Moon Over Yosemite

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Supermoon, Half Dome, Yosemite

Winter Supermoon, Half Dome, Yosemite
Sony a7RIII
Sony 100-400 GM
Sony 2x teleconverter
ISO 400
f/11
1/8 second

Large or small, crescent or full, I love photographing the moon rising above Half Dome. The alignment doesn’t work most months, so those months when the alignment is right, I do my best to be there.

For last week’s Yosemite Winter Moon photo workshop I’d planned three moonrises: Thursday and Friday we got lucky with the never reliable December skies, but Saturday night concerned me. Not only was this moonrise the “main event,” the forecast was less than promising. And while the first two moonrises were absolutely beautiful, the moon was less full and we were on the valley floor, much closer to Half Dome. Our location required a wider focal length that meant a relatively small moon. But on Saturday (it would rise too late to photograph on Sunday) the moon would be 99 percent full and rise shortly after sunset, just left of Half Dome when viewed from Tunnel View. Tunnel View is eight miles west of Half Dome, a distance, when combined with the moon’s proximity to Half Dome, that would allow  a long telephoto that would fill the frame with the moon and all of Half Dome.

Saturday started clear, but soon a thin layer of clouds moved in, bathing Yosemite Valley in diffuse light that was wonderful for photographing pretty much anything that didn’t involve the sky. These clouds weren’t dense enough to completely obscure the sun, but with a chance of rain coming overnight, I knew they’d be thickening at some point.

I got my group in position near Tunnel View about a half hour before sunset. I’ve attempted moonrises that were completely obscured by clouds, and some where we could see the moon’s glow through the clouds, but no detail. I tried to stay positive but the fading light made it impossible to tell exactly how thick the clouds were. Fearing the worst, I rationalized that we’d already had two nice moonrises and maybe wishing for a third was just greedy. But still….

Hoping for the best, I pointed out where the moon should appear about ten minutes after sunset, advising everyone to continue shooting normally until then, but to have an idea of their moonrise compositions. Practicing what I preach, I got out my Sony 100-400 GM, added my 2x teleconverter, and framed up the scene. Because I wasn’t going to shoot anything else (as you may have noticed, I already have a couple of Tunnel View images in my portfolio), I focused and waited.

About five minutes after sunset an amber glow in the clouds next to Half Dome signaled the moon’s imminent arrival. That we could even see any sign of the moon gave me hope and I held my breath as the glow intensified, still unsure whether we’d see lunar detail or just a white blob. The glow was actually unique and very beautiful in its own way and I started clicking. The instant the moon’s brilliant leading edge nudged into view, silhouetting the trees, I knew we were in luck. The landscape was already fairly dark by then, but because this was the group’s third moonrise, they’d become old pros at dealing with the scene’s extreme dynamic range—at that point the workshop’s mantra had become: “Push the exposure until the moon’s highlights start blinking, and fix the shadows in Photoshop.”

The experience that evening was even more spectacular than I had dared hope, a perfect storm of conditions I might never see repeated: the moon’s alignment with Half Dome, the telephoto distance, the timing of the moon’s arrival that put it on the horizon with just enough twilight remaining, and (especially) the translucent clouds that enveloped the moon in a golden halo and eased the scene’s dynamic range.

Some thoughts on the Sony a7RIII

A couple of weeks ago, at a Sony sponsored event in Sedona, I got the opportunity to do some night photography with the new Sony a7RIII. But this Yosemite trip was my first time using the new camera on my own. It’s too soon for any final proclamations, but my general sense is that this camera has even more dynamic range than the a7RII (which is pretty incredible). The other significant takeaway from this weekend is that I used the same battery for three-and-half days and came home with more than 25 percent remaining. Anyone who shot with the a7RII, knows how significant this is.

I’m still getting used to the new camera’s interface—while similar to the a7RII, there are definite differences. I do like the new button layout and improved menu interface, but am still getting used to the joystick and touchscreen—pretty sure I’ll learn to love them too. And the dual card slots are a necessary and most welcome improvement.

