"Half Dome and Moon" Encore TR (OT)


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 29, 2009 - 01:24am PT

Ahwahnee Meadows Trip Report
November 28, 2009
Ed Hartouni & Debbie Petersen

This is off topic if the topic is climbing. But somewhere in this sprawling STForum is a reference to the fact that today at 4:04 pm, the celestial conditions should have been such that it would be possible to recreate the Ansel Adams image "Half Dome and Moon" created in the winter of 1960 the result of Adams seeing the moon at 3:30pm as he drove to the Ahwahnee Hotel. This was on December 28, 1960 at 4:14pm.

I am particularly fond of shooting scenes that master photographers and painters have created images from, and Adams is famous for his love of having the moon appear in his images. Debbie volunteered to do the driving in case my back was a problem, which it was on the way home...

A professor of astronomy at Texas State has been having his students calculate the dates and times of famous Ansel Adams images, knowing the rough location and date time.... and so calculated this particular moon as having all the attributes of that moon position, the sun, etc...

The write up is on the web, of course, look here

The Ansel Adams Gallery had a big event today, too,


but I was mostly worried that it would be a zoo out in the Ahwahnee Meadow, it turned out to be not too bad....

I was busy working out a good location to shoot it with my 180 mm lens on 35 mm film. Adams used a 250 mm lens on 120 format (2.25"x2.25")... Turns out that Google Earth is fun to play with this way...

Here is my calculation of the moon position from where I think Adams took his picture... the light box is the image on his film.

Credit: Ed Hartouni

You can see he cropped on the left hand side to have Washington Column, in the shadow of Glacier Point, boarder the image. Also he lined the moon up on the diagonal with the rounded corner of Half Dome, and the diagonal of the light and shadows in the image. It's impressive how quickly he worked, apparently there are 12 images on his contact sheet, he was using a Hasselblad so not quite as involved as using a view camera... still.

I worked out an other location to the south of Adams' point, and thought through where the moon would be. Since I had a tighter shot (I would have had to have a 166 mm lens to match the Adams image) I thought I'd get the moon along the boundary of rock and sky.

Credit: Ed Hartouni

culminating in the Adams image location, though with the moon a bit closer to Half Dome. (notice I can't count, the upper two moon markers should be "1600" and "1615", but I confused them... with 4:00 and 4:15).

Well we hiked a bit to shoot in a number of locations that I thought might be interesting, essentially on line with the Half Dome summit and Adams' point... for future reference.

I was shooting with my Nikon FM2N using Acros 100 B&W film (developed next week sometime) and with my FujiFilm S5 Pro digital camera. But it actually didn't matter...

...by 3:30pm there was a crowd growing, and it grew to about 50 - 60 people, mostly photographers, but a large NPS presence too... I counted 3 to 4 view cameras (probably 4" x 5")...

Credit: Ed Hartouni

My calculation should have had the moon rise in the notch at 3:30pm, but there were clouds trailing down Tenya Canyon from the high country, and there was nothing... and nothing at 3:45pm nor at 4:00pm... A lady walking by asked the photog next to us "Where's the moon?" to which he replied the same quip that I had to him just before "It's right there, we just can't see it." She didn't like that "If you've been divorced 3 times that's the reason why!" Debbie was chuckling about that at dinner, "she mustn't know any physicists."

Well I hung around a bit shooting the last of the roll playing with filters and exposures... the sun was down and it was starting to get cold. Then Debbie says, "THERE IT IS, THERE'S THE MOON" and so it was, just where it was supposed to be, at 4:44pm high above Half Dome.

Credit: Ed Hartouni

what a nice outing...
and how wonderful that serendipity plays so large a role in creating these wonderful images. Today was perfect, except the moon didn't want to come out and play with us.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 29, 2009 - 01:37am PT
Thanks, Ed, for a nice bit of poetry for the day! Looking forward to the B&W.

sounding out stuff , in the manner of crickets
Nov 29, 2009 - 01:58am PT
very cool ed. my world just expanded. perfect example of "it's interesting to learn what climbers are interested in."

amazing tools available to us these days. for an astronomy class 40 years ago i pulled my hair out trying to figure out what the big dipper looked like from polaris. turns out the seven stars are in two groups nowhere near each other. but i learned respect for the guys that find this stuff easy. and now they're making it easy for the rest of us.

hope your back heals up soon, it's probably all you want for christmas, eh?

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 29, 2009 - 03:49am PT
Wow, very cool, Ed. Nice story.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 29, 2009 - 04:52am PT

Astronomy and Art.

Great combination !

Sorry your back is still so bad though.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 29, 2009 - 05:19am PT
Great TR and ashamed that I'm relieved I didn't know about this and couldn't have gone anyway.

Still, how much changes in the next few days?



