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Mono Lake Sunset

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 31 October 2009 in Landscape & Rural.


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An alkali-covered snag adds an eerie foreground to a fiery sunset sky along the south banks of Mono Lake near Lee Vining, California. I wanted to create a sense of depth with my image and use the blood-red sky as a background. Tufa towers are the logical foreground choice for this area and the main reason photographers from around the world travel to this destination. But I have been photographing here for the past 30 years and wanted something a bit different, thus began my search for a foreground element other than the calcified limestone towers.

It didn't take me long to discover this seemingly petrified snag which had washed-up along the banks thanks to the high winds from the previous weekend's storm. Its white, ghostly appearance is due to the high alkaline level which makes this inland lake three times saltier than ocean water. Because the lake has no outlet, it is naturally saline. An estimated 280 million tons of solids are dissolved within the lake and periodic eruptions of volcanic ash have also added considerably to Mono's chemical mix. The pH of Mono Lake is approximately 10 (this measure of alkalinity is roughly equivalent to household glass cleaner).

As for the composition, I opted for a vertical take on this scene from a low perspective. I purposely allowed the snag to occupy 1/3 of the frame and used the lake with the cloud's warm reflection to serve as another plane to lead the eye back to the Sierra crest and finally the lit clouds. In retrospect, I probably could have shortened the amount of lake by changing my angle to the snag, but as the saying goes: "hindsight is 20-20!

I focused 1/3 into the plane of the frame at f/16 to allow for the sharpest depth-of-field. This image is a combination of four frames bracketed by one-stop with my shutter and combined in Photoshop CS4 utilizing masks and layers. I had to select one frame only for the lake as there was a stiff wind creating too much movement to allow for a blend. Fortunately, the clouds were holding fairly steady.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 2/5 seconds F/16.0 ISO 100 32 mm

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