My biggest complaint with the new camera is that the back-button focus that I loved so much on the a7rII is broken on the a7RIII. Every camera I’ve ever used (Canon and Sony) has allowed me, after tweaking some settings, to switch seamlessly between auto and manual focus without requiring me to change the focus mode. So the first thing I do when I get a new camera is disengage autofocus from the shutter button and assign autofocus to a button on the back of the camera. With back-button focus enabled, my workflow has always been manually focus by default, but always with the ability to autofocus with the simple push of a button—no focus mode change required. Doing this with the a7RII was the easiest of any camera I’ve ever used, but for some reason Sony changed the focus behavior of the a7RIII, so now I have to deal with the added step of switching focus modes on the camera before focusing. This might not sound like a big deal, but I don’t want to have to think about my camera when I’m composing a scene, so this behavior is extremely frustrating. That said, I’ve already communicated my frustration to Sony’s engineers and am hopeful (confident?) this is a firmware fix that will come soon. Sony’s responsiveness to things like this is one of the reasons I’m so happy I made the switch from Canon.

I’m happily retracting those words after Sony found a solution for the a7RIII back-button focus problem. At last month’s Sony media event Sedona, I was surrounded by Sony’s best and brightest engineers; when I brought the BBF problem to their attention, we all scratched our heads over how to make it work, and they finally asked me to send them a detailed write-up. They promised to address it ASAP, but I didn’t think it would happen without a firmware update.

To enable back-button focus on the Sony a7RIII or a9, simply assign any custom button (Tab 2, Screen 8) AF/MF Control Hold (AF1 screen). To use it, keep the camera in Manual Focus mode—this will allow you to manually focus with the focus ring, or autofocus by pressing whatever button you assigned AF/MF Control Hold.

Bottom line

I’m pretty sure this is the best camera I’ve ever had my hands on. In fact, the dynamic range improvement was obvious as soon as I started processing this moonrise shoot—we continued shooting about 25 minutes after sunset, and just a little processing reveals useable detail in my highlights and shadows, even in my final image. Ridiculous.


A couple of full moon photography tips

Sun and moon rise/set times always assume a flat horizon, which means the sun usually disappears behind the local terrain before the “official” sunset, while the moon appears after moonrise. When that happens, there’s usually not enough light to capture landscape detail in the moon and landscape, always my goal. To capture the entire scene with a single click (no image blending), I usually try to photograph the rising full moon on the day before it’s full, when the nearly full (99 or so percent illuminated) moon rises before the landscape has darkened significantly.

The moon’s size in an image is determined by my focal length—the longer the lens, the larger the moon appears. Photographing a large moon above a particular subject requires not only the correct alignment, it also requires distance from the subject—the farther back your position, the longer the lens you can use without cutting of some of the subject.

This moonrise image is a perfect example. Tunnel View in Yosemite is one of my favorite locations to photograph a moonrise because it’s about eight miles from Half Dome. At this distance I can use 500+ mm (250mm plus a 2x teleconverter) to fill my frame with Half Dome—with the moon nearby, I get an image that includes all of Half Dome and a very large moon.

Moon Over Yosemite

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

Photography’s Creativity Triad: Depth

Gary Hart Photography: Autumn Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite

Autumn Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM
.8 second
F/16
ISO 200

Photography’s Creativity Triad

Rather than attempting to reproduce a scene exactly as we see it, enduring photographs reveal unseen aspects of our world. Capturing this hidden world requires understanding and mastery of photography’s “creativity triad,” the three aspects of a scene that distinguish the camera’s vision from human vision: motion, light, and depth.


Photography is the futile attempt to squeeze a three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional medium. But just because it’s impossible to truly capture depth in a photograph, don’t think you shouldn’t consider the missing dimension when crafting an image. For the photographer with total control over his or her camera’s exposure variables (what exposure variable to change and when to change it), this missing dimension provides an opportunity to reveal the world in unique ways, or to create an illusion of depth that recreates much of the thrill of being there.

Creative Selective Focus

Poppy Pastel, Sierra Foothills, California (1oomm, f4, ISO 400, 1/125)

A personal favorite solution to the missing depth conundrum I call creative selective focus: An intentionally narrow depth of field with a carefully chosen focus point to flatten a scene’s myriad out-of-focus planes onto the same thin plane as the sharp subject. This technique softens distractions into a blur of color and shape, complementing and emphasizing the subject.

