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Sunrise, Eagle Falls

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 24 May 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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About five years ago I made my first attempt at capturing a sunrise at Lake Tahoe's Eagle Falls above Emerald Bay. As I recall, it was also in May but with much lower water flow. Fast forward to this past week and add a night's worth of rain and heavy snow runoff, and the falls were booming. One must cross a small tributary to reach this island location, and with the current water flow, the usual rocks I had used in the past (even the day before) to gain access were submerged under a torrent of water. One slip could send someone precariously over these falls where chance of survival would be a moot point. There would be a few spots to grab onto a boulder, but it would be a scary ride!

I had second thoughts, but my friend Scott Schilling (much to my surprise) did his best John Muir imitation and went mid-ankle deep (think 6 inches below his knee) using only his monopod as a brace. The gauntlet had been thrown and I decided on a bit safer route (at least in crossing) with the help of Scott. As I discovered, returning would require throwing my only pair of hiking boots across the banks and submerging myself (wearing only socks) into the brutally cold water at 6 am. As my wife Beri told me upon my return, "These are stories I'd rather not hear." Needless to say we both made it. I won't add the usual caveat, "and the images were worth it;" suffice it to say, I have done dumber things in my quest for outstanding images and I will let you the viewer be the judge.

The sky on this morning had enough high whispy cirrus clouds to pick up some nice color, and the pre-sunrise images show a reflection of the red sky into Emerald Bay. But the image I opted to display is about my 6th image of a sequence as the sun started cresting the eastern hills. On the back of my LCD, the sunstar did not look this crisp and I was somewhat distraught at the fact that I had forgotten to remove my polarizer. Not only did the light have to pass through this filter, but I also hand-held a Singh-Ray 3-stop hard edge graduated ND to help balance the sky with the foreground water. That is a lot of glass to bend this light through (plus the elements of my Canon 16-35 mmL lens). Yet when I imported this image into Photoshop CS5 and applied the lens correction tool now located in the new version of Camera RAW, the sunstar was instantly corrected and the sharpness restored (you've got to love technology)!

I'm the first to admit that this scene has been captured by many photographers (including myself) but I never tire on trying to capture iconic scenes a bit differently if all the elements are cooperating. Though my composition is similar to my original attempt, this beautiful sky and the high volume of water gave the scene a fresh look (at least to me).

As quick as this photo session began (which started with a 4 am wakeup), it came to a screeching halt as the sun rapidly rose; it was time to brave my return through the icy water of the tributary and head to breakfast. Thankfully, neither one of us slipped!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/6 second F/22.0 ISO 200 24 mm

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