Light and Weather

The Primeval Coast

Sea stacks at dusk, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sea stacks at dusk, Redwood NP. After the sun had set we saw this little strip of orange light near the horizon through a gap in the clouds. I used a 10-stop neutral-density filter to lengthen the shutter speed to 30 seconds (at f/8, 200 ISO; focal length 111mm) in order to smooth out the water.

We recently returned from our annual trip to the northwest corner of California, land of fog, ferns, giant redwoods, and wild, rugged stretches of coastline. I always love going back to this area with its damp, primeval moodiness. And once again we had a great time during our workshop, enjoying the wonderful food and atmosphere at the Requa Inn, and spending time with a fun group of participants.

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A Surreal Sunset

Sunset over Yosemite Valley with Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset over Yosemite Valley with Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite

The best photography tales always seem to start with something like this: “It wasn’t looking good. The skies were completely overcast, but I decided to stick it out and see what might happen. And then…” The teller of the tale goes on to describe the amazing light show that ensued.

Of course you never hear stories about the times when the skies remained overcast and nothing interesting happened. There’s no story there. But the best light often does seem to occur when the odds are low. There might only be a ten percent chance of the sun breaking through, but if it does the results could be spectacular.

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Snowy Sunrise

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite

A couple of months ago California was dealing with severe drought; now we’re coping with flooding and landslides. Yosemite has received over 60 inches of rain since October 1st (the beginning of the water year in this state). The annual average is only 37 inches. At this rate we could double that annual average by the time the rainy season ends this spring.

So far Yosemite has escaped any major disasters, but the same can’t be said for San Jose, where two days ago Coyote Creek overflowed and flooded several neighborhoods. Hundreds of people had to be rescued by boat, many homes were inundated with water, and some 14,000 people were evacuated.

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A Wild Week in Yosemite

Frazil ice underneath alders along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Frazil ice underneath alders along the Merced River, Yosemite, Friday morning. The shutter speed was 3 seconds.

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.

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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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