I especially enjoy using creative selective focus for isolation shots of colorful leaves each autumn, and for dogwood and poppy close-ups in spring. Looking for a striking subject that stands out from the surroundings, I position myself to create foreground and/or background relationships that complement my primary subject.

When composing the poppy scene depicted here, I tried to frame the foreground trio of poppies with distant poppies and other wildflowers that I knew would become soft splashes of color. Using a macro lens with extension tubes, a large aperture, and a very close focus point, I achieved a paper-thin range of sharpness that softened the busy background and helped my primary subjects stand out.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article on this very topic for “Outdoor Photographer” magazine. You can read a slightly updated version of this article in my Photo Tips section: Selective Focus.

The Illusion of Depth

Sometimes a scene holds so much near-to-far beauty that we want to capture every inch of it. While we can’t actually capture the depth our stereo vision enjoys, we can take steps to create the illusion of depth. Achieving this is largely about mindset—it’s about not simply settling for a primary subject no matter how striking it is. When you find a distant subject to feature in an image, scan the scene and position yourself to include a complementary fore-/middle-ground subjects. Likewise, when you want to feature a nearby object in an image, position yourself to include a complementary back-/middle-ground subjects.

Autumn Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite

Guiding my workshop group to a placid bend in the Merced River on this year’s Yosemite Autumn Moon photo workshop, I was instantly drawn to the reflection of Half Dome. The cottonwoods lining the distant shoreline were at their peak autumn gold, and a collection of clouds above Half Dome caught the late afternoon sun, promising good odds for a colorful sunset. These features alone would have made a great image, but I looked around for something to add to the close foreground.

I didn’t need to look long, as just about fifty feet downstream I found a collection of colorful leaves jutting into the river, perpendicular to the shore. I shifted my position until the leaves appeared to point directly at Half Dome and dropped my tripod until my camera was about a foot above the water. With a half hour or so until sunset, I had plenty of time to play with the scene, familiarize myself with all the compositional variables, and refine my composition and focus point. Despite the relative closeness of the floating leaves, at 16mm I knew I had plenty depth of field to carry the entire scene if I was careful. Stopping my lens down to f/16, I focused on a leaf near the middle of the group, about two feet away. This gave me good sharpness from about a foot to infinity and I was in business.

Here’s my Photo Tips article on using hyperfocal focus techniques to enhance your images’ illusion of depth: Depth of Field.


Managing Depth

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

 

Yosemite Reflections

Gary Hart Photography: Spring Sunset, Leidig Meadow, Yosemite

Spring Sunset, Leidig Meadow, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony/Zeiss 16-35
3.2 seconds
F/9
ISO 200

Rather than attempt the impossible task of choosing a favorite season in Yosemite, I find it easier to identify the things I like most about each season. From colorful fall to white winter to saturated spring, Yosemite becomes a completely different place with each season. (FYI, summer is for tourists.) But regardless of the season, I think it’s Yosemite’s reflections that make me happiest.

Yosemite’s reflection locations vary with the season. After a storm, small reflective pools form in Yosemite’s ubiquitous granite, then disappear almost as quickly as they appeared. The Merced River, is a continuous ribbon of reflection in the late summer and autumn low-water months, and a churning torrent in spring. But even in those high snowmelt months, reliable pockets of calm can be found along the riverbank, and there are a handful of spots where the river widens and smooths enough to reflect color and shape.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I think my favorite Yosemite reflections may be the ones I find in the flooded meadows during a wet spring, not necessarily because they’re any more beautiful than the other reflections, but mostly because they’re much more rare. Many years we don’t get these vernal pools at all, and even when they do form, their lifetime is measured in days or weeks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Following years of drought, a record winter snowfall earlier this year translated to a record spring snowmelt, sending the Merced River well over its banks and into many of Yosemite’s normally high-and-dry meadows. This wasn’t “run for your life!” flooding, it was a gradual rise that seeped into and eventually submerged meadows, trails, and even some Yosemite Valley roads.

