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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Eighteen: Light and Landscape – combining personal vision with nature’s gifts > Fiery Dawn Over Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 2004
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Fiery Dawn Over Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 2004

Fiery Dawn Over Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 2004

I walked to a meadow in the dark, put my camera on a tripod, and waited for the sun to light up the sky behind Half Dome. I never expected to see, let alone photograph, a sight such as this. Obviously this vividly incongruous display of dawn light itself becomes the subject matter for this landscape. Half Dome, perhaps the most famous of Yosemite’s landmarks, provides the context. Light and color express the essence of this landscape, by creating stylized fire in the sky as a metaphor for creation. Yet my perspective is critical as well. By aligning the edge of those abstracted trees in the foreground with the fiery clouds, and comparing the scene to those the three huge slopes at right, I bring both the illusion of depth and a sense of scale to the scene.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20
1/10s f/8.0 at 6.0mm iso80 full exif

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Phil Douglis09-May-2005 23:34
Thank you, Carl, for the inspiring comment. You've noticed that it's not the scale of a work of expression that counts (and this image is of a truly epic subject) but rather the quality of the content itself.
Carl Bretteville09-May-2005 20:22
Stunning, even on my dinky little laptop screen. Thanks for sharing.
- Carl
Phil Douglis30-Nov-2004 23:01
Good point, Northstar37 -- I don't know if there was ever volcanic activity in Yosemite, but nature is often a blend of earth, fire, and water, and this flaming sky certainly adds a fiery element to the scene.
northstar3723-Nov-2004 19:12
It resembles the volcano that perhaps it once was.
Phil Douglis29-Oct-2004 03:15
As you can see, this has been a big draw today. It was one of the most awesome sights I have ever viewed in nature and my knees were literally shaking as I made this picture. I was mindful of all you speak of here, Bruce. It does speak of life, energy, some even see overtones of the creation it. Thanks, as always, for your comment.
bruce berrien29-Oct-2004 01:47
The fire, the energy - it looks like Mother Earth has got something cooking! I like the way the lines work together. On the left, the slope of the mountain meets the horizon formed by the treetops at "the source". And on the right, the subtle gradations of dark rock form an anchor and a balance - a sense of completion to the image. To me the whole thing speaks of life and possibilities.
Phil Douglis28-Oct-2004 22:31
Hi, Celia. You are right. I looked at original and when I lightened it, I could the see the brown road at the base of those trees. I could not see it in the posted version on my own monitor, but apparently the brightness of your monitor showed it. So I simply darkened the bottom of that picture to render the road invisible, replacing the old version with this darker version. You should no longer see it. If you do, give a shout. I did not want to crop it.


Cecilia Lim 28-Oct-2004 20:03
I did not realize that the brown strip was not visible to you. I do agree that you would need the extra "black" to anchor the foreground for your fire to spring from, as you've described. But this strip that runs across horizontally from left to right appears brownish on my screen suggesting a dirt road or the top edge of a wooden fence. This slash across the bottom edge interferes with the overall dynamic and fluid lines on your image. Well, if you can't see it, then I'll just pretend it's black as you originally meant it to be!
Phil Douglis28-Oct-2004 19:01
Thank you, Lisa, for this observation. Lava Flow? Eruption? Creation? Take your pick -- it is what goes on in Lisa's fertile imagination that is most important. If this image can reach out to stimulate that imagination, I'm happy with it.
Phil Douglis28-Oct-2004 18:28
Thanks, dear CIR, for your comments on this image. I am delighted that you you find it thought provoking, because that was my intention. I opened this gallery with this picture, because more than any other, it expresses exactly what you sensed here: creation. If ever I have made an image about the energy that has brought all of this into existence, it must be here! I must take exception, though, to your assertion that this image is a far cry from my River Svir image. If this image is my "Yin", the Svir image must be my "Yang." They are opposite sides of the same coin as far as I am concerned. Each says what I had hoped to say, even if you feel otherwise. I also disagree with your suggestion that I should have cropped this picture from the bottom. You say that the "brownish strip" (which looks black on my monitor) at the bottom "does not contribute significantly to the depth of the picture" and that the "picture would work beautifully without it." I intentionally included that black area at the bottom of the picture because it gives all that fiery energy a mysterious source from which to spring. To remove any of that black area, would, in my view, seriously weaken the very basis of this this image. The deep, dark earth itself! Thanks, Celia, for your observations. Whether we agree or don't agree, you are helping me teach every time you lift your fiery fingers to your keyboard.

