In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Moods of Mono Lake

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.


Tufa and Milky Way

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.


Under the Stars

Tufa and stars (with Perseus and the Pleiades), Mono Lake, CA, USA

Tufa and stars (with Perseus and the Pleiades), Mono Lake. I lit the tufa formations with a flashlight during the 15-second exposure; it only took a brief pass with the light to provide sufficient illumination at 6400 ISO and f/2.8.

As I said in my last post, we had remarkably clear skies during our recent Starry Skies Adventure workshop, despite the proximity of the Walker Fire. But 24 hours before the workshop started the situation was uncertain and changing quickly. We didn’t know what would happen with the fire, and whether we’d see any stars through the smoke. Some workshop participants decided to take a rain check (smoke check?), which was completely understandable under the circumstances. But most people chose to come anyway and take their chances. In the end we had a great time. There were moments, while standing under the stars in the clear, cool, night air, when the fire seemed like a vague, distant memory.


Dodging the Walker Fire

Helicopter over the Walker Fire, Inyo NF, near Lee Vining, CA, USA, 8/16/15

Helicopter over the Walker Fire from Highway 395, last Sunday evening

Our Starry Skies Adventure workshop turned out to be a little more adventurous than we thought. Just before we left our home in Mariposa last Saturday to head for the workshop I checked the satellite photos online. The Rough Fire near King’s Canyon National Park had been sending smoke north, so I was keeping an eye on it. But my last-minute check revealed a new smoke plume just to the southwest of Mono Lake. Uh oh. Our workshop was based in Lee Vining, on the west shore of Mono Lake, only a few miles from that smoke plume.

I could see the smoke from this new fire on one of the Yosemite webcams. I found that it was called the Walker Fire, and that it had started the night before near Walker Lake, but I couldn’t find any up-to-date information about the fire’s size and location. When Claudia and I left home about 3:00 p.m. the Tioga Road (Highway 120) through the park was still open. But when we got to Tuolumne Meadows we found that the fire had closed the road between the eastern entrance of the park and Highway 395. What do we do now? We decided we had to drive around over Sonora Pass and check out the fire in person. That meant five extra hours of driving, and a long night ahead of us.


Mirrors and Ripples

Clouds and Mammoth Peak reflected in an alpine tarn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and Mammoth Peak reflected in an alpine tarn, Yosemite (1/90th of a second)

I love mirror reflections. The symmetry they create, with the bottom of the photograph mimicking the top, almost automatically adds repetition and creates patterns, helping to unify the image and give it rhythm.

The photograph above is a good example. I made this about two weeks ago near Tioga Pass, with some fantastic clouds passing by late in the afternoon. It’s not a perfect mirror, as the water is slightly rippled, but it’s close enough. The clouds and their reflections form a big X through the picture, a pattern that echoes some of the diagonals in the mountains. This design draws your eye from the middle of the frame out to the corners, giving the image a sense of dynamic energy. None of that would happen without the mirror reflections.

On the other hand, I love rippled water too. (more…)