If you’re used to lakes in other parts of the world, Mono Lake might seem like a strange place. The water is salty – two to three times saltier than the ocean. It’s surrounded by sagebrush desert, and instead of trees along the shore you find those otherworldly tufa formations.
You won’t see many people swimming in Mono Lake. You won’t find lifeguards and buoys, windsurfers, or kids splashing in the water playing Marco Polo. Although the very-salty water allows people to float easily, it also leaves a salty and somewhat-soapy alkaline residue on the skin, with no convenient beachside showers available to rinse off in.
So most people stay out of the water. And most people also visit the lake in the middle of the day, when the lakeshore can feel austere and inhospitable – especially on a hot summer afternoon.
But photographers are crepuscular creatures, most active around sunrise and sunset. So we are, perhaps, more likely to appreciate the unusual charms of a place like Mono Lake. Early and late in the day the temperatures are cooler, the light is warm and inviting, and the lake’s thousands of birds come alive.
Earlier this summer Claudia and I got to spend several serene evenings along the shores of Mono Lake watching the light and birds. We saw some beautiful clouds, and flocks of phalaropes turning and wheeling over the water. One evening a thunderstorm passed by to the west, leaving dramatic sunbeams in its wake.
Here are a few photographs from those evenings. In a couple of these I tried to capture the phalaropes as part of the landscape, setting up a composition, then waiting for the birds to enter the frame. In the other images I was just reacting to the light, trying to put my myself in the best position to capture whatever was happening at the time.
Soon we’ll be heading out on some autumn adventures, but before that we hope to spend more mornings and evenings at this strange but beautiful lake.
— Michael Frye
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.