My previous blog post got me thinking about Sentinel Dome, and how much I enjoy photographing there. With a 360 degree panorama that includes a who's-who of Yosemite icons (Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Nevada Fall), and a foreground assortment of granite boulders, gnarled trees, and wildflowers, I'm a kid with a sweet tooth and Sentinel Dome is my candy store.
The precipitous Sierra crest to the east and a gentle downslope to the west means Yosemite gets much better light at sunset than at sunrise. But at 8,000 feet, Sentinel Dome's elevation above the surrounding terrain makes it one of the most accessible sunrise exceptions. Here I can watch the sun ascend from behind Half Dome and photograph the day's first rays of sunlight skimming the textured trees and granite.
Only accessible by car during the long days of summer, photographing Sentinel Dome at sunrise requires a bit of planning and effort. The hike to the summit is a pretty easy mile on a fairly well-marked trail, but since ensuring I don't miss any color requires being in place at least 45 minutes before the sun appears, I have to travel most of trail in the dark.
The night before capturing this image I spent the night in the back of my truck at a backcountry trailhead about five miles down the road. I started my hike in total darkness, and it wasn't until I ascended final two hundred yards of steep granite to the top that the eastern horizon started to show hints of the approaching day. On top I was pleased to find that I had the dome to myself. The sky was clear (nothing dramatic happening), so rather than start right into photography, I just pulled up a boulder to bask in the utter silence and wait for the sun.
When I finally got to work with my camera I knew only had a few minutes of ideal light. My eyes were drawn first to this clump of wildflowers at the base of a dead tree; as I approached I realized I could align these two foreground subjects with Yosemite Falls in the background. I wanted the flowers and tree sharp, and at my chosen focal length knew it wouldn't be possible for the fall to be sharp too. I stopped down to f16, which softened the background just enough to underscore the crispness of the foreground, then bumped my ISO to 400 to allow a shutter speed I was confident would stop the motion of the flowers in the slight breeze. Since there was nothing interesting happening in the sky, I simply eliminated it from my composition.
Sometimes I'm extremely excited when I capture an image and can't wait to get home and see it large. But this was one of those images that started out under my radar--I liked what I'd done, but it wasn't until I got home that I really began to appreciate it. While it's not spectacular, I don't tire of looking at it and its staying power has made it one of my favorites. And I was particularly gratified a couple of years ago when Sierra Heritage magazine selected it for one of their covers.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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