Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Olmstead Point Dawn Full Moon Set

In late July I positioned myself to catch the full moon rising at Mono Lake. It had rained during the day, but as I sat on the porch of the lcoal coffee shop waiting to see how the weather woudl turn out, it was clearing up nicely for sunset, and hopefully the moonrise. One of the nice things about photography is that the people really into it are a pretty relaxed and sociable bunch. I ran into filmmaker Tom Lowe at a coffee shop in Lee Vining, and he was heading out to Mono Lake as well. A young woman with an accent had shared the table and power for her laptop, and not knowing the area, when she heard we were going to a nice sunset location, she decided to follow along in her car.

We drove south out of town, and as I turned left onto a shortcut, Tom missed the turn and kept going towards the standard highway 395 to highway 120 route towards South Tufa. The woman, Rotem Retter from Israel who had come to the U.S. after serving in the Israeli Defense Force, made the turn. By now a large rainbow was forming in the remaining showers over the Mono Basin, so I stopped at a turnout near another photographer's car. This turned out to be Ron Wolf. We had seen each other's work on Flickr, but had never met.

As I continued on, I decided that the clouds would obscure the moonrise, but they were well posisioned for shooting sunset at South Tufa. I called Tom with the update, but by now he was already set up elsewhere, and decided to stay put.

The clouds were fine for sunset, but as i had suspected, they were too thick to allow the rising moon to show through. This is why it's critical to try to shoot as many sunset full moon rises as possible in a given year... there are only a dozen or so to start with, and weather will obscure many of those!

No problem... I could still catch the moon set at dawn. After having the June 26 partially eclipsed moon set at Olmstead Point behind a nearby ridge before it woud have set on the horizon, I decided to shoot this moonset there as well, so I could find a better shooting position that would enable the sunrise to proceed further as the full moon set.

It turned out even better than I could have planned. The sun was sending light rays over the Eastern horizon, while the moon acted as a gaint reflector, sending more of the sun's rays radiating back from the Western horizon.

I had high expectations for this sunrise, or at least high hopes. After all, I had looked up the moonset and sunrise times a week or two in advance, checked sun and moon angles for various locations in The Photographer's Ephemeris to select my shooting location, gotten up at 3:55 over by Mono Lake to make it here in time, and to place the foreground hill out of the way for the moonset I decided to hike up the granite slope across the road instead of down to Olmstead Point. To do this landscape photography thing right, it's a far cry from just arrive, point and shoot!

"A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy."
- Galen Rowell



I continued to shoot as the clouds and light changed, and there were some majestic juniper trees on the hill which added nice foreground subjects. But I was done by 7am or so, with no plans for the day.

As with the prior sunset Rotem had decided to check out my shooting location, and having hiked Mt Dana the day before, she was eyeing Mt. Hoffman today. I had no plans for the "boring" mid-day light, and the trailhead was only a couple of miles away, so this time I tagged along.

After we moved food and scented items fomr our cars to bear boxes, we got an early enough start to reach May Lake while I could still catch a reflection with minimal wind.

The entire hike is only a 6 mile round trip, but the trailhead is at 8710 feet and you end up at approximately 10,850, so it's a healthy climb. I'm never particularly fast lugging 10-12 pounds of camera gear plus 3 liters (another 6 pounds) of water, but it's an enjoyable hike with a nice view.

Unfortunately there was a fire somewhere which cast a haze in the air. With the distinct possiblility of afternoon thunderstorms, after some rest and chatting with other hikers on top, while protecting day packs from persistent marmots wanting to steal food, it was time to make a hasty descent.