Tufa and Milky Way, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Tufa and Milky Way, Mono Lake, CA, USA

The last few weeks have been very busy. We just finished our Bodie workshop, which was tremendous fun. I’ll post some images from the workshop when I get a chance to process them, but in the meantime here’s a photograph from last Saturday, just before the workshop started.

I wanted to photograph at South Tufa at Mono Lake, but was worried that it would be too crowded, since it was Saturday on Labor Day weekend. And when Claudia and I pulled into the South Tufa parking lot at sunset we were astonished at the number of cars: the entire, large parking lot looked full.

We managed to find a place to park, and headed out to the lake, figuring that since it was getting dark most of the people would leave soon. And indeed, the place emptied out quickly, except for a few photographers intent on night photography. By ten o’clock, when I made this image, there were only three other people around – all photographers of course.

After making a couple of images, I was looking around for other potential subjects when I found this tufa formation. I loved its shapes and textures, and it lined up perfectly with the Milky Way. After composing, I made an exposure for the sky (15 seconds, f/2.8, 6400 ISO – my standard exposure for pinpoint stars with dark skies).

Then I made a separate exposure for light-painting the tufa. I needed more than 15 seconds to do the lighting, so I lowered the ISO to 400, stopped down to f/5.6, and locked the shutter open in bulb mode. I put a snoot on my flashlight to make sure that no light spilled back toward the camera, stepped into the scene, and kept both the light and myself moving continuously as I painted the tufa formation. It took me several tries to get it right. Painting with a narrow beam of light, close to the subject, made it impossible to light the tufa evenly, but that’s what I wanted. I liked the modulated effect, with some areas brighter than others. That seemed more interesting than even lighting, and also seemed to fit the subject.

I blended the two images – one for the sky, one for the light-painting – together in Photoshop, making the sky the bottom layer, and setting the blending mode of the top, light-painting layer to Lighten.

As I said, the Bodie workshop workshop was a lot of fun. We got to go inside some of the buildings one morning, which was a special treat. I’ll post some of those images soon.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Under the Stars; Dodging the Walker Fire

Did you like this article? Click here to subscribe to this blog and get every new post delivered right to your inbox!

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.