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Dawn's Reflection, Mono Lake

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 10 October 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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Mono Lake and its calcium-carbonate tufa formations draws photographers from around the world. South tufa is the hot spot as the towers can grow in excess of 30-feet tall. But on the northwest end of the lake, the tufa formations look more like crusty rocks protruding from the saline waters.

Today's image was my first frame as we arrived on location 35 minutes prior to posted sunrise time with Gary Hart's workshop group at Black Point. A five-mile jaunt along dirt roads in the dark leads to a dead-end parking lot and a subsequent quarter-mile walk through black lava sands leads to this mystical location affording one a view to the east past Negit and Paoha Islands. The lake shore currently resides at 6,400 feet and has an average depth of 59 feet and a maximum depth of 159 feet.

The horizon was just starting to come to life with color and I knew I had a small window of opportunity to blend the brightest and darkest areas of the scene in one frame before the contrast range got outside of 6-stops of light that the sensor can handle. This was a three-minute exposure with no filtration (except for a polarizer that was not doing a thing to this image because I was shooting straight towards the approaching sun but helped me cut about 1 1/2 stops of light allowing for the longer shutter time).

My thought was to allow a bit of silkiness to the already calm lake and allow for a bit of movement in the clouds. This image required very little processing and the colors were actually this vivid in the RAW file. To those not accustomed to witnessing mountain light, the intensity of the colors can look a bit amped, but as our workshop students can attest - these colors were real - no Photoshop magic was employed!

As a side note, I would say that this sunrise was one of the best I've seen in all my years of photography. Our group photographed non-stop for a 90-minute period. Simply said, it was an incredible morning!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 174 second F/16.0 ISO 400 200 mm

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Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Sometimes nature gives us just seconds of incredible light, and sometimes he plays generously "full-length" show... Incredible light, thanks for sharing!

10 Oct 2010 5:31am

@Vaido: I agree wholeheartedly with you Vaido and when the magical light arrives I just hope I am awake enough to capture it properly (even without my Starbuck's)!

Richard from Montferland, Netherlands

Fantastic place and moment to take this capture Don!! Wonderful

10 Oct 2010 6:03am

@Richard: Thanks Richard.

Azadeh from Tehran, Japan

super beautiful :)

10 Oct 2010 6:18am

Marie LC from Dauphiné, France

Absolutely wonderful ! a great great sunset. 5*

10 Oct 2010 6:54am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow again..... Absolutely fantastic Don ! 5***** of course. Have a fantastic sunday :)

10 Oct 2010 9:30am

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

This is gorgeous, Don! I am curious as to why you shot this at 200mm. Considering your usual meticulous pre-shot planning, what influenced your decision to go with this focal length?

Your narrative will serve as a tutorial for me when I visit the Mono Basin next June. I have been going there since 1999 (I have friends who live right next to the lake in Mono City), but have yet to photograph a sunrise at Mono Lake.

10 Oct 2010 12:36pm

@Julie Brown: No influence at all for the focal length Julie, I was using my 70-200 mm and just played with some zooms until the image felt right. It was all about capturing that gorgeous color and reflection and doing it in one frame. In retrospect, I wished I would have dropped my ISO to 200 as this would have give me a 6-minute exposure. Prior to leaving the parking area I dialed it up to shoot a few images of the starry sky and forgot to reset when I hit the lake.

Mici from Mississauga, Canada

Absolutely fantastic, the colours captured and the movement you wanted to achive and succesfuly did just adds a whole lot more mistery to the shot.

10 Oct 2010 2:33pm

@Mici: Mono Lake under low-illumination levels does exude a sense of mystery and that was exactly what I was hoping to portray. Thanks for your comments Mici.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

I love the way this is abstract without really being abstract. The movement in the clouds and water give this a painterly, soft motion, but the rocks ground the image. This one is all about the feeling and emotion of this place!...Doesn't get any better than this IMHO Don!

10 Oct 2010 3:19pm

@Tracy: I know you were just there Tracy so you have a good sense of this place. It is really a photographic gem offering a plethora of visual possibilities. When the light is special as it was on this morning, it all seems to come together rather effortlessly.

LauraS from Chico, United States

Oh, my! What beautiful and intense colors at this sunrise. You are Tracy, both, captured the mystical, magical essence of Mono Lake. Wonderful!

10 Oct 2010 4:03pm

Shahryar from Isfahan, Iran

great capture :)

10 Oct 2010 6:36pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria


10 Oct 2010 7:08pm

salva from burgos, Spain

Excellent colors!

10 Oct 2010 8:33pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States


10 Oct 2010 10:26pm

Paul from summerside, Canada


11 Oct 2010 12:30am

Ralph Jones from Detroit, United States

Beautiful color and luminosity.

11 Oct 2010 12:35am

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

This is just what the doctor ordered after nearly suffering a "Fred Sanford special" (It's the big one 'Lizabeth"!!!) following the Giants game - at least they atoned for the Friday night debacle - .... So I am calming down and I look at this wonderful image and it just puts the peace back in the old ticker. Personally Don, I really like what you have done with the water! I think it is awesome with, that little ripple and then the smoothness in the grey area there...this all just sets everything else up as the eye raises to the top of the frame...the orange and red tones just set so well with everything and as Julie says it has that feel of abstract, - almost dreamlike. . Just beautiful and so calming Don. All the best.. Denny

11 Oct 2010 12:44am

@Denny Jump Photo: Thanks Denny. I know what you mean about the Giants - they're killing me!

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

oops I guess it was Tracy who mentioned the abstract..sorry Tracy!

11 Oct 2010 1:17am

Mithun from palakkad, kerela/Bangalore, India

wow, exquisite snap..... the slow shutter speed has done the magic... brilliant

11 Oct 2010 2:02am

@Mithun: Thanks for joining in Mithun.

Nitin from Shanghai, China

Incredible Shot - one of the neatest photographs I have seen on aminus. It's sheer poetry in photography! Cheers!

11 Oct 2010 4:21am

@Nitin: Thank you for the high praise Nitin but there are many talented photographers on Aminus3 and that is what makes this blog fun. I appreciate your kind words.

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

the light captured in this photo is just stunning! lovely work with the long exposure to get the dreamy effect! the fire colours make this look like a scene from a sci-fi movie set somewhere on another planet... amazing!

11 Oct 2010 4:46am

Sergei Z from Türi, Estonia

Wonderful colors! Love the smooth waters - long shutter speed gives something extra to this image!

11 Oct 2010 7:38am

Punit from Somewhere in, India

Surreal light. Great capture. Agree with comment from Nitin - this capture is so much like a poetry!

11 Oct 2010 9:52am

@Punit: Thank you Punit.

Gina from Azores, Portugal

Stunning shot.Very beautiful colors

11 Oct 2010 2:22pm

steve loos from hollister, United States

Hi Don; just got done watching game 3 Giants and am typing 900mph!!! This is a beautiful image taken in a very special place. Looks like you have a high layer of clouds filtering light to lower layers, and your choice to shoot early in the first light let those deep colors paint your image. Your creativity is a special talent Don; very nice image.

12 Oct 2010 4:29am

@steve loos: Thanks so much Steve, and I know what you mean about the Giants - we were whooping it up here last night! It truly is "TORTURE!"

MK from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


12 Oct 2010 8:07am

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Wow! I'm speechless!

16 Oct 2010 6:48am

oncho from granada, Spain


16 Oct 2010 4:15pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

agree with Oncho... Fabulous...Must be gratifying to shot such an image...

31 Oct 2010 7:34pm

RaouF.T from Qazvin, Iran

extremely beautiful!

14 Feb 2011 11:09am