Leidig Meadow west of Yosemite Lodge is one of those spots that doesn’t usually flood, but flooding here is far from unprecedented. This year when I parked in my usual spot west of the meadow and attempted the normally relaxing 1/4 mile stroll along the river, I had to wade through eight inches of water to make it to the meadow. When I returned a few days later with my workshop group, even after choosing another somewhat less treacherous parking spot, we still had to pick our steps carefully or risk a shoe-full of water.

Meadows are always fragile, but never more-so than when they’re wet, so rather than venture further into the meadow, we set our sights on the numerous reflections among the trees near the (mostly submerged) trail. Even still, we ended up with a number of wet shoes and pant legs, some accidental and some by design (to get the shot, of course).

When it appeared the sunset show was over, the group started to pack up and head back to the cars. About the time I was ready to call it myself, I noticed a little bounce-back pink in the thin clouds overhead and warned everyone that they might be packing it in a little too soon. Many were anxious to get dry and escape the mosquito feast, but those of us who stayed were rewarded with about ten minutes of post-sunset color that went from pale pink to electric magenta, one of those moments in nature that you think just can’t get any better until somehow it does.

Reflecting a bit on reflections

A reflection can turn an ordinary pretty picture into something special. Of course they aren’t always possible, but when the opportunity exists I pursue reflections aggressively, scanning the scene for potentially reflective water and positioning myself accordingly. Too often I see people walk up to a reflection, plop down their tripod, and make a picture of whatever happens to be bouncing off the water at their feet. But maximizing reflection opportunities starts with understanding that, just like a billiard ball striking a cushion, a reflection always bounces off the reflective surface at exactly the same angle at which it arrived.

Armed with this knowledge, when I encounter a reflective surface, I scan the area for something worthy of reflecting. Sometimes that’s easy (Half Dome, for example), sometimes it’s a little tougher (like a rapidly moving sunlit cloud). Knowing that all I need to do is position myself in the path of the reflection of my target subject, I move left/right, forward/backward, up/down until my object appears. I’ve observed that many people are pretty good about the left/right thing, not quite so good with the forward/backward part, and downright miserable at the up/down. But I’ve found that once I get the left/right position nailed, it’s the up/down that makes the most difference.

For example, in the spring reflection of Half Dome at the top of this post, it’s not an accident that the Half Dome and North Dome reflections are centered and uncluttered by all the grass and leaves scattered throughout the water. The centering part was pretty easy, but finding a large enough clean surface to reflect the two domes required a lot of forward/backward maneuvering, combined with frequent up/down dipping—I’m sure to the uninformed observer it appeared that I was trying out a new dance routine.

Read more about reflections


A Gallery of Yosemite Reflections

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

Yosemite game-changer

Gary Hart Photography: Evening Reflection, Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Evening Reflection, Mirror Lake, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony 12-24 f4 G
12mm
1/15 second
F/9
ISO 100

“Game changer” is most certainly a cliché, but every once in a while I get to use the term without shame. I used it when I switched from film to digital; again when I discovered that the Sony a7R (and now the a7RII) gave me 2- to 3-stops more dynamic range than my Canon 5DIII; one more time when I first turned the Sony a7S (since replaced with the a7SII) toward the night sky. And I think I’ll trot it out once more for Sony’s new 12-24 f4 G lens.

Of course I can only speak for the 12-24’s change in my game—your results may vary. But as a landscape-only shooter who spends a lot of time in Yosemite, this lens allows me to capture images that were heretofore not possible with anything in my bag: Game changed.

Early last month, with only a few days to play with the new (and at the time, top secret) lens, I beelined to Yosemite. My first stop was Mirror Lake, a wide spot in Tenaya Creek that isn’t technically a lake (it’ll be dry by summer’s end), but each spring is most definitely a mirror. The coveted feature here is Half Dome, which towers more than 4,000 feet above the glassy water, close enough to require some serious neck craning. Many times at Mirror Lake I’ve visualized a composition that includes Half Dome and its reflection, only to be thwarted because even at its widest, a 16-35 lens isn’t wide enough.

