Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Landscape Photographer

Knowing that there would be a full moon over the weekend, I looked up the moon rise time and confirmed that it was 98% full, and rising about a dozen minutes before sunset, so it would be high enough in the sky to be in sunset shots. I needed a low, distant horizon so local hills wouldn't block the moon. I also wanted a subject about 1000 feet away so I could zoom in to 200mm or more to get the moon large in the frame, and have the other subject present and in focus as well.

I chose Mono Lake, but decided to start the day in Truckee so I could catch sunrise at Lake Tahoe. I drove to Sand Harbor State Park on the Nevada side, but it doesn't open until 8am, so I used another turnout not far away. The moon was just setting across the lake. The sunrise came on gradually over the next 20 minutes, and I tried to move around over the icy, snowy shoreline rocks to get some good perspectives (sample result above).

Next stop was Starbucks in Minden to check out my dawn results. After appeasing my coffee cravings while performing a few quick edits, I was back on the road. While passing Topaz Lake in Nevada, I noticed that the valley was full of smoke, which gave the light an interesting dreamy quality.

Then it was on to Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport to soak in a hot spring, sip a beer, and contemplate the upcoming sunset shoot. (A photographer can never be too prepared.) A nice family dropped by with their 85 year old grandma, who kept threatening to skinny dip. It seemed like a good time to move on...

Upon arriving in the mono Lake area, I first took a walk a the County Park access point, which was convenient and had some interesting reflections and lighting as the shadows of the Sierras reached out into the lake.

I arrived at my target site on Mono Lake with minutes to spare. My DeLorme GPS has a Sun/Moon feature that confirmed the moon rise time, but it also shows a compass with the Sun and moon on it, so I could point the sun symbol towards the setting sun and there was an arrow pointing to the approximate place on the horizon where the moon would come up. I walked a couple of hundred yards until I could line that forecasted rise spot up with the tufa limestone structures that I wanted to shoot. By the way, you can get a Java program for cell phones that support Java that will do the same thing (most phones know your approximate location info from the position of local cell towers, some provide location based services using a GPS signal).

The moon started to peek out over the hills right on time, and I adjusted my tripod position maybe 6-12 feet to place the moon where I wanted it in the scene. I started with a 70-200mm lense and gradually worked my way up to a wide angle lens as the sunset darkened and spread across the sky.

Mono Lake Sunset Moonrise

With sunset occurring so early in the Winter, you have plenty of time to capture it then change locations for some night shots. On the way back to Truckee I stopped at Lake Tahoe again to shoot a few frames under the full moon.

Join me June 3-6, 2009 to catch the full moon rise at Mono Lake and to pursue other stunning images in the dramatic Eastern Sierra landscape, with classroom sessions on photographic technique and digital imaging postprocessing. I'll also be offering an optional extension into Yosemite National Park on Sunday, June 7:

I'll also offer a Fall Colors tour of the Eastern Sierra in October (dates TBD). Contact me for details, or to get on my announcement list for future workshops.