Mono Lake Lessons

I think I first heard of Mono Lake back in the “Save Mono Lake” days. The stories always showed these strange structures, called Tufas, growing out of the water. I envisioned that the lake wasn’t very big and that the tufas encompassed the whole lake.

Mono Lake at 3pm

My first trip to Mono Lake in 2010 proved how inaccurate that vision was. Mono Lake is actually a fairly wide body of water, surrounded by mountains of various sizes and unless you get real close, the Tufas are hard to spot.

South Tufa Beach at 8 am

In exploring the area around Mono Lake, I found that all the pictures I had seen were from an area called “South Tufa”. While I had every intention of photographing the lake at Sunrise or Sunset, I’ve found that when traveling by myself, I don’t like going out in the dark.

When I first heard that Moose Peterson was having a photography workshop at Mono Lake, my first reaction was, I’ve already been there. Moose Peterson is a wildlife, landscape & aviation photographer who has done training for Kelby Training, Photoshop World and on location workshops. While I was wishing for a different location, I recognized that this would be the most affordable of his workshops that I could attend. I would also have the opportunity to get sunrise & sunset photographs I didn’t get the first time.

Lesson 1
In the background material we received from Moose before the workshop, he said he has been going to Mono Lake since 1959 and loves going as often as he can. Before the workshop, I was having a hard time figuring out why. It didn’t take long. It wasn’t about the lake, or the Tufas, or even the wildlife, it was… the clouds.

Mono Lake Storm at 5:30 am

Like a box of chocolates, you never know what the weather conditions will bring. Just in time for the workshop, a winter storm complete with clouds, wind & snow made an appearance. When the subject is the clouds or weather you’ll never see the same thing twice.

Lesson 2

South Tufa Beach, Day 1, 5:45 am

While shooting at sunrise & sunset really does make a difference so does the direction you’re shooting at those times. The better color can be found by looking in the opposite direction of where the sun is.

Lesson 3

Lee Vining Creek, 1.0 sec at f22, +1EV

After breakfast, we went to Lee Vining Creek to photograph waterfalls. I was using a Neutral Density filter on my lenses so that I could use a slow shutter speed. This is how to get the water to look smooth & silky without being too bright. Moose, after looking at the back of my camera, told me my water looked grey. No one likes grey water. He suggested I try using +1 of Exposure Compensation. I hadn’t thought of that because I though the whole point of using a ND filter was to cut down on the light while the +1 Exposure Compensation adds more back in.

Lesson 4

South Tufa – Over processed to show dust spots at f29

My camera sensor is incredibly dirty :). Using apertures in the f16 – f29 range finds dust better than a vacuum. So does bringing out the texture in post processing. If f29 shows dust – why use it? Well, in aperture priority mode, using a f29 will produce a slow shutter speed which allowed me to get a blur in the waves. If you can’t see the dust spots, Moose calls them “Goobers”, then click on the photo for a larger view.

Lesson 5
For cold conditions, I need better gloves šŸ˜‰ I was using two layers but they weren’t wind proof and weren’t easy to operate a camera with.

While I admit to being a bit grumpy about the early call time (I had a poster in my college dorm that read “If God had wanted me to see the Sunrise, he would have invented it later in the day”) and the wind, when I saw the photographic results, that all faded away….

Too see more photos from my trip
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierras

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