Some may ask, why would one want to visit a town like Shasta? A town that lies under the perils of a 14,000+ foot monster of a volcano? Maybe, and I can tell you from experience, it's that the forests around this volcano are some of the most beautiful, lush, and life-giving that I have ever come across. From cascading waterfalls to jagged escarpments of granite and glacial erosion, the regions surrounding Mount Shasta are a wonder to behold.
Since it is always better to enjoy such good things with others, Mike Wardynski and I looked forward to joining the twelve gung-ho photographers that signed up to come and hang out with us for two days in this beautiful environment.
As we gathered in the hotel lobby, we saw many returning faces, and even a few new ones. Mike and I introduced ourselves and then the group shared a little about themselves and what they were hoping to learn over the following two days. After getting to know everyone a little better, I went over the goings-on planned for the weekend. Since it looked like the forecast was likely clear for our two days of the workshop, we adjusted some of the locations and start times to avoid the summer heat and maximize our shooting.
The workshop started out with a bang... an early one at that! We rounded our group up in front of the hotel at 5:00 am. We all loaded up in our Mercedes Sprinter and cruised on down to Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Our main point of interest there was the 100’ wide Middle McCloud Falls. McCloud Falls has numerous options for a unique shot along a gorgeous canyon that contains cooled lava flows, columnar basalt, and jagged tufa cliffs.
Mike and I split up the group and helped them compose and maneuver around the boulders in order to get a good vantage point. We showed the group how, by using polarizers and neutral gradient filters, you can achieve longer shutter speed and minimize glare on wet stones and water. As the sun started to rise above the canyon walls, we helped set some folks up with getting a sun star above the waterfall by using a smaller F-stop, creating diffraction.
After McCloud Falls, we all hiked back out of the deep canyon and got back into the van for a visit to another, smaller waterfall. Hedge Creek Falls is a great example of what lava tubes look like after they have cooled. Behind the falls, you will find long columns that have long since cooled into hexagonal shapes, reminding us of the intense power of this ancient land. Although this is a smaller waterfall, we took our time showing several different examples of different vantage points to shoot from.
I took this opportunity to work with some students, and show them how different shutter speeds can give a completely different looking photos. Mike pointed out some “not so ancient” petroglyphs and foreboding caves along the cliffs. As the light began to creep into the canyon, we decided to head back to the hotel for some lunch and a short nap.
That afternoon we met back up with everyone at 5:00 pm in front of the hotel and headed out to the town of Little Shasta. First settled in 1853, the town doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. Our first stop was a brilliant white church surrounded by farmland, with clear view of the snow-covered Shasta in the background.
I showed some quick examples of some different lens options and how, when using a slightly longer lens, the volcano will look larger (due to telephoto compression). After everyone had taken a few shots of the front, we moved around to the side, where Mike and I walked them through how to get a sun star on the church by using a smaller aperture and positioning the lens just so.
Next up was a little disheveled old stone barn just down the road that also has views of Mt. Shasta in the the background. We had the students shoot from the van to get a sightly higher vantage point, making it look as if the volcano was rising directly from the top of the barn. On the same property, Mike took some of the group over to a vine archway that frames an old abandoned house near the road.
After a few more shots, we all hopped back in the Ap-mobile and headed down the dusty, country road. After driving less than a mile, we peered through the trees near the road and noticed (yet another) great view of the Chapel from earlier. Now a few miles back from it, this was a great place for the group to try out their longer telephotos for some nice compression. To get the shot, we had them get down low and shoot at about 250-300mm, making Mt. Shasta look humungous! Ok, no more stopping... we had a sunset to shoot!
Our last stop for the evening was only a few miles down the road at Trout Lake. The lake sits on a 4,700-acre wildlife refuge, that was started in 1991 by the Fish and Game Commission. The edge of the lake is accented by reeds and cattails that hide numerous species of birds, including White Pelicans. We weren’t sure with the clear skies, if it would do much, but Mike and I encouraged everyone to wait it out and see. As the sun began to set, the sky lit up with a radiant pink and grew in intensity as it got later.
After sunset, everyone lined up next to each other, and passed a box of wine around while waiting for the light to fade into darkness. I had them take a few base layers just before nautical twilight, just in case the mountain was too dark.
As the stars began to appear in the sky, Mike and I went around and helped everyone focus on a star and then switch their lenses to manual focus. After about 20 more minutes of waiting, the milky way appeared, just as predicted, directly over top of Mount Shasta! With not a whole lot of light pollution, we could see the milky way shining in the night sky. We helped everyone compose a few different shots, trying to minimize noise and maximize the exposure. After a few hours of shooting, it was getting late, so we decided to pack it up and get some sleep.
On Saturday, we met a few hours later, so the group could get some much needed ZZZs. We loaded up the van at 7:00 am for a short drive out to Faery Falls.
Faery Falls is a small waterfall located in the forest near Lake Siskiyou. The falls drop about 50 feet into a shallow pool below, and the area was considered a destination health resort because of the natural mineral waters. The PH and silica content contain the highest known values of any natural occurring water.
The students split up and managed to find some nice compositions using the rocks and little cascades below the falls. After a few hours everyone had captured some nice comps, so we headed back down the hills to the van.
Next, we headed over to Lake Siskiyou for a shot of the bridge. The Lake Siskiyou bridge makes a perfect addition to the already nice shot of the lake and Mt. Shasta. We had everyone use their circular polarizers to cut through the bright reflections on the water, which also brought out the deep greens and blues in the water. Both wide angle and some telephoto worked well there, so we reminded the group to try a few different lenses. After a few shots, everyone had grabbed a few nice ones and were ready to head back to the hotel for a break.
Since some people were checking out of their rooms, we decided to take a few hour break first and then meet back up for post-pocessing. Mike and I met our students in a nice conference room in the hotel to go through some editing techniques and workflow. First, I showed everyone an example of how to edit a milky way image, then Mike and I helped folks individually with specific questions. After a couple hours everyone was feeling much better about their editing and we cut everyone loose to grab some last provisions before going back out.
Around 3:30 we headed to the town of Big Springs. As we drove out of the hotel parking lot, we were shocked to see that there were some clouds hovering around the top of Shasta. Since we were on our way to go shoot a barn with Shasta in the background, this was an exciting occurrence indeed! When we arrived at the Big Springs barn, the light was perfect! Everyone hopped out of the van, and split up, finding lots of different angles to try. A couple folks even did panoramas of the scene to get a higher resolution.
Since we had a long drive ahead of us, we finished up there and started on down the road to our next location. We saved the best for last!
Just under an hour and a half later we arrived at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, where we eagerly headed to Burney Falls, a magnificent 129-foot waterfall known to many as the most beautiful waterfall in California. Fed by several large springs, the water flows at over 100 million gallons a day.
This wildly exotic, moss-laden waterfall looks like it belongs in Hawaii. One could spend the whole day photographing the rushing blue waters and the deep green mosses that grow on the surrounding stones.
The group had no trouble finding a place to set up a tripod and start shooting. Mike and I spent the following few hours running back and forth over the rocks, showing examples of places to shoot from, and answering questions as they came up.
Since the sun had already left the waterfall when we'd arrived, the shooting conditions were perfect for longer exposures to achieve a nice smooth waterfall. All too soon the sun was sinking low and it became time to call it a night. We rounded up our group and all headed back to the van to finish up and head back ... but, not until after a quick ice cream stop at the local store. A perfect end to another great workshop!
Until next time,
Phil, Mike, 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.