Yosemite Valley by Moonlight

The light of a setting crescent moon illuminates the famous valley.  El Capitan looms on the left, a point of light is seen on its face, the flashlight of a climber, strapped to the wall for an overnight pause in progress.  Half Dome is in the distance, and Bridalveil Falls pours reflected moonlight into the valley, the headlights of cars seeming to carry it downstream alongside the Merced River.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
April 2004
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4
60 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Half Dome

During the day, Yosemite must have the highest number of tripods per capita in the world.  Mine is setup at night during this difficult hour. Traffic, in the form of late arriving tourists, security rangers on patrol, and mangy coyotes, all serve to distract me while exposing this shot from Sentinel Bridge.

Half Dome, the signature shape of Yosemite, is illuminated by starlight, revealing the patterns of rock varnish on its face.  The faint light from the sky also reflects gently on the Merced River as it flows beneath my vantage point.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
April 2004
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4 60 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Yosemite Meteor

Yosemite Falls is at a thunderous volume in this season, seeming to pour starlight over the edge of the cliff into the valley.  The water continues its downward path via Lower Yosemite Falls, the dim watery glint reflecting a moonless night. 

A meteor bright enough to light up the forest flashed through the sky just before the end of this 90-minute exposure. A fireball that left a glowing plasma trail, it is a member of the Lyrid meteor shower, an annual April event. It cuts a chord across the arcs of stars making their daily tour around Polaris.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
22 April 2004
Pentax 6×7 w 55mm lens at f/4
90 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Bridalveil Falls

The stars follow their gradual southern arcs parallel to the terrain during this 90 minute exposure.  The water is unusually high this season, catching and reflecting starlight during its freefall down to the valley floor, the long exposure creating a flowing river of mist not possible to capture during the bright daylight hours.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
April 2004
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4
90 minute exposure on Provia 400


If you are interested in my occasional contributions to Thor’s Life-Notes, I invite you to follow along.


Split Rock Lighthouse

Spring comes late to this region.  Snow was an obstacle to bringing equipment to this site, but once there, I could enjoy a solitude that amplified the sounds of the great lake.  The beating of waves against the shore diminished through the evening as the temperature dropped and the water in this back bay was held captive and quiet beneath a thin ice glaze.  Occasional cracks and “tinks”  were heard as daytime puddles froze in their rock bowls.

This time exposure captures the stars traversing their east-west passage over the recently thawed waters of Lake Superior.  Park security lamps are now the  only light on the famous cliff, illuminating the distinctive shape of this former, but now dark, guardian beacon.

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Two Harbors, MN
21 March 2004
Nikomat with 150mm lens at f/5.6
60 minute exposure on Provia 100 +2 stops


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Altamont Windfarm

Altamont Pass, Livermore CA, 1 Feb 2003

I had tried once before to get a nighttime picture of these modern-day generators, to complement my shot of a more traditional windmill. The proximity to the large population near San Francisco Bay fills the sky with light, and my previous pictures had been washed out. This time I was armed with a light pollution rejection filter and enough time to find this interesting composition.  I rediscovered a characteristic of these filters- they are very angle-of-view sensitive.

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Altamont Pass, Livermore CA
1 Feb 2003
Nikomat with 50mm lens at f/8
60 minute exposure on Provia 400


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El Capitan’s Midnight Crown

El Capitan’s immense figure blocks my view of the north star Polaris.  I can only guess where it should be based on the time and positions of other stars.  A position in an open field in Yosemite Valley allows me to make this composition.

The moonless night meant that the only illumination was by starlight.  The park is sufficiently remote to escape the light pollution from large cities, but not enough to avoid airplane traffic.  The distinct dotted lines mark the strobe lights of distant flights, unknowingly adding their trails to those of the stars.

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Yosemite National Park
13 April 2002
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4
90 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Yosemite Falls by Starlight

Yosemite National Park, 13 April 2002
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4, 2 hour exposure on Provia 400

I was given a hint that I should consider Yosemite Falls as a startrail target because the trail to it ran along a north-south path.  I wasn’t brave enough to hike in the dark, but I did find a vantage point from across the valley that placed Polaris directly above the falls.

The moonless night meant that the only illumination was by starlight.  The park is sufficiently remote to escape the light pollution from large cities, but not enough to avoid airplane traffic.  To minimize them crossing the view, this exposure was done in the very early morning hours when all the airplanes have found their destinations and the only sound in the air was the distant rushing of water.


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Timelapse and Lens Testing

A view to the southwest includes the Milky Way, a target for one of my tests, behind incoming clouds lit by city-glow.  The observatory has visitors whose cars illuminate its shell.,

A mostly clear night, and a new lens to try out!  A lens I was hoping to use to capture wide-angle views of the Milky Way, and of northern lights, should I ever be in a position to do so.

I headed to Baylor Park, which is the home of Eagle Lake Observatory, operated by my astronomy club.  I wasn’t there to use its facilities (though others were).  I just wanted a clear view of the sky outside the city, somewhere I could practice techniques for making timelapse sequences, preferably alone, where I could make mistakes without an audience.

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A New Home for Nightscapes

“Climber Trails”, from my gallery of film startrail classics.

The internet has evolved tremendously since its early days when I first tried to use web pages to show the results of my nighttime photography.  Back then, our (dial-up) Internet Service Provider (ATT) offered a home page and a URL subspace to their customers.   I took advantage of it and crafted some pages to hold my pictures and stories.  Later, I acquired my own domain, nightscapes.net, found a host, loaded my stuff onto it and even got some professional help to re-organize when it became unwieldy. 

I learned that maintaining a website can be a lot of work; the technology evolves, links and scripts break, web page conventions, html standards and visitor expectations change.  I’m not a programmer (despite a lifetime of doing it), and my interests are in the art and science of images, not the latest network and browser technologies for supporting the latest desktop/laptop/tablet/phone displays.

So I was excited to discover a website service oriented toward photographers, a platform with a small army of support people who maintain it, with features that display photographs at their best, regardless of display or browser, keeping up with the latest updates to internet programming standards.  They offer additional services for professional photographers (“buy print”, etc), and at an earlier time I might have subscribed to them.

But I am happy now to keep the shopping cart icons suppressed and not distract from the images themselves.

I have transferred my collection of nightscapes accumulated over the last two decades, over to smugmug, where you can find it at thorolson.smugmug.com.  I know people don’t power-browse through large collections of pictures, so I consider this to be really more of an archive, to continue my project of making a digital coffee table book of my favorites.

But I will also use the site to display my more recent work, as I complete it.  It will be a relief to have a way to do so without the overhead of manually creating and integrating new web pages for them. 

I intend to make posts to this, my personal website, when I add new photographs.  I invite you to subscribe or “follow” me, which will send you an email when new posts are made.  I am not very prolific in my art, so you will not be inundated, and if you are intrigued by the types of pictures I like to take, well, I take enjoyment in sharing them and would love to have you as a follower.