Painting with Light: Incense Cedar Tree at Night

Incense cedar tree at night in Yosemite Valley, CA

This image was taken at night in Yosemite Valley, CA, where I set up my tripod before dark, focused my wide angle lens on this gnarled incense tree in the background, set a base exposure, composed my shot paying attention that no branches of the tree intersected the top of the surrounding mountains and waited for darkness to descend. Then it was just a question of taking several shots at different times at night, with the sky taking on different hues, and sometimes experimenting with “light painting”, as in this image.

Painting with light is a hit and miss technique that may be performed in night photography situations, and that is achieved by shining a flashlight on the foreground subject, or anyway a foreground element, to accentuate it and give it some texture in the final image. There are no hard and fast rules for how long to light your subject, and the photographer is best advised to take several shots with different intensities of lighting, as there is no way of telling which one will turn out to be the most pleasant one. On those circumstances I always take a few shots in full darkness too, with the tree that is completely silhouetted against the lighter sky, because sometimes those may turn out to be the best option.

In this case, however, I think the moderate amount of “light painting” on the incense tree works to the benefit of the image as it gives kind of an eerie feel to the gnarled tree, accentuating its tortured limbs that stretch out in all directions and one of which points to Yosemite Falls.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)


18 thoughts on “Painting with Light: Incense Cedar Tree at Night

  1. ChgoJohn

    Just look at that star-filled sky! Never see that here and have to go to Michigan for that canopy.
    Thank you for sharing this technique, Stefano. I would imagine that time management is crucial, that you need to have a good plan in mind and all of the equipment handy. After all, dusk lasts only so long and when the sun is gone, it’s gone. But, if you can get this type of photo as a result, all of the planning and preparation is definitely worthwhile. It’s a beautiful shot.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, John! You are absolutely right: to be able to really appreciate the beauty of a starry night you need to travel far from all the light poluution we are so used to living in a “civilized” environment. And yes, preparation is indeed crucial for successful night photography as you do not want to find yourself fiddling with equipment when it is pitch black all around you!
      Many thanks again for your kind comment.

      1. Stefano Post author

        Thank you, Kimberly: yes, you should definitely consider it! There’s so many things to do and see, it’s just unbelievable. Thanks again for your kind words.

  2. the winegetter

    Gorgeous. I can see this work with the baobabs in the Botswana Salt Pans, too…oh man, just brought me back. Thanks for sharing!! I am enjoying your “lectures”, probably more lessons, on photography a lot.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Oliver, an yes I totally see hat you mean regarding the baobabs against a breathtaking African starry sky! Also, I am glad you enjoy my little photo tips – they are far from being lessons, but maybe they can motivate someone to push the envelope a little bit and experiment (and hopefully have fun) with some new technique. Take care

  3. Dina

    A beautiful impression, Stefano. Thanks a lot for an interesting post! I visited Yosemite many, many years ago, it was almost like being in Norway. Revisiting with you was nice! 🙂

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Dina! Yosemite is such a nice Park to visit, preferably away from the big Summer crowds, but always beautiful. Glad to have brought back pleasant memories 🙂


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