Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Storm over Mono

There have been great clouds in the Mono Basin over the past couple of days. Now that the lake is warming, there's also a lot of algae growing, but the brine shrimp and alkali fly larvae aren't present in large enough numbers to keep up with it, so the water is a very interesting emerald color.

My day started near Mammoth Lakes in the Owens Valley. I was exploring some salt falts and enjoying the sunrise color on the Sierra Nevada.

An area of dried, cracked mud provided nice foreground detail for some vertical images.
At this point I had been working straight for minutes, so I decided that I needed a break, which I took in a nearby hot spring (it's a tough job, but someone has to do it).

While the morning air remained still, I stopped by some nearby vernal pools to see if I could catch a reflection of the Sierras. At one of the bigger ones was lined with a reddish algae, which contrasted particularly well with the blue sky and white clouds and snow-capped mountains.

Later in the morning I met landscape photographer Bill Wight to share a few of my "secret spots" in the Eastern Sierra with him, and to try to scout out a few new ones for the landscape photography workshop we'll be leading here June 3-6. Many sagebrush stripes and undercarriage drags later (my minivan doesn't have the clearance of his pickup truck, but that rarely stops me from trying), we had made our way up to Mono Lake and explored several of the less visited and lesser known sites.

First we focused on the exotic "sand tufa" limestone formations which form as calcium-laden water runs through sand.

The sand tufa structures look like intricate and delicate sand castles rising as much as 3 feet out of the ground, up to several feet across.
By this point clouds were building in the sky, so I suggested an area which would provide many opportunities to catch reflections. I experimented with my circular polarizer, using it on some shots to maximize water color and minimize reflections, then rotating it to still help with cloud contrast and definition with minimal interference on cloud reflections (as shown here).

Some of the reflections were found in side pools featuring salt-crusted, cracked mud... a great foreground!

The wind was still up as susnet approached, so I selected a site that would be fairly protected by the wind but still have a decent view of any remaining clouds to the East that might catch color as the sun set. The color show to the East wasn't as intense as I had hoped, but we had completed a long productive day of exploration and photography, so I couldn't complain.

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