Tips For Photographing The Milky Way

21294835346_e976116765_o-2Here in Southern California, Summer tends to be a season which is typically wretched for landscape photography. The coastal low clouds usually roll in during the months of May and June, killing off potential sunsets and sunrises on the coast. The afternoon skies turn hazy and the hills turn brown, and most of us turn on the air conditioner and retreat indoors to work on our shots taken earlier in the year.

There is, however, one fantastic photographic opportunity  to look forward to each  Summer here in California. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Summer is prime time to get out and shoot the Milky Way.   Although the Milky Way may be photographed throughout the year, the brightest corner of the Milky Way begins to show up around May along with more reasonable times for shooting it.

For those of you who are new to shooting the Milky Way, there are several challenges to consider:

Fern Ledge : One Of Yosemite’s Hidden Treasures


After shooting in Yosemite for several years, I began to look for locations that were more off of the beaten path.  A couple of years ago, I finally ventured up the side of the valley and found an alternate location from which to shoot the Horsetail Falls in February.  I also began going on longer hikes up the four mile trail, the Upper Falls trail and out to the Cathedral Lakes.  After finding the alternate location from which to shoot the Horsetail Falls, I began to wonder what other opportunities I might be missing.  Yosemite Falls was my next logical choice and I began to notice that most, if not all of the shots of the falls were either from the valley floor or from the Upper Falls Trail.  After looking online, I finally found a couple of spectacular shots that were taken from the East, but I had no idea where they were taken from.  I spent a few hours one afternoon looking for spots to shoot from in the residential area above Yosemite Village, but the angles were not what I had in mind.

Finally, my hiking buddy Tom sent me a link to an article which mentioned a location referred to as the Fern Ledge.  In the article, they mentioned how John Muir had hiked out and had become enamored with this location.  He spent long hours listening to the falls, and actually walking out behind them.  After checking around a bit more, I found that Ansel Adams had also made the trip up and had taken photos from there.  Why hadn’t I heard of this place before?

Tom and I set this as one of our goals and on our next trip, we were resolved to find the trail to Fern Ledge head on up.  But we only had one article to go on, and the article stated that the trailhead was somewhere behind the Yosemite Stables.  When we reached the stables, we got the distinct impression that we weren’t supposed to be in that area and we chickened out.

I spent the next year or so investigating this trail, and couldn’t find much.  From what I read,  the trail could be very dangerous.   I could expect steep inclines, sections where the trail simply fell away over steep precipices, and rattle snakes.  Others online were reluctant to give away too many details as they feared hordes of hikers would head up there and cause damage to the habitat surrounding the trail.  Others were concerned that people simply didn’t understand how dangerous this route really was.

Undeterred, I made my first attempt a couple of weeks ago.  

Exploring The Range Of Light – Part II

ESierras16.7.6.3As hard as it might be to believe, there was a time when I wasn’t very excited about shooting the Eastern Sierras. I think I took my first trip up the 395 about 15 years ago as I was trying to find a way to get to the Reno Jazz festival without having to take my students through the snow over Donner Summit, and as I was the one who was driving for 8 hours, all I remembered after I got back home was seemingly hundreds of miles of unbroken, desolate desert. “Bah”, I thought to myself. Next time I’ll stick with the 99 as there are more restaurants and gas stations. Not a cloud in the sky on that trip, and it was hot. Very hot. Pfft. And who are those sad people who live in Bishop or Lone Pine…on PURPOSE?

But as I got into photography a few years later, I began seeing other photographers’ shots of the Eastern Sierra, including photos by Galen Rowell, Michael Frye, Marc Adamus, and more.   I hadn’t seen anything like what was shown in these photos on that trip and it began to occur to me that I was missing out on something spectacular and that this spectacular something was only 5 hours from my house.

The Keyhole Arch At Pfeiffer Beach

Big-Sur-12.67For a few weeks out of the year, a certain phenomenon occurs on an obscure stretch of coastline on the outskirts of Big Sur. From late November through the month of January,  the setting sun bursts through a natural archway in Pfeiffer Rock creating a veritable tunnel of light. Photographers from all over the world have traveled to this hidden beach with hopes of ideal conditions each year.  The rarity of the perfect shot is due to the fact that you need a clear sky out to the horizon at sunset, a high tide, and the fact that the best light is only available mid December through mid January. 

Tips On Shooting Yosemite In The Snow

Yosemite13. snowfall this Winter is already off to a much better start in Yosemite National Park.  Last year, it barely snowed at all and when it did, only a couple of inches fell in the valley.  This year, the fourth snowfall in the valley is due to arrive this afternoon giving the park it’s first White Christmas in several years.

If you plan on visiting the park this Winter to photograph the snow or simply to experience the park in Winter, here are some important things to keep in mind:

Last Man Standing At Glacier Point – (Autumn In Yosemite, Part I)


Last year, I headed up to Yosemite on Halloween for several reasons. First, I knew that there would still be some color in the valley as many of the Oaks and Cottonwoods hold on to their leaves into November. Secondly, the first Winter storm of the year was due to roll in. Lastly, the road to Glacier Point was still open, but it was due to close for the season as soon as that storm blew in. With the promise of colorful leaves in the valley along with some shots of new snow on the surrounding peaks, I took off with high hopes.