Since my days with the lens were limited, I wasn’t able to time my visit for interesting weather or some celestial event. No worries, I rationalized, even on Yosemite’s standard blue-sky days, I can always count on warm, late afternoon light bathing Half Dome—not spectacular, but reliably nice.

I arrived at the lake about an hour before sunset and immediately started seeking out compositions to put the new lens to the test. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to mount the 12-24 on my a7RII, put my eye to the viewfinder, and see all of Half Dome and its reflection with room to spare. It wasn’t long before I zeroed in on the scene you see here (that required me to balance atop a rock about three feet from the shore, tripod 10 inches deep in frigid snowmelt).

As luck would have it, just as the light started to warm, a few clouds drifted down from the north, so I quickly adjusted my composition and waited for them to slip into my composition. They were moving quite fast, leaving a window of just a few seconds when they filled the sky without being seriously truncated by the border. With composition, exposure, and focus set, I clicked a half dozen rapid-fire frames before the clouds started drifting out of the frame.

This was just my first stop with this lens. On the walk back to my car I stopped for a shot that I shared a few weeks ago; that night, and again the next morning, I tried it at a favorite El Capitan View with great success (to be shared in a future blog). And before returning home, I discovered a completely unexpected use at Yosemite Falls. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered this lens—I expect to see it next month.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Workshop Schedule || Purchase Prints


A Half Dome Gallery

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

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

Gary Hart Photography: Sunset Palette, Half Dome from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite

Sunset Palette, Half Dome from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
Canon 24-105L
2 seconds
F/20
ISO 100

This summer it will be 13 years since I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s disease. He would have turned 87 next month, and I have no doubt that his body would still be going strong if the Alzheimer’s hadn’t taken over. Sadly, it’s difficult to fully appreciate a parent’s influence until they’re gone. We’re certainly aware of the love, wisdom, advice, discipline, tears, and laughs while we’re in the midst of growing up, but it takes being a parent to fully appreciate our parents’ influence on the adults we become.

Dad was a United Methodist minister who literally practiced what he preached. In 1965, when Martin Luther King issued a plea to clergy to join him, Dad borrowed money and flew across the country to march with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama (he was on national TV getting arrested). His was an inclusive theology that respected all religions: I can remember Dad preaching at the local synagogue on a Saturday, and reciprocating in our Sunday service by opening his pulpit to the rabbi. And I’ve lost track of the number of homeless people, including families with young children, we housed while they tried to get back on their feet.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More than the values he instilled, so many of the things that define me today are directly attributable to my dad’s influence. My love of sports and sense of humor for sure. And when asked how I became a photographer, I have to cite Dad. My standard answer has always been that Dad was a serious amateur photographer whose 80-hour work week offered too little time to pursue his passion, so he made up for lost time on our summer family vacations—I grew up believing that a camera was just a standard outdoor accessory. But I think his influence goes deeper than that. More than simply modeling camera use, Dad instilled his appreciation of nature’s beauty, and his longing for its soothing qualities.

Our vacations were, without exception, camping trips—always tent-camping, though in the later years we splurged on a used, very basic tent trailer (no kitchen, bathroom, or any of the other luxuries available in today’s tent trailers). A few times we (Dad, Mom, my two brothers, and I) hit the road for a longer camping trip, one summer taking a month to camp all the way across the country, another summer venturing into the Canadian Rockies. But usually we took advantage of the mountain scenery (always the mountains) closer to our California home.

Me, on an early (but probably not my first) Yosemite trip

Of these locations, Yosemite was the clear favorite. Marveling at the Firefall from Camp Curry and Glacier Point, waiting in lawn chairs at the Yosemite dump for the bears to arrive for their evening meal (really), rising in the dark for a fishing expedition to Tuolumne Meadows, family hikes up the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, are just a few of the memories that I only realize in hindsight formed my Yosemite connection.

My father’s rainbow

My favorite Dad photography story happened when I was about ten. It involves an electrical storm atop Sentinel Dome, and his desire to get the shot that was so great that it trumped common sense. As his ignorant assistant, I stretched to hold an umbrella high above Dad’s head to keep his camera dry. (In his defense, as Californians, lightning was a true novelty that trumped full appreciation of its dangers.) We didn’t get the lightning, and more importantly, it didn’t get us. But what I remember more than anything about that day was Dad’s excitement when later that afternoon he was able to photograph a rainbow arcing across the face of Half Dome.

