It took me a while to muster the courage to visit the burn area from Yosemite’s massive Rim Fire last Summer. It was not quite what I expected. Certainly, there were areas that had been burnt to a crisp, but there were also large swatches of forest within the burn perimeter where some of the vegetation had survived. I saw a herd of deer pawing around in the burn area, a stone’s throw away from an area rich in vegetation. Woodpeckers and crows had returned to the blackened forest as well.
The photo I chose to make of this scene had to be in black and white. It just made sense.
A fun fact: Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California and, after New York’s Adirondack Park, and the second largest in the continental United States. It includes 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails. And I have barely begun to scratch the surface there. I must go back again soon.
Although Yosemite draws hordes of visitors every Spring and Summer, I prefer to visit in the Winter, when you can see the exposed bones of the trees and the quality of the light creates a landscape of pastel tones. I made several images like this one on an early February morning along the banks of the Merced River.
Trees are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. They contain all the elements one needs to make a composition — form, texture, shape, color. This old soul lives at the top of a hill overlooking Napa Valley, as if it were one of its guardians, standing sentry to the gates of the valley. The moss on the trees in this area is stunning —light and lacey and the most delicate color of green.
In mid-February, I spent some time in Yosemite Valley. At the first of the week, I was fortunate enough to bear witness to a clearing storm and captured some of the drama of that day, but the rest of the week was dominated by day after day of sunny, clear skies. So, consequently, I spent quite a bit of time shooting smaller, more intimate scenes in the Valley. Which is just fine with me. This composition of bubbles frozen in suspension in a sheet of ice on a small pond has a tell-tale signature of Yosemite: the golden morning sunlight reflected from El Capitan on the opposite side of the river.
For my photographer friends, this image is a composite of six exposures, each focused further into the frame and then “focus-stacked” and blended by hand in Photoshop.
If you read my blog yesterday, I featured a photo that I had taken at sunset in Yosemite facing West. The image featured in this blog is the one that I had taken just moments prior, facing East, and this was the shot I had intended to capture — the (almost) full moon rising over Half Dome.
It’s not terribly difficult to photograph the full moon, but there are a few tricks to it that can help you achieve better results.
First of all, you will need a tripod. The moon is moving, you are moving, and and in order to get the landscape in focus as well as the moon, you are going to be using a small aperture (big number) and therefore a slow shutter speed. Having your camera firmly grounded on a tripod will ensure a sharp image.
Use a shutter release cable and mirror lock up. With the mirror in the locked up position, and using a remote shutter release cable, you will reduce camera vibration that can cause blur. If you don’t have a remote shutter release cable, you can use the timer delay feature on your camera.
Use a long lens. I’ve taken plenty of full moon shots with a wide angle lens, with the moon featured less prominently, and it still provides a powerful symbol in a composition. But if you want the moon to be the main subject in your composition, then use a telephoto lens. The above image was captured with a 200mm telephoto.
Shoot a day or two before the moon is actually full. If you want to include the details of the landscape in your composition, then photographing the moon a day or two prior will allow the landscape to be lit by the setting sun as the moon rises in the East. Otherwise, your composition will include a moon over a darkened landscape, which is ok too if that is the affect you want. The photo above was taken the day before the moon was actually full.
Shoot in manual mode. I know a lot of new photographers can be hesitant to shoot in manual mode or aperture priority mode, but bracketing is a must when you are photographing subjects with high contrast. Shooting in either of these modes will allow you to make several exposure compensations.
Research where the moon is going to rise and plan your shot ahead of time. There are several tools available for anticipating where and when the moon will rise in a landscape. The widely used Photographer Ephemeris is an easy tool to use and offers both an app for your smart phone as well as an app for your computer.
I had arrived to this spot just above Yosemite Valley to shoot a much different scene than the one I present here. To the East, the moon was rising over Half Dome, just peeking over a thin layer of clouds, a delicate alpenglow illuminating the granite icons of both Half Dome and El Capitan. It was a breathtakingly beautiful and magical sight. I was so entirely wrapped up in that scene that I nearly missed the spectacular cloud formations and color in the sky at my back. After much fumbling about as I struggled to reposition my tripod, switch lenses, recompose, and assure that the whole system wasn’t going to tip over, I finally snapped off just a couple of frames before the light completely faded. Tomorrow, I will show you the moonrise over Half Dome, taken just moments before this one.
Yosemite National Park’s iconic landmarks — Half Dome, El Capitan, the grand waterfalls — are most frequently the main subject of photographs, and for good reason. They are dramatic, photogenic representations of a very beloved place. But what makes Yosemite Valley really special is the unique quality of the light there. The Valley’s towering walls of granite, which lay in an East to West orientation, reflect warm light into the shadows all day long. Reflections in the Merced River take on whatever color is happening at that moment — it could be the alpenglow on the granite just after sunset, or the soft, morning light illuminating the trees along its banks.
Finding compositions in this landscape is not difficult, but it takes training one’s eye toward the less obvious. For me, it meant looking at things differently — using a telephoto lens, for example, as opposed to a wide angle lens. This immediately lends a certain intimacy to a composition, while still conveying a sense of the place — a peacefulness that is all around you in Yosemite.
I hadn’t intended to photograph Horsetail Fall this year, but I was in Yosemite near the optimal time the fall puts on its annual display of color and water, and with the recent rains, it looked like there might be a possibility to actually get a decent shot. So I joined the throngs along Southside Drive last Tuesday and hoped for the right conditions.
Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall near the eastern edge of El Capitan that is fed by a small snow field on top of El Cap. Around mid-February, the winter light from the setting sun illuminates just the fall, throwing the surrounding cliff into shadow. If there is any water flowing, the fall takes on a dramatic red, misty glow just minutes before the sun sets, which is why it is often referred to as a “firewall”, paying homage to an entirely different kind firewall that used happen in Yosemite Valley — the manmade firewall at Glacier Point.
The annual Horsetail Fall event is lovely to behold. Photographer Galen Rowell is largely credited for recognizing the cyclical nature of the fall and for photographing it back in 1973. Today, with information easily shared and accessible over the Internet, the waterfall attracts photographers from around the county each February.
On the day I made this photograph, there was still a bit of water in the fall, although not very much, and the sun disappeared behind a cloud right before sunset, only to slowly reappear just at the last minute. Although the frames I took just after this one contained more of the signature bright red/orange fall, I like this more subtle, sensitive shot, taken as the sun was just beginning to illuminate the fall before it put on its final show. Here is how it looked just minutes after the shot above was taken.