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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!

Awesome Sunset

I figured out years ago that the most beautiful sunsets in Southern California happen during the season change from summer to fall - a nice relief from the drab sunsets of summer. Well, this year is no exception and we had a breathtaking sunset last Thursday that I was lucky enough to shoot.

The spot I chose in Crystal Cove State Park had wet sand so smooth and glassy it was practically a mirror for the sky. And since the sky was really what I wanted to capture, I figured these reflections would be a perfect way to double my subject for double the impact.

These first 2 compositions are practically the same, but I couldn't decide what I liked better: the untainted reflections dominating the foreground or the water line coming in from the left.

This sunset truly was stunning and the colors represented in the above pictures are very accurate. It was actually that colorful.

After the color faded, I got this shot of an interesting little rock formation in the surf. I heightened the blue colors with a false white balance to help add to the cool and empty feeling. I really like the calmness in this shot.