This story has achieved family legend status, and we’ve felt a special connection to Sentinel Dome as a result. When it came time to scatter Dad’s ashes, Sentinel Dome was the obvious choice.

One more thing

I have the reputation for being very lucky where photography conditions are concerned: The clouds that part just as the moon rises, the snowstorm that blankets Yosemite Valley just as the workshop begins, the rainbow arcing across the Grand Canyon. In our family we like to believe that Dad is somehow up there pulling some strings. It’s just the kind of thing he’d do.

I love you, Dad.

Sharing the Love: A Yosemite Gallery

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

 

Seeing the future

Gary Hart Photography: Half Dome and Tenaya Creek Rapids, Yosemite

Rapids, Half Dome and Tenaya Creek, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony 12-24 f4 G
12mm
.8 seconds
F/9
ISO 200

Ansel Adams and visualization

Most photographers know that Ansel Adams visualized his prints, and the darkroom work necessary to create them, before clicking the shutter. This ability to look into the future of each capture is part of what set Ansel Adams apart from his peers.

But Adams’ extensive darkroom work is often cited by digital photographers defending their over-processesed images. We’ve all heard (and perhaps even uttered ourselves) statements like, “Ansel Adams spent more time in the darkroom than he did in the field,” or “Ansel Adams would love Photoshop.” Perhaps true, but using Ansel Adams’ darkroom mastery to justify extreme Photoshop processing misses a significant point: Adams’ mental picture of the ultimate print was founded on a synergistic relationship between his vision and his camera’s vision, coupled with a master’s control of capture variables like composition, light, motion, and depth. In other words, Adams’ gift wasn’t merely his darkroom skills, it was an overarching vision that enabled him to make decisions now based on invisible realities he knew he’d encounter later.

I bring this up because I’m concerned about many photographers’ Photoshop-centric “fix it later” approach that seriously undervalues capture technique. This mindset ranges from simple over-reliance on the LCD for exposure with no real understanding of the histogram or how metering works (shoot-review-adjust, shoot-review-adjust, shoot-review-adjust, until the picture looks okay), to photographers who channel their disappointment with an image into an overzealous Photoshop session, pumping color, adding “effects,” or inserting/removing objects until they achieve the ooooh-factor they crave.

The better approach is to understand the potential in a scene, anticipate the processing that will be required to make the most of it, and shoot accordingly. In other words, Photoshop should inform capture decisions, not fix them.

Putting Photoshop in its place

Every image ever shot, film or digital, was processed. Just as the processing piece was easy to ignore when the exposed film you sent to a lab magically returned as prints or slides, many digital shooters, forgetting that a jpeg capture is processed by their camera, brag that their jpeg images are “Exactly the way I shot them.” Trust me, they’re not.

Whether you shoot monochrome film, Fuji Velvia slides, or low-compression jpeg, there’s nothing inherently “pure” about your image. On the other hand, digital landscape photographers who understand that processing is unavoidable, rather than relinquish control of their finished product to black-box processing algorithms in the camera, usually opt for the control provided by raw capture and hands-on processing.

Unfortunately, Photoshop’s power makes it difficult for many to know where to draw the processing line. And every photographer draws that line in a different place—one man’s “manipulation” is another’s “masterpiece.” Photoshop isn’t a panacea; its main function should be to complement the creativity already achieved in the camera, and not to fix problems created (or missed) at capture.

While I’m not a big Photoshop user, I readily acknowledge that it’s an amazing tool that’s an essential part of my workflow. I particularly appreciate that Photoshop gives the me ability to achieve things that are possible with black and white film and a decent darkroom, but difficult-to-impossible with the color transparencies I shot for over 25 years.

Creating an image,  from start to finish

I was in Yosemite on a “secret mission” (my inner 10-year-old just loves saying that) for Sony, trying out the yet-to-be-announced (at the time) Sony 12-24 f4 G lens. Among the many places in Yosemite that are especially conducive to ultra-wide photography is Mirror Lake and its view of Half Dome from directly below, and that’s where I started.

