Jay Sousa: Visualize this -- a moonrise Yosemite shoot

10/22/2011 2:08 AM

10/22/2011 2:41 AM

This week, I want to give your brain a break from F stops, ISO, white balance and shutter speeds and discuss pre-visualization and planning a great image. Amateur photographers often overlook these two critical elements, but they are many times the difference between a mediocre image and a great image.

We have to have some idea of what we want to photograph and how we want it to look. Next, we need to make a plan to make that photograph happen. To help you understand, I'll take you on a little landscape photographic mission that my wife, Diane, and I recently took to the top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite.

I wanted to photograph the October full moon rising over the high peaks of the Yosemite backcountry. I was hoping that the early season storm that blew through the week before the full moon would have left a dusting of snow on the high peaks. I also knew that the moonrise would occur just before the sunset, which would leave some nice ambient light on the high peaks with the fresh snow as the large harvest moon rose over them.

That was my pre-visualization. To effectively pre-visualize a landscape image, you need to have some basic information, such as what date is the full moon, what time will it occur and what time is the sunset. There are many online sources to get this information. I use http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php. This is a U.S. Navy site and lets you get sunset, sunrise and lunar information, including moon phases and moonrise and moonset times quickly and easily for any location in the world.

I now needed to plan my little moonrise adventure. I decided to make this image from the top of Sentinel Dome, which is off the Glacier Point road and is accessible by a 1.2-mile hike. The hike is easy until the last quarter-mile, when the trail climbs steeply to the 8,100-foot summit. From there, you have a 360-degree view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the highest peaks of Yosemite and the High Sierra.

Knowing the sunset and moonrise were at 6:30 p.m., we knew we needed to leave Merced at 3 p.m. to make the two-hour, 15-minute drive to the trailhead. One very important aspect of the planning process is making sure that you have everything that you'll need for the photoshoot. That includes charged camera batteries, memory cards, a good tripod and all lenses and filters.

Since we would be hiking back after dark, a couple of good LED flashlights were a must as well. Another consideration when going off shooting landscape images is food, water and the proper clothing.

We covered the distance to the summit in 30 minutes, which gave us time to eat a light dinner and allowed me plenty of time to get my camera equipment organized and my mind-set ready to shoot. Plan plenty of time after you get to a location to get set up and have your mind cleared to work.

After wrapping up the photoshoot and a lovely night hike back to the car, we were back at our home in Merced by 10:30 p.m. I did make a couple of very good shots, which you can check out on my website, www.jaysousaphotography.com.

If you want to learn more about landscape photography, I will be leading an afternoon workshop in Yosemite Valley on Oct. 29. I will be focusing on fall colors in the Valley. Reach me at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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