California is strange when it comes to weather. It can go years without much rain or snow, and “seasons” seem like a thing of the past. “Seasons? I remember when we had four of them!”
Now we seem to have Summer, Fire season, and then a Fall/Winter/Spring Hybrid that lasts 5 weeks and doesn’t really resemble any of those seasons. Every so often, California will get a proper winter, and when it does…it’s usually epic.
That was the case this past winter. California and parts of Nevada received more snow than they had in over a decade. So much snow, that our Lake Tahoe “spring” photography workshop, felt a whole lot more like a winter workshop. What should’ve been the beginning of blossoming trees, and flowers was replaced by walls of snow and trees still bare from winter's grasp.
Photography waits for nothing, so no matter what mother nature throws our way…we’re going to go out and make the best of it!
I met my group of veteran Aperture Academy participants early on a cold “spring” morning for a brief orientation and our first day of shooting. Everyone was bundled up and excited for a fun weekend of shooting!
Our first stop was the iconic and amazing Emerald Bay. This vantage point overlooks this usually calm and pristine little cove and the small island that sits in the middle. We arrived at a promising sunrise, with clouds in the sky, and relatively calm wind conditions, both harder to find in Tahoe than you would think. It seems Tahoe either has great clouds and horrendous wind, or no wind, and no clouds. Here we were though with a good shot at BOTH wind and clouds in favorable shooting conditions. Tahoe doesn’t give up the goods without a fight though, so what it gave in weather, it fought back with some bitter cold temperatures. Welcome to “spring!”
Sunrise was awesome and I had fun talking with the group, catching up since their last workshop, and helping them dial in their compositions and settings. Sunrise was really pretty and everyone was excited with their images. Typically from here we take the short drive down to Eagle Falls and photograph there before heading up the hill to Eagle Lake. Winter came and left walls of snow and less than favorable hiking conditions, so we were forced to just admire the falls (which were flowing nicely) from the safety of the parking lot. The next stop was scheduled to take us to another waterfall…which was also blocked by a wall of snow.
I had noticed some aspen trees surrounded by pools of snow melt as we drove in, so I opted for us to go work on some intentional panning shots, and work with the reflections in these little pools. It was a great little spot and gave us a new spot to add to our itinerary.
From there we set off down the shoreline to the Hidden Beach area and shot some of the rocks and lovely blue waters. The colors of the lake are amazing. In addition to the collection of smooth round granite boulders that dot the eastern shoreline, the area had some great opportunities to shoot abstracts of the crystal clear waters, and wonderful colors.
With the first part of our day over we took a break and went back to South Lake for lunch and much-needed naps.
Our evening shoot found us at Bonsai Rock, another iconic spot on the eastern shoreline. After a scramble down to the lake, we set up to wait for sunset. I like to try and get to iconic and popular places early to make sure everyone gets down safely and has plenty of time to rest and look for various compositions within the area. The Bonsai Rock area has a plethora of options for great shots. This cove has all kinds of boulders, and of course, the iconic rock with the little trees on top. The poor main bonsai tree has taken the brunt of the winter storms, and looks a little worse for the wear…but it hangs on mightily and still gives a good touch to the scene.
The weather gods were smiling on us and again we had some nice clouds, and calm waters, which allowed for reflections, and the ability to use polarizers to cut the water and see all those details below the surface.
The sunset was amazing and everyone came away with some really nice work. What a way to end a fun first day! Over the course of the day, some of the group were talking about the possibility of photographing the meteor shower that was happening that night. The reports said the best times were after 11 pm and peaking about an hour before sunrise. So we decided to try and see it and agreed (semi-reluctantly, LOL) to meet at 4 am to head out to shoot.
On day 2 we met at 4 am, and a tired bunch of photographers set off to Skylandia Park to photograph the cool pier there, and hopefully see some meteors. Again, winter was present in the form of below-freezing temps. We never saw a single shooting star, but the peaceful calm of the water and the dock stretching out into the lake, and the lovely tones in the water and sky made for some awesome images up to and past sunrise. The dock is also particularly photogenic from underneath, and my group set up there as well to get some shots.
After our shoot and some much-needed coffee, everyone was ready for a nap.
Our afternoon was spent doing some post-processing and looking over the many beautiful images the group had gotten already. Though the schedule of locations was somewhat affected by the snow, everyone still had some great shots, and some of those shots came from the new locations we visited instead.
Time flies on 2-day workshops and before long we were headed out for our last shoot. Hope Valley and Red Lake Vista Point were our first stops, and again, the snow levels that hit the area were visible.
Our last shoot was Sand Harbour, probably one of the most iconic and well-trafficked areas of the eastern shore. Like so much of this side of the lake, there are numerous areas to shoot and possible compositions. For those who brought ND filters, we worked on shooting longer exposures to really showcase the color of the water and the unique shapes of the rocks. This evening we had some typical Tahoe conditions. Clouds looked promising when we arrived, but ultimately were eaten by the lake the closer to sunset it got, and a brisk wind left the lake choppy and took the reflections away.
Those conditions, while not ideal, lend themselves to work on longer exposures as the sun fades letting the shutter speeds needed to expose properly lengthen. We also were able to talk about bracketing exposures and how those might be useful here in these conditions.
Overall I still saw several nice images on people’s cameras and everyone was having fun talking and just hanging out and creating photos…which is always one of the goals. Overall we had all kinds of challenges but made the best of all of them. The group got along great, and everyone had a blast!
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.