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Rising Crescent, Yosemite Valley

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 24 May 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

I just returned from a very quick, very successful (and very exhausting!) trip to Yosemite. We (my mini-workshop group and several photographer friends I had invited) drove to Sentinel Dome Thursday night and hiked to the dome, reaching the top just in time to photograph the day's last light turn the billowing cumulus above Half Dome a rich crimson. When the sunset show ended we waited for enough darkness to photograph star trails above Yosemite Valley. It was after 11:00 when we packed up and started picking our way down the granite slope in the moonless dark. We didn't make it back to our rooms until nearly 1:00, barely enough time to close our eyes before meeting again at 4:00 (AM!) for the next show, this crescent moon rising above Half Dome in the dawn light.

Calculating the best location to photograph a rising or setting crescent or full moon has become an essential part of my photography. When I realized the May waning crescent would be perfectly positioned above Half Dome on May 22, I quickly organized this trip. (A similar shot could have been achieved on May 23, but the moon would have been in the brighter part of the sky closer to the sun, limiting the window for photography. And it also would have meant dealing with the Memorial Day crowds.) As viewed from Tunnel View, I'd determined the moon would rise at 4:30, but wasn't sure there would be enough light in the sky to photograph it until a bit closer to sunrise. But even if it meant arriving a little too early, I just wanted to watch the moonrise, so I dragged everyone out of bed and we were on the road a little after 4:00.

We arrived shortly before 4:30, just early enough for me to fire off one test shot that confirmed I would indeed be able to bring out enough light in the sky without completely blowing out the moon. When the tip of the crescent peeked above Ahwiyah Point I was ready with two cameras. Capturing enough contrast between the sky and the outline of Yosemite Valley required 15 seconds at f4 and ISO 500--an exposure that also brought out more detail than I could see in the moon's unlit section. For the first few minutes stars were still visible, but my exposure revealed even more, enhancing the image further.

Shortly after I captured this image Venus emerged from behind Cathedral Rocks (to the right, just out of this frame), adding one more element to the already spectacular sky. (I'll share one or two more images from this morning in the coming days.) These group shoots are always fun, full of chat and laughter, but when things start happening everyone gets quiet and the only sounds are clicking shutters and occasional exclamations of delight. In the rapidly changing light we were able to photograph for about an hour before the encroaching day engulfed the moon. But until then I experienced was one of those special times when my appreciation of nature and my love of photography were in perfect synch--I just knew gazing at the sky above Yosemite Valley that morning that I was capturing the most beautiful thing happening on earth at that moment.

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Onlymehdi from Wayne, United States

WOW, i dont think it can get any better

24 May 2009 1:02pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Fabulous! Your dedication and planning paid off here big-time! I am more determined that ever to go to one of your workshops! ( If for no other reason than to learn how to figure out the moon rise & set times & locations) I try to figure it out online, but it is more difficult than one would think!

24 May 2009 2:07pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. My approach is a multi-step process that involves a couple of applications, one online to get the moon's altitude and azimuth, plus a mapping program that pinpoints the moon's position (once I plug-in the correct data) from whatever location I specify. It's more complex than I want to explain online, but I've started demonstrating it to my workshop groups.

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Marvelous capture. Superb tutorial; thank you. You lure me toward learning night photography.

24 May 2009 5:13pm

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack. Night photography is a blast--not only do you get really unique images of familiar subjects, it's also a great way to enjoy locations that are normally overrun with people. And regardless of the popularity of the location, there's just something about being out in nature after dark (or, as in this image, before light).

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

PS - re-reading your commentary demonstrates the value of being a part of a workshop. The people in your group picked up knowledge that they never could have really gotten from a book.

25 May 2009 4:32am

@john4jack: Forgive my bias, but workshops are great for several reasons. They're absolutely the best way to maximize your time at an unfamiliar location, and they're also a great way to improve your photography. Not only do you learn from the workshop leaders' training, you also get to observe their approach to photography. They're also a lot of fun.

Moridi from Tehran, Iran

Great shot.
Very good night shot.
Thank you.

25 May 2009 5:03am

Olivier Jules from Italy

wonderful shot!

25 May 2009 11:12am

alireza from tehran, Iran

wonderful capture. very beautiful

25 May 2009 2:36pm

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

I thank Jack for steering me here; I've just added you to my blogwatch because I so appreciate your teaching.
This photo is truly wonderful - the typical tunnel view angle but with both El Capitan and Half Dome silhouetted.

25 May 2009 4:01pm

@Judy: Thank you, Judy. I've found that the best way to photograph from Tunnel View at sunrise is silhouettes--because you're facing east, there's just too much light in the sky to try to bring out detail in Yosemite Valley. It helps that El Capitan and Half Dome have such recognizable outlines. In Wednesday's blog I'll have a wider, horizontal view taken about 20 minutes later.

c o n f l a g r a t i o from Valencia, Spain

Like a oriental tale! Amazing night shot

25 May 2009 4:18pm

Nataly from Santa Monica, United States

Beautiful starry night!

25 May 2009 5:56pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

On workshops. What I've discovered at 73 is that I can handle a few days of rising at 3:30 a.m. and getting in at 10 p.m. But a full week of that is no longer possible.

26 May 2009 12:51am

@john4jack: Yeah, workshops can be a real drain--I think many people don't fully comprehend how much day after day of rising for sunrise and staying out past sunset takes out of you. When I'm by myself I'm pretty hardcore and tend to get "in the zone" and ignore the fatigue, but I've found that giving the group a two or three hour break in the middle of the day (when the light's lousy anyway) keeps everyone else on the same page. I also make it clear everything is optional and everyone's welcome to skip a shoot if they don't feel up to it. And my workshops aren't ever a week (though I do sometimes schedule two back-to-back)--the Yosemite workshops go from the afternoon of day one through sunset of day four; Eastern Sierra and Death Valley are afternoon of day one through mid-morning of day five. But it's certainly not a trip to the spa....

enoxisureka from London, United Kingdom

Seems like this could be a painting. Seems almost surreal that you've captured this photographically. Beautiful. You're hard work really pays off in the end. Thank you for sharing such a magical image.

28 May 2009 8:53pm