Last week I was in Arizona (Grand Canyon, Page, Sedona); next week it’ll be Oregon (Columbia River Gorge). But this week my focus is little closer to home, as I enjoy the familiar confines of Yosemite Valley.
The big news here is the water, or rather, the lack thereof. In a lifetime of visits to Yosemite, I’ve never seen the water lower in spring than it is this week, not even close. Most years, the water in Yosemite’s falls peaks in May; this year the flow peaked in February. On my visit to the bridge beneath Lower Yosemite Fall, always a guaranteed drenching in spring, I didn’t feel a single drop. The reflective vernal pool in Cooks meadow is a dirt hole, and the Merced River, which normally roars through Yosemite Valley in spring, is drifting near its leisurely autumn pace.
While these dry conditions might force Yosemite photographers to alter some plans, there is a silver lining to this week’s metaphorical cloud. Thursday night my Yosemite Moonbow and Dogwood workshop group was able to photograph sunset from Glacier Point, which opened last week, the earliest opening on record. And Friday morning we photographed dogwood blooms that already starting to pop out everywhere, a month early.
A particular highlight came Wednesday night. I’d taken my group to a favorite location beside the Merced River, a location I visit so frequently that I usually leave my camera in the car here. But this night, with spring-green cottonwoods framing the upstream riverbank and mix of clouds, sky, and sunlight above Half Dome, it was clear that the conditions were primed for something special. My ace in the hole was the nearly full moon, obscured by clouds when we arrived, that emerged right on cue, just as the sunset pink sky reflected in the Merced River, to provide a perfect accent to an already beautiful scene.
The operative word is accent. As I explained to my group, the moon doesn’t need to be large to be effective. Glowing disk or thin crescent, the moon carries so much emotional weight that, over the right scene and properly placed in the frame, it creates a simple accent that turns a conventionally beautiful scene into something special.
Yosemite, with its host of east-facing vistas, is my favorite spot to photograph a moonrise. Whether it’s a full moon at sunset, or a crescent at sunrise, I do my best to find the Yosemite view that best aligns with the rising moon, scheduling as many workshops and personal visits to coincide with this marvel. When possible the view I choose includes Half Dome, Yosemite’s monolithic centerpiece.
When I can position myself at one of Yosemite’s more distant western vistas, on the opposite side of Yosemite Valley from Half Dome (such as Tunnel View), I have the option of using a telephoto lens to isolate Half Dome in the frame with a magnified moon. When the moon rises too early at one of these distant vantage points, I set up on the east side of Yosemite Valley and closer to Half Dome (raising the horizon so the moon appears later), usually near the Merced River, and use a wide lens that includes the entire scene that uses the moon as an accent.
Of course you don’t need to travel to Yosemite to include the moon in your images. With a little bit of homework, you can find a rising moon in any east-facing scene, or a setting moon in any west-facing scene. To read more about photographing the moon, read the Full Moon and Crescent Moon Photo Tips articles.
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