Shooting big events, is it worth it?

Shooting big events, is it worth it?

In a recent article by Dan Zafra from PetaPixel, the ugly truth about shooting big locations and events is revealed. Dan talks about his experience shooting Yosemite’s Firefall. Once a year during the first couple weeks of February, the sun lights up Yosemite Horsetail Falls giving it a lava-like or fire-like appearance. The rampant popularity f photography has caused events like this to be restricted as more and more people crowd into locations like Yosemite in hopes of getting an amazing image. Is it worth the hassle to get this type of highly contested shot? Let’s talk about it. 

Bucket List

FireFalls, and the Subway at Zion are on many photographer’s bucket list, as are places like Moab, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park. It is great to have goals and you should have a list of places to lust after, but before you book that flight, and plan your trip, consider what you will be getting out of it. If it is just the act of going and shooting something then great, but if you are hoping that your shot will be the best shot ever taken of that location you might want to reconsider your investment of time and money for that trip. Don’t get me wrong, there are places I would love to shoot – an African Safari (even though it would be difficult for me to see most of it), and I’d love to go back to Kawaii on a photo safari. Shooting these locations for me would be a personal thing, not with the intent of ever selling those images. 

Get your shot

When I venture to one of these awesome locations, I always get my gear set up, and get the shot I intended to get, then I turn around. Often, when the light is amazing on a location, it can be equally beautiful behind you. I have so many shots on my photo trip to Yellowstone that are arguably better compositionally and light-wise than the subject matter I set out to shoot on a given evening. That is why no matter what I am shooting, once I get the shot I came for I always turn around and take a coupled shots. This isn’t super relevant to this particular discussion, but I love to impart this on anyone who will listen. 

The weather

Be aware that before you book that expensive trip that in nearly all situations, the weather will play a big part in your shot. In the case of Firefall, there needs to be a lot of snow remaining on the mountain, and the ambient temperatures in the park must be high enough to melt the snow, and of course it needs to be a clear day otherwise the sun won’t hit the falls. In 2020, the conditions were not right and visitors were disappointed that the Firefall did not happen, so of course when it comes to weather, there are never any guarantees. For other locations, the lack of clouds can lead to a meh composition, perhaps nice light on your subject, but a boring sky. Of course you could always replace your sky and cheat right?  

Return on investment

Consider your costs, and if you sell you work what that return on investment for the trip will be. As mentioned earlier, you may get “skunked” like the visitors to Yosemite in 2020 hoping to shoot Firefall. If you have your heart set on one specific location, you need to plan for a few days in that location in case weather is not cooperating. This is a good time for you to use your internet sleuth skills and plan other locations to shoot in the event that your primary location is socked in with fog or in the case of Rocky Mountain National park at any time of the year, covered in snow clouds. 

If you sell your work, then you need to consider whether your shot will be as good or better than someone who lives near that location and can pop in and shoot when the conditions are right. I know this first hand from living on the central coast of California. The fall sunsets are either super boring or super spectacular. and conditions can change in the course of a couple hours. Those clouds can roll in and the the setting sun can put them ablaze, as soon on the image on my front page, which was taken in a single long exposure and almost no photoshop (I removed a couple pairs of shoes and some refuse form the scene). 

Alternate locations

Lusting after a specific composition or location is not something I do in my personal work. It makes me feel like playing a song from another artist, the recreation is almost never better then the original.  I try to consider locations close to home before booking a trip somewhere. I also often ask myself if traveling to a specific place to take a shot that has been taken thousands of times before is really worth it in the long run, for some photographers, it is for me not so much.   


If you would like to read more about Yosemite Firefall, photographer Dave Koch recently published a great article detailing everything you need to know before booking your trip. Here is a link:

Yosemite Firefall: A Photographer’s Guide in 2022 | PetaPixel

Here is a link to the article I mentioned earlier from Dan Zafra. Dan talks about his time shooting the falls and dealing with the crowds and traffic in the park during the Firefall event. 

Photographing Yosemite Firefall: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly | PetaPixel

Before you go…

Do you have a bucket list for photo locations? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a message here or on my social media links below and lets talk about it!, I’d love to hear from you. Many of my readers have asked about my favorite locations to shoot in Rocky Mountain National Park, if this is an article you would be interested in reading, let me know and I will put it together. I would love it if you followed me on Instagram or Twitter, I will happily follow you back.  Now get out there and get shooting!

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