Social climber
Nov 29, 2009 - 09:38am PT
hey there ed, say... i just LOVED THIS... this is really really very special... thanks for sharing all this...

i will have to re-read it all, to soak it in better... and i will soon as i take care of stuff around the ol' house here...

very very nice stuff... thanks so very much for sharing all this...

say, god bless you day, and your heart, to search out more of this stuff, too, in the future...

Trad climber
The Lost Highway
Nov 29, 2009 - 10:09am PT
This is fantastic Ed. Thanks so much. You got a great digital shot, I hope the film is just as successful.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Nov 29, 2009 - 11:16am PT
nice report Ed. Thanks!

Mountain climber
Big Bear California
Nov 29, 2009 - 12:12pm PT
I made a couple outings to North Dome a few years ago, using an astronomy program and compass I was able to get some good shots and a time lapse film of the moon rising beside half dome.
Moon rise from North Dome is pretty amazing.
Credit: Lokesh
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 29, 2009 - 01:42pm PT
the idea of getting a close shot of Half Dome and the Moon is to have a time when the Moon is about the same altitude as the top of Half Dome when viewed from you vantage point...

The Ahwahnee Meadow is an altitude of 1200 m, it is roughly 4000 meters from the summit of Half Dome with an altitude of 2700 meters... the angle of the elevation is then:

angle = (2700 - 1200)/4000 = 0.375 radians = 21.5

that sets the time after moon rise... if you're shooting from Ahwahnee Meadow.

What you should remember is that the Moon's path is essentially unchanged as viewed from your location in the Valley (or anywhere else) so that you move your location to place Half Dome where you want it in your shot with respect to the Moon. See that great shot by Lokesh above!

You'd like to know where the moon is, altitude and azimuth, locally, you can go on line and use a calculator putting in your coordinates (which make very fine tunes on the general location of Yosemite Valley roughly 37.75 N, -119.80 E)

I used this site: http://www.jgiesen.de/elevazmoon/index.htm to get the calculated elevation and azimuth of the moon, but it uses a Java Applet that Safari doesn't understand (hey you Apple dudes out there, what's up with that? it's really annoying that Apple doesn't at least try to recognize other Java dialects...) So use Firefox or some other browser if you're Mac bound.

The output is something like this:

Elevation & Azimuth Moon v. 0.97
(c) J. Giesen - www.GeoAstro.de
User Input, 37.75N, 119.80W, UT -8 h
Mean obliquity of the ecliptic 23.438

Local True App. Azimuth
Time Alt. Alt.
00:00 45.59 44.92 252.52
02:00 23.16 22.28 272.91
03:00 11.92 10.98 281.52
04:00 1.02 290.22
05:00 -9.24 299.62
06:00 -18.49 310.28
08:00 -31.81 337.22
09:00 -34.53 353.43
10:00 -33.99 10.14
11:00 -30.26 25.84
12:00 -23.9 39.58
14:00 -5.95 61.22
15:00 4.59 3.64 70.03
16:00 15.69 14.77 78.21
17:00 27.12 26.27 86.34
18:00 38.64 37.89 95.15
20:00 60.59 60.12 121.14
21:00 69.05 68.71 146.76
22:00 71.88 71.58 187.44
23:00 66.91 66.53 224.19
24:00 57.6 57.09 245.83

The "azimuth" is just the local bearing, from the Ahwahnee Meadow Half Dome is roughly 90 (due East) so sometime between 4pm and 5pm tonight the Moon will be at the right height, but farther South than the Adams shot... which probably means behind Half Dome from that vantage point...

Here's what I'd do tonight: find a slightly higher point NORTH of the Ahwahnee by about 200 meters... there are practical problems like obscuration by Washington Column... Another vantage point might be to go to descent trail off of the Five Open Books, you're up at 1300 m elevation which will make Half Dome look lower with respect to the Moon, but if you go up there around 3:00 pm you'll get a good look at what is happening, and then position your image.

Here is my 180 mm on the digital (equivalent to a 270 mm in 35 mm format) from that trail

Here is the scene with an equivalent of a 93 mm lens in 35 mm format

Notice the mist swirling down from the high country which was the Moon's vail yesterday evening.

I didn't go any further North from the line through Ahwahnee Meadow and Half Dome summit (the location I was at in those last two shots was 11 m south of that line), but you'd hike a bit further along that trail to get the more than 200 meters (you are farther west (back) so you have to go farther North). I couldn't do that with Debbie because she is not a confident rock scrambler, and unless there are flowers involved (not this time of year!) there is no motivation for her to push beyond her unease. From this vantage point Washington Column is not an issue, but the image composition will be challenging absent a left boarder reference.

Go for it Karl! and report back!

