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Trip to Sierras – Part 2

On to the second installment of pictures from my recent trip to Sierra Nevada Mountains (View Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4)... This post covers my pictures from the first half of day 2 on our trip. Click any of the panoramas for larger versions.

Lee Vining Creek

I decided to wake up before sunrise and hit Ellery Lake up off Tioga Pass. My beautiful girlfriend joined me (the good sport that she is) and we had the entire lake to ourselves. It was so peaceful being among that beautiful scenery as the sun rose. Breathtaking, really. Freezing, too, but very peaceful.

Based on its position on the map, I thought the morning light would hit the mountain peaks and reflect beautifully in the lake... I was a little bit off on that prediction. I didn't study the topographical map well enough to see that the sunrise would actually be blocked by some tall peaks off to the east. That's what I get for not scouting it beforehand. Oh, well. Before ditching this spot realizing the light wasn't going to go where I wanted it, I was able to get a few good images.

Ellery Lake at Sunrise

Ellery Lake at Sunrise

Near Ellery Lake at Sunrise

We stopped next at Tioga Lake. The scenery was stunning, as usual for this area, but I was getting really frustrated with how many signs of human existence were crowding my shots. I had to work quite hard to frame out the dam, the road, the cars parked off to the side, etc etc. And even when I did frame that stuff out, I still couldn't avoid those damn contrails from jets flying overhead. They didn't completely ruin the shot(s), but I would have preferred all air traffic just waited a few minutes, just until I was done with my pictures. So selfish...

A couple of the shots are quite similar as I working with "variations on a theme" (nice way of saying "almost the same composition") and the second shot below just looked too good in black and white to not share with you. I can't decide if I like the B&W or color version better.

Morning at Tioga Lake

Morning at Tioga Lake (Color)

Morning at Tioga Lake (b&w)

Morning at Tioga Lake

Last stop on Tioga Pass was a little creek off the side of the road in Yosemite National Park. The light was a little bit too harsh by this point for my taste, but I got a couple good shots nevertheless. I particularly like the vertical panoramic.

Creek in Yosemite National Park

Creek in Yosemite National Park

Next up was...a nap. Boy, do I hate naps. It's literally impossible for me to sleep after 10:00am without getting a pounding headache when I wake up, but I didn't want to be falling asleep at sunset. So it was either have a headache and get some sunset shots, or pass out at 6:00pm and miss the sunset. Now what kind of photographer would I be if I chose comfort over pictures?

After the nap and before our venture out for sunset shots, we went back down to Lee Vining Creek just below our motel for some quick pictures (and to wake ourselves up a bit). The shot at the top of this post and the following panorama are from that spot.

Lee Vining Creek Panorama

So there's just the first half of Day 2. Stay tuned for Part 3!

Trip to Sierras – Part 1

Mono Lake Tufas

As some of you may know, I took a trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains over the weekend for some photos (Lee Vining, CA to be exact). My girlfriend and I spent 3 days, 2 nights there and explored all around the area from Mono Lake into Yosemite National Park. The trip was so much fun and both of us are horribly "homesick" for the gorgeous scenery up there. We can't wait to go back.

I took so many pictures over the course of our trip that I decided to break them up into several different blog posts to share with you. This post covers our first afternoon there (View Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4).

Leaving So Cal at 7:00am paid off nicely as we were able to roll into town around 2:45. That left plenty of daylight to explore Lee Vining Creek just below our motel and then hit Mono Lake for sunset. Let me break up each one of these spots separately.

Lee Vining Creek is a gorgeous little creek that leads from the mountains down into Mono Lake. It's lined with birch trees (one of my favorites) that were just starting to turn color for the fall. I played with detail shots mostly on my first encounter with this creek - close shots of the leaves and white birch bark, the motion of the water, a nice swath of reflections off the water's surface. Really fun stuff.

Birch Trees

Birch Tree Leaves

Lee Vining Creek

Reflections in Lee Vining Creek

Reflections in Lee Vining Creek

After Lee Vining Creek, we headed out to Mono Lake for sunset.

Alright, let me be brutally honest about my experience at Mono Lake: I didn't really enjoy it. I visited the world-famous South Tufas where the landscape is unlike anything else on earth and it is really just begging to be photographed. And that's the problem - the place was filthy with photographers. Really, you couldn't move 10 feet without getting in someone's shot or someone else getting in yours. There was no semblance of quiet, definitely no sense of solitude and it just felt like there was a faint air of competition and defensiveness floating around over claiming a spot. It was the Disneyland on Memorial Day of landscape photography.

And on top of all that, I couldn't help but overhearing a conversation one photographer was having with a couple of visitors wherein he assured them that pretty much everything's done in the computer nowadays. It's all bracketing, HDR and Photoshop. I wanted to scream out "WRONG! Not ALL of us are incompetent with our cameras." Harsh, I know, but when I started hearing almost every other photographer around me firing off clicks of 3-5 shots, not using filters and with each shutter speed getting progressively longer (clearly doing the HDR technique), I wanted to round them all up and have a serious conversation about the dangers of HDR and to "just say no."

I need to go on a quick rant about that...Let me just say this: Your favorite pictures, the timeless ones from Galen Rowell, David Muench, Peter Lik and guys like that (not the flavor of the week on Flickr), WERE NOT DONE WITH HDR. They took the time to learn PHOTOGRAPHY, not Photoshop, learn how to use filters, learn proper field technique, learn manual exposure and actually take the time in the field, not at the computer, to get the shot right. If it worked for them, why are you trying to fix something that isn't broken? If you just enjoy the process of HDR and that's why you do it, fine. But don't say that's just how it's done nowadays and it results in a better shot (because it doesn't). Also, be accurate and start referring to yourself as a Photoshopper, not a photographer.

I know I probably sound like a horribly bitter, angry man, but I'm on a mission, dammit! I want to make a world of photographers, not Photoshoppers!

And don't get me wrong, I'm sure most everyone there was very nice and considerate. Also, I'm not anti-social. I like people and really like talking to other photographers. I just don't think of landscape photography as a team sport. I do this partly because of the experiences I get with the landscape - the solitude, the peacefulness, the feeling that you're doing something no one else is doing right at that moment. But here, it felt like work, it felt like competition.

Anyway, now that I've said my peace (for now) and painted a picture of what it was like, here are the shots. Despite the experience, I'm still pretty pleased with them - I just wish the sunset had been a little more colorful.

Mono Lake Tufas

Mono Lake Sunset

Mono Lake Sunset

Mono Lake Tufas

I ended up going back to Mono Lake at sunrise on our last day there to try and redeem this experience. I bushwhacked to a much more secluded spot in order to avoid the crowds and the experience went much, much better. More on that in a later post.

Until next time...

Yet Another Beach Sunset

As I've mentioned, this time of year is primo for shooting sunsets in So Cal. So, I always end up hitting the beach quite a bit to try and get some new material. This is peak season (no pun intended) for what I do. If I were a Santa impersonator, this would be my Christmas.

I went back out to Crystal Cove on Friday. Judging by the clouds all day, I thought the sunset was going to be a winner. But, of course, the clouds were all burned off down by the beach. If you know me, you know I hate clear blue skies - it makes for boring landscapes. It turned out okay, but a sunset brimming with color would have made the shots much more memorable.

I found an interesting rock that looked like two discs stuck in the ground. It was the center of my attention for the evening.

With my RAW files loaded up on the computer, I decided to get a little creative with the white balance and cropping to make a shot different from my usual. I thought the cool tones of a heavy-blue white balance and a panoramic cropping on the following picture worked quite well.

There ya have it. Thanks for stopping by!