Mono Lake South Tufa (CA), Tufa Tower, Milky Way, Long Exposure

ISO6400, 18mm, f/3.5, 20 sec
Mono Lake South Tufa Area, Lee Vining, CA

The revised plan this weekend was to start off viewing and reporting on Fall Colors in Hope Valley, drive down Hwy 395 towards Lee Vining and Lundy Lake, hike Lundy Canyon, shoot night photography at Mono Lake, then drive through Yosemite using Tioga Pass the next morning before finishing off with shots of the burned out remains of the Rim Fire.  The only deviations were missing Lundy entirely (late start on day 1) and adding June Lake Loop for Fall Colors the 2nd morning.

While I started the day off with wearing shorts and 2 shirts, I did think ahead and pack layers of clothing for the night shoot and even had two blankets and a pillow on hand should I need a quick nap.  Good thing since overnight temperatures were in the low-30s and the wind chill was 21 degrees Fahrenheit.  The layers of clothing were invaluable and at times I forgot how cold it was outside until a gust of wind blew.

Napping in the car was a challenge.  While I was relatively warm, my car’s bucket seats are just not comfortable even for a quick nap while waiting for the moon to set.  At least I could turn the radio on to listen to the UCLA football game and use my old iPhone as a source of music.

So anyhow, I spent a little over 3 hours after midnight shooting.  There were two other photog shooting star trails that left soon after I arrived.  For over 2 hours I was completely alone amongst the tufa towers.  A rather strange yet comforting feeling to have a usually crowded location all to myself.

The initial goal was to locate the Milky Way and then position tufa towers in the same composition.  While the half-moon was casting a great amount of light at first arrival, it finally descended behind the Eastern Sierras.  It took almost another hour before the Milky Way was easily visible.  As with night photography in pitch black conditions, sharp focusing is difficult and always a challenge when your camera lens does not have a distance scale and/or the user is not well-versed in applying hyperfocal distance techniques.

Yet, in spite of all the challenges, I managed some good captures.  I know full well what I need to work on the next time I attempt something similar.

By the way, I am calling this tufa tower the “Hanna Barbera” for here on out as it resembles either Fred Flintstone or George Jetson.  Initially the tower reminded me of an Easter Island statue, so any of those will do.

The trip reports on the Fall Colors for the weekend of October 12-13 are linked here:

Previous Milky Way photos are here:

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center weighted metering mode, ISO 6400, 18mm, f/3.5, 20 sec

Mono Lake South Tufa (CA), Tufa Tower, Milky Way, Long Exposure. Lee Vining, California. October 13, 2013. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.


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