Moon whisperer

Gary Hart Photography, Moonrise, Yosemite

Twilight Moonrise, El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite
Canon EOS SL1
.4 seconds
ISO 100
140 mm

Just when you start getting cocky, nature has a way of putting you back in your place. Case in point: last week’s full moon, which my workshop group photographed to great satisfaction from the side of Turtleback Dome, near the road just above the Wawona Tunnel.

I love photographing the moon, in all of its phases for sure, but especially in its full and crescent phases, when it hangs on the horizon in nature’s best light. I’ve developed a method that allows me to pretty much nail the time and location of the moon’s appearance from any location, and love sharing the moment with my workshop students. (Because my workflow has been in place for about ten years, I don’t use any of the excellent new software tools that automate the moon plotting process.)

Last week’s workshop was no exception, and after much plotting and re-plotting, I decided that rather than my usual Tunnel View vantage point, the view just west of the Wawona Tunnel would work better for this November’s full moon. Arriving about 30 minutes before “showtime,” I gathered everyone around and pointed a spot on Half Dome’s right side, about a third of the way above the tree-lined ridge, and told them the moon would appear right there between 4:45 and 4:50.

Sure enough, right at 4:47 there it was and I exhaled. We photographed the moon’s rise for about 30 minutes, until difference between the darkening valley and daylight-bright moon became too great for our cameras to capture lunar detail. Everyone was thrilled, and I was an instant genius—I believe I even heard “moon whisperer” on a few lips.

The workshop wrapped up the next evening, and I was still basking in my new-found moon whisperer status as I drove home down the Merced River Canyon with my daughter Ashley in the passenger seat. In a car behind us was workshop participant Laurie, who had never been down that road and wanted to follow me to the freeway in Merced.

Hungry, we stopped at one of my favorite spots, Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort in Midpines (check it out), for dinner. About an hour later, our stomachs full, we were walking back to the cars when someone pointed to a glow atop the mountain ridge above the resort. Ashley and I recognized it as the rising moon, but since this wasn’t a full disk, immediately entered into a friendly debate as to whether the moon was just peeking above the ridge, or had already risen and was disappearing behind a cloud.

We actually got quite scientific, escalating the passion with each point/counterpoint to make our cases (lest you think this was an unfair contest, I should add that Ashley’s a lawyer). Laurie remained silent. I’m not really sure how long we’d been debating when Laurie finally nudged us and pointed skyward, where, in full view of the entire Western Hemisphere, glowed the landscape illuminating spotlight of the actual full moon. Moon whisperer indeed.

(We never did figure out what the glow was.)

A full moon gallery

Click an image for a closer look, and to enjoy the slide show

9 Comments on “Moon whisperer

  1. My goodness! Gary, I consider you, and your GLORIOUS work, the quintessential art form that expresses the magnificent glory of Earth’s abundant beauty, captured by one of the finest photographers gracing this Planet. Your work is awe inspiring. Sincere thanks for sharing you true self with me, and so many others.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, James. I’m fortunate to be able to photograph only what I love, so it’s particularly gratifying to know that my images touch others as much as the scenes touched me.

  2. Gary, I enjoyed your post, and I have always been a fan of your full moon photos. When I am in Queenstown, NZ on Sunday 12/7, I will be treated to a full moon. I see that f/11 and ISO 100 are good for sharpness, and I will use my 70-200 lens to compress space, but can you give me some advice on scouting a location ahead of time? With the Photographers Ephemeris, I will look up the moon rise time. Mountains or a calm lake in the foreground are good. What else should I be thinking of or looking for? How do you predict the time the moon will peak over a mountain slope? I hope you will share your secrets with me!


    • Given that it’s been 20 years since I visited New Zealand, I won’t be able to give you any specifics. But when I try to find a new location for the moon, I pick an area with potential, scour maps for accessible scenes that might align with the moon, then scout them in advance. Keep in mind that if you plan to use a telephoto, you’ll need to be a fair distance from your foreground subject (mountains work well); if it’s a lake you want in your foreground, unless you can find a distant vantage point, it’ll most likely be a wide shot (with a small moon). My technique for figuring the moon’s appearance isn’t a secret, it’s just way more complicated than the current tools like PhotoPills and Photographer’s Ephemeris. Whichever you use, I’d be practicing now, with scenes you can verify, until it becomes second nature.

  3. It’s a great image! I would never expect anything else from you Gary. Even better that your daughter Ashley was there with you 🙂

  4. “Twilight Moonrise, El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite”
    It’s a great image, Gary!
    I’m an amateur photographer.
    I’m from Argentina and I would like to visit Yosemite next autumn.
    Did you take this picture from the Tunnel View?
    Do you remember the day, month and the year of the picture.
    Thanks for help me and congratulatios.


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