The Eastern Slopes of the high Sierra are an often glossed over part of the natural beauty of California. While places like Yosemite get all the glory, the eastern sierra valley goes more unnoticed. Perhaps its because its more remote, or because of the longer drive, either way, the eastern side is far less crowded and equally as beautiful. Mono lake, just east of Yosemite National Park, is the crown jewel, with its vast collection of white tufas dotting the coastline. And of course a trip here would not be complete without a visit to another crown jewel - of ghost towns - Bodie state historic park. A recent addition to the Aperture Academy family, Aron Cooperman, joined me on this adventure and we welcomed our troupe in Lee Vining California.
The forecast for the weekend called for scattered clouds on Saturday - our first day shooting. Mono lake is a fought place to shoot, it's a photographers paradise no doubt, with compositions literally springing up from the ground, but for beginners it can be overwhelming. So I really like to bring people to Convict Lake first where the photos are a lot easier to setup. I have never seen amazingly awesome clouds at convict lake for sunrise, but the reason we keep coming back is that you don't really need them. Theres a giant wall of granite on one of the peaks that's southern facing, which captures all the light from the sun and projects it on the lake. Its really a cool sight to see and reflections are amazing at sunrise. There are many spots to shoot along the shoreline and Aron and I skipped about, finding people in need and doling out advice as needed. After sunrise, since the skies were still bare, we headed back to Lee Vining for a break with some breakfast.
When we met again, the clouds had started to move in - perfect timing - as we made our way to Bodie. On the way to Bodie, theres a small alpine lake with nice colors and reflections called Lundy Lake, upon passing near it, we looked over and saw that the cloud formations were spectacular just overhead and I made the decision to push back shooting Bodie for an hour or so, so we could shoot Lundy - the light may not look like this again. So we drove over to Lundy Lake and spent the next hour shooting on the calm shoreline, trying out long exposures and moving some of the driftwood into the water for some interesting foreground.
Okay, at last it was time to make our way to Bodie. Saturday was Bodie Day, a once a year event where folks from all around come to Bodie all dressed up in turn-of-the-century garb. Aron and I let our group loose and gave them 4 hours to explore and shoot the scenery at Bodie, as well as all the people! Those who came dressed up really made the day special. Bodie is its busiest on this day, so there were a lot of people there, but being able to photograph people in period clothing, next to the awesome ghost town buildings was really special, and an event I hope everyone else was grateful for. Theres a ton of stuff to shoot at Bodie, these people just added to the long list. Aron and I spent our time photographing interesting spots, and then hunting down members of our group and sharing what we had found with them. Its always a pleasure to see how people interpret shooting this town, as there are always people who see it completely differently than you. At 5pm, with the rains coming, we headed back to Lee Vining for a quick meal before heading out to Mono Lake for sunset.
Late in the afternoon, the sun goes down behind the high peaks of the sierra, and on this evening, these amazing beams of light shot out underneath the clouds for a spectacular pre-sunset show. Our group was giddy as the sky seemed to light up from every direction. Clouds were in all corners of the sky as the sun set, and getting to Mono early helped our group more easily pick out a spot to shoot. The wind was pretty heavy though and the lake water was very rough, despite the beautiful colors in the sky. Once folks were done shooting one spot in the right light, both Aron and I encouraged them to move around and find something else, as the light hung around for longer than we expected. It was a great way to end a seriously bountiful day.
After a very successful sunset shoot, we knew that energy was going to be hard to beat, but we headed out again to Mono Lake for sunrise, to try our hand at some silhouettes of the tutas looking into the morning sun. The crowds were absent this morning, as well as the wind. The lake was a mirror, and the morning glow was purple which perfectly reflected in the calm waters of the lake. It was a beautiful sight and our group got some great shots of the pre-dawn light show. After sunrise, we spent some more time working with the tufa formations before heading back to the hotel for some breakfast and a long nap.
The forecast for today called for clear blue skies, as far as the eye could see, but after our morning break, we were surprised to see CLOUDS! Clouds all around in every direction! Aron and I spent some time with our group going over some post processing techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop. We let everyone grab some lunch before we decided to depart early and make our way back to Lundy Lake for a tour on western shores. Theres a really interesting bench that was placed just on the shoreline a few years back. Its dedicated someone who passed away but loved the lake, and its a really cool manmade subject that's almost perfectly placed, unobtrusively, into the alpine scenery. We walked the group around the lake to our little secret spot, and found that there were people there just enjoying the day (who does that?). Not wanting to be rude, Aron and I directed everyone to shoot some interesting compositions along the immediate shoreline, while we waited for the others to vacate the spot. The clouds were again right overhead, which made the shooting that much easier and beautiful. With the bench vacated, those still interested got some very cool shots with the lake, mountains, and cloud covered sky. With time waning, we headed back to Lee Vining, to allow for a short break for dinner before heading out to our sunset spot.
Olmsted Point was our choice for sunset. Its a fabulous spot in Yosemite National Park, along the Tioga Pass which offers some of the best views of Half Dome, akin to Glacier Point. When the sun sets, the western facing edge of Half Dome lights up with a brilliant red-orange hue, which - even without the benefit of clouds - is an awesome sight. Tonight we were lucky, as we had both clouds and color, and the Dome lit up just before the sun passed down behind the peaks of western Yosemite, granting everyone some amazing final shots of one of Yosemites most prized peaks. I didn't think when we started that we would have the weather we had. The forecast one week prior called for blue skies and no clouds for the duration of the weekend. Its always nice to be surprised! Again, what an awesome way to end a great day, and an even better weekend! Thanks to all our participants!
Until next time,
Scott, Aron and the rest of the Aperture Academy team
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