Early Autumn, Scrub Brush, Light Impressions

Hwy 88 near Martell, CA

Early Autumn, Scrub Brush, Light Impressions. Hwy 88 near Martell, California. September 27, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

I attempted a fun little experiment with this photo.  Inspired by some well executed examples of “Impressions of Light” by William Neill, I decided to give it a go myself.  Given nothing but a few sentences of moving your camera up/down, left/right, rinse, and repeat.  You might get something interesting.  I’m sure I could have performed some searches on the web to execute this technique with more success, but where’s the fun there?  Plus, it’s somewhat liberating to not worry about keeping a camera absolutely still for each exposure!

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, spot metering mode, 122mm, ISO 800, 1/13, f/20

I suppose I could try and put together a post like this, but why. This probably says it better than I can. Plus, there’s at least 3 more tips than I could have given.

nomadruss in words and photos

1. Look at photos, lots of them – It’s important to study the work of other photographers, especially those you admire. I look through photos every week. When I find a photo that I like I try to understand what makes that image stand out to me. I ask myself what focal length they used, how did they build depth into the photo, what is it about the background that I like? I find in this process that I’m unconsciously logging away images. Then when I’m in some future scene my brain will draw on those resources to help me create a compelling image of my own.

2. Put in your 10,000 hours – In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he contends that to become an expert in any field you must first put in 10,000 hours of work. That means, make lots of photos and keep making them. If you…

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Sunrise Tufa, Shaded Tioga Pass Mountains

Mono Lake South Tufa

Sunrise Tufa, Shaded Tioga Pass Area. Mono Lake South Tufa, Lee Vining, California. September 11, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Sometimes we head to a photo shoot with ideas of the compositions we’d like to take.  Perhaps even more so when we’re revisting locations.  For me, Mono Lake’s South Tufa is that location. I’ve been there 3 times in the last 11 months.

The original plan was to arrive before sunrise to setup my compositions to include the sunrise light reflected off the clouds and onto the tufa towers.  A couple of problems with that plan.  While the weather report was correct in forecasting partial cloudy skies in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon, there were thunderstorms in the area buts just to the north, south, and west of Mono Lake and none towards the east.  Secondly, I was running about 10 minutes late and would have missed the absolute best light even if everything was perfectly in place.

It was fortunate that some light showers did hit the South Tufa area and a beautiful rainbow developed looking slightly southwest allowed for some nice photographs but the hope for beautiful light on the tufa and reflected off the water just didn’t materialize for the dozen or so photographers assembled that morning.

The photograph in this blog entry is an example of what taking a few steps off the beaten path and a little luck can produce.  While nearly every photog there that morning was focused on capturing as many shots of the tufas at the western edge of the South Tufa area, I ended up a mere 25 yards away in a perfectly legal spot snapping away at the rainbow, colorful birds, and incidentally this particular photo that is now my favorite from the first 90 minutes of the shoot.

With a normal sunrise, not only do the tufas get lit up, but the mountain range surrounding Tioga Pass in the background gets lit up as well.  This is one of those rare sights we hope will occur again but may not happen even with another 20 visits.

Almost 3 weeks after I took this photograph, I found myself browsing through Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop and gazed upon Galen Rowell’s Buttermilk Road, Eastern Sierra.  It wasn’t just that the his image was striking, it was the artist statement that was next to it.  Galen mentioned how he had slept in the car on Buttermilk Road and woken up hoping to catch the sunrise hit the mountains.  It didn’t happen.  Clouds surrounded the mountain peaks, shade covering both the background mountains and foreground dirt road.  All that was lit up through a hole in the clouds was a small ridge of rocks he carefully framed in the middle of his photo.  He goes on to say that he had on numerous times after slept in his car on Buttermilk Road hoping to catch this same sight, but to no avail.

So sometimes it doesn’t matter how prepared for a shoot you are, an incredible photo may be waiting for you if you just happen to be in the right place at the right time and you’re lucky enough to be around to trip the shutter.

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, spot metering mode, 28mm, ISO 200, 1/20 sec, f/16

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2011 – Weather Forecast – Oct 06

Updated: Thursday, Oct 06, 2011 12:15am

Tioga Pass Road, aka Highway 120  through Yosemite is currently closed due to snow.  The best estimate for reopening is probably for this weekend.

Despite some heavy winds and an abundance of rain, most areas along Hwy 395 only received light amounts of snow that did not accumulate on the roads according to National Weather Service reports. The only location that has significant amount of snow is Rock Creek Lakes at the 9700′ elevation, north of Bishop. All reports are from Wednesday midday:




Thursday remains the only day in the near term to have any forecast of rain or snow.  This is good news as the good color is still around the Bishop Creek area lakes. Perhaps we can get a report over the next few days on how the leaves have held up through this first winter-like storm of the season.  Areas north of Bishop should still be significantly green and held up well through this storm.  

