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Eagle Falls, Lake Tahoe

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 4 July 2009 in Landscape & Rural.

On the California side of Lake Tahoe lies a beautiful little inlet called Emerald Bay. During spring snow melt, Eagle Falls cascades high above this scenic setting. I had been inspired by many nice images made here by other photographers over the years, namely the late Galen Rowell; so in late May of 2006, I took off on a 5-hour drive to the south shore in search of my own interpretation.

I arrived at the falls the evening prior to scout my location. The skies were clear so I knew my best chance, if any, would come at dawn. I awoke extremely early the following morning, and in the pre-dawn darkness guided only by the light of my small headlamp, made my way back to the falls. My composition called for a low perspective with my wide angle 20-35mmL lens set at 23mm. I had to be careful to leave enough space between the top of the white water and the silhouetted ground and trees bordering the base of the bay. Had I let these elements overlap, I would have ruined my image. I also consciously kept all of the tall pine on the left-hand side of the frame, while allowing for a bold crop of the pine to the right. This pine actually grows at a right angle and its obvious tilt is not due to parallax distortion from the wide angle lens. These are small details of composition that need the photographer's ultimate attention.

The access to this location was actually a short distance from where I parked, and allowed me to walk (very carefully) to the edge of the fall. I deduced that the best angle to place the camera was inches from the water and about a foot off the ground (for the reasons explained above). Moreover, I decided to experiment with various shutter speeds once the light arrived as I have no pre-determined favorite shutter that works for all water scenes (though 1/15th of a second is a good starting point for me). A Singh-Ray 5-stop soft-edge split grad allowed me to hold back the warming sky and blend it evenly with the water.

Once the sky began to come alive with dawn's color, I went to work bracketing with different shutter speeds and apertures. I settled on this frame as my favorite. It was captured about 15 minutes prior to actual sunrise. I also captured a vertical I liked just as the sun crested. The sense of motion juxtaposed with the stillness of a mountain morning gave this scene its own essence and life. There was only one other photographer shooting this scene that morning, a professional from Spain (who's name escapes me), but after the morning sun had risen high enough to warrant an end to our shoot I heard him say, "that was as good as a morning shoot could be - simply perfection!"

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II 3/5 seconds F/11.0 ISO 100 23 mm

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