Gary Hart Photography: Winter Moonrise, Merced River, Yosemite

Winter Moonrise, Merced River, Yosemite
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
1/10 second
ISO 800

Last Friday evening, this professional photographer I know spent several hours photographing an assortment of beautiful Yosemite winter scenes at ISO 800. Apparently, he had increased his ISO earlier in the day while photographing a macro scene with three extension tubes—needing a faster shutter speed to freeze his subject in a light breeze, he’d bumped his ISO to 800. Wise decision. But, rushing to escape to the warmth of his car, rather than reset the camera to his default ISO 100 the instant he finished shooting, he packed up his camera with a personal promise to adjust it later, when his fingers were warmer—surely, he rationalized, removing the extension tubes and macro lens would remind him to reset the ISO too. (You’d think.) But, despite shutter speeds nowhere near what they should have been given the light and f-stop, he just kept shooting beautiful scene after beautiful scene, as happy as if he had a brain.

I happen to know for a fact that this very same photographer has done other stupid things. Let’s see…. There was that time, while chasing a sunset at Mono Lake, that he drove his truck into a creek and had to be towed out. And the two (two!) times he left his $8,000 camera beside the road as he motored off to the next spot. And you should see his collection of out-of-focus finger and thumb close-ups (a side effect of hand-holding his graduated neutral density filters). Of course this photographer’s identity isn’t important—what is important is dispelling the myth that professional photographers aren’t immune to amateur mistakes.

And on a completely unrelated note…

Let’s take a look at this image from, coincidentally, last Friday evening. Also completely coincidentally, it too was photographed at ISO 800 (go figure)—not because I made a mistake (after all, I am a trained professional), but, uhhh, but because I think there are just too many low noise Yosemite images. So anyway….

This was night-two of what was originally my Yosemite ISON workshop—but, after the unfortunate demise of Comet ISON and a week of frigid temperatures in Yosemite, became my Yosemite ice-on workshop. That’s because, to the delight of the workshop students (and the immense relief of their leader), much of the one foot of snow that had fallen the Saturday before the workshop’s Thursday start had been frozen into a state of suspended animation by a week of temperatures in the teens and low-twenties.

Each day we rose to find nearly every shaded surface in Yosemite sheathed in a white veneer of snow and ice. (Valley locations that received any sunlight were largely brown and bare.) And the Merced River, particularly low and slow following two years of drought, was covered in ice in an assortment of textures and shapes from frosted glass to blooming flowers. Adding to all this terrestrial beauty was a waxing moon, nearly full, ascending our otherwise boring blue skies and illuminating our nightscapes.

On Friday night I guided my group to this spot just downstream from Leidig Meadow. There we found the moon, still several days from full, glowing high above the valley floor, and Half Dome reflected by a watery window in the ice. I captured many versions of this scene, from tight isolations of the reflections to wide renderings of the entire display. It’s too soon to say which I like best, but I’m starting with this one because it most clearly conveys what we saw that evening.

I chose a vertical composition because including the moon in a horizontal frame would  have shrunk Half Dome and the moon, and introduced elements on the right and left that weren’t as strong as Half Dome, its reflection, and the snowy Merced River. (Sentinel Rock is just out of the frame on the right—as striking as it is, I wanted to make this image all about Half Dome.)

My f16 choice was to ensure sharpness throughout the frame, from the ice flowers blooming in the foreground, to Half Dome and its reflection. As you may or may not know, the focus point for a reflection is the focus point of the reflective subject, not the reflective surface. That means when photographing a reflection surrounded by leaves, ice, rocks, or whatever, you need to ensure adequate DOF or risk having either the reflection or its surrounding elements out of focus. Here I probably could have gotten away with f11, but my iPhone and its DOF app were buried beneath several layers of clothes, and using it would have require removing two pair of gloves.

I’d love to say that I chose ISO 800 to freeze the rapids, but I’m not sure you’d buy it. So I’m sticking with my too many low noise Yosemite images story and moving on. (A few cameras ago, ISO 800 would have meant death to this image, but today, thankfully, it’s mostly just a lesson in humility.)

A Yosemite Winter Gallery

Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh the screen to reorder the display.

25 Comments on “Oops

  1. Great story Gary love the picture

    Sent from my iPhone

    On Dec 17, 2013, at 2:57 PM, Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart wrote:

    WordPress.com Eloquent Nature posted: ” Last Friday evening, this professional photographer I know spent several hours photographing an assortment of beautiful Yosemite winter scenes at ISO 800. Apparently, he had increased his ISO earlier in the day while photographing a macro scene with t”

  2. I can relate. I shot a fantastic sunset at ISO 800 after shooting deer that afternoon.
    The photo taken with a D800 came out great and I sold 28×40 print a few weeks later, the noise was almost unseen.

  3. Hahahahahhaaaaa…man, you got me laughing reading this. So many images ruined by not going through the review process before shooting. Oh, dude, I have blown some great ones, ones that I hiked hours to get to, only to find really bad images at home on the computer. At least this story had a happy ending…excellent “noisy” image, dude. And so glad to know that even the pros screw it up from time to time. Gosh, I am laughing as I type this…leaving your camera by the roadside and driving off…only photogs can have such great stories.

  4. The moon is a nice touch, but until I read your text I didn’t even notice it. My eye was arrested by the orange glow of the sun hitting the peaks, first the reflection on the water and then the real deal. Breathtaking shot, as always. Far superior to anything shot by that “professional photographer you know!” But if he came back with images like this one, I’d cut him some slack! 😉

  5. Gary, I think that this is my favorite photo, yet! It’s absolutely stunning! Having been to Yosemite once, in the summer, I can appreciate it’s beauty. But I can now understand why you love to take photos of it in the winter snow! Thank you for this gorgeous image.

    Peggy Schulz

  6. Gary, I really enjoy your posts. I always learn or am reminded of something very interesting. And I often get a side-splitting laugh out of how you present it as well. Keep up the good work and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    • Thanks, Lynda. Yeah, don’t give me more pixels, give me more dynamic range and better high ISO performance. It seems like they finally heard us. 🙂

  7. Gary, it is nice to know that even a professional that I respect and admire can sometimes make errors that I also make. Because of your confessions here, I will go much easier on myself the next time I make the inevitable blunder in the field, so thank you kindly:-)

  8. Great image, great story! I always look forward to your emails!! Thank goodness for those great cameras & programs that help with noise…which I don’t see any of in this image!!

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