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Morning Mist at Mono Lake

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 16 October 2009 in Landscape & Rural.


Arches/Canyonlands Photo Workshop November 4-8, 2009 (Sold Out - Waiting List Only)
Spring Big Sur Photo Workshop - March 29 - April 1, 2010 (5 spots available)
Northern Arizona: Grand Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona Photo Workshop - May 3-7, 2010 (space available)
Redwoods and Mendocino Coast Photo Workshop - June 15-18, 2010 (space available)
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Big Sur Photo Workshop Summer August, 2010 (Exciting details TBA soon)!
The south tufa area at Mono Lake has become such a mecca for photographers around the world that it is extremely difficult to create fresh material. Don't get me wrong, the tufa towers (calcified limestone created by a mixture of calcium-fed springs and carbonate on the lake's floor) make wonderful subjects, but to do anything different from the millions of images already created is the challenge. The wee hours of the morning at the lake is perhaps my favorite because many times the surface is perfectly calm allowing for colorful reflections.

The real variable in all this is the weather. Clouds and mist, as we were presented on this particular morning, can transform a familiar scene and take it to new heights. As I was pulling into the parking area in near darkness on this chilly fall morning, I saw this cloud hovering all by itself over the lakebed towards the east (where the sun would be rising). I've seen similar clouds in the past, but generally they are hanging along the mountain ridge, but this one was different.

As I made my way to the lake, I noticed mist was starting to rise off the lakebed and my pulse quickened (who said you need caffeine to get going in the morning)? Because it was the height of the fall color season, there were already workshop groups set up in my favorite locations, so I took a portion of my group (I was assisting Gary Hart's eastern Sierra workshop) to a new spot. The idea was to work with the wonderful color, cloud, and mist. The tufa towers would have to be silhouetted and serve as graphic elements and add visual weight to the image. Thanks to the presence of the mist, it allowed for separation between the towers and the mountains. On clear days, I've always had trouble with losing the silhouetted towers into the dark mountain range, so the mist provided an unexpected bonus. This image was captured about 30 minutes prior to sunrise. It was my second frame of the morning and perhaps my best.

I admit, I struggled a bit in finding the correct composition, not in the left to right placement of the tufa towers, but in the top to bottom placement. The foreground tufas actually split the horizon and all the visual weight is in the upper half of the image. However, this is one of those images where I just forgot about the rules (they drive me nuts anyway) and just tried to feel the composition. In the end analysis, this image just felt right to me, it felt balanced. The more I cropped off the bottom of the frame, the more out of balance it felt. Perhaps it is the shadow line of the left hand tufa that holds the bottom half of the image, or the rich saturated color reflecting off the water. Or perhaps the shadow of the reflected tufa allows this symmetrical composition work. Tough to articulate this one - I would love to hear your thoughts.

About five minutes after capturing this frame, a handful of photographers showed up and started bemoaning the fact that there was nothing to shoot. Our group confidently smiled knowing we already had our image captured. As the old saying goes: "The early bird..."

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 6 seconds F/16.0 ISO 200 200 mm

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