Walking up the trail to Mirror Lake, I skirted Tenaya Creek in less than ideal light, scouting potential scenes for later. On the walk back after sunset, I returned to this scene that I’d found and mentally composed earlier. Despite already having an idea of how I wanted to shoot it, there’s quite a bit going on here, so it took some time and a bit of rock scrambling to get all the elements to work together: Half Dome, Tenaya Creek, the nearby evergreen, and the creekside boulders.

While most of the scene was in deep shade, the sky was still relatively bright. Capturing this much dynamic range in an unprocessed jpeg (or color transparency) would have been impossible—my highlights would have been too bright, the color in the sky would have been washed out, and the shadow detail would have been lost to blackness. And that’s exactly what I saw in the jpeg that popped onto my LCD. But despite the crappy looking jpeg on the back of my camera, my histogram told me all my color and detail was there in my raw file.

With a good histogram, I adjusted my ISO up and down, compensating with a corresponding shutter speed adjustment, to get different blur effects in the creek. Opening the raw file in Lightroom, I simply pulled the Highlights slider to the left and the Shadows slider to the right to confirm my successful exposure. While the exposure adjustment was essential, once that was done, there was very little processing left to do. And as much as he enjoyed the dark room, I suspect Ansel would have embraced any technology that gave him more time outdoors with his camera.

Workshop Schedule || Purchase Prints


Different Takes on Half Dome

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

Variations on a scene

Gary Hart Photography: Snowfall, Tunnel View, Yosemite

Snowfall, Tunnel View, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony/Zeiss 16-35 f/4
1/250 second
F/9
ISO 100

A week or so ago I had the good fortune to be in Yosemite for the most recent snowfall there. All week the National Weather Service had been waffling a bit on the snow—based on the forecast, I probably wouldn’t have made the trip. But I was there anyway, guiding a fun couple from England for the weekend. Following a nice but unspectacular Saturday, we woke Sunday morning to find the world dipped in white.

The snow fell all day, at times so hard that that it was difficult to see more than a couple hundred yards, other times dwindling to a few flakes per minute. During one of the lulls we made our way to Tunnel View for the obligatory shot there. Despite hundreds (thousands?) of pictures of this view, after surveying the scene for a few minutes I couldn’t resist pulling out my camera and tripod.

My general feeling is that people tend to go too wide with their Tunnel View images, shrinking the main features (El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall) to include less exciting granite left of El Capitan and right right of Cathedral Rocks/Bridalveil Fall. That’s why I opt to tighten my horizontal Tunnel View compositions on the left and right, or isolate one or two of the three primary subjects with a telephoto. And when something exciting is happening in the sky (moon, clouds, or color) or foreground (fog, snow, rainbow), I’ll often compose vertically and bias my composition to favor the most compelling part of the scene.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With so many Tunnel View images in my portfolio, that afternoon I consciously set aside my long-held composition biases in favor of something I don’t already have. Of course the feature that most set the scene apart was the snow, so I set out to find the best way to emphasize it. Because the snow level that day was right around 4000 feet, also the elevation of Yosemite Valley, even the three hundred or so feet of elevation gain at Tunnel View resulted in much more snow virtually at my feet than on the distant valley floor. My Sony/Zeiss 16-35 f/4 lens, a great lens that I usually find too wide for Tunnel View, was perfect for highlighting the foreground snow.

Dialing my focal length to about 20mm allowed me to maximize the foreground snow while including minimal less-than-interesting gray sky. Of course going this wide meant shrinking the scene’s “big three” and adding lots of extraneous middle-ground on the left and right. To mitigate that problem I used the snowy pine on the left, often an obtrusive distraction to be dealt with, as a frame for that side of the scene. Not only did the tree block less interesting features, it actually enhanced the snowy effect I sought. On the right the diagonal ridge added a touch of visual motion (diagonal lines are so much stronger visually than horizontal and vertical lines), and it didn’t hurt that much of the bland granite there was covered with snow.

Workshop Schedule || Purchase Prints


A Tunnel View Gallery

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

 

%d bloggers like this: