Fog and clouds over Mono Lake with the White Mountains in the distance, CA, USA

Fog and clouds over Mono Lake with the White Mountains in the distance. On this October morning we had planned to go the June Lake Loop, but some interesting clouds prompted me to photograph sunrise along the lakeshore. As the sunrise color faded, I noticed a layer of fog forming over the lake. We drove up toward Conway Summit to get above the fog, and stopped along the road, where I stayed for about 30 minutes photographing the shifting fog and clouds. This is a blend of three exposures using Lightroom’s new HDR Merge.

Mono Lake is a special place. First, of course, there are those amazing tufa formations. But it’s also unusual to see such large body of water surrounded by desert sagebrush. And then there are the mountains in the background, including the dramatic escarpment of the Sierra Nevada to the west, and the White Mountains to the southeast. Oh, and I almost forgot the wonderful bird life!

That unique setting is often adorned by interesting clouds, and occasional fog. We spent a lot of time in Lee Vining this summer and fall photographing the night sky and fall color, but we also had opportunities to photograph this beautiful lake under a variety of conditions, so I thought I’d show a few of those images here. I’ve included extended captions to give a little information about each photograph.

It’s a long drive from Mariposa to Mono Lake when Tioga Pass is closed. But I’ve never photographed the lake with snow, or the Poconip fog that forms during colder months, so I’m hoping to get over there sometime this winter.

— Michael Frye

Sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Sunrise, Mono Lake. Made earlier on the same morning as the image at the top of this post. I liked the stripes of red and orange among the gray clouds, and tried to emphasize that pattern in the composition.

Mono Lake at dusk, CA, USA

Mono Lake at dusk. After sunset the sky had a dusky mood, and the wind created interesting patterns in the water. A 20-second exposure helped smooth the water, yet still retained some of its texture.

Rainbow over Black Point, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Rainbow over Black Point. We chased this rainbow along the western shore of the lake one October afternoon. The cloud formation near the right side of image caught my eye, so I decided to capture a panorama encompassing both the rainbow and that cloud. Comparing photographs later, I found that my friend (and workshop assistant) Robert had made an almost identical panorama. Great minds, as they say…

Storm cloud over Mono Lake, CA, USA

Storm cloud over Mono Lake. Made last July, just before our Hidden Yosemite workshop, as a dramatic cloud passed over the lake. A natural fit for black and white.

Sunset over tufa formations at Mono Lake, CA, USA

Sunset over tufa formations at Mono Lake. This image was made the same afternoon as the previous photo. The clouds lingered until sunset, so we made our way to South Tufa. I was there with Claudia, and Kirk Keeler from The Ansel Adams Gallery, and we ran into Brian Reub and Phil Nicholas from Aperture Academy. But I remember we were all rather quiet for a long time as we concentrated on photographing this beautiful sunset. The low lake level had revealed some interesting rocks along the shore, so I looked for a foreground design that led viewer’s eye toward the background.

Sunrise over Mono Lake and Dunderberg Peak, CA, USA

Sunrise over Mono Lake and Dunderberg Peak. It looked like an overabundance of clouds would block the light on this morning, but then the sun suddenly broke through, so I raced down to the shore of the lake, just in time to catch the first light striking the peak and clouds. A long lens (144mm) helped to compress the space and fill the frame with only the most interesting elements. I climbed to the base of a tufa formation to get as high as I could, in order to get as much visual separation as possible between the foreground tufa towers.

Related Posts: Autumn Landscapes; Eastern Sierra Fall Color Update; Mirrors and Ripples

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite 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: 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.