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The Eastern Sierra is as beautiful as any mountain range in the world. Towering granite peaks majestically watch over the valleys and rivers below. They act as a barrier between the fertile central valley of California, and the arid high desert section of the state. With such a diverse landscape it's easy to see why hordes of tourists come to this area every year to try and capture this beauty with their cameras. Mike and I have spent a lot of time in this area guiding photographers of all ages and skill levels through some of the better and lesser known photography spots.
Our workshop begins with an Orientation in Lee Vining, California our home for the first two nights of this workshop. We have a small group so it doesn't take too long for us to get acquainted and make sure everyone is up to speed on the next day agenda.
Our first morning shoot is at the bizarre Mono Lake. This location is known for the bizarre tufa formations lining the lakeside. These formations were created by mineral deposits growing over many, many years in a lake that used to be much, much deeper. The bizarre alkali lake components of the lake create the perfect environment for these bizarre creations to flourish. The lake levels have dropped enormously since the formation of the tufa towers, but that leaves the lake prime for photography. Our group walks out to the formations and we have a tranquil and beautiful scene set out before us. Mike and I help the group to get situated with the correct settings and some compositional ideas, then watch as they start to collect some great images. Everyone enjoys watching an osprey that nests on one of the structures just off shore, and tries to catch some images of the raptor silhouetted against the golden morning sky.
After a nice breakfast at the Whoa Nellie Deli, we set our sights for a brief break and a trip out to Bodie. This historic ghost town was once home to over 30,000 inhabitants, and all the stereotypical old west scenery you could imagine. The gold and silver rush dried up, and most inhabitants fled then...a large fire destroyed a large chunk of the town, sending all the rest packing. Today it's one of the best preserved examples of a time now only seen in movies. It's our own little Westworld.
This time of year in the Sierra is awesome, warm air from the desert mixes with cold mountain air creating amazing thunderheads and storms that build throughout the day. We had some of the most amazing clouds ever for the duration of our time in the park. It's a large area to explore, so Mike and I let the group run wild, and then try to find them and help them to dial in compositions, and get the best shots.
We ended our first day where we started, Mono Lake. Everyone thought the rainstorm that was pounding the area would hamper our photography, but thankfully Mike has the 'Sky fire" app and it promised a 90% chance of color in the sky for our location, so we went with confidence back to Mono...and low and behold the app was right. We had an amazing sunset. Everyone was able to capture some different versions of their morning work, and improve upon and mistakes they made that day.. What a great way to end the first day.
Our next day was started at Convict Lake. This little lake has all the charm of the high alpine lakes, with none of the hiking. It's a small jaunt from car t shooting location... Everyone enjoyed the warm morning light reflecting off the mountains into the crystal clear lake.
Our next stop for the morning was the June Lake Loop....here we pulled over and did a little mini lesson in using hand-held panning while shooting an exposure to get an abstract motion blur with a grove of aspen trees...it's a lot of fun. We even had some great morning light on a small island in the lake that was a bunch of fun to photograph.
With our morning shoot in the books, it was time for the class to move south to the town of Bishop, our home for the last 2 nights of the adventure. Sky Fire was again calling for a high probability of a sunset, so everyone was excited as we made our way high into the White Mountains to shoot the oldest living things on earth, the Bristlecone Pines. Thy sky was again moody and dark...all hope of color was fading with the group...but Sky Fire hadn't steered us wrong yet, so we persisted, and BOO...color came and there was much rejoicing, The sunset was so nice, everyone wondered if there was going to be any chance of shooting the stars...and the nice thing about summer monsoons, is that as soon as the sun goes away, they typically will too. This proved to be the case, and our cloudy sky dissipated and the stars came out. We had a clear sky for the duration of our star trails images...how awesome.
It was a late night, but we got up to grab sunset at a beautiful little bend in the Ownes River. The 'S' curve and framing of this little spot is awesome, and It's not one too many people know about, so we had it all to ourselves. We didn't need a big shoot in the morning, but the light is so nice...we needed to go see it. Everyone was tired from our night before, so after the sun rose a bit more in the sky, we bolted for naps and a warm meal.
That afternoon when the storms had built up over the mountains, we took the group to a few little ponds that we knew about to photograph a bunch of drama over the mountains...the light was so nice, I think even Ansel Adams would've been jealous. We had the group looking to shoot monochromatic and zoom in to really juxtapose the mountains and sky.
Sky Fire was looking at a 90% chance for sunset in the area, so we opted to head into the Alabama Hills for sunset to try and capture lightning in a bottle for a 3rd night. We visited to lesser known arches; Lady Boot Arch, and Cyclops arch. Thy sky was very dramatic when we got to the location, so we really made use of the time and had the group try to dial in their compositions for sunset...though the sky kind of wimped out at sunset, there were a few directions where we could shoot to get some color. It was another long day of shooting...and all we had left was a sunrise and a little bit of post-processing to make all those images shine.
Morning we drove up to Hot Creek...this little geo thermal nugget has a sweet overlook with a view of Mt. Tom, and a winding, steamy creek. It's a unique shot for the area, and one that in a few years will, I'm sure will be an iconic Instagram favorite #Brookelife
One of Mike and my favorite times is seeing all the images the group took, and helping them to process these images, and work towards having a collection of work they can be proud of. This often means, teaching them how to make star trails, as well as using layers and masks to blend images together to get the best possible exposure and aesthetic. Mike and I have slightly different approaches to processing, so someone always learns something new that can help them in the future to make sure their images look their best. Judging by all the nice shots we saw from our group, I'd say they have a really stellar bunch of new work they can go home and share with their friends, or post on Instagram
#Brookelife #Apcadlife #skyfire #untilnextime #Brian #Mike #TheRestOfTheApertureAcademyTeam
Until Next Time,
Brian, Mike, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.