After Thursday, the remainder of this week and the all of next week (Oct 9-15) is forecast for sunny days and cool evenings.  While this is great for fall color, there will be a lack of clouds to filter the sunlight during midday.

10 day forecasts for areas along Hwy 395, from south to north

I’m planning to be back out to the Eastern Sierras towards the end of next week.  I’m not sure where the good color will be by then but I’ll venture a guess that the peak will be somewhere in the Rock Creek and Crawley Lake areas.

Mono County – Fall Color Guide/Map

Self-Critique: Ferns, Redwood Log

Muir Woods

Ferns, Redwood Log. Muir Woods National Monument, Marin, California. May 16, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

I’ll be self-critiquing photos from my portfolio from time to time.  This specific black and white converted close-up shot of ferns at Muir Woods National Monument near Mill Valley in Marin, CA will be the first victim.

In the course of reviewing a bunch of photos taken in Marin County in May, this picture of the fern went on my short list of photos to place some processing effort into, which I note by attaching a 1-star rating in Adobe Lightroom.  After conversion to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro and cropping tightly to the two fern leaves, I attached a 2-star rating to the photo and eventually made it to the final 10 photographs I had to choose between for entry into competition.

Upon printing all 10 photos through a photo lab, I discovered a big flaw with this particular photo.  In fact, I had a print ready for my friend Kami and almost didn’t want to hand it over.

Close-up Critique

So here’s the problem, I used a large aperture (f/5.6) in an effort to have a narrow depth of field (DOF) so that the log and forest litter would be somewhat blurred and not detract from the fern leaves.  Unfortunately, the surface of the fern leaves is not all on the same focal plane.  By having such a narrow DOF, the smaller fern leaf which not on the same focal plane, is in soft focus.

How could this have been fixed?  Stopping down the aperture by using an f-stop around f/8.  This would increase the DOF and bring the smaller fern leaf in the slightly further focal plane into focus.  I’ll definitely shoot a similar shot with various f-stops the next time.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 55mm, ISO 200, 1/4 sec, f/5.6

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2011 – Weather Forecast

The latest weather forecast for the Eastern Sierras has certain locations with dustings of snow as early as Monday night (which is about now).  The strongest weather system bringing in snow is predicted for Wednesday by the National Weather Service.

Weather.com link

Here are the main points of the alert:





The good news is the forecast, at least from a driving and safety standpoint, is for clear skies and sun on Friday and Saturday.  Being that the only significant colors this past weekend was in the Bishop Creek area, most everywhere north is still green and hopefully won’t be too affected by the snow.  Once the leaves start to turn, contact with snow causes the leaves to fall in a day or less.  And obviously a winter squall can blow down fall color in no time.

Of course, if you are able to make it up to the aspens just before or after the storms this week, there will be some potentially incredible shots to be taken.  Stay safe and good luck!

Post Trip Recap: Bishop Creek Fall Colors 2011-Oct-01

Destination: Bishop Creek area lakes

Itinerary: South Lake area, Lake Sabrina, North Lake. (Google Map of my stops: here)

Departure time: 2:10am

Arrival home time: 10:07pm

In the 18 months or so since I’ve been more serious about photography, I’ve only been out to capture the Fall Foliage once, last year in Hope Valley, CA near Sorensen’s.   Since I have another trip schedule to the Eastern Sierra in just over a week to take my parents, it would be a good idea to do some reconnaissance.  The colors are just starting to come in and the hotbed of colors this weekend has been the lakes of Bishop Creek.  Even so, the colors are 50% in at best.

The original plan was to leave the house between 1:30 and 2:00am.  Google Maps had estimated travel time of 4.5 hours going through Yosemite’s Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 and then south on Hwy 395 past Mammoth, through Bishop, and up towards the lakes using West Line St/Hwy 168.  Since I tend to make good time driving, I didn’t worry took much about leaving a few minutes later than intended.  What I didn’t count on was having to drive through a monitored but still active fire near Tamarack Creek on Tioga Pass.  The speed limit was reduced to 25mph due to smoke on the road.  And what I thought were curiously placed Christmas lights was actually trees on fire.  So of course, I had to pause and take a few snapshots.  I really wished I was bold enough to setup my camera and tripod as it’s really a sight to see an entire tree trunk glowing red with occasional flames.

Even with the impromptu slowdown in Yosemite, I arrived in Bishop just after 6:30am.  With sunrise slated for less than 20 minutes away, I knew I had a chance of sunrise hitting the mountain peaks since the lakes are nestled between high slopes.  Driving out of Bishop and heading up the hill, the peaks briefly lit up with sunlight before going dark.  Then suddenly, it was as if the peaks were lit on fire as the sunrise finally hit in earnest.

