Lake Tahoe, at over 6200' in elevation, is the largest fresh water lake in North America. It is known for its world class skiing, sailing through the beautiful turquoise waters of this 22 mile long lake, and hiking in some of the most rugged wilderness in the west. And a phenomenal location for photographers who are eager to capture truly stunning landscapes.
On the first day of fall, a group of nine friendly and eager photographers met in South Lake Tahoe with Aperture Academy instructors, Jean Day and Scott Donschikowski, to explore some iconic and breathtaking areas of the Sierra high country with their cameras.
As is customary for Aperture Academy workshops, Jean began with introductions to get a feel for each student's current skill level, and to understand individual needs and what areas of their photography each wished to improve upon during the weekend. Scott and Jean combined their equipment knowledge and experience to assist students with the various camera models brought to the workshop, so every student could achieve the best images possible.
We were lucky to begin on a warm Saturday, with temperatures in the mid 70s, light breezes and puffy white clouds above. We headed off in the ApCab van to our first stop--Mt. Tallac Historical site.
It was immediately apparent that this was a talkative and friendly group ready and willing to share tips and tricks of both their photography and experiences with each other.
We warmed up our trigger fingers shooting along Taylor Creek and through an aspen forest just beginning to turn from green to gold. Our instructors began by helping students to find compositions and details along a wooden boardwalk, directing them to appropriate ISO, shutter speed and f-stop for the given conditions.
After our warm-up shots, the group traveled along a thin, sketchy road above Fallen Leaf Lake to the aptly named Lily Lake on the edge of the Desolation Wilderness. Even at this late date in the season, and with a very large parking area, there was no parking to be found! The Desolation Wilderness is popular for hordes of hikers spending an afternoon, or even days, hiking out into the back country... and the unseasonal warmth had many taking advantage of the opportunity.
Everyone piled out of the van and began to explore this high alpine lake while Jean managed to secure a spot for the van. Students found their first challenge was with the clouds moving across the sun, changing the lighting conditions moment by moment, first highlighting the lake with the rugged Sierra Crest in shadow, then vice versa.
But not to worry... we used polarizing filters to reduce the glare on the water and deepen the color of the sky, sometimes with a graduated neutral density filter, and a proper balance of exposure was achieved.
A small boat on the grassy edge of the lake became a central subject with strong leading lines, and it became a great way for students to work on depth of field.
After a quarter mile hike to where the van was parked, the group headed back to the hotel taking a dinner break and short rest before heading out for our sunset destination.
Part of what we love about Aperture Academy is that the entire staff goes that extra mile to give ALL of our students personal and customized instruction so every one of them leaves feeling they learned more than when they started, and they are proud of their images. But we also love that our students become part of "the team" and we all leave feeling it was a fun and positive experience, and that we're all part of the "ApCad family."
This workshop was a perfect example of the support our fellow students and instructors show for each other. One student had a fear of heights, but with the help and support of her fellow photographers, she was able to overcome this obstacle and get some amazing images. In another case, a student, who was challenged by physical issues, chose to bow out of the sunset shoot to allow for the rest of the group to hike down the steep incline to Bonsai Rock. And it was great to see how everyone worked so well together, supporting each other, brought together by their love of photography. What a great group!
Sunset on this evening did not produce "epic" skies, but nonetheless, students came away with beautiful shots of the bright blue waters with its large textured boulder and iconic small pines bathed in a golden evening light. A beautiful finish for this photogenic day. So we traveled back to South Lake Tahoe for a few hours of needed sleep before meeting again at 5:15AM for the drive over to Emerald Bay for sunrise.
The early Sunday morning looked promising. A thick bank of clouds covered most of the lake, with a sliver of a clearing right along where the sun would appear. In the pre-dawn hour, Scott and Jean helped students to find their compositions along the brick wall overlook. Using polarizers and graduated neutral density filters, students were able to find the best balance for their exposures as the morning light began to brighten, and adjusted the speed of their settings as needed.
Because of the cool blues, powerful oranges and glowing yellows that defined the clouds and reflected off the glossy bay, "Team Tahoe" scored on this rare and beautiful sunrise. The silhouetted Fannette Island and tree-lined ridges and rocky shore of Emerald Bay accentuated the bright colors of this photographically rich morning.
Next on the agenda, although there was little water flow, we felt the Eagle Falls area was worth spending time to get intimate landscape and detail shots. This also provided students the opportunity to explore their creativity with reflecting pools, rugged granite outcroppings and old twisted tree roots.
Getting back into the ApCab, the next stop was at Lower Echo Lake for some early morning shots along the shoreline. Once again, the classic Tahoe shoreline with its rugged granite boulders and old, weathered tree stumps highlighted the beautiful blue water and provided leading lines to the distant Sierra peaks. It was a great location for the students to be given tips on camera settings for producing maximum depth of field to keep close foreground objects in focus with their background elements.
Once again the team traveled back to South Lake for a late breakfast/early lunch, and some time to check out of the hotel. This also gave all a chance to discuss and share the great shots they were getting and all the new skills learned.
The balance of the afternoon was spent driving out into the Hope Valley area, and along the Blue Lakes road. The iconic and rustic old cabin with its weathered wood siding, sitting along Hwy. 88 surrounded by aspens just beginning to turn color, quickly became a popular subject. An old corral with dilapidated fencing gave students more opportunities to practice creativity with depth of field and abstract shots with golden aspen accents.
Old, gnarled junipers and pines against a mountain backdrop, a creek with fallen leaves, golden rabbit brush and red bush under overcast skies provided the best recipe for mid-day and fall color photography.
The team took a dinner break and rest before the final sunset stop at Chimney Beach. This area is what many would imagine as a classic "Lake Tahoe beach" landscape, with its pine trees towering above granite boulders awash in the turquoise blue lake waters, framed by golden sand beaches.
A long, but easy, sloping trail guided our group to their final destination for this weekend workshop. The overcast skies of the day had changed to a sky with thick lenticular clouds to the east over the Carson Range and a few lingering clouds over the Sierra Crest.
Large waves crashed on the shore, defying the warm breezes of a storm-free evening. Students enjoyed capturing the spray of waves bursting off the rocks, as golds and pinks highlighted the clouds and sandy shore against the gorgeous, clear, Tahoe blue. As light faded, everyone was gushing with excitement over their good fortune with the weather, which had allowed for both a beautiful sunrise and sunset that day. The team then returned to the van for the drive back to the hotel and final good-byes.
Just as we arrived back at "home base," Scott spied a brown bear along side the restaurant next to the hotel. It appeared to want to cross the road, so Jean slowed the van and turned on the emergency flashers hoping to warn others on the very busy street. The excitement coming from our group (many who had never seen a bear in the wild) and the slow movement of our van inching along the road, caused the bear in its attempt to retreat, to end up against the front of the restaurant.
A man inside, quietly eating his dinner, was completely unaware of the bear's presence as it stopped and put its nose to the window, looking directly at him...the bear was no doubt wondering if it could get a free meal! The bear then found its way into the dark between the hotel and restaurant, and while Jean pulled the van into the driveway, the bear managed its escape safely across the street, where it could find its way back into the mountains. The entire episode produced such laughter for all involved, that it added another great memory to a great workshop that none of us will soon forget.
Jean and Scott were both very impressed and so appreciated the team spirit exhibited by this generous group, ready and willing to share and provide assistance to others when needed. Team Tahoe rocked this first weekend of fall in the Sierra Nevada!
Jean, Scott and the entire Aperture Academy staff thank you for spending your time with us!
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.