Light and Weather

Moonrise from Valley View

Moonrise from Gates of the Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moonrise from Gates of the Valley, Yosemite

As I described in my last post, I drove up to Yosemite Valley last Friday afternoon to see and photograph the high water. Then after sunset I hung around for awhile, waiting for the moon to rise.

The 86% moon was due to rise just after 8:00 p.m. When photographing a moonrise, moonset, sunrise, or sunset, one of the most important considerations is the exact angle or azimuth of the sun or moon. We all know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Most people also know that in the summer, in the northern hemisphere, the sun rises and sets further north, and in the winter it rises and sets further south. The moon, of course, also rises in the east and sets in the west. But compared to the sun its path changes much more rapidly, varying as much in two weeks as the sun does in six months.

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Moonrise over the Cathedral Range

Moonrise over the Cathedral Range from May Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moonrise over the Cathedral Range from May Lake, Yosemite

There’s been a lot of talk about the “supermoon.” The moon will be full tomorrow morning at 5:52 a.m. here on the west coast, and will be the closest, largest full moon since 1948. The moon will be 7% larger and 15% brighter than the average full moon – not a huge difference, and not obvious to most observers. Photographically, a small change in focal length has a much larger impact on the apparent size of the moon than how close the moon is to the earth.

Nevertheless, all this talk about the moon (along with some urging from Claudia) got me thinking about photographing it. The Tioga and Glacier Point roads are open, allowing me to get to some areas that normally aren’t accessible this time of year. Since the full moon rises further to the north (left) in November than in July, I thought it might be possible to find an interesting juxtaposition of moon and mountains that I wouldn’t see in the summer. After consulting Google Earth and The Photographers’ Ephemeris I decided to go to May Lake yesterday. That seemed like a good spot to see the moon rising over the Cathedral Range – without the smoke from backpacker’s campfires along the lakeshore that you’d usually see in summer.

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In the Alabama Hills

Sunrise on Mt. Whitney from the Alabama Hills, CA, USA

Sunrise on Mt. Whitney from the Alabama Hills, CA, USA

On our trip to the eastern Sierra last week Claudia and I made a detour down to the Alabama Hills. This area is a bit further from home than our usual eastside haunts, so we don’t go there often, and I sometimes forget how amazing it is. The jumbled rocks of the Alabama Hills are interesting and photogenic in their own right, but combined with the abrupt escarpment of the mountains to the west… well it’s just spectacular.

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Moonrise, Moonset

Moon rising above Mono Lake and the White Mountains at sunset, CA, USA

Moon rising above Mono Lake and the White Mountains at sunset, CA, USA

We had a wonderful time during our workshop in the Sierra high country last week. The locations around Tuolumne Meadows, Tioga Pass, and Mono Lake are some of my favorites, and we had a great group of people to share them with. We also had several opportunities to photograph the rising and setting moon above these striking landscapes.

In this previous post I wrote about some of the common misconceptions about photographing the full moon. For example, many people assume that full-moon photographs are taken at night, but in fact most are taken at sunrise or sunset when the light of the moon and landscape are in balance. And it’s often better to take these photographs on the days before or after the actual full moon, not when the calendar says “full moon.” That post helps explain some of the gyrations of the sun and moon so you can understand the best times to photograph the moon above a landscape. There are also some excellent apps that can help you pin down precisely where and when the moon will rise and set. The best of these are PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, and I used both to figure out where and when to take our group during the workshop.

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What’s Happening Now

Oaks and azaleas in the fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Oaks and azaleas in the fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA



One of the biggest challenges in landscape photography is deciding where to go and what to photograph. Technical skill and an eye for composition are always important, but it certainly helps to put yourself in the right place at the right time.

Of course everyone has their own preferences about the types of subjects and images they’d like to photograph, and that’s always part of the equation. And different people can have different but equally successful approaches to finding the subject matter that suits them.

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A Magical Morning in the Redwoods

Sunbeams in a redwood forest along the northern California coast, USA

Sunbeams in a redwood forest along the northern California coast

We always hope for fog when we go to the redwoods. Fog helps to simplify busy forest scenes, but also adds a touch of mood and mystery that seems to fit the primeval feeling of these groves.

Before our workshop last week we found fog along the Klamath River, and valley fog in some meadows, but none of the coastal fog that typically envelops the California coast in summer. The coastal fog is much more widespread than the other types of fog, and it’s the only kind of fog that gets thick enough and high enough to penetrate into the redwood forests. That coastal fog typically forms when it’s hot inland, but temperatures just hadn’t reached summer levels yet.

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