Phil Douglis28-Oct-2004 18:16
Jen, you have learned a good lesson here. Always watch your edges. Sometimes you must use the edge to get things out that distract, or take out things that say nothing, such as useless sky. (As you originally thought about this image.) Sometimes you must use your edge to create tension and meaning. And sometimes, as you acknowledge here, you must use your edge to create space for your subject to float, flow, or soar. And that is why I placed the top edge of this image where it is. You are also now more aware of the role of subtlety in photography -- how small things can make a lot of difference. You learn well, good Jen. And the reason you learn so well is that you are never afraid to ask a question or make a criticism. Keep it up.
Phil Douglis28-Oct-2004 17:49
Thanks, Marek, for confirming my decision to keep the faint threads of gold in that upper part of the picture, that Jen suggested I take out. (She has since reversed her opinion.) Sometimes we need to use our edges to create tension. Other times we need to expand the frame to allow room for ideas to flow. This was one of those times.
Lisa Haskins28-Oct-2004 14:04
Stunning. From the thumbnail I thought it was lava flow (in Yosemite?). Gorgeous elemental interpretation. Fire, sky, tree, mountain. Very powerful.
Cecilia Lim 28-Oct-2004 13:48
This is a wonderful opening shot Phil! The fiery sun blazing through the sleeping dull grey sky is indeed a great metaphor for the creation of this beautiful wilderness. The jagged black sillhouette of the trees accentuate the rhythm of the streaking orangey-red flames bursting into the sky, further enforcing the sense of energy that is breathing life into the day. The multi-tonal greys of the distant mountains also create depth and behave somewhat like smoke emanating from this fire which adds to the realism of a fire! What a far cry this is from the last image of yours that I critiqued of the Svir Lake Compositionally, I feel you should have just obliterated the brownish strip at the bottom of your image. It does not identify anything and does not contribute significantly to the depth of the picture, that's if it's meant to imply foreground. Your image would have worked just as beautifully without it. You've captured all the awe, power and beauty of nature all in this one image. A brilliant and thought provoking landscape Phil! Bravo!
Jennifer Zhou28-Oct-2004 13:34
Phil, I am so happy to learn "the power of subtlety in photography"! A little detail can be as important as the focal point of a picture because sometimes a little failed detail does ruin a whole picture no matter how good it is! I remember you always tell me to watch my edges! Our subject need space to float..Just as this one! Is my reasoning right?

m28-Oct-2004 12:49
Fire needs room to burn. The composition is perfect.
Phil Douglis28-Oct-2004 06:10
Thanks, Jen, for this wonderful comment. Surreal was a word on all of our lips as we saw this light erupt over half dome. I felt all of the things you mentioned as I was shooting this. I thank you to for your criticism, as well, because I think that it will help you understand the power of subtlety i photography when I explain my reasoning.

Normally, I try to reduce the amount of empty sky overhead, because it is irrelevant to my ideas. In this case, the empty sky is essential because it is NOT EMPTY SPACE. Look more carefully at it, Jen, in full size. You will see very soft, faint, almost subliminal extensions of fiery clouds flowing out into that space, making the sky glow with energy. To take those faint clouds out of my frame would be a tragic loss. They speak of energy, Jen, and energy can be as bold as the thrust of the strong clouds and as subtle as the faint tendrils that expand out into the heavens. You ask if that space if left for the imagination. Absolutely, Jen. The glow from that energy knows no boundaries. It just keeps on going as far as your imagination wants to take it.!
Jennifer Zhou28-Oct-2004 05:57
This fire-like cloud is very surrealistic. This indeed a greatest creation of our mother nature! The layers made of black trees, blue mountain and orange clouds take our eyes from darkness to the most enchanting color.. It is a process of discovering both the nature and ourselves.

This image full of mystery, strength, energy and wonder, all that a master landscape photograph should be!

I only have a small criticism: I feel there is too much empty space left on the top of the picture. Or it is what you intented to do---a space for imagination!

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