I wasn’t kidding when I said everything looks better at night. The only problem is that you have to stay up late to see it. I am tired and it’s early, but the time here is really worthwhile. Because it takes so long to make an exposure; up to 12 minutes per frame and up to 30 frames per image, productivity is not measured in quantity. I can see now that a night out shooting might yield one or possibly two good images. Yet, the process pushes everything to the limits. Expensive zoom lenses are not good enough anymore, now you need really expensive single focal point lenses to get the sharpness of star trails and to focus in the dark. This is serious work for some people and I am getting exposed (no pun intended) to the night photography community on this trip. It’s a wonderful, exciting and exhausting activity that is as complex or as simple as you want it to be. I am really just a beginner and I am really enjoying the process.
Now, lets talk about what I did last night. I drove into Yosemite about 12 miles in and found Olmstead Point. It’s a pull-off from the main road and really, unless you are looking for something specific, it’s just another rest stop on the road into the park. Yet this is a special place since many of the wonderful images shot at night in the park are made here.
I dressed warm, the sky was clear, the winds were still and left the comfort of my warm car to see what I can by moonlight. At first, the sky was still clinging to the daylight as the earth gently slid into the night. The western sky was glowing with those remnants of day and it was still a bit early to shoot, so I wandered into the woods to find a tree.
Looking for a tortured soul’s expression in wood, I found beauty once again in the death of a once vibrant wood. In it’s final reach for the sky, I saw in her arms why she loved to be here, in this spot and on this earth. Singing out to those still looking for her, she died showing her heart which glowed with the warmth of existence available only to those who look for such things. Here she was and there I was, asking her how she wanted to be seen. I walked from side to side, I opened my own heart and waited for that knowingness that comes from looking and there it was.
I carefully lit her branches which prayed to the night sky for expression through the eyes of others, and she had her wish…. and I had mine. The 1st exposure was complete, not too bad, only an hour. I thanked her for her gift and walked further. I wandered in the dark, still thinking about how I could have improved on the image but left feeling like I had something good.
I stopped at several other places only to leave without making the next connection. It had to be right or I wouldn’t be content. Then disaster struck. I tripped and fell, slightly hurt but worse…. my camera hit the ground hard. I brushed myself off and discovered that I had damaged the lens, which was a real disappointment. I had another lens with me but it was not one I thought I would use. Yet, opportunity to see differently comes to me sometimes if I don’t seek it on my own, so I placed my 50mm F1.4 on my camera, still mourning the loss of my 17 -40 F4 L and kept moving, a little bruised and banged but still excited about the night.
Walking in the opposite direction of the parking lot, I noticed a grand, old gentleman tree who had claimed his kingdom near the top of a small rise, watching over me as I approached. He was strong and confident, having seen so many like me pass him on the way to somewhere else. I also saw the wind was picking up and that’s not good with 12 minute exposures so I had to choose carefully where I would set up shop. I found that spot, finally, tested the light and made a few decisions. My first exposure was dark, my second was sloppy, so I started over. First focus, then plan how the flashlight will paint details into the bark and skin, then start with new tests. And test I did until I found a combination of light and time that made something beautiful to see.
I opened the shutter, walked into the scene with my flash light ablaze, careful not to “spill” on the ground and gently painted his majestic form from several distances and angles. This is what I saw when I was done.
The stars saw me out there watching and waiting as my camera absorbed the available photons, they didn’t stop to greet me buy continued streaking through the sky. From their perspective, it was me who was streaking by, not them. They stand still as they have for several billion years, it’s our upstart planet that can’t be still, spinning and spinning while the stars continue to watch and see how it all unfolds.
The proof of my story lies in the remnants left on microscopic silicon chips in my memory card, streaking the sky with blazing light that shone forth billions of years earlier, their passion still visible as they burned for hundreds of centuries only for their flickers to reach us now. For you and I to see.
That was enough, time to go, 2:00 am and tired. Adrenaline still coursing though my body with the ups and downs (literally) of the evening, I had to stop since I knew my internal clock, trained for weeks and months at a time, will still wake me tired or not, at an ungodly hour of the morning. Sleep, finally. More tomorrow.