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.

Building 46, Crane Footing

Mare Island Naval Shipyard

Building 46, Crane Footing. Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California. February 19, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Industrial decay is the star of the show at Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSy) in Vallejo, CA.  Fully functional until its closure in 1995, some of it’s centuries old building have been torn down, some left in arrested decay, and some converted for use by private businesses.

I made the trip  out to Mare Island after seeing blog postings by G Dan Mitchell on his frequent night photography excursions with The Nocturnes.  The intent was for me become familiar with the layout of the buildings in the daylight as the buildings are usually only numbered and frequently don’t have visible physical addresses.  I wouldn’t want to find my way around on a moonless night while lugging around camera equipment as my first MINSy experience!

Going through hundreds of Mare Island photos online, I had the expectation that not only were some buildings in fantastic arrested decay, but were mostly open for exploring.  A couple of hours after arriving at MINSy, I came to the realization that any buildings that were not occupied by private business were now locked and boarded up.  I suppose years of vandalism and destruction (and potential liability) led to the end of the “good old days”.

This specific picture is of Building 46, built in 1855 and used as a pipe shop until 1984.  The structure in the foreground is a footing/leg for one of the large overhead ship cranes that is still a prominent feature on the island.  I enjoy the contrast of the brick red building and the worn paint metal.  In this composition I wanted to make sure the third of four windows was completely obscured by metal as I thought having a partially showing window would take away from the clean lines present.

I’ll have the make another trip out to MINSy for night photography now that I have some of the essential gear that needed: a steady tripod, remote shutter release, and an insomnia lifestyle.  All I’m missing is a fast lens/glass, but I can make due without for now.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 48mm, ISO 200, 1/30 sec, f/9

Wind Turbines, Sunset Clouds

Altamont Pass

Wind Turbines, Sunset Clouds. Altamont Pass, California. February 05, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much prep time you put into a day of shooting, opportunity and luck play a large part in capturing the best photos of the day.

Having driven through Altamont Pass between the cities of Tracy and Livermore several times previously, I had finally scheduled a day of shoot there.  My usual checklist of tasks days before include printing out satellite images of the area from Google Maps, checking sunrise and sunset times and using TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) to pinpoint those times for specific locations/geography, looking through Flickr for any location highlights from other photogs, and finally marking up my maps with not only spots to shoot at but also the direction to shoot from.

In theory, I should be prepared, right?

Yes and no.  If you’ve never been to a location before, everything I’ve done able is a good starting point.  It helps keep you on a schedule of sorts.  If you’re through most your shooting day and have only hit 2 of 15 shooting locations, you have to the make the decision to either scrap some, most, or all of the remaining spots.  Maybe 1 or 2 of the locations are sunset or evening specific; then those can remain.

More often than not, you ADD locations when you’re out and about shooting.  Out at Altamont Pass on this day, railroad overpasses, turbine reflections off rain puddles, a winery in Livermore, and random alignment of turbines caught my eye and forced me to stop and shoot.

After an aside on those potential ad hoc shots, this photo is NOT one of them!  This specific cluster of turbines, on N Midway Road just south of the defunct and infamous Altamont Speedway, was 1 of 13 I had wanted to shoot and had indicated on my map as both a potential sunrise or sunset area.  I had first passed this cluster midday while on my way to shoot the speedway and passed for a third and final time at sunset when the color in the skies caught my eye.  The shape of the clouds mirrors the blades of the first 3 turbines and reminds me of those winged women statues atop pillars in France.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 45mm, ISO 200, 1/13 sec, f/5.6

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors – Starting Now



Hope Valley

Backlit Aspen Leaves. Sorensen’s Resort, Hope Valley, California. September 29, 2010. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

This is the time of year when I start planning a trip (or trips) to the Eastern Sierras for the annual fall colors.  Usually the show begins at the end of September and lasts around the middle of October.  Geographical location and elevation are the constants.  Exact timing is not.

The trees begin changing color first near Bishop and work its way up towards Tahoe.  And within a location, higher elevations change color first.

While there are many theories (some more plausible than others) on what initiates the color change, I believe more in the theory that when the first stretch of cold days arrives, the action begins.

Unless you live up in the Eastern Sierras or have the ability to drive to the area every few days, your best bet is to visit the following sites for the latest color information:

At the height of the fall color season, the most well-known spots (North Lake comes to mind) will be crowded, especially during weekends.  From the stories I’ve heard, it’s really a sight to see photogs lugging expensive gear in the pre-dawn hours search for the “perfect” spot they probably scoped out from the previous day or previous trips.  With that in mind, expect to wake up and drive out before the sun rises, shoot until mid-morning on sunny days (or find some shaded areas to shoot), rest/eat/recharge in the middle of the day, and then prepare for the a few more hours of shooting from the late afternoon to early evening.  Maybe some of you will even stay out longer and take long exposures during the night.

Above all else, take in the moment, take in the scenery.  Don’t be so focused on firing off a few hundred shots that you forget to appreciate what’s around you.  Good luck!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, 45mm, ISO 200, 1/800 sec, f/7.1