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Trip to Sierras – Part 4

Finally, the last installment of images from my recent trip to the Sierras! This covers our last day there, which was really just a half day as we left town by about 2:00pm. To view the previous installments of images covering days 1 and 2, click the links below:

- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3

Click any of the panoramas to view larger versions.

Mono Lake Sunrise

We got up before sunrise again and I decided to hit Mono Lake for the second time. I really just wanted to redeem my first trip there (see Part 1) and I thought sunrise and a little change in location might make the difference. My plan was to first try the main parking lot. If it was packed, I'd turn around and head down a side road to a different, lesser-visited area. Well, surprise surprise...it was packed.

With more than a hint of exasperation, I flipped the car around and headed down that side road where I found a little clearing along the brush. Apparently this was the overflow parking area for the South Tufa main lot. We were the only car there, it was well detached from the busy main lot and boardwalk, and I could see some tufas beyond the brush that looked promising. Added bonus: didn't have to pay for parking.

So I parked the car, got my gear, strapped on my headlamp and started hiking into the brush towards Mono Lake. My lady stayed back in the car to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of heated seats. Since I hadn't scouted this area yet and there was no clear-cut trail, it was a bit of a chore getting down there. I found myself losing the "trail" quite often and having to push my way through some tall brush. But, that's part of the adventure and I couldn't complain!

After about 10 minutes of bushwhacking, I made it to the shore and looked around. Perfect. Not a soul in sight. It was the solitude I'd been itching for since day 1. Also, the tufas down here, although not quite as stunning as the main area, were still very gorgeous. The banks were much more muddy and harder to navigate, but that was a small price to pay for the privacy.

As I started planning my shots, I could hear the crowds from the main South Tufa Reserve. They were far enough away that I couldn't see anyone, but I could definitely hear them. I could also see the dirt road off in the distance that lead to the South Tufas. Every time I looked back, I'd see headlights from about 3 cars making their way towards the lot. One right after the other. Car...car...car...car. It seemed to never end.

All I could do was shake my head. There still wasn't another tripod in sight for me, though, so I was happy. I could only imagine how crowded it was getting out there. But anyway, enough about the crowds, here are my shots from the morning:

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Sunrise

Mono Lake Tufas

Mono Lake Reflections

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Tufa

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Panorama

After Mono Lake, some breakfast, check-out and a browse through the local stores, we headed out of town. On our way out, we took a drive through June Lake Loop. Wow. I really wish I had seen this place earlier in our trip. It was stunning. Silver Lake was so picturesque I just had to break my general rule of not shooting in the middle of the day. Luckily, this type of scenery does okay with midday light (although still not as pretty as sunrise or sunset).

Silver Lake

Silver Lake

So there it is! All 4 installments of images from my trip! I hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them (that's a tall order). I can't wait to go back. This place is absolutely jam-packed with photo ops and I can't wait to add some more of them to my portfolio.

Thanks for following along!

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...