Early October in the Eastern Sierra.. Images and thoughts

Earlier this month (October 2009) I spent about a considerable amount of time in the Eastern Sierra of California, which is one of my favorite places to photograph. I conduct photograph workshops in this location every year about the same time ( 2010 will be no different). However, this year represented some challenges which haven’t occurred in many years.LACAES_MONO09101-HF The fall color not only was late, but in some of the usually top image producing locations, the color looked looked like it would fizzle out.

Oh well, just being in this location is special…… color or not. The smell of the sage is like no where else.  The vistas and areas around Mono Lake and Bishop are great anytime of year. It was also great to catch up with some friends who are usually there in October as well.

California has received little rain the past  2 years and this past summer was very hot. Many of the locals as well as seasoned photographers I met there agreed that the aspens and cottonwoods were stressed and probably would just go from green to brown. I know my attendees were expecting some color so I set out to find some. Since this workshop was a Macro &More  workshop, with my good friend Mike Moats ( www.tinylandscapes.com) finding color and subject material was even more important.


Sage & rabbit bush close to Mono Lake

After camping  on Thursday night along Tioga Pass  with fellow photographers Preston Birdwell and Michael Gordon ( both great large format shooters…  www.gildedmoon.com and www.michael-gordon.com ), I met  another good friend, and a veteran of many past photography workshops Greg Duncan on Friday www.gregduncanphotography.com … a few days prior to the workshop to do some scouting.  Many of the images below were results of scouting the area from, Bishop, north to Lee Vining to find some interesting locations. We were pretty successful.   LACAES_NOLAKE1_0910_0030

Sunrise at North Lake, west of Bishop Ca.  Note the green cottonwoods right next to the almost yellow aspens!

Greg headed over to Yosemite on Saturday with another good friend and fellow workshop instructor Ralph Nordstrom ( www.ralphnordstromphotography.com) (Ralph and I will be joining forces once again for our 2nd annual Death Valley workshop in Feb 2010!). Though I drove over with them, for  a lot of reasons I decided to get back over the “east side” before the impending storm hit later on Saturday night…. and yes it hit!.

Sunday morning brought temperatures in the teens and up to 6-7″ of snow, depending where you were. Tioga and Sonora passes were closed until Tuesday and Greg was stuck in Yosemite ( I can think of worse places to be stuck in. He got some amazing images there… check them out at www.gregduncanphotoraphy.com)

But I was in paradise… new snow, clearing sky’s, all in my one  of my favorite locations with a day or two to shoot before my attendees got into town!  This is a good example of reading the weather, being prepared and being there in the right light and conditions, not only  to get some decent images, but enjoy this unique location.

Some of these images were taken before the workshop and a  during. I’ll discuss what drew me to these images and why they work for me. There compressed JPEG images don’t do the original files justice. I’ll share some thoughts I had when I took them as well as looking at them here.

I’m  already anticipating next year in the Eastern Sierra.






This image was taken in the morning at North Lake as well. The reflections were great . What drew me into this images however, was the one tall pine tree, which added another dynamic to the pastel colors of the surrounding trees. Imagine this image without it. I would not have taken this image without it.













The image on the right was taken not far from North Lake in a small stream on the road to Lake Sabrina. Greg and I took lots of time here and got some other interesting shots. This was taken using my Singh Ray VARI-ND filter ( www.singh-ray.com ). This is about a 6 second exposure. it really adds to the texture of the water.









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ON the left is another image made with the Singh-Ray Vari-ND.

 This was a 10 second exposure. One note on the leaves… I am not one to add things to images that aren’t there. 2 of these leaves were there, right side up. Did someone else put them there? Maybe… I added the 3rd to make the image stronger.

The repeating patterns of the water coming over the rocks in a hook like fashion along with the deep coloration of the water makes this image work for me.





  Is there anything better than the late afternoon pastel light as the sun goes down at Mono Lake?