South Lake Road, Bishop Creek
South Lake Road
South Lake Road
Parchers Resort

First up on the itinerary is South Lake.  I made it to the end of the road got out of the car to realize it was far too windy for decent photos.  Driving back down, I pulled into one of the mini-parking area above Parchers Resort and hiked along the Bishop Creek (South Fork) before making it back to the road right at Parchers.  There was decent color, but green still dominated.  Yellows and reds on the south side of the road with the most pleasing compositions made along the creek from that trail within the Resort.  I stopped at two more locations with color on the drive down the hill, but most of the color is still green with a mix along the cliffside.

Lake Sabrina

Next up was Lake Sabrina.  Decent color along the lake, about 50%.  It was very windy still and there was an equal mix of fishermen and photogs on site.  Most of the time there was waiting for the right light for each composition.  With the sun rather high in the sky, it was a waiting game for the occasional cloud to pass by and mute the light a bit.

North Lake Road

Less than a mile from Lake Sabrina is the turnoff for North Lake.  The road varies from single lane paved and unpaved with turnouts.  From the photos I had seen online from North Lake, I didn’t expect the lake to be so small.  Upon arriving, there are several reasons most photogs arrive early.  One, to catch the good light.  Two, the fishermen in waders and self-contained inner tubes take over later in the day.  I spent most of my time in the grove of aspens on the far side of the lake seen in most of the typical North Lake photos.  The aspens closest to the main parking area have reds but the majority is green or slightly turning yellow.  The rest of my stay was an attempt at photographing the tree shaded road.  This is also where the greatest frustration of the day occurred.  On more than one occasion, other photogs would see my set up for a shot but would literally walk into my shot to take their photos and we’re not talking about walking in, take a few shots, and leave.  It’s walking in without apologizing, setting up a tripod, taking shots, leaving the tripod in place (and in view of me) while going to change lenses.  This scenario occurred 3 consecutive times in one location and in between my wanting to get the sun behind some clouds, I actually stood by the side of the road for an hour without taking a shot.

Around 2pm, I headed back down to Bishop for a late lunch as breakfast bars and coffee didn’t do the trick.  Powering up the GPS, I searched for two well reviewed restaurants, Imperial Chinese Gourmet and Erick Schat’s Bakkery.  Funny thing was as I was about to turn left from W. Line St. to N. Main St., what did I see?  Mountain Light Gallery.

Now I had seen mentions of Mountain Light on various blogs, but didn’t read into the significance of it.  Even walking in and seeing all of those beautiful Galen Rowell prints framed up on the wall, it didn’t hit me.  Even after seeing book upon book of Galen’s, it still didn’t hit me.  It was only after seeing a display of newspaper and magazine articles of and by Galen and seeing his personal affects, did I realize this is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and where they ran their business until their deaths in a plane crash in 2002.  Being able to see his large photographs up close and being able to read his comments about those photos is really inspirational and uplifting.

Erick Schat Bakkery, Logo
Mule Kick Sandwich

After being re-inspired by Mountain Light, I stopped by Erick Schat Bakkery, a well-known Dutch bakery.  I brought my point-and-shoot camera but was greeted with a no video and photo sign upon entering.  No matter, I was hungry.  I made a beeline to the sandwich counter and ordered a Mule Kick sandwich.  Think roast beef stacked high with sprouts and jalapeno peppers along with the standard fixings.  Delicious.  Once I stopped the hunger, I walked back in to check out the other offerings.  The bakery is divided into two main sections: sweets and all things bread.  Less than $10 later, I had a bag with a container of mini coconut macaroons, a loaf of their famous Sheepherders Bread, and a loaf of their Beer Bread.

Hwy 395, Convict Lake Area

Rejuvenated and inspired, I headed back up Hwy 395 towards Yosemite to catch sunset at Olmsted Point along Tioga Road.  I stopped the car twice along the way, once when I drove up and out of the Owens Valley and saw sunlight filtering through clouds over Basin Mountain creating what’s called God’s fingers and the second time when storm clouds hovered around the mountains surrounding Convict Lake.

Half Dome from Olmsted Point
Half Dome from Olmsted Point

Maybe it was dumb luck or Galen’s spirit giving me a hand, but I made it to Olmsted Point was less than 10 minutes to spare for the sunset show, and boy was it a show.  As I got out of the car, the last direct light was hitting the trees above the parking area and it would have made some good photographs.  By the time I had my gear, the light was gone.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the main reason I was there.  I was there to hopefully catch alpenglow on the face of Half Dome.  The clouds were in the right place, uniform but open to the west.  Half Dome was dark.  Then as if a dimmer were slowly being switched on, an orange glow begins appear at Half Dome’s base.  Over the course of 7 minutes, the entire face of Half Dome is lit with the warm glow usually only seen when the sun is below the horizon but the light is bounced off the clouds.  And then it was gone.  I spent a few more minutes photographing the red-lit clouds in the area – last exposure, 6:54pm.  I finally packed up my gear and headed for home.

Websites used for this trip:

All photos. October 01, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.