Claudia and I are back home, but we had fun photographing on the east side last week. Every day we saw more color in Bishop Creek Canyon, and the high-elevation aspens were looking great when we left yesterday.
I made this photograph Friday evening. We had been photographing intimate scenes along the south fork of Bishop Creek for a couple of hours, but there were some clouds hugging the crest of the mountains, so I headed to North Lake where I could get a wider view if the clouds turned color at sunset.
It was cold and windy at the lake. The choppy water ruined any possibility of reflections, so I decided to use a long exposure to smooth out the water. And since the clouds were moving quickly I thought I might as well try to blur the clouds too in order to give the image a softer, more ethereal look. So I put on a seven-stop neutral-density filter and a polarizer. This cut nine stops of light, and allowed me to get the shutter speed down to 30 seconds (at f/16 and 50 ISO) without overexposing the clouds.
With such long exposures bracketing was out of the question, so I had to expose for the highlights (the clouds) and try to lighten the foreground later in processing. As the temperature dropped the clouds gradually dissipated, but some of them hung around long enough to turn gold and then orange as the sun set. The clouds were racing across the frame, which made the timing challenging, as I had to anticipate where the clouds might move during a 30-second exposure.
On the back of the camera the foreground looked almost black. But I brought the image into Lightroom and used its wonderful Highlights and Shadows tools, along with the Exposure slider, to lighten the image overall, pull down the highlights, and bring out shadow detail. I also used the Adjustment Brush to further balance the light. Some darker areas of the photograph were brightened by almost three stops, which could bring out noise, but the Sony a7R II sensor handled this beautifully, and the shadows are virtually noise free.
(In this post from last fall I discussed, in detail, processing a similar high-contrast autumn scene in Lightroom. And my Landscapes in Lightroom ebook includes several step-by-step examples of processing high-contrast images.)
The highest-elevation aspen groves are near peak in the eastern Sierra right now, but, as I said in my last post, the color should last several more weeks as it moves down the mountainsides. I’m looking forward to going back over the mountains again, but in the meantime I’ll work on processing the many photographs I made last week, and post some of them soon.
— Michael Frye
Related Posts: Early Autumn Color; Processing Autumn Landscapes
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.
Beautiful work. The process you outline in your eBook for such high contrast images has helped my photography improve quite a bit. This image engenders feelings of peace and solitude. Thanks for sharing
Thanks Martin, and I’m glad the ebook helped!
Michael, I’m a huge fan but this lovely image hasn’t been helped by this approach. The clouds look far to massive, domineering and solid.
But this opinion is of little importance set against you huge contribution to landscape photography; for which I thank you.
Okay, thanks for sharing your thoughts Derek.
I feel the wind in this one! the color has been great this year, more reds and orange than I have seen in awhile! we were photographing the south fork all weekend. Windy as heck yesterday!
Thanks Cory! Glad you enjoyed your time in the Bishop Creek area.
You guys are so lucky to have such a place right at your doorstep. This is a stunning image an despite the color splendor it looks absolutely natural. This is the high art of processing. Thanks for pointing out to what you were paying attention to during the shot.
Thanks Ralph! Though I have to point out that this spot isn’t exactly right at my doorstep – it’s about a four-hour drive from my house. Still pretty close though, so I am lucky.
Nice moment. I walked into this image not noticing you quietly blended into the rocky shoreline of the lake, to which you kindly mentioned to me that I had. North Lakeside real estate sure has boomed in the last decade. The row of photographers that morning was almost as breathtaking as the place itself. Lovely place and image, great to see your perspective of the moment and hear your own thoughts of the process.
I do think I can almost spot my toe in the lower corner 😉
You going back for more?
I spent a few days patrolling cascading waterfalls and leaf spirals at bishop creek between table mountain and surveyors, have you seen that particular narrow stretch of stream? What a stretch, particularly in the 2 hours of shimmering shadows just after sunrise.
Anywho.. Just saying hi, hope I didn’t hinder your shot to much.
Lovely work as usual. Funny that I unknowingly stumbled into a blog that I actually follow and read.
Thanks for chiming in here Mizz. Sorry for shooing you out of my frame; as you say, it’s gotten crowded in that place. I was standing next to the willows because I was trying to stay out of another photographers shot (he was down along the stream, looking toward the lake). I think your tripod was still in this photo, but I cloned it out. 🙂
I’m not planning to go back to that area any time soon. I don’t know where “surveyors” is, but I’ve spent some time near Table Mountain, and along the creek near Parcher’s – both lovely areas. Thanks for saying hi and making the connection!
Mizz, could you share a location for Surveyor’s Meadow? I hunted for it while in the area recently, by asking locals, but came up empty. If not, no worries. Thanks. — Sylvia
Hi sylvia, sure.
As far as I know, and I could be wrong on this, surveyors meadow is located here. I made a little map.
I’m not from the area and I learned of it through Parchers Resort fall color reports from years past.
here is a quick view I found online from the meadow:
This link talks about it.
My guess is that they call it surveyors meadow because of the beautiful aspens that line the facing slope of table mountain.
If anyone from the area has more accurate info, please feel free to chime in, I’m curious myself.
Sylvia.. thought i would include a few images from that spot this year. The aspens on the slope seen from the meadow and a few pics from the stream. Great stream. Always next year 🙂
Beautiful shot Michael. Love the long exposure blurring of the water which I feel is the only option in that situation. Sorry to have missed you and Claudia up there. I was there at North Lake that morning barely getting a spot there among the huge throng of photographers, most from a photo workshop. I was enjoying shooting the clouds and interesting lighting up at Rock Creek that late afternoon. I got back to Bishop at sunset and saw those colorful back-lit clouds from town. The next day I photographed the peaks at South Lake shrouded in and out of clouds tinged with sunrise color. Wind was sure howling that morning up there. Was up at my favorite area up there near Virginia lakes 😉 for some nice sunset light on the aspens there. Good to know that the Formatt ND filters are neutral. Might get one for my Otus 28. How many stops is the one you have?
Thanks Wayne. I have seven-stop and four-stop ND filters.
Michael, I was at North Lake at this same time — in fact, I thought then that I saw you walking past after the sunset faded … I read this post while I was still in the Bishop area, and your image and and editing advice gave me hope for my bracketed (but not filtered) shots. Here is my own result: https://sylviawright.smugmug.com/Fall-California-Mountains/i-fR3ptbz … I also appreciated your recommendation of Dan’s book; I bought a copy at Spellbinder Books in Bishop. Hope you have a good winter season in the Sierra. — Sylvia
Nicely done Sylvia!