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Moonbow and Big Dipper, Yosemite Fall, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 25 August 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

"Is that the way it really looked?" (sixth and final in a continuing series)

I'm asked that question quite frequently, and my response is always an emphatic, "No!" The camera and the eye see the world differently; it's silly for any photographer to claim an image is "exactly the way it looked when I was there." A camera's dynamic range, visual depth, and range of focus (to name a few) are all inferior to the human eye. A good photographer doesn't submit to these limitations, he or she turns them into an advantage. Conversely, there are wonderful things the camera can do that the eye can't. All these differences combine to give the experienced landscape photographer an opportunity to create evocative, artistic images in the camera, with very little post-processing required. Today's post continues an ongoing series expressing my thoughts on using your camera's vision to your photographic advantage (and without having to resort to Photoshop enhancement).
Accumulate light

Night photography is an area where digital shooters have a particular advantage over film shooters. Not only is the instant feedback a big help, but the image quality of long exposures from today's digital SLRs is nothing short of amazing. And nowhere is the camera's ability to "see" things you can't more apparent than in a moonbow image.

When I set up for this image the full moon was already above the trees, tossing long, eerie shadows about the landscape. I was there to photograph the moonbow, which isn't visible to the naked eye, but I knew is easily revealed by my camera's ability to accumulate light with a long exposure. Of course accumulating enough light to reveal the moonbow also brightens the entire scene, which is why this night image is so bright. For more about the experience of photographing a moonbow, read my May 5 blog.

The bonus that night was the Big Dipper, which was suspended high in the sky as if pouring into Yosemite Falls. I opted for a vertical exposure with my widest lens (the slant to the vertical trees indicates how wide I was) to include the Dipper.

I do so much full moon photography that exposure has become pretty routine. If you start with settings pretty close to what I used for this image (ISO 400, f4, 25 seconds) you'll be close. Ignore your histogram; instead just eyeball your LCD and adjust one stop at a time. I talk a bit about moonlight photography in my February blog.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

Love this and the lighting is exquisite! The moonbow, the stars, the little blanket of cloud in the middle of the frame, and the falls all combine to make this a wonderful image.

25 Aug 2009 5:11am

@Barbara Kile: Thanks, Barbara.

SCOTT F. SCHILLING from San Martin, United States

Gary, another beautiful image - as usual. The one thing that I like about the night photography - is when you can get a few clouds floating around with clear open spots also - it seems to add a little extra - you got that in this image! Great work and hope all is going well on the workshop this week.

25 Aug 2009 5:15am

@SCOTT F. SCHILLING: Yeah, I totally agree about the clouds. Too many and they obscure the stars, but just a few and they add character to the sky.

Colors Inc from Switzerland

simply fantastic landscape and nature captures on this page, great work! I will come back :)

25 Aug 2009 6:47am

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Stunning landscape and wonderful light! Thanks for this great series. I've learned a lot.

25 Aug 2009 6:51am

LM from Aix en Provence, France

It is always a pleasure to see yours photos and to read your explanation. well done

25 Aug 2009 7:25am

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Just brilliant! Unfortunately I don't have time now to go to all your references, but will do so before your next post as they all look like something to learn from. And good luck with your book - I hope it breaks all records!

25 Aug 2009 12:25pm

@dobbino: Thanks, Rob--me too. :)

Albert from Hamburg, Germany

Wonderful big blue sky and great light on the mountain. I love the feeling of this nature photo. Thanks for sharing!

25 Aug 2009 1:43pm

Amit Basu - Black and White Photography from USA, United States

I have only heard of the moonbow. This is wonderful!

25 Aug 2009 2:49pm

@Amit Basu - Black and White Photography: Thank you, Amit. Ansel Adams has some B&W moonbow images. From the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, if the conditions are right you can see the moonbow with your naked eye--it appears as a silver (colorless) band.

Elora from Genoa, Italy

Another incredible fantastic shot Gary! Just Wow!

25 Aug 2009 5:27pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Incredible capture. Just an amazing photograph.

25 Aug 2009 6:03pm

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack.

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Gary, this is a phenomenal photo, a 50-star image! :D
Thanks, as always, for your teaching/sharing.
PS: My book order's been placed!

25 Aug 2009 9:05pm

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

This is breathtaking! I love it!
From the stars in the sky to the waterfall - everything is beautiful.
Once again, thanks for the great info.

26 Aug 2009 1:02am

@Anina: My pleasure, Anina. :)

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

far out!

26 Aug 2009 1:09am

Jen from St. George, United States

Just WOW!!! Brilliant in every way - light, colors, composition, details, framing... The list goes on! I've never tried moonlight photography, but think I'd like to some time. :)

26 Aug 2009 4:43am

@Jen: Thanks, Jen. Moonlight photography is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. A sturdy tripod is a must, and a DSLR makes it much easier (digital for the instant feedback, SLR for the image quality).

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Amaizing night shot, very very nice

26 Aug 2009 2:53pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Beautiful Gary! The Dipper really makes this extra special! Someday I hope to capture this phenomenon myself! Thanks for the full moon photo info, too! I have been trying some, with less than satisfactory results. For this, do you use a polarizer?

26 Aug 2009 7:18pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. I use a polarizer on most of my daylight shots, but I always remove it at night. FYI, my two spring workshops are both timed to coincide with the full moon and we'll definitely be going for the moonbow.

Jeff Longenbaugh from Elkhart, Indiana, United States

Gary, Thanks for the useful insights associated with your great photos over the last several entries. In one post you mentioned "making" rather than "taking" a photograph. I don't remember if I first heard this statement from you at Yosemite or from someone else....but I often repeat to myself "make, don't take" as a simple reminder to slow down, previsualize and resist getting so caught up in the moment that the real photographic opportunity is lost.

27 Aug 2009 4:56am

@Jeff Longenbaugh: Hi Jeff, it's good to hear from you. Yeah, I like the idea of "making" a picture because it reminds me that I have more control in the field.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France


30 Aug 2009 7:34am

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Breathtaking!!! Outstanding work you do! 10/10

5 Sep 2009 6:59pm

This image has been featured in 1 Remix collection.

Moonbows at Yosemite Falls by Jason Kravitz