It’s my pleasure

New Day, Half Dome and Crescent Moon, Yosemite

Have you noticed a pattern here? Every spring I post an image or two (or three) of a delicate crescent moon rising above Yosemite Valley at sunrise. This spring is no exception, nor will next year’s be. Or the next. Or the next….

I certainly can’t justify this lunar obsession from a business perspective. While the moon rises in a slightly different spot each year, I have more than enough pictures of Half Dome and/or El Capitan silhouetted beneath a sliver of moon, in every possible variation—horizontal, vertical, wide, tight, and everything in between—to last until the next Venus transit.

But here’s the deal. Photography needs to be a source of pleasure. Otherwise what’s the point? So when I decided to make my living taking pictures, I promised myself that I’d photograph only what I want to photograph, without concern for what will or will not sell. For me that’s natural light landscapes. Only. Nothing that moves, nothing that breathes. No people, no wildlife, and nothing manmade. No flash, light painting, or any other artificial light. I don’t blend images or do any fancy Photoshop stuff. And I don’t shoot stock images. (Not that I have a problem with others doing all this other stuff–doing it just doesn’t give me pleasure.)

In other words, if I don’t want to shoot it, I don’t. I joke that if I were photographing a field of poppies and a mountain lion were to leap into my frame, I’d shoo it away. (Okay, so I might have other impulses, but you get the idea.) It also means that when something’s going to happen in nature that I really want to see, you can bet I’ll do my best to be there with my camera. Fresh snow forecast for Yosemite? I’m on the road early enough to be there before the snow starts falling. Moonlight on Badwater in Death Valley (a recent discovery)? Gotta do it. Milky Way above Kilauea Caldera? What do you think?

And of course a crescent moon rising above Yosemite Valley at sunrise. In my world it just doesn’t get any more special than this. And as nice as the images are, nothing compares to the experience of witnessing it. Take one of the most beautiful vistas in the world, add the purity of sunrise, and garnish it with a delicate crescent moon—can’t get enough of it.

Last year I scheduled a workshop to coincide with this event; next year I’ll do the same. But this year I kept it to myself. While the time and position of the moon is never a secret—the information is available all over the Internet, not to mention software and smartphone apps—I never cease to be amazed at how many times I’m the only person present. Maybe that just means a crescent moon above Yosemite Valley doesn’t move others the way it moves me, but that’s fine with me.

Depending on the moon’s azimuth (the number of degrees south of due north) as it crests the horizon behind Yosemite Valley, I have several go-to locations. This year I decided the best spot was Tunnel View, Yosemite’s most popular vista. Each year I fear everyone has figured it out and I’ll be joined by a Horsetail Fall-style riot of photographers. So I held my breath as I approached the parking area a little after 4:30 a.m., and immediately exhaled when I found the lot empty. I set quickly set up two tripods, one with my 1dsIII and my 100-400 lens, the other supporting my new 5dIII and 24-105 lens. While waiting for the moon I composed, exposed, focused each camera, and fired a couple of test frames. Then I waited some more.

The moon appeared right on schedule, a few minutes before 5:00, a fine spear of light peeking above Half Dome. Flanked by my two cameras, a remote release in each hand, I started clicking, pausing every few clicks to adjust the exposure and recompose. I continued like this for about 25 minutes, capturing the moon’s ascent through pre-dawn twilight that transitioned from indigo to blue and finally gold right before my eyes.

As the brightening sky swallowed the moon another car pulled into the parking area and a trio of photographers rolled out, the first people I’d seen all morning. I was detaching cameras and collapsing tripods when they ambled over and casually began setting up, clearly confident that they’d arrived in plenty of time for sunrise. The moon was a faint sliver by then and I heard one of the newcomers comment that maybe they could include it their first few frames. I resisted the urge to show them what they’d missed, but couldn’t help feeling a degree of smug pleasure in what I knew was on my media cards.

Does that make me a bad person?

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