My first attempt at this image was last year when Michael Frye and I made the nighttime hike up to a ledge 1500 feet above the valley floor. The image I came home with was OK, but a number of things bothered me. There were star trails instead of pinpoint stars, the moonbow wasn't as full as I wanted it, and the noise in the final image was too high to make a fine print.
So last week Rick Whitacre and I braved the climb again. We started at 9pm and were safely up on the ledge at 1:30am for a 2am photograph. Conditions were perfect and it was now or never. As the moonbow started to rise, a rare double moonbow arced half way up the falls. We both felt sheer terror as we started photographing. The panic came from the number of ways this could have gone wrong:
- It's too dark to see through the view finder so you have to focus by gut feel.
- You can't really see the moonbow with your naked eye.
- Exposure time needs to be less then 30 seconds - which pushes the camera to the absolute technical limit.
- After 4 hours of scrambling up the side of a mountain we were too tired to think straight!
- The moon needs to be in a very specific position in the sky for the moonbow to happen - and we might have gotten the math wrong.
At the end of the day, we both came away happy. My image was everything I hoped. The stars were sharp, the primary moonbow was bright, the double moonbow was visible. When we finally got back to the valley floor at 5:30am we were both exhausted, relieved, and awed by the show Yosemite had put on for us.