It’s 3am on April 26th. I don’t want to get out of my sleeping bag but I know I have to. “It’s going to be amazing! Who knows when you’ll be back to try this. Just go! It’s going to be starting soon and you need to be ready when it happens.” For some reason at 3am I convinced myself this was a good idea. I flipped on my headlamp, grabbed my things and started out toward swan slab. As I was walking over I started to realize that no one knew where I was going. I wasn’t going to run back to camp 4 to wake someone up. I didn’t have the time but I was worried what could happen or what people would think when they realized I was gone. “You’ll be back before they wake up”, I kept telling myself. When I got to swan slab I scrambled to the top through a climber’s access trail. In front of me was the entire Yosemite Valley. Other than the stars over head the only lights I could see came from the camp 4 bathroom. It was completely quiet and I felt weird being so alone up there. With a little confusion as to why I was there, I began to set up.
I picked a spot close to the ledge. Then I propped up the tripod to a good, balanced position and mounted the camera. This was my first time doing time-lapse photography. It was also my first time doing anything with video in such a place as Yosemite Valley so I was a little nervous that all the effort would go to waste if I didn’t get things right. This wasn’t just one photograph I could expose differently a couple times in case it came out poorly. It would be thousands of photos so every photo had to be done one way and the right way. There were lots of things to think about and not all came in the right order. Before I started the camera I attached a necessary tool called a timer remote control, which would allow me to get all the photos needed without having to hit the shutter release every 5 seconds for the next couple hours. After setting it to take an infinite amount of photos for an interval of 5 seconds I flipped on the camera and looked through the view finder. This is where my problems begin.
I couldn’t see a thing through the viewfinder. Yeah the picture looks to be framed right but will they come out in focus? It was too dark to tell. Without much time or an internet connection to consult an online source I set the focus to infiniti and the aperature to an estimated f/5. By now I could see a little light coming over the horizon. It would only be an hour before the light actually hit Half Dome. I needed to start soon so with those settings I started taking pictures. As the camera clicked away I started to think what was wrong. I checked the shutter count and realized it was only showing about 300 more photos left. I wouldn’t even get to the start of the sunrise with that many photos so I had to change something. Shooting the photos in a RAW format was taking up too much space on my memory card so I switched to jpeg. After about 5 minutes I realized the camera had stopped taking photos. I realized the camera was set to auto-focus and was trying to refocus the image each shot. This time I wanted to start the camera without stopping so I thought to myself, “what is going to happen to the picture as time goes on? It’s going to get brighter soon so how is the exposure going to change with an increase in light?” My answer was to set the camera to a setting called AV to put the camera into aperature priority mode. This would allow the camera to maintain an aperature of f/5 while changing all other settings such as shutter speed and ISO. With the camera set to AV I didn’t have to worry about the picture becoming washed out as the sun became brighter.
Finally I had found the proper settings. Anxious to capture what was left of the sunrise I started things up again. I laid down and relaxed as best I could on the sloping granite keeping one eye open in case any winds were to interfere with the stability of my camera setup. I was only paranoid but after all that it was the last thing I wanted to let happen.
About an hour later the sun showed over the mountains. Half Dome was lit up and soon the rest of the valley. As the sun rays creeped over me I felt like it was giving me life. My whole body warmed up quickly and I became a little less paranoid about my camera. Slowly the sun lit up the valley walls and I could see time happening in slow motion. I was so happy to be up there at that moment knowing that my plan was working. Since 3am I was unsure how successful I would be. It was an amazing moment.
Throughout that whole weekend I had been following my friends around with my camera, trying to capture the Yosemite Valley experience from a climber’s point of view. As a photographer this first time-lapse experience taught me a new joy in my hobby that I will never forget. I learned so many things that morning. When the sunrise was over and I returned to camp I found most people still asleep. Everyone in camp was surprised because they all thought that I was still asleep. They told me they weren’t going to get up until I came out of my tent. It was fun to cut loose and just do it but next time I go out at 3am I’ll let someone know.
Editing the footage was probably the best part of it all. Everything looked so amazing. I couldn’t believe how clear the footage was. After 8 strait hours of editing this is what I came up with. Many climbers have enjoyed this video and that is why I want to share it in this newsletter.