 Lenticular clouds sometime are a signal of weather changes. They occur only over very tall mountain peaks and are quite common in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. This one however,was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. There were major lenticular all over the Owens Valley and Mono Basin this Saturday afternoon. The storm hit Saturday night and this cloud was  forbearing of what was to come.  This location is right over Crowley Lake off HWY 395. I really like the shadow of the cloud against the yellow grassland near Crowley Lake. Blue & yellow always works well.LACAES-CLOUD3_09100106

  LACAES_LUNDY2PAN_0910Monday morning brought a totally different look to Lundy Canyon. Gone were the clouds and the contrast became somewhat of a problem. This is actually a pan image made from stitching 2 images together. Having the snow here added to the image. If only the aspens were changing as they should have been! I did not use a polarizer here for 2 reasons. Ore, you never use one when taking pan images and two, the sky would have been a dark navy blue at this elevation, looking very unrealistic







Here is Lundy Lake.  The subject to me here is the pattern of the snow meeting at a point in the reflection in the water. This may be my favorite image of the trip. I’ve never seen the water this flat with these kind of weather conditions in this canyon. If you look close on the mountain side, you can see some of the yellows of the aspens emerging between the patterns of the snow and the mountain. It impossible for you a viewer , who may have not been to this location like this to understand the majestic and the overall size of this canyon and lake. The pine trees on the mountain side are upwards of 100′ high. They look like twigs in this image. 


The water on the lower beaver pond was frozen on Monday morning. This log is about a foot under water. I was attracted to the white dots of ice embedded in the ice itself. The patterns of the ice as well as the color added attracted me to make this image as well. 


While scouting Convict Lake, for about 20 seconds a ray of sunlight sent a beam of light onto these aspens on my left. I underexposed the background to enhance the glow of the trees both on the land and especially in the water. Literally 10-20seconds later this light disappeared. 

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 I really like to photograph the earthy tones on some of the trees in the area. I was attracted to the patterns of the wood with the slight hint of yellow in the texture. This was shot with my Nikon 200mm  F4 Macro lens.













LACAES_LUNDYCYN_TREEBARK2_0910_03338 copyHere is another, but somewhat busier. Finding patterns in the tree bark isn’t as easy as you may think. You really have to work the subject.














This images was made with my Nikon 200mm Macro + a 6T (62mm) diopter. The lichen is nearly perfect in shape. The Orange color works well against the rock face. These images are found all over within the “grand scenic” type images , you just have to look around.

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This images was taken with my Nikon 80-200mm Lens. I liked how this leave fell onto this rock, which in and of itself would have made an interesting macro image.











We spent some time photographing Bodie, the old ghost town just south of Bridgeport and North of Mono Lake. I only took a few images.LACABODIE_3_0910_0573 The first is a reflection of one of the old buildings in Bodie and the sky from a window. The torn window dressing really tells a story and adds to the image.














Here is a photograph taken through an opening in the door, exposing the newspaper lined wall paper of one of the rooms in this house. I guess they used newspaper for added insulation.LACABODIE_NSPAPER1_0910_0571 Bodie is about 9000′ elevation and has very harsh winters. The newspaper was in good enough shape that you can make out the words and type very well.













These old bottles were lined up and photographed through a window. I don’t like shooting through windows since the clarity is often diminished. LACABODIE_bottles_0910_0608I chose to use a large aperture in order to make the bottles in the back less sharp than the front. ( Check out Greg Duncan’s shot on his web site.. he took the opposite approach, both have redeeming qualities).














We took an afternoon up above 10,000′ in the White Mt’s to photograph the ancient bristle cone pine trees. These are the oldest living “things” on the planet. This tree might date back over 3000 years. Like some other photographs, I know this one would be a black & white images as well when I took it. The subject of the tree is interesting and the clouds bending in a directional pattern adds to the overall drama of this image.



Finally, a Mono Lake Sunrise and Sunset.


There was just a hint of fog on the water during this sunrise which made things a little more interesting.







This sunset image was shot after almost everyone left, thinking that the light was over. There must have been over 100 folks with cameras ( note I did not say photographers) at Mono Lake this afternoon.  There was literally not one parking spot in the lot when we arrived. We had to park along the road leading into the lot. When things appeared to have fizzled out all but a handful left. We were rewarded with some wonderful light and alpenglow.
















And finally, on October 4th the moon was full. However the lake was choppy due to a strong wind blowing from the north. As slow shutter speed allowed me to create the smooth form of the water. Here the full October moon is rising from the east.