Rainbows at midnight? John Muir saw them, they still appear today a few nights per year, and they're the subject of the newest installment in the way-above-average short film series known as Yosemite Nature Notes.
Nighttime rainbows are known as moonbows, the byproduct of full (or nearly full) moons on cloudless nights during peak waterfall flows in the spring and early summer in Yosemite National Park. They are a challenge to observe, much less document on film, but the effort made by park videographer Steve Bumgardner has yielded predictably splendid results in Moonbows, the 15th film in the series.
Bumgardner shares his thoughts on his often-exhausting project with The REI Blog, plus he offers up a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what went into the production in a separate video extra.
Q: When did you first learn about moonbows?
A: After I started working in Yosemite years ago. Then I found some photographs online. Last spring was the first time I saw one.
Q: What impression did it leave on you?
A: I was pretty blown away when I saw those colors at night. Moonbows at Yosemite Falls are a phenomenon that has been experienced and photographed for decades. Even John Muir wrote about lunar spray-bows (as he called them) back in the 1800s. If the skies are clear, there are about a dozen days a year that you can shoot a moonbow in Yosemite, usually around the full moons of April, May and June when the water is high and generating lots of mist. At full moon is best, but a couple of days before and after will work as well.
Q: In a tweet you called Moonbows "the most expensive and time-consuming episode of Yosemite Nature Notes ever." Can you quantify that?
A: I shot this time-lapse video over 2 seasons, taking over 20,000 images of these lunar rainbows in the process. I had several nights where clouds blocked the moon, causing the moonbow to disappear. One shot was ruined when a late-night work crew showed up with huge floodlights. I use a unique device, a spinning rain deflector, to keep my lens dry during 2- to 3-hour time-lapse sequences, and during a period of high water I burned out the motor. Another time a $300 battery got fried when water got in. I even had a shot ruined by my own headlamp.
Q: How many all-nighters were involved in this production?
A: I spent 20 nights fully immersed in the amazing landscape of Yosemite with fellow moon-bros Tom Lowe, Jeff Morris, Shawn Reeder and Josh Helling. We found moonbows on several waterfalls, and shot things that most people have never even imagined.
Q: How many falls are on display in Moonbows?
A: Three: Yosemite, Cascades (near the junction of routes 120 and 140) and Wapama (in Hetch Hetchy). I shot Yosemite Falls from about 8 different locations, both upper and lower falls, and most of the shots in the video are from Yosemite Falls.
Q: What's next?
A: My next episode, Granite, is something that will be much easier to chase.