing moving water for a long time, but I am never quite sure which shutter speed will give the best effect for a given scene.  I watch the water carefully, looking for prime moments of action, like especially high leaps of spray.  I make a burst of frames, and when I think I’ve caught a good moment, I’ll move on to another shutter speed.  For the Rock and Water image here, I made around 100 frames total using about 6-7 shutter speeds.  When editing my images from this one day, I had 450 frames made at several locations.  For each composition, I had to view each frame, with Lightroom’s Compare View tool, to slowly edit down to the best expression of what I saw and felt.  Each exposure had subtle differences.  The larger image was made with a 1/2 sec exposure, the 2005 image at 1/1000.  My point is that it takes this kind of extra effort to push one’s work to the next level.

One final note: I have made a great effort to avoid photographing icons and cliches in Yosemite for the past 34 years.  When I made this recent image, I was aware that this rock and waterfall combo had been photographed before.  As when photographing Half Dome, I could only hope to add my own creative take to a common subject like Cascade Falls.  Whether or not I have succeeded , I do not know.  In any case, I had a great time in my favorite sanctuary – Yosemite.  Let me know your thoughts, and enjoy!

To see more of my Yosemite work, check out my PFD ebook or new iPad app!  William Neill’s YOSEMITE:

Cascades Falls, 2005

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22 Responses to “Rock and Water, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California 2011”

  1. Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of info on your blog.
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  2. Stacey says:

    This is the most amazing picture. It reminds me of a heart. And makes my heart skip a beat. Beautiful!

  3. Hi Hugh. Thanks for the “credit” for the pond and erratic. I rephotographed the pond about a year ago, with the clouds too. NEED to return to visit that monster erratic!

  4. Hugh Sakols says:


    Excellent image. I’d take yours and Charlie’s. When leading photo walks up in Tuolumne Meadows, I always refer to the ephemeral pond just east of the visitors center as Bill’s Pond. I admit a have at least two versions of it. I also refer to a huge erratic across from Tenaya Lake as Bill’s Rock.

  5. Carol Flisak says:

    This is a wonderful image, Bill. I’ve never been to Yosemite, but you have captured the spirit and heart of the place. I love how the water washes over the rock… I find myself coming back to this photograph! I will have to find my way here…

  6. Thanks Woody! The water serves as textured negative space, which makes the rock and tree pop out. That line you mention helps too!

  7. William

    I love Charlie’s photograph as I saw an original print of it while attending his workshop.

    However I love your vertical take on this. It pops the tree out of the roaring cascade of water.

    You have certainly pushed by the standards as you described

  8. […] « Rock and Water, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California 2011 Back to Light on the Landscape […]

  9. Dave Yuhas says:

    Stunning. I like your “in focus” work.

  10. Jerry DaBell says:

    You succeeded in making a captivating image at a cliché location. Outstanding!


  11. Thanks!

    Dan, It was “Alan Ross’s rock” long before I ever saw Charlie’s photo of it. And so it goes with how we all are influenced by our own visual literacy. The best way to work around “photo standards” is to aware of them and try to push past them!

  12. I always think of this as “Charlie’s Rock,” for reasons you probably understand. Very nice work – love the pattern in the water in the lower portion of the frame.


  13. Martha J Escudero says:

    Wow… so divine… amazing waterfall. Wonderful work Wiliam…

  14. Simon Gulliver says:

    Absolutely stunning. I can feel the spray and hear the roar of the water. Wonderful image and great teaching. Thanks

  15. I am not usually as big a fan of the silky water as many others, but in this photograph it really works for me. This one looks like a timeless classic.

  16. Lesli Cohan says:


    I absolutely love this new image. Both of these are stunning and I completely agree with the process of shooting many shots to get the subtle variances. I was in Yosemite in May and even though I knew many of the images I took had been done before, I wanted to take them anyhow. The water was amazing, and I got a good image of Fern Spring and some of the iconic places.
    I really love your thoughts on these “rules” and to help those of us fledgling photographers to understand how much time and effort and thought it takes to get that super image as you did!

  17. Ray Banfield says:


    Fantastic captures @ cascades. I did my third photo trip to Yosemite two months ago and spent most of my time shooting water. Merced, Happy Isles, the Run-off from Bridal Veil and the Cascades. Not to say I didn’t photograph the ” icons” but spent a majority of 6 days concentrating on water photography.

    I remember your Cascade Falls pix from 2005. I actually did a painting of it shortly after I saw it the first time. Its a large painting and done entirely with sponges. Turned out kind of cool. Be happy to send you a photograph of it, if you’d like. let me know…Ray

  18. Stunning, Bill. This one makes me come back to study it over and over.

  19. Bartek says:

    Mesmerising. Beautiful.

  20. jaiya says:

    Visual treat & speechless….

  21. Some images catch your eye and demand that you absorb them, this is one of them and it’s completely captivating. “Rock and Water” will remain in my mind’s eye for some time to come.