Revisiting photography’s 3 P’s

Moonrise Through the Storm, Yosemite Valley

Parting the Clouds, Yosemite Valley
Sony a7R
72 mm
1/15 second
F/11
ISO 100

Let’s review

I often speak and write about “The 3 P’s of nature photography,” sacrifices a nature photographer must make to consistently create successful images.

  1. Preparation is your foundation, the research you do that gets you in the right place at the right time, and the vision and mastery of your camera that allows you to wring the most from the moment.
  2. Persistence is patience with a dash of stubbornness. It’s what keeps you going back when the first, second, or hundredth attempt has been thwarted by unexpected light, weather, or a host of other frustrations, and keeps you out there long after any sane person would have given up.
  3. Pain is the willingness to suffer for your craft. I’m not suggesting that you risk your life for the sake of a coveted capture, but you do need to be able to ignore the tug of a warm fire, full stomach, sound sleep, and dry clothes, because the unfortunate truth is that the best photographs almost always seem to happen when most of the world would rather be inside.

Picking an image and trying to assign one or more of the 3 P’s to it is a fun little exercise I sometimes use to remind myself to keep doing the extra work. Take a few minutes to scan your favorite captures; ask yourself how many didn’t require at least one of the 3 P’s. (I’ll wait.) …….. See what I mean?

So which of my 3 P’s do I credit for this one? Well, there was the Persistence to continue going out in the rain all week, with no guarantee we’d see anything beyond 100 yards (because in Yosemite, if you stay inside until the rain stops, you’re too late). And of course photographing in the rain is nothing if not a Pain. But more than anything else, this one was about…

Preparation

(If you discount the unavoidable knowledge gained by a lifetime of Yosemite visits and and decades of plain old picture clicking) the preparation for this image started when I plotted the 2014 December moon and determined that it would rise at sunset, nearly full, above Half Dome in the month’s first week. So of course I scheduled a workshop for that week.

But there was more to the preparation than just figuring out where the moon would be. Of course as the workshop approached, I monitored the weather forecast and arrived in Yosemite prepared for rain. (Duh.) And throughout the workshop I monitored the weather obsessively, scouring each National Weather Service forecast update (every six hours), monitoring radar, not to mention the good old fashioned walk-outside-and-look-up technique.

Before going out for our penultimate afternoon shoot, I determined exactly what time the moon would appear above Half Dome, though I had little hope that the clouds would part enough to reveal it. Nevertheless, I wanted to to keep the group within striking distance of Tunnel View, just in case. When the latest weather forecast indicated a possible break in the rain late that afternoon, I started watching the sky closely—a clearing storm plus the moon would be pretty cool for everyone (including this life-long Yosemite photographer). The instant the clouds showed a hint of brightening (a subtle precursor to an imminent break that every photographer should be able to read), I raced everyone back up to Tunnel View.

As we pulled into the Tunnel View lot, not only was the storm starting to clear, a small patch of the first blue sky we’d seen in two days was widening above Half Dome. I held my breath and crossed my fingers for the blue to expand just a little more, because I knew exactly where the moon was and it was oh so close.

We didn’t need to wait long—within five minutes a thin piece of moon poked through, then a little more, and soon there it was, floating in that small blue patch between Half Dome and Sentinel Dome. It hung in there for less than five minutes before the clouds regrouped and swallowed the sky.

Epilogue

With more rain in the forecast, driving down from Tunnel View that night I felt certain that this unexpected, brief convergence of moon and sky was a one-time gift, that the planned moonrise for our final sunset would surely be lost to the clouds. And given what we’d just seen, I was okay with that. But Nature had a different idea….

 

A gallery of extreme weather rewards

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

 

5 Comments on “Revisiting photography’s 3 P’s

  1. Hi Gary,

    I noticed that you used a Sony a7R for you latest photograph. What’s your opinion of this format/camera VS SLR?

    I’m attaching a photograph that I took from Valley View. I too planned to get the moon rise over El Capitan, but Mother Nature had other plans. I think the results

    turned out better than the original plan.

    One of Your Fans,

    Ralph French

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