“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Recently at Yosemite National Park, at the Gates of the Valley heading west out of the park, the full moon rising over the valley illuminated Bridalveil Falls and the granite peaks entirely with moonlight. What a pleasant surprise that a 25 second exposure of this scene during the full moon brought out almost daytime colors! Did you know it takes 4 years for the light from the nearest star to reach Earth? Light from the Andromeda Galaxy took 2.5 million years to travel to us! The farther away stars are, the older the story they have to tell us.
There is a unique phenomenon that occurs in springtime in Yosemite National Park called “moonbows”. Seen during the full moon, moonbows are a rainbow produced by light reflected off the surface of the moon, and are relatively faint and difficult to detect with the naked eye, but they do appear in long exposure photographs. Many photography blogs reference Texas State University’s website as a published schedule of moonbow dates, but the link has since moved to two locations: one website has the schedule for Upper Yosemite Falls, the other for the lower falls. The predictions are based on the orientation of the full moon lining up correctly with a waterfall’s mist. Other moonbow conditions are dependent on clear, dark skies, bright moonlight and adequate mist in the falls. Fortunately, for me, one of the predicted moonbow dates fell on a Saturday evening in early May, with a forecast for clear skies. Unfortunately, I did not arrive early enough to avoid the crowds, and experienced multiple occasions of people getting in my shot and almost getting my tripod knocked over a few times by those getting too close. So, expect to arrive early, well in advance of the scheduled moonbow time, as you will experience dozens, if not hundreds, of photographers and photography groups. Next time, I will arrive sooner and pick a location down on the rocks in front of the bridge path of Yosemite Falls trail, for a better composition. This is a 25 second exposure showing the windy conditions of the evening as evidenced by the blurriness of the trees.
Recently, during a camping trip to the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe during a stormy weekend of variable weather, I hiked down to Bonsai Rock, one of my favorite photographic subjects. Although it was the new moon, the weather didn’t cooperate to photograph the Milky Way in this location as planned. But, fortunately, Venus and Jupiter loomed bright and beautiful over the western skies of the lake for a brief period of time, so bright that they showed up in photographs almost as small moons! Just beneath Venus, there is a cluster of stars called Messier 35, consisting of several hundred stars. The color of the stars (blue and white), indicates that these stars are fairly young, about 150 million years old, extremely young compared to our approximately 5 billion year old sun.
During the late spring and summer months, there are ample opportunities for unique night photography when the daylight sun can be too harsh and bright for nature photography.