Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Circling the Sierra Nevada: Topaz Lake

A complete loop of the Sierra Nevada Range is most practical only from late June through mid October when there's a reasonable certainty that many of the high apsse will be open. That timeframe also increases the odds that you may visit scenic sites such as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, much of which lies at 10,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation.

I departed from the Sierra Foothills town of Auburn (near Sacramento) in early afternoon, determined to get as far towards the Mono Lake area as I could by sunset. I made it over Luther Pass, then Monitor Pass, then the light started getting really nice as I descended near Slinkard Valley. The light was complemented by a solid dusting of snow on the surrounding peaks and hillsides. I stopped for a few photos.

The light was even better as I approached the intersection with highway 395 a few minutes later. There was some color starting to come out in the broken clouds. With Topaz Lake only a mile or two North, I turned in that direction.

My 24-105mm lens was more than wide enough for the open landscape and distant details, but the most intense sky color was closer to the skyline so I shot a few images at close to full zoom.

The light was changing quickly so I didn't bother with a tripod. I shot handheld with the camera braced against a highway reflector or fencepost, using Automatic Exposure Bracketing to get 3 different exposures for each image.

To process the 3 exposures I simply read the 3 RAW files into Photomatix (HDR software), adjust a few settings (maybe 10 minutes exploring the various tradeoffs), then save a TIF file that takes a quick trip through Lightroom then Photoshop for minor tweaks (more often than not I like the auto contrast feature in PS), save a high resolution copy, resize smaller, sharpen, save a small version for online use, done!