The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Nov 29, 2009 - 01:51pm PT

Photo: Walter Flint
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 29, 2009 - 01:55pm PT
Walter crushed it on that image!

The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Nov 29, 2009 - 02:02pm PT
Thanks Ed.. I'm trying to decide if the convergence is still possible tonight, meaning the moon combined with the dome that will still have alpenglow on it... Thank God for the web cams, they saved me from driving up for nothing.. I could just tell it was gonna be cloudy around the dome at the critical time last night....
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 29, 2009 - 02:05pm PT
Walleye, read my post above, I don't think you'll be able to see it from the Ahwahnee Meadow tonight, but perhaps from a bit higher up and north...


The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Nov 29, 2009 - 02:16pm PT
Yeah Ed, I agree with you. I think Columbia point or a little higher on the Falls Trail would be the spot.. I was wanting to shoot super telephoto like my posted pic, and not wider angle.. I'll probably just be lazy and stay home...

Durham, NC
Nov 29, 2009 - 02:22pm PT
Thanks, Ed. That was really great! Happy holiday weekend. :)

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Nov 29, 2009 - 02:40pm PT
Not OT, there's rock involved! Great stuff!
Lokesh - nice shot!
Walleye - Great shot! Part of me wants to see it slightly wider but it is tough to argue with tight (unless you prefer the wyde-lol).

I discovered a cable channel I didn't know I had. It is called Ovation and they are running a massive BBC-produced series this weekend called Framed - really great historical stuff. They had a bit on Ansel's other famous HD shot and the printing iterations it went through. A fairly recently discovered early print had the right side (I can't spell Tissa-whatever) of the wall all 'burned in' or dark. It looked much too contrasty to me plus I guess I like detail.

Trad climber
The Lost Highway
Nov 29, 2009 - 02:49pm PT
Anyone interested who has an iPhone, there are a great couple of apps for related purposes, heres a great free one:


the name of a great developer for lots of space/celestial apps is First Light, here's the web site that shows all of the apps.


check out these in the app store too, they show some cool celestial stuff:

ISS Visibilty
Satellite Visibilty

Distant Suns by First Light is by far the best of the space apps available.

Nov 29, 2009 - 03:05pm PT
An excellent topic and great post. I don't know whether Ansel Adams wrote much about the how of his photography but the above reminds me of how Galen Rowell wrote about the thinking and estimating he did well in advance of the shots.

Social climber
Flatland, Ca
Nov 29, 2009 - 04:31pm PT
Ed - Thanks for the anatomy of a photograph.. That's really neat....

Cool science, cool photography

Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Nov 29, 2009 - 04:32pm PT
Ed, Can you shed some light on the folloewing?

I thought the sun and moon positions lined up every 56 years, or really close every 1c, 1c, and 18 years (first documented by the greek, Meton, giving rise to the metonic year).

Forgive any typos, it's on a blackberry where java is broken and I can't see what I rtypee at all).

Maybe the sun/moon alignments I mentioned are just applicable to the the eclipse cycles and have nothing to do wtith relative positions of the sun and moon on Earth? But there has to be a cotrelation, because Stonehenge eas built around that.

J. Werlin

Nov 29, 2009 - 04:38pm PT
It is because of guys (and gals) like Ed that we are no longer living in caves.

Thanks for the high resolution post, Ed.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Nov 29, 2009 - 05:27pm PT
Wow!, Ed, great post!

And to all that added to it, especially Walter,
great job!!!!!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 29, 2009 - 06:10pm PT
Adams talked about the creation of some of his most notable images in the book:
Examples The Making of 40 Photographs 1983 Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Little, Brown and Company
ISBN 0-8212-1750-x (paperback)

this particular image is discussed on page 132...

of course this is discussed in Adams' style... apparently he misremembered the film stock (a friend of mine has seen the original negatives) so the technical details might not quite match what actually happened. I'm sympathetic, technical record keeping is so much easier with a digital camera...

Adams considered the print to be the "performance" of the "score" which was the negative. In his metaphor, there can be many interpretations of the score, and he did re-interpret a small set of his negatives over and over again throughout his life.

The total number of images captured on negatives is much much larger, and apparently in the process of being digitally scanned to protect them for the future. Perhaps those negatives will be used for other performances. I like the metaphor, it would be wonderful to extend it to its natural conclusion.

[Edit If you get a chance to see an Ansel Adams exhibit you should do it, the chance to look at the prints "up close and personal" is wonderful, and the prints are from all periods of his career and are often different then the ones you see in books and posters.]

Nov 29, 2009 - 06:25pm PT
Sounds good. I'll check the library.

From a reader's review:

one of his iconic views of Yosemite was made after a day's hard hiking with a full size view camera, large wooden tripod, and just twelve glass plates. He suspected that he had wasted the first eleven, and had just one left for a favourite view of Half Dome.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 29, 2009 - 07:41pm PT
unfortunately it looks from the web cam to be another hazy night on the Sierra Crest...


