As most of you probably heard, Yosemite got hit with some wild weather last week. The National Weather Service was predicting a major flood for the Merced River in Yosemite Valley on Sunday, January 8th. Their initial projection, issued on January 5th (I think) put the water level at Pohono Bridge at 23.7 feet, slightly higher than the 1997 flood, which closed the valley for two months. Then the next day the projection dropped to 15 feet, considered a moderate flood. On Saturday the projection climbed again to 16, 17, 18, then 19.7 feet – just below the “major flood” level of 20 feet. And then the projection dropped again to 15 feet, and then lower still.
Light and Weather
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.