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 😉 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

March Field AirFest 2012

Yesterday I went to an airshow at March Air Reserve Base. I rented a 100 – 400mm lenses to help get some of the ground to air shots. Click on an image to scroll through larger images.

I also got to tour a C-130H. I’ll have more on that next time.

Sunset at The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea at sunset illustrates the difference between a photograph taken during the day…

and one taken at sunset…
Sunset at the Salton Sea

Looking for the moon gives you one view..
Moonrise over Salton Sea

Looking to the right of the sun gives you a different view or color…
Salton Sea at Sunset

Looking to the left another…

Waiting until the sun goes down even further…

and the birds have gone.

The first photograph was taken on a January day around 11:00am and the last around 5:20pm. What was there to do between those times besides eat lunch? Stay tuned

Salton Sea ~ Dead and Alive

I found the Bombay Beach area of the Salton Sea a fascinating place…

It is both dead and alive….

Something about the water allow fish to breed but then kills them off too…

The beach area is littered with fish skeletons and the “sand” are their crushed remains…

Fish Skeleton

But the birds don’t seem to mind.

Pelicans of the Salton Sea

Pelicans of the Salton Sea

Stayed tuned for a whole different look at sunset…

Joshua Tree National Park

Last weekend I went to Joshua Tree National Park with the So Cal Explorers Photography Meetup group. It was a day trip and a full day at that. I met my carpool at 6:00 am and got home around 11:00pm. The goal was to find wildflowers, but because it’s been a dry year so far, they were few and far between.

Here are a few photographs from the day. If you click on the first image you can view all the photographs in a larger view box



Dried Up

Hands Up

Snowy Vista

Artistic Black & White


Creating Panoramic Photographs

Sometimes one photograph just doesn’t do justice to the scene before you. You want to take a bunch of photographs and somehow combine them together into one big photograph like I did in the photo above (click for a larger view)

With a DSLR creating a panoramic photo is a two part process. First you will need to take a series of photographs and the second is to use software to combine the photos into the final photograph.

I’ve found the following steps helpful when taking the photographs:

  1. While it’s possible to create the photos for a panoramic without a tripod, it’s much easier if you use one. I find it easier to plan the shots I want to take with the camera on a tripod. Without a tripod your results may vary from what you thought.
  2. If the scene is horizontal in nature, I turn the camera in a vertical (portrait) position. You end up with more real estate in the final pano. If the scene is vertical, I put the camera in a horizontal position for the same reason
  3. Then I determine where I want the pano to start and move my camera left to right over the area I want to photograph without actually taking any photos. I do this to make sure as I turn through the scene that I’m not missing an area that I want in the photograph. If I find that I’m cutting something off (think the top of a mountain for example) I adjust the focal length of my lens and repeat. Now you know why my first step was to put the camera on a tripod. 😉
  4. I start with the camera in Aperture priority and choose an aperture based on how much depth of field I want. Usually with a pano you want a lot of detail so I usually start with f11. Take a test shot and note what shutter speed your camera chose.
  5. Change your camera to manual mode and enter the camera settings from your test shot. This is so that all your photos have the same setting. Also nothing else on your camera should be in an automatic mode for the same reason.
  6. If your test shot was made using an automatic ISO, change your ISO to match your test shot
  7. If you used Automatic White Balance, change it to daylight or cloudy
  8. Finally change your lens from auto focus to manual
  9. Start shooting your sequence of photos by first taking a picture of you hand or fingers to mark the start. As you shoot your sequence, you need to overlap your photos by 20%. End your sequence with another photo of your hand.
  10. Experiment. Repeat steps 2 – 9 with different settings and see which sequence you like best
  11. Then onto the post processing to create the actual panoramic
Here’s an example of the sequence of photographs I used for a vertical panorama and the final result.

Example of a vertical panoramic

Post-Processing – This is where you use your software to stitch together your individual photos to create one big panoramic. How you do this is going to depend on what software you are using.

  1. I import my photos into Adobe Lightroom. Usually any photos I’ve taken for a pano is just a subset of the photos I’ve taken that day.
  2. As I’m reviewing the photos in Lightroom, I use the pick flag to mark the photos that I like and I use a color flag to mark the photos that were shot as part of a sequence for a pano. I use other color flags to mark the ones I autobracketed for HDR, or that I want to convert to Black & White.
  3. I filter on the color flag that identifies which ones I want to convert to a panoramic
  4. Remember I suggested using a photo of your hand to show the start and finish of a sequence. I select each photo between the hands and then select Photo>Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop
  5. Adobe Photoshop will open with the Photomerge dialog box. I accept the defaults of Auto & Blend Images together and click OK. Photoshop will do the rest.
  6. You’ll end up with some white space, so you’ll need to crop to remove.
  7. Save the file and it will appear back in your Lightroom catalog.

Here’s an example of a sequence of photographs for a horizontal panorama and the final result.

Example of a horizontal panoramic

I’ve a couple more examples of finished panoramic photos on my Smugmug site. I’ve attempted more but still working on my success rate 😉

For more tips on panoramic photography or to see if I missed any tips, check out these links


When photography a moving object, you need to decide whether you want to freeze the action or show movement.

In this first photograph of a moving train, I was in Aperture Priority at f11, the camera choose a shutter speed of 1/320 which froze the train.

Aperture Priority, 1/320, f11, ISO 100

In this second photograph, as the train was passing by, I decided to try a panning shot. The idea of this technique is to get a sharp subject and a blurred background. I changed to Shutter Priority mode and selected 1/13 of a second, the camera chose an aperture of f29. I focused on the last car of the train, clicked the shutter and followed the movement of the train with my upper body.

Shutter Priority, 1/13, f29, ISO 100

Ideally the train would have a sharper focus and a more interesting background but it illustrates the concept. I just need to practice some more 😉

More more information on the technique of panning, check out this link from Digital Photography School

Happy Thanksgiving

What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Do you have any photographs that depict it? The first step to capturing Thanksgiving or any other event, is to pre-visualize or pre-plan what shots you want. If you make a shot list ahead of time, you’re less likely to forget. Here’s an example or a high level list. This list can be broken down even further to be more specific

  • Food preparation – both the food and who’s preparing it
  • The dinner table – both the food and who’s at the table
  • Portraits – both individual and group
  • Any Thanksgiving family traditions
  • Any pre or post dinner activities – watching football,  playing Grandpa’s dice or Mexican dominoes, planning for Black Friday.

Once you’ve made your list, check out this article from the New York Institute of Photography on How to Capture Thanksgiving With Your Camera The most important thing to remember, though, is to record your memories. It won’t matter in the future what the quality of the picture is (point-n-shoot vs DSLR, how many megapixels, etc.), what will matter is the memories they invoke.