Monday, May 26, 2008

Sierra Spring Storm at Mono Lake

I accidentally woke up around 4:30am, so it was easy to drive the rest of the way here in time for a very early dawn. There was new snow on the ground down by June Lakes, but it hadn't stuck to the road so driving wassn't an issue. At the South Tufa access to Mono Lake, nothing to speak of happened at sunrise, it was very gray and featureless, but then the storm started to break...

Mount Dana, at over 13,000 feet, always makes a nice subject to contrast with the exotic limestone tufa towers at Mono Lake.

This grass is green in the Mono Basin for only a few weeks. What a nice contrast to have the fresh snow on the peaks in the distance! The roads towards the right side provide a nice sense of the scale here (click on these photos to view larger copies).

Tioga Pass had just opened, and with the periodic distings of snow over the past few days, the vernal pools in Tuolumne Meadows contained plenty of water.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Quick Overnight to Death Valley

What do you do when you've been looking forward to camping on Memorial Day weekend for weeks, and you're in in the Tahoe Basin looking at a forecast for a couple of days of thundershowers as far south as Bishop? You drive to Death Valley of course! Especially if you fail to check the mileage and assume that it might only be a 5 hour drive. Eight hours later you'll know you were wrong, but you're almost there, so you might as well enjoy the trip!

Well after dark on Saturday night I pulled into Stovepipe Wells, only to find that the campground was closed. I had continue on to Furnace Creek, which turned out to be about an hour away due to road construction. Being that far south, it made sense the next morning to go a little more south to visit Badwater.
The salt flats at Badwater go for miles, dwarfing anything that ventures out onto their flat surface.
Distances are very difficult to judge on the salt flats. I had already been walking for about 10 minutes across the uneven surface of the dirt-soiled salt before taking this picture towards the fresher, whiter salt deposits ahead. I had expected to reach the white surface in less than half that time.

Now being a zillion miles from Sacramento halfway through the weekend, it was time to head back! Of course I had to stop at the Stovepipe Wells dune field. Few things go as well togther as nine year olds and miles of sand. Given the choice, he'd still be there, trying to roll down every dune face out there. He exists in a state of motion blur. For scale, look at the people on the large dune in the background. It's about 2 miles away. The world is your sandbox; go play!

It turns out tracks in the sand that look like snakes with feet are made by desert iguanas up to 16" long. They're munching away on the leaves of the bushes, ignoring the steady stream of people passing by a few feet away. This one needs to floss; he still has a leaf caught between his teeth.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chasing Ansel Adams

Many of us enjoy standing where famous photographers stood in the past, seeing what they saw, and sometimes we even aspire to capture something evocative of their work, an artistic echo in time.

Fortunately with enough information we can determine the shooting position and even duplicate celestial events such as sun and moon position to recreate the lighting of the shot, so if we want to witness for example Ansel Adams' "Moon and Half Dome" image live, we can arrive for the same lunar and sun shadow alignment that Ansel saw in 1960. That won't happen again for almost a decade from now, but there will be a time later this year when the sun and moon position will be awfully close.

More on this later...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chasing Moonbows in Yosemite Valley at Night

Several times per year the moon is bright enough and at the right angle to create a night rainbow, a "moonbow", in the mist created by Lower Yosemite Falls.  Many people think that this phenomenon can only be seen and photographed from the bridge below the falls.  While that is the most common place for people to gather and photograph the moonbows, you can see moonbows in waterfall mist whenever the angles are right, so it can pay off to explore other shooting positions.  Even with Lower Yosemite Falls I often find moonbows in the waterfall's mist as I hike in towards the bridge.  Give it a try once or twice as you hike in and  and as you hike out.

As a starting point for predicting the best times to catch a moonbow in Yosemite, Don Olson of Texas State University has calculated the best times to look for a moonbow from the bridge below Lower Yosemite Falls:
If you go to the bridge to photograph the moonbows, please don't use headlamps, as they throw light uncontrollably all over the other photographers' shots.  And red lights are the worst, the most inconsiderate for you to use... very difficult to edit out of shots later.  This isn't astronomy, you're not in a darkroom.  Please have the simple courtesy to leave the red lights at home.  For seeing your camera controls without destroying your night vision, hold your (dimmed) phone display on top of your camera, facing back at yourself.  Any light of any kind that you sine back at the front of your camera, to see if there is water on the filter for example, will probably appear in the shot of the people next to you.
You can also catch the North Star directly at the top of Yosemite Falls, with the Big Dipper above.  It you have enough patience you can shoot a star trails sequence here, but you'll probably also catch a lot of flashlights and headlamps as people hike in and out.  Note that moonbows are most typically seen under a nearly-full moon, so if you simply give your eyes a few minutes to adjust, you probably don't need a headlamp or flashlight to walk in and out on this paved path.  You'll probably see much more with night-adjusted vision and no light than you would with poorly adjusted vision and a tiny spot of light.  That can even be true under the light of the stars only if you're in an open enough area for the starlight to shine on the ground around you.

I also found a moonbow in Lower Yosemite Falls (click to enlarge) from the Illouette Falls viewpoint and Four Mile Trail trail head a couple of days earlier at midnight.  No crowds and foreground-destroying red lights here!  There's virtually no limit to where you can shoot Yosemite moonbows from, if you do a little searching.

There were also many reflection opportunities in vernal pools in Cook's Meadow.  This pool does not exist or it is too low after winters with too little snow, such as 2014.
I hope that I've provided some useful information on Yosemite's moonbows so you can pursue some interesting and unique shots.

If you'd like to join me in Yosemite sometime, you can find my Yosemite photography workshop schedule on a dedicated page accessible from the top page of this blog (I'm currently working out the dates for 2014, so you might have to check back or get on my mailing list to hear when they're released):

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Return to the North Coast

Greenwood State Beach
Point Arena Lighthouse

Schooner Gulch State Beach
Russian Gulch State Park
Van Damme State Park

Kruse Rhododendron State Park