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Winter Moonrise, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 24 November 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Successful photography requires the convergence craft, position, visual elements, and conditions. Some of these we can control, others we can't. As photographers we do all we can to hone our craft, put ourselves in the best position, and identify the visual elements necessary for a successful image. But if the conditions don't cooperate, we're out of luck.

For at least six months I'd targeted last Saturday, November 20, to be in position at Tunnel View to photograph the rising full Moon. Weather permitting. I was excited enough, and confident enough in California's predominantly drama-free weather, that I scheduled a class to coincide with the moonrise. And since we were enjoying such a beautiful fall, about a week before the trip it was with very little concern that I checked the weather forecast: "Chance of rain." Huh? Outside it felt like spring, so I (rather obsessively) started checking several times each day, blindly confident that the weatherman would soon come to his senses. But each forecast was more firm than the previous, and with every passing day it became increasingly clear that the weather gods were going to mess with me. By Friday the Saturday forecast included a "Winter Storm Warning" with a "100% chance of rain or snow." Great conditions for photography, but not so much for a moonrise.

So I shifted my sights, adjusted my expectations, and gave my group the option to reschedule. I warned them that photographing Yosemite in these conditions could range from incredible to impossible. And the Moon was off the table. Most of the group decided to give it a shot anyway, hoping for a day of fresh snow and swirling clouds. And snow and clouds we got plenty of indeed. As it turned out our visit coincided with a break between weather systems and we benefited from fresh snow deposited Friday night without having to endure the difficulties of the next storm scheduled for later Saturday. There was even some blue sky.

Nevertheless, as the day progressed the clouds regrouped and we knew the Moon . Pulling into Tunnel View about an hour before sunset, I was resigned to a moonless, colorless sunset and reminded the group that despite the Moon's absence we'd had a great day. But, we were there, with nothing better to do, since in Yosemite it's impossible to predict the conditions in five minutes based on the conditions now, we stayed put. We set up at the Tunnel View vista and everyone had a great time photographing the clouds in Yosemite Valley. Because I have more than enough Tunnel View images, I planted my tripod in the middle of the group and pretended to wait for the moonrise I knew wouldn't come. Then, about 30 minutes before sunset, a hole appeared in the sky above Half Dome and as I watched it grow, I allowed myself just a little hope. I made sure my lens was on the spot where the moon would appear, set my exposure, and focused. Silly me--just as the color started to appear, the clouds seemed to consolidate and the opening shrank as quickly as it had appeared. Oh well.

So imagine my surprise when, just as the sunset color peaked, a small gap opened to reveal the glowing Moon in all its luminous splendor. With my composition and exposure ready and I was able to fire off five frames before the clouds realized their mistake and reabsorbed the Moon. The whole thing couldn't have lasted more than 30 seconds.

By the time the Moon reappeared the was too dark to get usable foreground and Moon detail. But I had my shot, and it wasn't too dark to appreciate what I was seeing, another one of those, "This is the most beautiful thing happening on Earth right now" moments.

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

k@ from Paris, France

Pure dream - look at those tones.........

24 Nov 2010 8:42am

Florence from Paris, France

Splendid photograph and place Gary. You've caught a great moment in time.

24 Nov 2010 8:43am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

A perfect composition ! Very nice soft colors too... I really like it ! Have a great day Gary :)

24 Nov 2010 9:40am

Marie LC from Entre montagnes et Bretagne, France

Magnificent place and shot !

24 Nov 2010 10:25am

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

When I heard about the snow out your way last week I thought to myself "somebody is going to get some cool shots." All up and down the coast, from our son in SFO to Barbara's family in Seattle, we heard that snow was a strong possibility on the surrounding peaks and ranges. So when I saw your image here this morning, I said "YES!" ..My next door cubicle dweller said, "what's up, Denny?" I just said, "Snow in the west". What's that old phrase? "Good things come to those who wait" (?) I say good things come to those who deserve and Gary, you are tops on that list...your dedication, verve, and positivity are magnetic...Well done sir - this is a wonderfully beautiful image! ALl the best for a blessed Thanksgiving!

24 Nov 2010 2:55pm

Kelly Morvant from Lafayette, LA, United States

Persistence pays off once again. Wonderful! We have so much to be thankful for! Have a Great Thanksgiving!

24 Nov 2010 5:23pm

Claudia from Portland, Or., United States

Hi Gary,
Well, you have done it again! Captured a beautiful moment in time and another lesson to never give up, always be ready for the unexpected beauty that nature will give you. All the best for warm Thanksgiving with your family and friends. Claudia

24 Nov 2010 5:36pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

ready for skiing, Gary?

24 Nov 2010 5:36pm

@KriKridesign: We certainly have had the weather for it this week, and the mountains are a beautiful white as far as the eye can see. We're having record cold temperatures in my hometown of Sacramento (but I won't tell you what they are because then everybody will think I'm a wimp for complaining).

MaryB from Staffordshire, United Kingdom

Stunning! absolutely stunning!

24 Nov 2010 5:37pm

Judy aka L@dybug from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Incredibly beautiful and soft image, Gary; even El Capitan is softer than usual. BRAVO!

24 Nov 2010 5:59pm

julia from bakersfield, United States

thank you once again, Gary for an amazing capture <3 i've seen this spectacular sight once in my life from a top glacier point if memory serves me correctly <3 the first nation tale of how the valley was created was being told <3

24 Nov 2010 6:32pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States


24 Nov 2010 7:05pm

Julie from Easton, United States

Such a warm, friendly, inviting shot! Just beautiful! I was wondering how high up and how far you must hike for a shot like this there? Just amazing!!!

25 Nov 2010 3:07am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

excellent landscape telephoto shot! at 188mm the landscape is nicely compressed and this also allows the mood to feature prominently in this scene! lovely light and colour tones as well!

25 Nov 2010 3:45am

Mike from California, United States

One of the things I like about Yosemite is how one can shoot from the same location and get a different look depending upon the season. We were there a week and a half ago and the only snow there was on the crest. Once again your planning a patience paid off with a great image. Have a great Thanksgiving.

25 Nov 2010 6:18am

Longroute from Cagliari, Italy

Hey, you have a talent for narrative beside photography!
I read your note with extreme interest because that's the trial every photographer has to go through when one has made some plans... but experience showed me never to give up, just as yours.
you can be proud of this photo and I guess you were so happy then!

Have a nice thanksgiving,

25 Nov 2010 8:18pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria


27 Nov 2010 7:27am

Marie from FRESNES, France

très beau paysage.

2 Dec 2010 9:51pm

guillaume from Paris, France

Fantastic compo, colours ! So peaceful ! Bravo !

13 Dec 2010 9:44am

Allen from Sacramento, United States

A lesson in patience and hope for sure!

16 Dec 2010 7:30pm