Night Photography

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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Collaboration

Light beam, Milky Way, and arch, Alabama Hills, CA, USA

Light beam, Milky Way, and arch, Alabama Hills, CA, USA



Landscape photographers usually work alone, or with a few other people. Even during workshops, when we might have 10 or 12 photographers in the same general area, each person is usually working on their own compositions.

But in our night-photography workshops there’s often a lot more collaboration. It’s common for groups of people to work on photographing the same subject, taking turns with light-painting, and exchanging ideas about how best to light and photograph the scene. And often the collective wisdom produces some interesting ideas.

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A Rift in the Clouds

Mobius Arch at night, Alabama Hills, CA, USA

Mobius Arch at night, Alabama Hills, CA, USA

We just finished a nighttime workshop in the Trona Pinnacles and Alabama Hills. The forecast for our last evening wasn’t promising, calling for mostly cloudy skies and a 70 percent chance of showers. But I told the group that as long as it wasn’t raining there was still a lot we could do, and if we got just a few small breaks in the cloud cover the mix of stars and clouds could be really beautiful.

As sunset approached we headed out to the famous Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills. We photographed some interesting cloud formations in late-afternoon light, then at dusk set up our cameras to frame the arch with the sky above. The skies were mostly cloudy, just as predicted. Radar images showed showed heavy rain falling west of the Sierra crest. But from our position in the Alabama Hills, in the rain shadow created by the mountain wall, a patch of sky to our west-soutwest stayed partially clear, and remained that way most of the evening. Something about the trajectory of the wind and rain created that rift in the clouds and kept it in place.

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Downtown Bodie

DeChambeau Hotel and I.O.O.F. Hall at night, Bodie State Historic Park, CA, USA

DeChambeau Hotel and I.O.O.F. Hall at night, Bodie State Historic Park, CA, USA



On the last night of our recent Starry Skies Adventure workshop we went to Bodie, which is always a great place for night photography. As the Milky Way moved into the southwest that evening it lined up well with these two buildings along Main Street, the DeChambeau Hotel and I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) Hall. I had never photographed this view of Bodie before so decided to try it, and was joined by several other people in the workshop.

I knew the lighting would be complicated, but that’s part of the fun of photographing Bodie at night. You can do relatively simple light-painting there, or, if you’re up for a challenge, try something complex. Here we wanted make it look as if the buildings were lit from the inside (even though the interiors were locked and inaccessible to us). That’s not really hard to do – just shine flashlights through the windows. The hard part was figuring out how to keep yourself out of the frame while doing so. The solution was to do each part of the lighting in a separate frame, and then mask off the unwanted areas of that frame (like a person holding a flashlight) in Photoshop.

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