Half Dome – Alone in the moonlight

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Just over two years ago I took a workshop with Gary Hart. The main goal of the trip was to shoot Yosemite under the light of the full moon. This is one of my favorite images from that trip. That was also when Gary first asked if I’d be interested in assisting on future workshops.

The workshop group consisted of just 5 students, including myself. The small group made for a really intimate setting and I still hear from nearly all of those folks on a semi-regular basis. I think that part of that bond came from the grueling conditions that we all endured together. Because it was summer, the days were very long. We’d get up at 3:30Am to be in place before sunrise.  After shooting all day and well into the night we generally didn’t return to the hotel until after midnight; only to do it again the next day. I’m still not sure how we all made it through but I will admit that by day 4 we were all a bit punchy.

If you’ve never experienced Yosemite by moonlight, you should make that one of your goals. The stark white granite absolutely lights up under moonlight and is unlike any place that I’ve ever seen.

This image really formulated my basic strategy for moonlight shooting. With a fairly wide angle lens, in this case a Tokina 12-24 @ 16mm, an exposure of 30 seconds still results in fairly sharp star images. Longer exposure and focal lengths make the rotation of the Earth much more apparent. I wanted as much light as I could get so I set the aperture to f/4. The entire scene was at infinity so depth of field wasn’t a concern.  I left the shutter speed at 30 seconds and started raising my ISO until I got the exposure that I wanted. In this case, I ended up at ISO 400. My old Canon 30D was pretty clean at ISO 400 or below but I did do some noise cleanup using Noise Ninja as well as basic color correction and sharpening in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS4.


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