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Moonset and Lit Clouds Over Eastern Sierra Crest

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 8 February 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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Every once in a while, Mother Nature provides a show that even the most seasoned of photographers could not anticipate. Such was the case at our last morning of a recently concluded workshop held by Gary Hart that started in Death Valley and ended with this scene photographed from the Alabama Hills looking west towards the eastern-Sierra crest and Mt. Whitney.

As the sun began to paint the horizon, we were content to photograph a setting moon just to the right of Mt. Whitney. Unexpectedly, these bird-like clouds, which started as a pair of lenticular clouds, formed over the crest and were painted with the warm light of the rising sun resulting in this image!

Lenticular clouds, (think lens shaped) are stationary clouds that form at high altitudes, normally aligned at right-angles to the wind direction. Moist stable air rises up and over the western front of the Sierra, then pours over the steep drop that characterizes the eastern front. Lenticulars (such as these) often form at the crest of these waves. Oftentimes, long strings of the clouds can form creating what is known as a wave cloud.

The other-worldly rocks that constitute the makeup of the Alabama Hills added an eerie foreground and I simply used the shadow-line to hold the base of the frame. I did crop some sky (and other non-desrcript clouds) off the top of the frame becasue I felt they were a distraction, but this was not photographed as a pano. This image was captured using only a polarizing filter; it was truly a remarkable moment!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/8 second F/16.0 ISO 200 40 mm

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