Night Photography

Death Valley under the Moon and Stars

Milky Way over sand dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Milky Way over sand dunes, Death Valley. This is a six-image panorama, lit with low-level continuous lighting from two LED light panels on stands, and stitched together with Lightroom’s Panorama Merge. See the main text for more details.

It’s been a busy spring, so I have a backlog of images that I haven’t been able to post yet. Among those images are most of the nighttime photos I made during our two Death Valley workshops (as well as beforehand, while scouting). We encountered a lot of wind, which made things challenging. You just don’t want to be out in the dunes when it’s windy, because you and your gear will get sand-blasted. But the wind helped wipe footprints off the sand, and somehow, during both workshops, we managed to get out into the footprint-free dunes on calm, clear, beautiful nights.

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Moon Setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, spring of 2017

Every year, around the third week of February, the sun sets at just the right angle for Horsetail Fall. With clear skies and enough water, the backlit waterfall glows with a brilliant orange color, lit by the setting sun.

Some years ago it occurred to me that the setting moon could create the same effect. In the spring of 2010 I had a chance to try this, and it worked beautifully. As I wrote back then, I walked up to one of my favorite Horsetail Fall viewing locations early in the morning, and saw an amazing sight: that beautiful, low-angle backlight on the waterfall, with the cliff behind it in the shade. It looked like sunset in February, only with stars in the sky above it. And the camera captured what my eyes couldn’t see – the orange glow created by the setting moon:

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Zodiacal Light

Zodiacal light over Manly Beacon and a dust storm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Zodiacal light over Manly Beacon and a dust storm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

On the last night of our Death Valley workshop we went down into Golden Canyon, preparing to capture a star-trail sequence above Manly Beacon. As the skies grew darker we noticed a low cloud in the main valley, behind the Beacon. It looked like fog or mist, but that didn’t make sense, since there hadn’t been any recent rain, and, well, we were in Death Valley, the driest place in North America. So we figured it had to be a dust storm.

It was gusty in Golden Canyon, but not windy enough to create a dust storm. Clearly, however, it was windier in the main valley. And the dust cloud seemed to be moving our way. We debated whether to leave or stick it out. It didn’t seem likely that the dust cloud would reach us, so we decided to wait a bit longer, and then a bit longer again.

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Happy New Year!

Moonlit winter night with Half Dome, Glacier Point, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moonlit winter night with Half Dome, Glacier Point, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful year in 2017.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting the nominees for my best photos of 2016, and you’ll get a chance to vote for your favorites and help me pick the top ten. Keep an eye out for the post! You can see last year’s nominees here, and the winners here.

I made this image around 4:20 a.m. last Saturday morning (Christmas Eve) after a few of inches of snow fell in Yosemite Valley. I actually drove up to the valley around 9:30 on Friday evening, since it looked like the storm was about to clear. But clouds and snow flurries persisted for awhile, and skies didn’t start to clear in ernest until after midnight.

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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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Misty Night

Misty night, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Misty night, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite

After a long dry spell we finally got some rain. The first storm arrived Thursday, and then a second, wetter system reached us yesterday. Altogether Yosemite Valley received over three inches of rain since late Wednesday. It’s been warm, with the snow levels near 9,000 feet, so there was no new snow in Yosemite Valley, but that warm rain melted generous quantities of snow leftover from previous storms, so the waterfalls are roaring like spring.

Thursday’s storm cleared after sunset, so at about 9:00 o’clock I decided to drive up to the valley for some night photography. I arrived to find plenty of low-lying mist, with the two-thirds-full moon lighting the cliffs above. It was really beautiful, but the moon was high overhead, making the lighting challenging. Then as the moonset approached things got more interesting. Some higher clouds moved in, and those clouds started to catch some color from the setting moon. I couldn’t see that color, of course, but the camera’s LCD screen showed it clearly.

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