I'll try for the December Moon...
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 29, 2009 - 08:15pm PT
oops... I got the 2 azimuth direction wrong, it was North, not South, which means you wanted to go South...

I am hoping that the Moon wasn't visible because of the haze, and I didn't lead anyone astray... sorry if I did, takes me a long careful time to get it right, and I was shooting from the hip on this one....

here it is, a fuzz ball in the web cam view:

I'll go and calculate it for sure... sorry if this was a problem... it's why we publish things, to make sure we get them right, and to have people correct us when we have them wrong...

Yep, screwed up... sh#t, sorry...

so 200 m south in the Ahwahnee Meadow would have been completely doable...

Trad climber
Nov 29, 2009 - 10:04pm PT
here's my version from thanks giving afternoon, from near dinner ledge on Washington column. Not quite Ansel quality but it will do... (obviously and unfortunately not a telephoto lens)
hey - I didn't even know it was a special picture taking day

Credit: rockermike

another version

Credit: rockermike

Question for Yosemite alum; do you see the brightly lit "pillar", straight below moon, near bottom or picture, with trees on top? Anyone been there? Is it scramble-able, or roped climbing? Looks like a cool spot; I'd like to explore it.

Trad climber
Kennewick wa
Nov 29, 2009 - 10:38pm PT
If you are interested in the technical side of Adams' work the book mentioned earlier is great as is his book "The Negative" (it discusses previsualization, etc.).

The exhibit "Ansel Adams at 100" had a couple of images that showed how he originally printed them and then how the "famous" later prints were made. One is his famous Aspens photo. Originally he printed it light and airy. later he reprinted it and cranked up the contrast and drama. His print of Denali and Wonder Lake was the same. The original didn't have the famous "Ansel" sky. Both of the first prints were much quieter.

If you haven't seen the work in person you are really missing out. This is true of most of the greats. Books, no matter how well done, just can't compete with the real deal (especially for the non-color photographers).
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 10, 2009 - 02:23am PT
A few Half-Dome images, with the moon rising behind the clouds...

I lost a roll of B&W at the photolab due to a understandable screwup.. though these two rolls were really problems... these negatives came off the roll that broke in my camera, but film was recoverable...

...the fact that there was no moon to look at that day is a bit disappointing... but I'll chart a Half Dome-Moon campaign for the year and see what happens!
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 10, 2009 - 02:24am PT
photo not found
Missing photo ID#137668
Who knows, perhaps it'll be visible again on December 30th? Not a common sight around here in winter.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Dec 10, 2009 - 02:55am PT
"oops... I got the 2 azimuth direction wrong, it was North, not South, which means you wanted to go South..."

Ed-I have a friend that lost his 85 ft schooner on a reef in the South China Sea back in the 60s over a "little" error like that. GPS has made it safer in many ways on both land and sea but with the added disadvantage that people no longer rely on basic skills of orienteering and celestial navigation or for that matter basic common sense. Good to see you working in the old mode in theory.

Wonderful thread!

Dec 10, 2009 - 03:11am PT
And Ansel Adams' Examples (of making 40 photographs) is quite interesting. The library also has his Camera book, which will probably come before The Negative and The Print, because I only use The Computer.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 10, 2009 - 09:08am PT
there are many things in The Negative and in The Print which are worth reading (though much that is specific to film).

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Dec 10, 2009 - 10:01am PT
When I was in college I had a poster of Adams' "Half Dome and Moon" on the wall of my apartment. Stared at it often, though I was nowhere good enough to climb that face yet.

The white straight-up line of the Direct Northwest Face really stands out in the photo, so it stood out in my mind. A few years later I climbed the route, just because of that picture.

Fish do WHAT in this water???
Dec 10, 2009 - 06:35pm PT
Just found this thread--it's another awesome one, too.

Thanks Ed...and everyone else who posted fabulous images...for taking my breath away over and over again.

(Walleye...ya gots ta stop using Elmer's Glue when ya paste that big ol' fat moon on all yer photos. It oozes around the edges and doesn't look even close to real...) ;-)
the Fet

Dec 10, 2009 - 06:43pm PT
Not very off topic for a climbers forum and great thread.

Trad climber
Kennewick wa
Dec 10, 2009 - 07:18pm PT
MH2 - I think The Negative is the best of the three books if you are going to go out and shoot B&W. It is about visualizing the image and getting what you want. You can even modify the Zone System to work with digital or any film format.

Social climber
wherever you go, there you are
Oct 29, 2016 - 11:04pm PT
Dang Ed, we were just talking about this! Too bad your links are broken, it was a great trip report!
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