Regular readers know that here at The REI Blog one of our favorite sources of memorable outdoor footage is the Yosemite Nature Notes series created by videographer Steven Bumgardner, aka Yosemite Steve. His latest production, Night Skies, was just recently released.
Bumgardner has progressively elevated the traditional interpretive park video into short-form works of art, and Night Skies beautifully continues that trend. Below, Bumgardner shares a few thoughts with us about his latest project.
REI Blog: What triggered the idea of using night skies as the subject of a national park video?
Yosemite Steve: Dark night skies are one of the resources that are protected in our national parks. Most of the darkest places in the U.S. are found in places like Yosemite, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon and Natural Bridges. Even though most visitors crawl into their sleeping bags and hotel rooms once the sun goes down, there's still a pretty good show going on at night.
REI Blog: Did you pick up any new skills for capturing nighttime images?
YS: I spent over 3 years shooting the time-lapse sequences for this episode, and my skills and hardware improved over time. Initially, I was just trying to get shots of the stars and Milky Way, but I eventually realized that I needed shots that really showed Yosemite at night.
That's when I started focusing on the moon setting on Half Dome as well as getting shots with big erratic boulders in the Tuolumne Meadows area. My good friend Shawn Reeder, who is featured in the episode, also let me use his great opening shot of the moon setting on Bridalveil Fall.
REI Blog: What proved most challenging about this project?
YS: Probably the biggest challenge was just time: How many nights does it take to get enough footage? I spent about 30 nights over 3 years to get all the shots in this video, and I really wanted them all to say "Yosemite" and not just "Milky Way."
Using YouTube's analytics feature, I also learned what had worked in the past with my Moonbows episode: viewer attention spiked in the shots that had people and photographers in it, not just the pretty moonbow shots.
That's why I focused on getting good time-lapse shots of the star parties at Glacier Point with all their telescopes and red lights. Those are some of my favorite shots in the whole piece.
REI Blog: It’s lovely to watch. How would you evaluate your evolution as an artist? Are you endeavoring to raise expectations of what a naturalist/interpretive video can achieve visually and emotionally?
YS: I do consider myself a practical artist, and I've always tried to balance my art with my skills as an interpreter and communicator.
I think this episode raises the bar on both sides. Several comments on YouTube mention folks crying after watching, which is good sign of successful art. (The great music helps as well.)
But there's also lots of discussion of the value of night skies and the concerns with light pollution, so as an educator, that's the result I really wanted.
REI Blog: Does anything about this project make it especially memorable for you?
YS: Like my work on Moonbows, I really enjoyed spending so much time out at night, and now that this baby is done, I'm going to kinda miss it. I guess I'll need another assignment that gets me working at night again.
REI Blog: What’s next?
YS: Later this year I'll be releasing an episode about Granite, and I'm still editing an extended episode that was shot on June 26 this summer with over 30 photographers and filmmakers called One Day in Yosemite.
REI Blog: Thanks, Steven. As usual, great work.
Footnote: To learn more about the preservation and protection of night skies, visit the website of the nonprofit International Dark-Sky Association.