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Mt Shasta is the icon of Northern California. It is visible from 150 miles away, and looms over the surrounding landscape. It holds a sacred place in legends of Native Americans, as well as the lore of the 60’s hippy culture, that believe aliens live inside the mountain.
Despite this landmarks importance to Northern California, it has no national park status, and for many trying to figure out where to go and what to photograph in the area is as mysterious as the spaceships and aliens that live inside. A group of 12 eager photographers met instructors Brian Rueb, Scott Donschikowski, and Kelly Baldwin in Mt. Shasta city for a weekend of education, photography, and fun in the far reaches of Northern California. The class began with an orientation to get the students familiar with the schedule, one another, and the instructors. It also gives our teachers a chance to find out what the students want to work on during their time with us so we can cater our instruction to helping them as much as possible. The class was eager to get started, although the 4am meeting time took people a bit off guard. They took it in stride, and after only a minor groan they left the lobby and set off to their rooms to get rested up for a full day of photography.
Morning came and the group loaded up the ApCab, our luxury photography cruiser, and set off for the North Side of Mt Shasta to photograph the sunrise. The North side of the mountain is a beautiful location full of old juniper trees, bunches of wild flowers, and a spectacular view of the snow covered mountain rising over 14,000 feet into the atmosphere. The good clouds were to behind us, which gave the class a chance to photograph the mountain as well as a very colorful sunrise to the north with the fields of trees and distant mountain ridges. While the class worked on photographing Shasta, Brian, Scott, and Kelly helped students with the various settings and figuring out the best compositions to capture the mountain at it’s best. Whether it was a bunch of bright yellow flowers, or an old set of juniper roots, the area had a large array of items to be used for the foreground to make a balanced, and aesthetically pleasing image.
When the sun had crested and the morning glow on the mountain had passed, the van loaded up again and set off south to the Middle Falls on the McCloud River. The middle falls is a spectacular 70ft curtain waterfall that was absolutely roaring due to the heavy winter snowfall. The class moved down river from the falls to avoid the heavy mist as much as possible and find the best rocks for foregrounds in the composition. The class used this time to discuss a bit on how increasing the ISO a bit in the camera will allow for a faster shutter that allows some motion blur in the water, but not so much that the details and definition are lost. The class crawled along the slippery rocks and each one found their own special composition that really showed how special this waterfall is.
Once the light in the McCloud River valley got too high the falls became too bright to photograph well, and it was our cue to head back to the hotel for a good breakfast, and a small nap to regain some energy before heading out for the afternoon.
In a seldom visited and very rarely photographed area of Mt. Shasta lies Little Shasta, and one of the areas oldest churches, the Little Shasta Church. Nearly 200 years old this little beacon has served the community well and become a divine place for photography as well. The class spread out and photographed some of the neighboring farmland and old barns with the mighty Mt. Shasta in the background before spending some time capturing the small white 19th century church. Composition was important here, and the instructors pointed out as many ways to photograph the scene as possible. If the angle was right you can capture the church with the mountain in the background creating the perfect “Little Shasta and Big Shasta” moment.
Time flies and after a good two hours in this farmland area of the mountain we were ready for a small afternoon break before heading out for a very special evening at the Mt. Shasta Lavender Farm. The owners of the farm were gracious enough to allow us to join a special event that evening that served us outstanding fire baked pizzas from a newly installed wood burning pizza oven, as well as some glasses of fresh Lavender Lemonade, or a relaxing glass of wine. Under normal circumstances this location isn’t open for sunset, and this was the one time during the year when it was open to see this special view of Shasta, and the rows of lovely lavender. While the cold winter had set the growth of the lavender back a couple weeks, there were still a few nice patches of the purple flowers to give our compositions a special pop and make the images really nice. We were even treated to one of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen on our Mt Shasta workshops! IT was truly a memorable way to put the cap on a great day of photography.
The next morning started early, but not as early as the previous day. We set off at 6:30am on the trail to perhaps the biggest landscape photography icon of the area, Mossbrae Falls. Mossbrae is a huge set of underground springs bursting out of a lush green bend in the Sacramento River in to hundreds of tiny waterfalls that resemble something out of a lush tropical paradise more than anything you’d expect to find in the dry areas of Northern California. A mile and a half walk along a busy train track puts you to the waterfall, which is barely visible from the trail. It’s not until you walk into a small forest area and pop out the other side that your senses are bombarded with this spectacle of nature. It’s easily one of the best highlights of any of our workshops. You can’t possibly wash the smiles off the faces of the students when they see this place for the first time. It’s hard to get them to stop smiling and focus on capturing the images. Luckily our instructors are experienced in just these types of things and are able to help the class look at their cameras and get the settings right so they can come away with some amazing images of this special place. It’s hard to follow up Mossbrae with any other location, so we soften the blow and let the class take a break for breakfast and a nap after their morning hike and shoot.
The next location is a brief stop at the scenic Castle Lake. Castle Lake is a granite-rimmed lake. Still partially frozen due to the cold winter, the lake was a great spot to work on using polarizers to help capture some abstract shots, and reflections of the granite, snow and lake. One student even tossed his shoes and went into the freezing cold lake to capture a unique view of the abstract ice patterns and gold and blue reflections. This lake is one of the gateways into the Trinity Alps, the Northern California version of the Ansel Adams or John Muir wilderness area outside of Yosemite.
We put the lake and Mt. Shasta in our rear view mirror and set our sites east to Burney Falls. A 120-foot monolith of spring fed, waterfall goodness. This is one of the areas loveliest and hardest to photograph waterfalls. The dark, cobalt blue water and the powerful flow of the main falls, and the raging creek water makes this an exposure nightmare. Brian and Scott worked with the students to increase ISO to get better shutter times to keep detail in the water as well as using polarizers and graduated neutral density filters to help balance the brighter falls with the darker water. The students really worked this area well getting larger wide angled views of the waterfall as well as some intimate details of several of the smaller side falls. The students didn’t want to leave, and they shot Burney Falls from about every vantage point possible on the way back up the trail to the van. Light was fading and it was a close call that we would make our last stop of the workshop….The Sundial Bridge.
The Sundial Bridge designed by Spanish architect Calatrava, has become one of Redding, California’s most visited landmarks. Whether loved or hated the bridge stands out and is a unique feature along the mighty Sacramento River. When the light of the day fades the bridge comes to life, lit up in a way that resembles something out of a science fiction film. The class photographed this bridge from numerous angles. On the tope using the lines from the glowing green tiles as leading lines into the composition that takes the viewer across the bridge to the tip of the sundial on the opposite side. We also spent time photographing the bridge from ground level to utilize the reflections in the river as good balance to the compositions. There were no shortage of possibilities from this location and the group only had a sampling, but it was getting late and we’d been at it for 2 solid days that ended after 10pm each night. The class was always talkative and ready for each location we took them to, and then after they’d put all the energy into the shooting, every van ride back was full of sleepy photographers resting up for whatever the day held. When class ended, it was time for every one to return home to get rested up...there are TONS of images that need processed we’re sure! Until Next Time, Brian, Scott, Kelly, and the rest of Aperture Academy Team
Until next time!
Brian, Scott, Kelly and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.