Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Moods of Mono

In late October I spent a week and a half in the Eastern Sierras.  I went for a couple of reasons. The first was to attend a Jack Graham/Guy Tal workshop. The second was to spend some time alone revisiting some of my favorite areas. Mono Lake was one of my favorite muses. It's one of those places where the light changes from minute to minute always offering a unique perspective. I returned for sunset and sunrise day after day to feel the lake's moods. Mono Lake is famous for it's tufa columns.  Made from a variety of limestone, tufas are precipitated when carbonate rich source waters emerge into alkaline soda lakes. Emanating from under water springs, tufas build up a travertine stalagmite type column.

The salts and minerals in the water combined with no natural outlet to the lake preclude fish from living there, yet has created another ecosystem entirely.  Brine shrimp are the only animals that can live in these waters, and every year serve the local bird population that feed on them. As you can see in the second image, brine or alkali flies also live along the shores, and the larvae has sustained the native Kutzadida'a people over the years.  That's what those little black dots are, here in the second image.  Throughout this trip the moon played a major role in my photography, both as a subject and a light source. If the moon was low in the sky, it would be included in the composition. If it was high in the sky is served as a large reflector, as you can see here in the first image.  This image was taken at about quarter after five at what is called South Tufa.  Sleep played a minor role in this trip, and revolved around the moon's position and it's moods. 

The third image here was made from the road on the west side of the lake. I was sitting in Lee Vining waiting for the workshop to begin when I noticed the moon rising through the trees. I quickly rushed down the hill, past the visitors center then pulled over at a wide spot on the shoulder. I got off a few shots before the moon rose too high, and out of the frame. Plus the moon is at it's largest the lower in the sky it is due to the refraction of the earth's atmosphere. Capturing the moon can be difficult if the dynamic range of the scene is too great. If it rises and it's after dark already, chances are you'll either have an exposed moon and underexposed foreground, or a bright dot in an otherwise exposed foreground. The best bet is if the moon is rising just as the sun is setting, when the scene is still lit from the glow of the atmosphere.  Here, also you can see the shadow of the earth just above the horizon, trying to catch up with the moon.  In order to provide water for the city of Los Angeles the tributaries to Mono Lake had been diverted, effectively draining the lake as the rate of evaporation had exceeded the inflow to the lake. Conservation efforts to reverse this trend succeeded in 1994 when California State Water Resources Control Board issued an order to protect Mono Lake and its tributary streams.  The water level has slowly risen to pre-1940 levels, but has slowed recently as a result of the current drought throughout the West.  Before human history water levels used to be at the top of the tufas, which is what allowed the carbonate to flow upward and stack into travertine columns.  Now you can walk on around and below the towers like some prehistoric petrified forest, opening it up for a myriad of photographic possibilities. In one shot I used two opposing light sources to light paint the columns and exposed for the stars.  I got this last shot just before the moon rose, again with some light painting.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, December 2, 2013

Red Mountain Fog

Traditionally Kristi and I have been finding a place to hike on the morning of Thanksgiving day.  We get up early and hike until about noon, then meet with my parents for the holiday family dinner.  We decided to return to one of my favorite wild places near home, Red Mountain. Taking 180 out of town, past the Snowbowl and Nordic Centers, you pass through Kendrick Park and make your way down the hill on the other side. There is a sign pointing to a dirt (or mud) road. Depending how muddy or snowy or frozen it is, you can park near the highway, or continue a half mile to the designated parking area. Shortly before we approached the turn off we began entering a large fog bank.  From clear blue skies to dense fog in less than a mile. 

Fog is a rare occurrence around these parts, so I was excited to experience Red Mountain under these conditions.  A large cinder hill rich in iron oxide has eroded away from the center creating strange conical towers of rusty rock. I have been here before in winter and really liked the contrast of white snow against red cones.  A result of the snow melt, frozen waterfalls drip down each crevasse.  Pine and juniper trees stand frozen in hoar frost. Six inches of snow crunch under our feet as we made the mile and a half approach.  We arrived in total amazement, the sun started shining through the dissipating fog illuminating the back wall and revealing blue sky.

I shot for an hour and a half trying to catch the fleeting light.   Eventually the fog began to settle in heavily, then rise up creating a rather overcast scene. It was time to leave, and soon we drove back into warm blue skies. It had turned out to be one of those perfect holidays to look back on.  A nice hike, a loving girl friend, a walk with our dog, a photographic foray, and a fine family dinner. Among those other things, I was very thankful to have experienced a rare and fleeting moment of light. It's nice to have a day to be thankful for.