Moonbow and starry sky over Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is a mecca for adventure and nature photography with its steep granite walls, lush meadows, alpine spires and booming waterfalls. I’ve spent over forty years exploring its unique features and it always feels like home whenever I return.
But as with any well-loved location, it’s easy to find yourself in a creative quandary when it comes to seeking out new perspectives. With iconic landmarks around every turn, it’s a challenge to create fresh images that (no matter how beautiful) don’t leave you feeling as if you’ve just seen that same view in a recent car ad or magazine. So what to do?
Last spring I admit I did take some of those classic shots, but I also came away with a few truly unique images. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, waterfalls are always a rewarding subject as no two shots will ever be the same. The flow of the water is in a constant state of flux and experimenting with shutter speed opens up a whole new world of creative expression. From what Ansel Adams called “straight photography” to ethereal artistic interpretation, the sky really is the limit with this liquid landscape.
To take this one step further, my trip coincided with the full moon so I took advantage of the lunar light combined with a fairly full flow from the spring runoff to create nightscapes like the one above. Moonbows have become a popular subject in recent years, and the opportunity provided just the creative portal I was seeking.
Also known as lunar rainbows, moonbows are a unique phenomenon that occurs when the full moon illuminates the spray of a waterfall. The moon needs to be low in the sky (less than 42 degrees) and the night sky must be very dark making Yosemite an ideal location. The best times are typically 2 to 3 hours before sunrise or 2 to 3 hours after sunset when the brightness of the stars compliments the moonlight reflecting off the water.
Framing can be a challenge in such dim light, but once you have a composition set and your eyes have adjusted the fun part begins. Watching the moonbow magically appear and disappear with the ebb and flow of the spray is mesmerizing and makes for an evening of photography you won’t soon forget.
Autumn hues and fresh powder, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, preserving over 9 million acres of wilderness where people could experience nature with minimal impact on the environment and wildlife. Since then, Congress has added more than 100 million acres of wilderness area creating a natural legacy for future generations, and a place to recharge our creative and spiritual batteries apart from today’s fast-paced urban world.
The legislation established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which recognizes wilderness as “an area where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Unlike the National Parks, there is no management plan for traffic flow, employee housing or curio shops because there is simply no need. It is truly wild – nature in all it’s unprocessed beauty.
In this sense the two compliment each other nicely. Where the National Parks serve to protect iconic landforms and historic sites that might otherwise be subject to erosion, vandalism or overuse, wilderness areas often lack the spectacular formations which draw the masses and are instantly recognizable, but provide instead a subtle beauty and remote quality that begs for exploration and contemplation.
Ansel Adams spent the better part of his life working to preserve wilderness through his photographs and tireless appeals to Congress, and his images continue to define the power that nature has in our lives. I feel fortunate to be able to share my own view of the natural world through photography, but more importantly I’m glad those who came before me had the foresight and courage to preserve these special places where we can find renewal and experience our planet in its original untouched form.
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.”
– Charles A. Lindbergh
Cloud forest, Glacier National Park, Montana
In today’s mobile world of social media and online everything we are exposed to more daily imagery than at any previous time in history. As a result, our visual sensitivity is developing at a rapid rate along with the need to mentally process these images in a timely manner.
Much the same way we have a hard time watching the dated animation from old sci-fi movies, it’s easy to become more critical of what we like (and Like on Facebook). And with all of the various processing techniques (HDR, focus stacking, exposure blending to name a few) it’s also easy to be lulled into sensory overload from this highly polished visual world. But whatever technology may hold for the future, one thing will never change and that’s the need to create an emotional response with our images.
A technically perfect image may have the wow factor of a Hollywood blockbuster, but perfection does not necessarily create heart – and that’s really what photography is all about. Regardless of the subject matter, lens used or processing applied, convey the mood and emotion in your images through lighting, weather or technique and your photography will always rise above the crowd.
Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like. -David Alan Harvey