The Big Dipper and Comet NEOWISE over an alpine lake, Yosemite. 9 frames blended with Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce noise, each at 15 seconds, f/1.8, ISO 6400. I also made a lighter exposure for the landscape at 2 minutes and f/1.8, ISO 6400, and blended that with the other frames in Photoshop. All that was done just to reduce noise. The camera was locked on a tripod throughout that process, and nothing was stretched, distorted, or added. In other words, the comet and stars really were there, in that exact position over the lake and peak, at 11:06 p.m. on July 18th.
Before my journey to Death Valley, Claudia and I made a couple of trips to the Yosemite high country to try to photograph Comet NEOWISE.
On our first attempt we hiked to a high, alpine lake where I thought we could get a good view of the comet. It was one of those summer days in the Sierra with lots of clouds building up and forming scattered thunderstorms. I knew the clouds might interfere with comet viewing, but with that weather pattern the clouds usually dissipate quickly after sunset, so it seemed worth a try. And maybe the clouds would give us an interesting sunset.
Comet NEOWISE over moonlit sand dunes, Death Valley. 20mm, 16 frames blended to reduce noise, each frame 15 seconds at f/2.4, ISO 6400.
I knew it would be hot. It was July, after all, and Death Valley is perhaps the hottest place on earth. But I was actually lucky; summer temperatures in Death Valley often climb above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, while the high temp on the day I was there was only 113. Practically a cold snap.
What was I doing in Death Valley in July? Photographing Comet NEOWISE of course. I know the internet has been flooded by comet images lately, but I totally get it. The last really photogenic comet visible in the northern hemisphere was Hale-Bopp in 1997. Who knows when we’ll see another one?
Comet NEOWISE over Mono Lake, California. 35mm, 10 seconds at f/4, ISO 1000.
Early this morning Claudia and I joined about a dozen other photographers along the shore of Mono Lake to photograph Comet NEOWISE.
I was expecting to search for a smudge in the sky to the northeast, and use a long lens to make the comet a prominent part of the photograph. But when I stepped out of the car I could see it right away – even before my eyes adjusted to the dark. It was bigger than I expected. It’s the brightest, largest comet I’ve seen since Hale-Bopp in 1997.
This photograph is from October of 1995 – deep in the archives.
Most of my photographic ideas arise spontaneously, as I react to the light, weather, and my surroundings. But sometimes an idea pops into my head at home, or while driving, or, especially, while falling asleep.
The idea for this footprint image was one of those occasions when an idea just popped into my head, though I don’t remember exactly where or when. I had been experimenting with light painting at dusk and at night, using flash and flashlights, and somewhere during that time I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to show a line of footprints on a sand dune, and use a flashlight to make the prints glow?”
Half Dome and the Merced River by moonlight, Yosemite
We had a long stretch of rather dry weather here in central California, with just a few light showers here and there. But last week we finally got a decent storm. A cold front created a brief – but intense – period of precipitation on Thursday afternoon. At our house in Mariposa we saw strong winds prior to the cold front’s arrival, then the sky started dumping ice pellets, which quickly changed to heavy snow. None of the forecasts predicted snow at our elevation, but we got about four inches. After an hour or two the front passed, and the snowfall eased off into scattered snow showers.
Of course I watched the weather closely to see when this brief storm might clear. All the forecasts and models predicted showers lingering through the evening, and skies clearing sometime after midnight – but well before sunrise. That meant it was unlikely there would still be any mist at sunrise, so my best bet to photograph a snowy clearing storm was to go up to Yosemite Valley during the night. A half-full moon was due to rise just after midnight, so that could provide some interesting light during those wee hours.
Snowy night along the Merced River, Yosemite. 20mm, 20 seconds at f/2.5, ISO 6400.
I’m not sure who decided that the winter solstice should be the first official day of winter, but I think that official designation is rather absurd. Winter has definitely arrived in many parts of the country, whether it’s official or not, including here in the Sierra. This past week Yosemite got its first precipitation in months, in the form of a cold storm that dropped over a foot of snow on the valley floor.
The snow began on Tuesday, and I kept my eye on the weather, of course, hoping to photograph the storm clearing, and looking for potential rifts in the clouds. Judging by satellite images, some stars might have appeared during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, but that was just a brief break before the clouds closed in again. Late Friday morning the sun finally started to poke through the clouds, so Claudia and I headed up to the valley.
I’ve been using Lightroom since Adobe released the beta version in 2006. Over the years I’ve learned many shortcuts, and in this video I share some of my favorite tips – things I use all the time to streamline my workflow:
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