The Eastern Sierra rivals any mountain range in the world in terms of magnificence. The light-colored granite seems to glow in the early morning light, it’s what gave way to it being called, “The range of light” The mountains are immensely impressive, but the rest of the highway 395 corridor offers up some spectacular sights as well.
I met my group of photographers bright and early on Friday morning, we did a “sleepy” version of our get-to-know-each-other orientation before we set off for our first shooting location, Mono Lake. This lake is another world. The alien tufa structures look unlike anything else in the world. The alkali levels of this lake make it inhabitable for any life other than flies, and microscopic algae, but these two things bring in the birds, and the lake is a great place to see all kinds of bird life. On our walk to the lake, we saw a horned owl perched high on a tufa structure surveying the landscape for a morning meal. While the light wasn’t optimal for photographing the bird, we enjoyed trying and witnessing its magnificence!
The goal of the morning was to grab landscape shots of the area. The recent wildfires in the area created some haze, which actually worked for our shots. It helped obscure the horizon line giving the scene an even more surreal appearance. The whole lake edge has a ton of options for compositions, and I enjoyed pointing out some of the nicer lines and pools the group could utilize in their shots.
After our shoot in Mono Lake, we stopped by the aspen groves near Silver Lake, in the June Lakes loop. While this isn’t the best-looking grove in the 395 corridors, its proximity to Mono made it a great spot to work on learning how to create intentional blur in images to create an aesthetic quality. Our group had fun with this! After our morning shoot, it was time for a break before we set off to photograph Bodie ghost town at night! We were excited to have the whole place to ourselves!
Bodie is a ghost town, stuck in a state of arrested development. Once a town of over 34,000 people it has been left to fall victim to the elements. The Bodie Foundation helps to preserve it as best it can, without interfering with the natural progression of time. During the day this place is full of tourists from all over the globe. At night, we have it all to ourselves, which makes the entire experience even better!
We lucked out and had an amazing sunset, complete with great clouds, color, and a warm glow. I encouraged everyone to walk around and try to find different compositions they might want to photograph later.
Once the sun has gone, we wait for the stars to appear before starting to create our night photographs. The process for night shooting involves some settings that are a little out of people’s normal shooting styles, so we go over those and the use of the remotes for creating the images while we wait for darkness. Once the stars appear we’re out in the field making images. Over the course of the night, we shoot 5 or 6 different compositions and have a lot of fun utilizing some colored lights that one of our group members brought. Thanks, Steve! Every little thing you can do to add something new to a photograph helps take it to another level.
It’s a long night, but certainly a fun night. We end up back at our hotel at almost 2 am, and we’re meeting bright and early to go shoot sunrise at Convict Lake.
Sleep-deprived, but eager, the group assembles the next morning and we make the short drive to Convict Lake. There aren’t any clouds, but the reflection is awesome, and everyone makes the most of that wonderful morning light on the jagged peaks surrounding the lake.
The goal for the rest of the day is to take a nap, and then reconvene in Bishop for the remainder of our workshop. Our shooting location for the second night is the Bristlecone Pine forest. Located at over 10,000 feet in elevation this location holds the oldest trees on the earth. Unlike the previous night, a cold breeze makes the temperatures much more difficult to handle, and we all are eager to get the shots and head back to the hotel. Luckily the trail closes at 10 pm, and that’s just enough time for us to get all the star images we will need. The high elevation and remoteness make the stars really pop. There are SO many stars out, and the milky way is visible too, right above our subject. It was really a great night of photography.
On our third early morning, we were off before 5 am to the Alabama Hills. If you’ve seen a truck commercial on TV over the last 30 years, chances are it was filmed here. Westerns, Sci-Fi, and all kinds of movies are filmed in this area. The epic sierra range looms over a crazy desert scene filled with giant boulder piles, and arches. We spent the morning here checking out four of the more popular arches (Boot, Cyclops, Lathe, and Mobius) Each of these arches offer a great photograph, and a chance to become closer to your camera. Steve won and got the closest with his camera. The morning was beautiful, and some really dramatic clouds helped give Mt. Whitney and the nearby peaks added drama.
Our afternoon session was spent at North Lake. Here we visited some very nice aspen groves and worked on creative ways to photograph a lake in extremely windy conditions. The best way to do this was by using ND filters and trying to smooth out the water. Though it wasn’t quite as pretty as our morning sessions, it’s always a good time being with fun photographers in a beautiful place. That evening the majority of us went to a local brewery to listen to music, laugh, and enjoy the fact we weren’t sitting in the cold photographing stars. Oh how we all love a full night's sleep!
The final morning we drove to Hot Creek Geological Area, and a great viewpoint of the steaming creek winding its way to the peaks in the distance. This is a lesser photographed location, but one that is really stunning. Once again our morning mojo paid off and we had some great color and clouds. What a wonderful sunrise to conclude our trip.
The rest of the morning we spent processing images and working on learning how to combine images to create star trails. Everyone got some really nice 5-star images. Seeing the photos on the screen is always one of my favorite parts of a workshop. Nice work, gang!
This was such a fun group, I was sad for the weekend to end. This group gelled from the get-go and really made the most of their time together. They even started up their own group text thread, which was awesome.
Thanks for a great weekend, looking forward to the next go around!
Until Next Time,
Brian 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.